I often have clients come into my showroom looking for different countertops and invariably they always ask the same question. What is the best countertop
material? Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to that question, because there are so many reasons for choosing the different types of countertops and why one might be perfect for one particular person or application, but it can change depending on the circumstances.
Today, one of the most popular and in-demand countertop materials is granite. It defines elegance in a kitchen, and has a stunning beauty all of its own. Unlike many years ago, it is far more common and cost-effective than it was in the past. As the use of granite becomes more widespread, the price has dropped somewhat. Granite can withstand high temperatures. It is a permanent countertop solution and will last a lifetime. The new sealers for granite are almost maintenance-free and it has the 2nd highest hardness rating after diamonds. Granite also has a high value to home buyers. Granite is not without its drawbacks, however. It requires some maintenance, as some stones can absorbs stains if not sealed and knives can become dull if you cut on it. Granite can also crack if stressed or improperly installed.
Engineered stone is a countertop material that is composed of 93% quartz particles. It is available in a larger range of colors than granite and has a nonporous surface that resists scratches. It’s easy to maintain, without the annual sealing required by natural stone. Some brands on the market include DuPont Zodiaq®, Caesarstone®, Cambria Quartz, and Silestone®. These materials are resistant to stains and acid and they are easy to care for. A disadvantage is that they can be expensive, with costs equal to or greater than granite.
Solid surface countertops are literally just what they’re called, solid, and any scratches can be sanded out. The countertops are custom-made to your specifications by companies such as Corian, Avonite, and Swanstone. They come in a rainbow of colors and patterns and the seams are virtually indetectable. They are for the most part, stain resistant. They are vulnerable to hot pans and there are some products which can damage the surface.
Ceramic tile countertops are durable and easy to clean. On top of that, they are relatively inexpensive as well. Due to the fact that it’s installed a section at a time, it can be done by most resourceful homeowners. It can handle hot pans placed directly on its surface, they are easy to clean and there is a wide range of price, color, texture and designs. However, the counter surface is uneven and the tiles can sometimes easily chip or crack. Another downside is that the grout lines can become stained and custom-designed tiles can be pricey.
The old work-horses of the kitchen countertop world – laminate countertops- are made of plastic-coated synthetics with a smooth surface that’s easy to clean. The pieces are cut to size and finished on the ends. Laminate has been used since its invention in 1912, and is inexpensive and readily available. Laminates are available in many colors and textures; they are easy to maintain and are durable as well as inexpensive. Perhaps their biggest flaw is that scratches and chips are almost impossible to repair and the seams show.
Wood countertops offer a beautiful warm look and are available in a wide range of colors and finishes. Hardwoods such as maple and oak are most often used as countertop woods. Wood tops can be easy to clean; smooth; and can be sanded and resealed as needed. Nevertheless, they can be damaged by water and stains over time and scratches must be oiled or sealed according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Stainless steel countertops can offer a very contemporary and industrial look for your kitchen. They are heat resistant and durable. Due to the fact that they are constructed to your specifications, you can have a seamless countertop. They are unaffected by hot pans and are easy to clean. They can also be expensive; noisy; may dent; fabrication is expensive; and you cannot cut directly on it.
Soapstone is a choice that most often seen in historic homes but is also used in modern homes as both a countertop and sink material. It has a rich, deep color, most often a deep gray with a smooth feel and is somewhat stain resistant. Soapstone does require regular maintenance with applications of mineral oil and may crack and darken over time.
Marble is rarely used on all of the countertops in a kitchen. To get a luxurious look, use it on an island or inset at a baking center. Marble requires constant maintenance, as it is soft and it easily stains. Some new sealers retard staining. Marble is waterproof and heatproof, as well as beautiful. It can also be expensive. It is porous and stains easily unless professionally sealed. It will scratch and needs resealing periodically.
Sleek and cool, glass is a sophisticated choice of unique kitchen countertops. They are heat-proof, easy maintenance, and look sleek and contemporary. They may chip at the edges and are not scratch-proof. They show fingerprints and may require more cleaning. They are ideal for a sitting area, but not necessarily a working area.
If you have countertops in unusual shapes, concrete may be a good choice, as they’re often cast right in your kitchen., but their high price tag may be beyond most people’s budget. They are heat and scratch resistant and they can be color-tinted. Concrete looks exotic and unusual and new treatments help eliminate cracking, while additives reduce porosity and new finishes are more decorative. Concrete tops run from the mid to high range on cost due to custom work. Cracking is possible and they can look somewhat industrial. Concrete tops are also porous but can be sealed.
There are also some new eco-friendly countertop materials which are made of composite and recycled materials. Some are made of wood pulp combined with resin, pressed into a slab, and baked into a rock hard solid. Paper composites are Richlite, Paperstone, and EcoTop. They do not need sealing, but rubbing it with an oiled sponge every so often eliminates signs of wear. They ages very well, and in that regard it has been compared to leather. It looks great when it’s new, it
shows wear while it’s young, then it develops a smoothness and beauty as it
ages. These countertop materials are not scratch resistant. Composites show
wear, and develop a patina over time, achieving a warmth and smoothness that a stone cannot offer. They are heat resistant, but only up to 350 degrees, so taking a pot out of the oven and putting it on the composite countertop may leave a scorch mark. Some of the colors may not be UV stable, so if your countertop area gets a lot of sun, check to see if the color you like will fade in the sunlight.
Some manufacturers use glass and resin composites, like IceStone and EnviroGlas. Manufactured from 100-percent recycled glass,it is also an eco-friendly product. They offer more color-customization options than granite, is stronger than marble, and are resistant to heat and scratches. They can stain if not properly maintained, and are also susceptible to cracking. They also can be very expensive.
Of course, there are even more than just the options outlined above that are available for kitchen and bath counters. All of these materials have their pros and cons. When choosing a countertop material, there are many factors to take into account, including price, appearance, and durability. By learning to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the various countertop materials, you can make an informed decision and choose the material that best suits your needs.