How do I select countertops?

There are a number of materials that can be used successfully for countertops. Many in the following list are suitable for bathrooms as well as kitchens.

Granite
A natural beauty!

Pros: Granite’s beautiful mottling and a great range of colors and patterns make each piece one of a kind. It stands up well to splashes, knife nicks (But please don’t cut on it!), heat and other wear and tear.

Cons: Like most stone, granite must be sealed every so often to avoid stains. Sturdy cabinets and good floor support are essential. The countertops are laid out to minimize seams, but seams are usually a part of every granite countertop.

Solid Surfacing
Made primarily from acrylic and polyester, solid surfacing first was sold under the brand name
Corian, which is often (erroneously) used as a generic term for it. Today, it’s made by a number of manufacturers and has enjoyed steady popularity over the years.

Pros: Because solid surfacing is nonporous, it’s virtually maintenance free — no sealing or special cleaning required. Although it can be susceptible to scratches and burns, those may be buffed out. Color and pattern options are extensive. Since it’s a manmade product, It is available in vibrant colors as well as more earthy colors. Solid surface allows for no seams and seamless sink bowl installation.

Cons: It can have an artificial look and feel, and is about the price of natural stone. It doesn’t stand up to hot pans or sharp knives as well as other materials.

Quartz
Crafted of resin and quartz chips tinted with color, quartz surfacing (also called engineered quartz or engineered stone) is a good compromise between the beauty of stone and the easy care of solid surfacing.

Pros: Quartz surfacing has the same advantages as solid surfacing with regard to maintenance. It doesn’t have to be sealed like granite. As an engineered product, it’s available in a far greater range of colors and patterns than natural stone. It can have a very uniform appearance which appeals to some people who aren’t sure they like the natural variation of granite.

Cons: This material doesn’t have the natural variation of granite, since it’s a manmade product.
Its durability can make it a worthwhile investment, though it is more expensive than most granite tops. The countertops are laid out to minimize seams, but seams are usually a part of every quartz countertop.

Marble
A natural diva!

Pros: Nothing beats marble for sheer elegance. It stands up to heat well, and because it remains cool, it’s a traditional choice for pastry and baking stations since it will keep dough cool and easy to work.

Cons: Marble is very susceptible to stains, even with sealing. For that reason, it’s often used as an accent or for rolling pie dough and combined with a different surface in more heavily used areas. It can also scratch and chip.

Tile
Old World favorite

Pros: It holds its own against heat and sharp blades, and resists stains. If one or two tiles chip or crack, they’re fairly easy to replace. Larger tiles are commonly used to minimize grout lines.

Cons: Tile’s uneven surface can make it difficult to balance a cutting board or roll out a pie crust. Grout can be prone to staining; standing moisture can damage it and contribute to bacterial growth.

Laminate
Made of paper blended with resins and fused to particleboard, laminate has been a kitchen mainstay for decades. In the past, it hasn’t always had a reputation for style, but it’s been improved over the years. You may know this as Formica – which is one brand among many.

Pros: Laminate is one of the most affordable countertop materials, so it’s a good choice if your budget is tight. It is low maintenance and easy to clean. Its light weight doesn’t require the support of a thick cabinet base.

Cons: Laminate is prone to scratching, burns and, in some cases, staining. With wear and moisture exposure, the layers can peel. Because of the raw particle board core, you can’t use laminate with undermount sinks, and it’s also difficult to repair if it gets damaged.

Soapstone
A farmhouse classic.

Although it’s in no danger of overtaking granite, soapstone has come into its own as a countertop material. It offers subtle, nuanced beauty yet feels humbler than granite or marble.

Pros: Soapstone has a natural softness and depth that fits very well with older and cottage-style homes. Although it usually starts out light to medium gray, it darkens with time. (Most people enjoy the acquired patina, but you may consider this a con.)

Cons: Soapstone needs polishing with oil to keep it in top shape. It can crack over time, and it can’t handle knife scratches and nicks as well as some other types of stone. The natural roughness of its surface can scuff glassware and china.

Stainless Steel
Usually found in commercial kitchens, stainless steel is suitable for some home kitchens.

Pros: There’s a reason stainless steel is used in restaurants and other high-traffic kitchens: It’s nearly indestructible, and it resists heat and bacteria. It also provides a very distinctive look that feels appropriate in contemporary and industrial-style kitchens.

Cons: Fingerprints show and must be wiped off frequently, and stainless steel can also dent. It can be loud as pots, pans and dishware clang against the surface. Chemicals can affect its color and cause unwanted etching. Stainless steel is expensive due to the custom fabrication.

Concrete
Edgier than most materials, concrete countertops have an industrial chic that fits right into a loft or adds interest to an otherwise traditional space.

Pros: Concrete is extremely versatile: It can be cast in any shape and custom tinted any shade you wish. You easily can add unique inlays, such as glass fragments, rocks and shells. Concrete stands up well to heavy use, although it isn’t as heat resistant as some other surfaces.

Cons: Because it’s porous, concrete will stain without frequent sealing. With time and settling, small cracks can develop. Concrete is extremely heavy and will need strong support beneath. The custom work involved increases the price tag.

Butcher Block
Butcher block has a classic appeal and always looks fresh. It’s especially fitting for traditional, country and cottage-style kitchens.

Pros: Many homeowners like butcher block’s warm, natural appearance and variegated wood tones. Although knives scratch it, many people like the shopworn look it develops — after all, it’s what chopping blocks have been made of for years. But you can also sand scratches down with ease.

Cons: Wood swells and contracts with moisture exposure, and butcher block is no exception. It harbors bacteria and needs frequent disinfecting. Oiling is a must to fill in scratches and protect the surface.

Paper Composite
Created from paper fibers mixed with resin, this surface is ecofriendly and a whole lot more durable than it sounds.

Pros: Paper composite evokes the look of solid surfacing or laminate but with a warmer sensibility. It’s surprisingly hardy and can withstand heat and water admirably. It’s also a great deal lighter than natural stone or concrete.

Cons: The material isn’t scratchproof and is susceptible to chemical damage. It needs an occasional rubdown with mineral oil, and even sanding, to refresh it. Although it sounds as though it would be a lower-budget option, it isn’t.

Recycled glass
Composed of 100% recycled glass (post-consumer and pre-consumer) in a cement or petroleum based binder.

Pros: Performs like engineered stone for fabrication and engineering. It is available in many colors and combinations. It is a generally non-porous surface, but staining is possible. Resistant to heat, cuts, and scratches.

Cons: Chips and stains can be a problem with some manufacturers.

Cast polymer
Also known as “cultured marble”, cast polymer is popular for vanity tops. It is not suitable for use in a kitchen.

Pros: Great range of colors and patterns, can be made to custom sizes with different bowl shapes.

Cons: Does not perform will with overly hot water. This isn’t usually a problem except in situations where the home water source is very hot, such as a “summer/winter” supply from an oil burner.

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