The Pros and Cons of Countertop Materials

Updated: May 27, 2020

Comparing high-end countertops

countertop optionsFamily Handyman

In premium kitchen countertops, the most popular choices are solid surface, engineered stone and granite. Here's the difference between them.

Photo courtesy of Wilsonart

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About countertops

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.

Plus: Learn how to clean a stainless steel sink.

Solid surface: A zillion countertop options

Solid surface

Solid surface has a softer, warmer feel than stone, and is available in a huge range of colors and styles. An especially appealing feature is that seams are invisible.

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 countertops: The best of two worlds

Engineered stone countertops

Almost indistinguishable from solid stone, but with more consistent colors.

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.

Granite: Rock solid and natural

Natural stone

Natural stone has more variation and character than the manufactured tops.

Not too long ago, granite countertop options 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.

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 extensive training.

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.

Required Tools for this countertop material comparison project

These countertop options are all installed by pros.