How to Choose the Countertop Material That is Right For You
How to Choose the Countertop Material That is Right for You
As many experienced home-owners know, kitchen and bathroom remodeling can both be overwhelming projects. However, being educated on the differences between available materials can help alleviate some stresses and help you make decisions based on your needs. It is important to remember that there are pros and cons to each material, and therefore you should focus on choosing one that is right for your situation. This is not a comprehensive list, but does include the most popular choices, including granite, quartz, solid surface, marble, laminate, concrete, recycled glass, tile, and exotic wood.
Granite – Price Range: $$$ - $$$$$
Controlling the market for years, granite is a major player when it comes to countertops. Few can deny the beauty of natural stone, and with such a wide variety of colors and patterns, most remodelers are able to find a color that matches their decor. There is an enormous price range in granite, and it generally works out that the more exotic a granite color (the more movement, rivering, and veining it has), the more expensive it will be. However, there are exceptions to every rule. Some of the most popular granite colors among contractors and builders tend to be: Tropical Brown, Santa Cecilia, Giallo Ornamental, Black Galaxy, Uba Tuba, Verde Labrador, Yellow River, and Copper Canyon. Granite does come sealed with a resin coating, so although heat would not abuse granite directly, it will wear out the resin sealer and expose the porous natural stone to bacteria and moisture from above. It is important to use a trivet or hot pad to protect the surface from heat before setting a hot pan or pot on it. Along the same lines, it is also important to re-seal granite periodically (depending on frequency of use) anywhere from once a year to once every five years. A “drop test” will determine if it is time to re-seal. Place drops of water randomly on the countertop surface where it is used most, ie. by the sink or stove. Cover by placing a glass upside down over the drop and wait 24 hours. Remove the glass, and if the drop of water is gone, it is definitely time to reseal; your granite is absorbing moisture. This makes your granite vulnerable to stains and cracking. Additionally, granite has the highest gloss rating of all of the materials.
Quartz – Price Range: $$$$
As more and more people are tiring of granite and looking
for something different, quartz is stealing the spotlight. It is reported that
over 75% of designers specified quartz material for countertops in 2009. Quartz
is actually a man-made product, made by taking natural quartz and crushing it,
then reforming it and adding color, then baking it with resin like you would
bake a cake. Slabs are formed and sold to be manufactured. Because of this
process, it is impossible at this time to give quartz the natural, flowing look
that attracts many people to granite. However, if you don’t mind a more consistent
pattern or a solid color (which is almost impossible to find in the natural
world in any color besides black) then quartz may be a viable option. There are
many benefits to quartz, as well. Because it is 93% pure quartz by volume
(which happens to be the 4th hardest mineral listed on the
Scale of Hardness) it is actually twice as hard as granite, which is
quartz by volume. It does not have a resin sealer, so it never needs to
re-sealed. It is also less porous than granite, and is a more sanitary
since its density will not accept bacterial growth. It is highly
scratching and staining, although like granite, it cannot be restored to
original condition if it cracks due to abuse. Popular quartz brands are
CaesarStone, Cambria, Zodiaq, Hanstone, Silestone, and Radianz.
Tile – Price Range: $$$
Tile is a cheaper option for people who don’t mind grout lines, or are ‘Do-It-Yourself’ers. You would need a basic knowledge of how to set tile, and a tile cutter in order to do it yourself. Otherwise, it would be prudent to hire a professional.
Recycled Glass – Price Range: $$$$$
Growing in popularity, but difficult to obtain due to the price tag, recycled glass is steadily making its way into the countertop industry. Made from either concrete or a resin base with mixed in pieces of colorful (or clear) recycled glass, this is a stylish way to add some texture to a kitchen. Vetrazzo, IceStone, and EnviroGlas are all brands of recycled glass slabs that each have their own process for manufacturing. Made with concrete (instead of petroleum-based resin) and boasting 100% recycled glass, Vetrazzo is the most eco-friendly, although there is no doubt that they all contribute to a cleaner environment. These three brands are all made in the U.S.A. and do not require trans-sea shipping for production, like granite and most quartz. The reaction to recycled glass varies with personal style, ranging from, “That is the most hideous thing I have ever seen,” to “Stunning!” It is definitely a conversation-starter.
Solid Surface – Price Range: $$$ - $$$$
Developed in the 1960’s by DuPont, Corian was the original brand of acrylic solid surface. However, it has many competitors now, such as Livingstone, Avonite, Formica Solid Surface, Wilsonart Gibraltar, LG Hi-Macs, Staron, and Meganite to name a few. The biggest difference between the brands is simply color, so I would suggest finding a retailer that carries a wide selection so that you could find a color that suits you. Because of the properties of solid surface, it is completely repairable and can always be renewed to its original state. One of the bragging points for these brands is that seams are virtually invisible, and sinks and can be made from the same material and seamed flawlessly into the top. There is a silky smooth feeling to it, as well, and continues to capture the heart of many.
Marble – Price Range: $$$$ - $$$$$
The most porous of natural stones, marble is not recommended for use in kitchens due to its propensity for staining and breaking. Acidic and caustic liquids such as strong cleaner, lemon or tomato juice, and ketchup are all enemies of marble. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to use in bathrooms, and adds a hint of luxuriousness. More popular colors are Dark Emperador, Light Emperador, Bianco Carrerra, and Empress Green.
Laminate – Price Range: $ - $$
Plastic laminate is essentially 50 sheets of paper (the top 5 printed with color) that have been pressed together to form a sheet. It has been around for a very long time, and although has an outdated reputation, is starting to make a comeback during a time when people are finding ways to pinch pennies. Technologies in manufacturing laminate have come a long way, as well. Instead of only solid colors or speckled patterns, digital photos of actual slabs of granite are being printed on laminate sheets to create the natural look for less. For more information, try searching Formica’s new 180FX line of laminate.
Exotic Wood: Price Range: $$$ - $$$$
Loved by some, and hated by others, wood (or butcher-block) countertops are an interesting way to add a natural texture to a kitchen. There are many different shades and directional patterns of wood to choose from, but it is a consideration for someone who is looking for something different than the ordinary.
Concrete – Price Range: $$$$ - $$$$$
Concrete countertops are also quickly rising in popularity. The hefty price tag is shocking to most who expect a common material should be priced lower, though. However, if you take a moment to consider the skill and labor involved in casting these countertops in your home, it isn’t hard to understand. If you have ever tried getting the icing on a cake perfectly smooth and level, you would see why it is difficult to work with concrete, as well.
With all of the different options on the market, it isn’t hard to see why some people might be overwhelmed by taking on a remodeling project. By arming yourself with a well-rounded education on all your choices, decision-making becomes based more on style and need rather than on what HGTV says is in style and a “must-have” for any newly renovated kitchen or bathroom. After all, you will have to pay for it, and you will be the one living with it! It is a much better investment to pay a little more for something you will enjoy than being cheap and having to live with something you dislike.