Types of Counter Tops
A wide selection of materials are available out in the market and choosing the type of countertop for your remodel or new home can be a major dilemma these days. The information below should guide to choose the most suitable product for your project.
Until a few years ago, plastic laminate was probably what most people thought of first. In fact, plastic-laminate tops still account for large % of the market. This product is made of multiple layers of resin-soaked craft paper, topped by a patterned sheet of melamine that is subjected to heat and pressure. A 1/16-inch laminate sheet is then made into a countertop in two ways, either post-formed or custom-fabricated.
Post forming is done at a fabrication plant to create tops with rounded backsplashes and nosing. These tops can be purchased off-the-shelf in limited colors, or special ordered. The result is the least expensive, easiest to clean and quickest way to install plastic laminate.
Custom fabricating results in a range of styles. Laminate sheets are glued to the particle board, then edged with laminate, wood or solid surface strips.
Pros: Laminates are low cost, have an extensive choice of colors and patterns and can be easily installed and maintained.
Cons: The product is not as durable as stone or solid surface, and most of the time, it can’t be used with undermount sinks. It will also scratch and can be tough to repair. If your family is careless, this may not be a good choice, as hot pans and sharp knives will damage the countertop.
Today there are more than two dozen manufacturers of solid surface countertops. Most are 1/2-inch thick and made of acrylic, polyester and fillers. Edges are built up with two or three layers of material for a thicker appearance. A predictable product, solid surface installation should be handled by a professional who is certified to fabricate and install that specific product.
Pros: Solid surface is sometimes called a “near-perfect” product. It is non-porous, difficult to stain, has a long life and can be made in nearly any size and shape. It is seamless, and scratches and burns can be buffed or sanded out. Sinks can be undermounted and backsplashes can be integrated into the countertop, making them seamless.
Cons: Most problems with solid-surface tops come with improper installation. Damage can occur if a hot pot can makes the product melt. Some critics also say the product looks artificial. It can be rather expensive to purchase and have installed.
Granite or Stone
The most durable option of all countertops, stone is becoming more popular among homeowners and is no longer seen as an “exotic” option. Granite countertops are made from natural products and come in a wide range of colors, patterns and depths, yet each is absolutely unique. The cost, which a few years ago was prohibitive for most budgets, has come down due to increasing imports, new technologies and thinner blades that allow the product to be cut with less waste and cost.
Pros: Granite surfaces resist most stains, and are even tougher if sealed. A variety of edge styles including bevel, radius, half-radius, ogee and square are available. Sinks can be under mounted and the product can handle hot pans and hard to scratch.
Cons: Granite is hard and cold and if neglected, can be stained by hot grease. Seams can be evident on granite with strong patterns.
Engineered stone combines the functional benefits of solid-surface material with the great look of natural stone. Engineered stone is mostly made of crushed natural stone that is bound together by acrylic or polyester resins. It’s a fairly new product in the U.S., but has been popular in Europe for more than a decade. Anyone looking for zero maintenance on a kitchen countertop should consider this product. Products made of marble and limestone are best suited for bathrooms.
Pros: Engineered stone is non-porous and nearly impossible to stain. It never needs sealing and resists scratches. They have a nice natural look, but can be tinted to create colors not found in nature.
Cons: Expensive, with a cost falling between solid-surface and natural-stone prices. The product can crack or change color if exposed to extreme temperatures. Some feel the surface is too slippery, cold and unforgiving.
A common material in restaurants, stainless steel countertops are less common in homes, largely because they’re expensive and hard to find. There are different grades and thicknesses of stainless steel. Make sure the steel is wrapped completely around the edges of the substrate to protect it.
Pros: Stainless tops are very sanitary, provide good heat-proof surfaces and are easy to clean.
Cons: A very expensive choice, this product shows fingerprints and water spots easily, especially when it is new. As it ages, it can show nicks, dents and scratches. The product usually can only be found in limited sizes.
Granite, porcelain and glazed tiles are most commonly used on countertops, as they are less porous and more durable. Install backer board over plywood to create a good surface to install tiles. Then use an epoxy grout that is more durable. If standard cement grout is used, make sure you seal it often and well.
Pros: Tile is reasonably priced and tile countertops can be installed by pros and amateurs alike. It comes in a variety of styles and colors.
Cons: Tile is hard and never totally even along the surface. Grout lines are vulnerable to staining. High-gloss and solid-color tiles show scratches.
Concrete countertops seem to be growing in popularity. They are durable, heat resistant and can be formed into any shape with the ability to embed patterns or dye them. Concrete tops are not recommended for those who don’t want to do the maintenance, as they are surprisingly porous and need to be sealed and re-sealed.
Pros: Concrete countertops allow for uniqueness, flexibility and fun. It can be mixed with a variety of colors.
Cons: Concrete tops are expensive and easily stained, even with a lacquer finish. They chip easily and are hard, with an industrial look. They require diligent maintenance.