With so many types of countertops available we thought shedding a little light on the topic would be helpful.
Here is a comprehensive list of the most common types of countertops used in kitchens, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and approximate pricing.
Laminate – Sometimes referred to by the brand name Formica, plastic laminate countertops are actually made by several different companies. Formica and Wilsonart are the most popular brands. The popularity of laminate countertops in the past was due to it’s substantialy lower cost than solid surface countertops like granite, quartz, and Corian. However the price for laminate tops has gone up over time while the cost of many solid surface tops has gone down. Nowadays, laminate tops rarely make financial sense.
There is one exception – If you have a galley type kitchen, straight premade laminate tops called blanks are much less expensive than custom tops. They can look very similar to solid surface tops and cost a fraction of the price. L-shaped or U-shaped tops are more sensibly done in an inexpensive granite if you are trying to stay on a budget.
Granite – Granite is a natural stone and is very hard to scratch or chip. It does not etch (lose it’s shine from exposure to acidic liquids like lemon juice) and especially with the less expensive colors does not stain easily. Granite should be sealed yearly, an easy process that takes about 20 minutes. Now that most granite comes from third world countries, it can be the least expensive of the solid surface tops.
There is no limit to how much exotic granite patterns can cost. Level 1 colors start at around $43/sq ft in our area. The more expensive colors are higher priced not because they are “better”, they are simply less common, or more fragile and so harder to fabricate or mine.
Marble – Recently marble has become a popular stone to use for kitchen countertops. But be careful and make sure you understand it’s limitations. Marble looks beautiful, but is very soft. A dinner plate dragged across a top can scratch it. It also stains easily and so should be sealed often. The biggest complaint about polished marble tops is that they etch. Etching is when acids like lemon juice, cleaners, or even ketchup remove the shine from the top. If you decide on a marble top then treat it gently and expect it to have a worn and used look over time. Many feel this is still beautiful, and as long as this natural look is something that appeals to you, there will be no surprises. Marble prices start at around the price of level 5 granite so approximately $85/sq ft.
Quartzite – Quartzite is a natural stone that can look like a marble but has more of the properties of granite. It is very hard, and like granite is difficult to scratch, chip, or stain. However some quartzite tops can etch (lose their shine) when expose to acids. Ask you sales person or better yet test a sample of your quartzite with lemon juice to see if the color you are considering etches easily. Quartzite prices start at around the price of a level 5 or 6 granite.
Serpentine – Serpentine is a striking and veiny natural stone sometimes used for countertops. While it can be quite beautiful, it will also scratch, chip, stain, and etch easily. Choose it understanding this. It is also not inexpensive and prices start around the cost of the more expensive stones.
Quartz – Quartz countertops, also called engineered stone, are man-made tops composed of pieces of quartz, glass, and a bonding resin that glues everything together. The resin is a not stone and melts at 440 degrees Fahrenheit. So don’t treat quartz tops like other stone tops, they can be burned. Since quarts tops are artificial they have some advantages. They never need to be sealed, can’t be stained, and are almost as hard as granite. They are also somewhat flexible and don’t need the exacting installation requirements that real stone does because they are less likely to crack. There are many quartz manufacturers such as Zodiaq, Avanza, Silestone, Cambria, Ceasarstone, and Hanstone. All engineered quartz tops use the same patented manufacturing process so the differences from one line to another are purely aesthetic. Quartz pricing starts at about $70/sq ft with the most popular colors costing much more. The exception is the Cambria line where all the colors are the same price. Presently Main Line Kitchen Design sells Cambria for $80/sq ft.
“Green Tops” – Beware of the over priced “green” and “recycled” tops. The construction of these tops vary with the majority being quartz tops with some recycled glass or paper added to their resin mix. Other type tops include, 100% paper tops, Bamboo tops, recycled glass tops, and new ones pop up every day. The companies making these tops are smaller and less reliable than larger manufacturers and many of the claims to be green are dubious upon close inspection. Most reputable fabricators steer clear of these products even though consumers ask about them constantly because they find the tops through Google searches.
Concrete and resin tops – These tops will be more expensive than either concrete or quartz but have unusual finishes and unlike concrete are not porous. These tops usually start at at least $100/ sq ft.
Concrete – Concrete countertops have some beautiful acid washed finishes. They also start at the cost of the more expensive stone tops and the need to be sealed to be sanitary. Usually bees wax is used as the sealer.
Acrylics – Corian, Wilsonart Gibralter, Formica, Meganite, HiMax, and other brands make 100% acrylic countertops. The difference in brand is only aesthetic, but the bigger name brands definitely have nicer and more dramatic patterns. Be careful with hot pots. The melting temperature for acrylic is just over the temperature of boiling water so things taken out of the oven or off the stove cannot be placed on the countertop EVER! Pricing for acrylic tops will range between $60 /sq foot and $100 /sq ft depending on the color.
Glass – Solid glass countertops can be as dramatic as they are expensive. $200 /sq ft is not an uncommon cost for a glass top. Modern and Contemporary kitchens are usually the style that compliments a glass top.
Granite Island and Quartz Perimeter
Solid Wood or Butcher block – Butcher block and single piece wood tops can be beautiful. They start at around $80 /sq ft. Particularly striking solid slices of old growth timber can cost twice as much as butcher block tops. Wood tops come polyurethaned or sealed with oil. Tung oil is a common sealant. If you plan on cutting or chopping on your top then use the oil sealant. Wood tops scratch and burn easily.
Stainless Steel Countertops – Custom stainless steel countertops are most often used in restaurant settings. While they can be used in residential applications, finding an installer that will fabricate custom residential stainless steel tops can be a challenge. Tops start at over $100 per square foot. Outdoor kitchens frequently have stainless steel tops although most are pre-made tops incorporated into the design.
Tile Countertops – Ceramic, Porcelain, or granite tile countertops have lost popularity because the costs to build and install the tile no longer makes these tops less expensive than lower level solid surface tops. If you are making a tile top yourself the materials will be inexpensive but be prepared for a lot of work. If you are hiring an installer then you may be spending the same or more for what most people consider a less desirable top.
Soapstone – Soapstone may seem familiar to you since it is typically used for high school or college chemistry class countertops. Soapstone can’t be damaged by anything hot found in a kitchen. It also is not porous and so can’t be stained. Soapstone colors range from dark black to grey/black with white or green veining. Soapstone turns grey over time. However, it’s original finish will return when treated with mineral oil. Soapstone is also soft and scratches and nicks easily, but scratches are minimized when it is refreshed with oil. Soapstone top prices start at level 5 or 6 prices and go up from there.
There are positives and negatives about any type of countertop. So don’t be afraid to ask your designer or stone supplier questions to make sure you are getting the right top for you.
Hoping your countertop selection makes you as happy as our cabinets will ….and of course…