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Kitchen Counter Tops - Options & Material

With the number of choices in kitchen countertops, itís no wonder consumers have a hard time making a choice. One word of advice is to bring your samples home and try them next to your cabinets in your homeís own light. If you are looking to install a new countertop in your kitchen, here are a few of your choices:

Laminate (Formica) countertops have been the standard in kitchens until recent years. Laminates are durable and easy to clean and the least expensive of all countertops. They average in price from $15 to $30 per square foot, although adding end finishing and different edge choices can also add to the price. Laminate comes in just about any color you can imagine, so if you are looking for an inexpensive counter and want color in your kitchen, this may be your answer. The downside of laminate is it does scratch and show knife marks; and it has seams that show in the corners.

Ceramic tile is the second least expensive option in countertops. Prices range from about $11 to $80 or more per square foot. It is durable, easy to clean, and will take a hot pan; plus it comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. You can install tile yourself, but it is a harder job than you may imagine. The tile must be perfectly level or you will end up with an uneven countertop. Tiles can crack or chip easily if cans are dropped on them, and grout can take stains and discolor with time and use. You can put a warm pan on the surface, but it can scorch with an extremely hot pan. The choices of tile run the gamut from pure white to slate. When choosing your tile, you will want a smooth surface that will not collect dirt and grime.

Wood or Butcher Block adds a warm look to your home, but the price jumps to about $50 to $100 per square foot. Contrary to what you may have heard, wood is actually a very sanitary choice, as it has natural properties that protect bacterial buildup. Your choices of wood include all hardwoods such as oak, cherry, teak, mahogany, maple and more, so you have a wide range of colors to choose from. Wood is very durable and scratches can be sanded out. It must be oiled or sealed according to manufacturerís instructions.

Solid Surface Countertops are sold under the names Corian, Avonite, Gibraltar, or Swanstone. They are manufactured to your specifications and are seamless. Your kitchen sink can be a seamless transition from your countertop. This countertop can range from a low price of $20 per square foot for a flat surface to $40 to $85 or more for custom work. This product will show knife scratches, but they can be sanded out because the surface is solid. Solid surface counters come in a rainbow of colors and patterns, and may be your answer if you are looking for a specific color to enhance your kitchen. It is vulnerable to hot pans and stains, but again, it can be sanded out.

Engineered Stone is about the same as granite ($50 to $100 or more per square foot) and is manufactured under the names DuPont Zodiaq, Cambria Quartz, and Silestone. This product has actual quartz particles within it to make a hard, durable surface. It has a larger range of colors than granite, and the store samples may be more reliable than granite, which has individuality in each piece, however engineered stone has a more uniform look to it. Engineered stoneís nonporous surface resists stains and scratches and the big plus is it does not need to be resealed. It is easy to clean, but it is vulnerable to hot pans. This product is fairly new and I would certainly talk to someone who has it in their kitchen to see how they like it before I committed to buying it.

Granite is timeless and elegant and a popular choice in todayís homes. It is expensive ($50 to $100 or more per square foot) Granite is quarried and because it is an actual piece of stone, the colors and patterns may not be exactly like you see in the store. Some stores allow you to choose the actual piece of stone you want to prevent mistakes. Granite is somewhat more limited in colors and patterns than other options. One word of caution: Many people prefer the classic look of black granite, and it is a beautiful choice. Black, however shows dust and fingerprints easily. I have been to a friendís house who had black granite and even with small specks of silver or white within it, dust and fingerprints still showed, so keep that in mind as you decide your color choices.
Granite does absorb stains and can crack; plus it must be resealed periodically so it is not totally maintenance free. It does add elegance to a kitchen like no other product, and is great for resale in todayís market.
If you are looking for a less expensive alternative, try granite tiles or a 3/4 inch sheet of granite applied to a substrate. This option will also decrease the weight on your cabinets.

Stainless Steel is for you if you like an industrial modern look. This is what they use in chefís kitchens because it is very easy to clean and is heat resistant, durable, and seamless. It can be very expensive, not because of the cost of the steel, but because of the cost of fabrication. ($100 to $200 per square foot) Stainless steel is the only surface that can be safely bleached, but you canít cut on it without scratching it. However, the new, brushed surfaces do resist scratching. It is prone to dents, and can be noisy. You can absorb the noise by attaching the steel to a wood substrate, or insulating it with foam.

Soapstone is dark gray in color and has a smooth surface. This option is sometime used in historic homes to maintain their old integrity. It is somewhat stain resistant, but may crack or darken over time. The maintenance for soapstone is regular application of mineral oil.

Concrete is another option if you like a contemporary or industrial look. The cost is fairly high ($80 to $120 per square foot installed), but this is a good choice if you have odd shaped counters, as it can be poured to your specifications. Concrete is heat and scratch resistant and can be tinted to add color to the countertop. Cracking is possible with time, but the newer concrete treatments prevent cracking. Porosity can be reduced with a sealer.

Marble runs about $40 to $100 or more per square foot. It needs constant maintenance because it is fairly porous. Sealed marble will resist most stains, but because of itís porosity, acidic foods may damage the stone. This product must be sealed periodically. Marble can scratch and it may chip. It is resistant to heat. Marble comes in a variety of finishes and patterns, and is an elegant choice for your kitchen.


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