On any given day, your kitchen countertop
may wind up playing the roles of
cutting board, hot pad, office desk,
food prep surface, snack bar and headquarters for hindquarters.
You need a surface that's durable, attractive and easy to
get along with. It's worth weighing the options carefully when
you're remodeling. Top-notch tops are installed by pros only,
but they have a look and feel no other material can match.
When you're choosing countertops, note these guidelines:
- Expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of your kitchen remodeling
budget on countertops and installation. If you spend
disproportionately more or less, you may wind up with tops
that don't fit the look and feel of the rest of your kitchen.
- Consider installing more than one type or color of top.
Serious cooks may want to include a section of wood for
chopping; bakers may want to include a section of marble
for rolling dough. Using a different color top on an island
than you use in the rest of the kitchen can help differentiate
workspaces and add interest.
- Solid surface and engineered stone countertops
are very uniform and homogenous; what you see in the
showroom is what you'll get in your kitchen. Some people
like this predictability. But if you want something more
natural looking, consider granite.
- Colors and trends come and go, but most of these super-durable
countertops stay in place for 15 to 20 years or more.
Think twice before specifying that bright blue top.
Here's a look at the pros and cons of three popular high-end
options: solid surface, engineered stone and granite.
Solid surface: A zillion options
These tops—sold under various brand names—are made from acrylic and
polyester blends. One company alone offers
its product line in more than 110 colors and
textures, and with dozens of edge profiles
available, the possibilities are endless. Solid
surface tops are nonporous, making them
excellent for food preparation and difficult
to stain. They can be formed into nearly any
shape and size, sinks can be undermounted,
and joined sections, when installed correctly,
appear seamless. These tops are durable, and
if they're burned or scratched, the damage
can usually be sanded and buffed out by a
certified installer. Avoid placing hot pans
directly on the surface; intense heat can pop
seams and discolor surfaces.
Expect to spend $45 to $75 per square foot
installed. Manufacturers typically
warranty their product for 10 years.
Engineered stone: The best of two worlds
Engineered stone tops
combine the beauty of natural stone with the functional benefits of solid surface
materials. They're composed of a blend of about 95 percent crushed natural
stone—usually quartz—and 5 percent synthetic resins to bind the stone. Tops
can be tinted to a wide variety of colors. They're nonporous and resistant to both
stains and scratches. Sinks can be undermounted and a wide range of edging
options are available. Like genuine stone, they have an extremely hard surface,
which is excellent for durability but also slippery and cold to the touch.
Costs range from about $65 to $85 per square foot, installed, and most carry
a 10-year warranty.
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Granite: Rock solid and natural
Not too long ago, granite countertops were a rarity; today, because of greater availability
and an increased number of fabricators, granite tops are more
common and affordable. Granite is available in a variety of colors, sinks can be
undermounted and a variety of edgings can be crafted. Since each piece is unique,
you may want to visit the fabricator to select the exact slabs for your kitchen.
Seams are slightly more evident in granite, and hot grease can stain unsealed tops, but overall, granite requires very little maintenance. Expect to spend $75 to $125 per square foot, installed.
Soapstone and marble tops are also available through most granite top fabricators. Both products are softer, require more upkeep and are more susceptible to stains and scratches. But if you're willing to commit to more maintenance, they're viable, unique-looking alternatives.
Photo courtesy of Wilsonart Solid Surface
For Pros Only
Besides a high-end look and great
durability, solid surface, engineered
stone and granite tops have
something else in common: All
must be professionally installed.
Manufacturers of the first two
products will not warranty their
tops unless they're installed by certified
pros who have undergone
Almost all granite tops are
installed professionally, since fabrication
and installation require
specialized tools and skills. It's
simply not worth it for a do-it-yourselfer
to invest the time and
dollars required, especially for a
project that's usually a once-in-a-lifetime
affair. If you want to roll
up your sleeves, pick up a paintbrush
or hammer, but leave these
tops to the pros.