Kitchen counters: Pros and cons
For Steamboat Homefinder
The pros of granite include natural beauty, strength, durability, and plenty of color choice. The biggest con: granite’s porous surface can easily stain and allow bacteria to grab hold.
Kitchen countertops are often a home’s visual and functional focus. Yet with seemingly endless combinations of materials, patterns, and colors to choose from, selecting the right countertop can be a challenge. Why is marble a favorite with home bakers? What’s become of Corian? Can you really use bamboo? This guide to the most popular options should help.
In recent years, quartz has overtaken granite as the top choice for high-end kitchen counters. Not to be confused with naturally occurring quartzite, this man-made “engineered stone” matches the beauty of granite without suffering from granite’s major drawback, which is porosity. Popular quartz brands include Caesarstone, Cambria, Silestone, Santa Margherita and Viatera.
Pros: Virtually stainproof, quartz is more scratch and chip resistant than granite, which it equals in heat resistance. Quartz is a low-maintenance choice, it doesn’t need to be sealed and its glossy surface discourages bacteria growth. Quartz is available in a wide range of colors and patterns.
Cons: In the past, quartz’s main shortcoming was a manufactured, overly uniform appearance. Now, however, it can be made to resemble even the most unique look of just about any material. It can show seams, especially with lighter colors. As with granite, quartz edges can chip and must be professionally repaired.
Cost: $80 – $140 per square foot, installed.
Although quartz has been edging it out recently, this naturally occurring stone remains very popular, especially in kitchens where “How much does it cost?” isn’t a consideration.
Pros: Natural veining gives each slab a unique appearance, helping to create granite’s unique beauty. Strong, durable and little affected by heat, granite is nearly maintenance-free if properly treated. Many colors and patterns are available.
Cons: If not sealed, granite’s porous surface can easily stain and also allow bacteria to grab hold. The surface needs to be sealed at installation, thereafter about once a year. Because of granite’s weight, improper installation can result in cracking. As with quartz, seams are hard to hide.
Cost: $70 – $175 per square foot installed.
Another popular if expensive natural stone, marble is both durable and beautiful, and is the classic choice in high-end kitchens.
Pros: Bakers especially love marble because it helps keep bread dough cool by absorbing the dough’s heat. Natural swirls give each counter surface its own character, and it’s available in a wide range of colors.
Cons: Marble is more susceptible to scratches, stains and etching than granite, and is often installed only in low-use areas of a countertop or in kitchens designed more for show than actual food prep. Even then, surfaces should be resealed regularly.
Cost: $50 – $150 per square foot installed.
This abuse-resistant, easily repaired and reasonably priced material can be manufactured to look like just about any other surface. Although not considered as high-end as it was when Dupont introduced the Corian brand decades ago, solid-surface counters are still a popular choice. Other brands include Swanstone, Staron, Wilsonart, Formica and Avonite.
Pros: The non-porous surface is impervious to stains and requires little maintenance. Seams are virtually invisible, scratches are easily repaired, and it comes in a wide choice of colors and patterns.
Cons: Solid-surface counters can be damaged by high heat and harsh chemicals.
Cost: $50 – $90 per square foot, installed.
Formed from glued-together hardwood strips, butcher block gives countertops a warm, homey look. Although fine-grained maple is the most popular butcher-block wood, the many options range from birch to red oak to cherry and even bamboo. Typically, it is not a kitchen’s only counter surface.
Pros: Although butcher block is easily marred, nicks and scratches are also easily sanded out. There is a wide variety of looks and prices. Additionally, butcher block is not as cold to the touch as stone surfaces.
Cons: As with just about any counter surface, best practice requires using a cutting board and wiping up spilled liquids, including water, right away. Wooden surfaces scratch over time. Sealing and routine maintenance is more frequently necessary than with some stone countertops.
Cost: $75 – $125 per square foot, installed.
When a customized countertop shape is the goal, concrete is often the right choice. For further customization, recycled glass, seashells and other natural materials can be embedded in the surface.
Pros: Poured concrete adapts to unusual shapes, is easily maintained and is stain resistant when sealed. The surface is energy efficient, as it absorbs and releases heat, and can be color tinted. Ambitious DIYers can tackle concrete countertops themselves.
Cons: Concrete surfaces chip and scratch easily, and need to be sealed regularly. DIYers should keep in mind that the material’s heavy weight can make it difficult to install, and that poured concrete counters can take weeks to cure. Labor-intense custom installation adds to the cost. While concrete is a trendy look, it can be too industrial for some homeowners.
Cost: $65 – $135 per square foot, installed.
Laminate countertops are worth considering when affordability matters more than prestige. Yet despite its low cost, laminate can mimic the look of most other, more expensive, materials. Brands include Formica, Wilsonart and Nevermar.
Pros: There are literally hundreds of options. Laminate stands up well to stains and is a popular choice for DIYers.
Cons: Over time, plastic laminate can delaminate. It is susceptible to damage from cutting and abrasion, and is not heat-resistant. Repairs are not a simple undertaking.
Cost: $30 – $50, per square foot, installed.
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