Photo by Ben Snider

Update: There’s a massive range of kitchen countertops available, and you have to ensure you pick the one that suits your home and your budget. From low-cost, low-maintenance materials ideal for the busy family, to pricier, higher end materials for a show kitchen, there’s something out there to suit everyone. And whatever material you go for, there are many affordable ways to have them installed.

By Dan Fritschen

A new kitchen countertop can add to the look and feel of your kitchen and improve its functionality. The material choices for your new countertop differ in aesthetic appeal, maintenance required, resilience, and applicability. There is something for every homeowners taste and budget.

Comparison of Materials

To select the most suitable material for your new kitchen countertop, it is advisable to have an idea of each of their properties so that you can make an informed purchase.

Laminate: Laminates are made of slender sheets of plastic of varying thickness. Formica is a commonly used laminate. Laminates can replicate the look of other materials, such as granite. It is an inexpensive material, available in a large variety of colors, patterns, and surfaces, the edges can be square or rolled, and the material is resistant to staining and easy to clean.

Laminates have some disadvantages as well. Their finish can get spoiled due to heat; so hot pots and utensils should not be placed on a laminated surface. Cleaning liquids with strong chemicals too can damage the surface. A laminate is not useful as a cutting surface as it scratches easily; therefore, it is advisable to mount a chopping board. Once damaged, a laminate can not be repaired, but must be replaced. Flat edges of a laminated surface tend to chip. Laminates do not present a seamless appearance, particularly the lighter shades. This is because the backing is dark in color. Scratches and abrasions will show on a high gloss surface, but not on a patterned laminate.

Tile: Tiles are a relatively inexpensive way to add color and character to your kitchen. They are available in a variety of sizes ranging from 1 to 18 square inches.. Tiles are primarily made of glazed ceramics; the glazing renders tiles resistant to dampness, soiling, and scuffing. Tiles give you the freedom to design your kitchen countertop in the most creative of ways. They can be arranged vertically, diagonally, or horizontally. Tiles offer a range of texture and pattern options. However, the grout used between the tiles soils easily, is susceptible to mildew attack, and requires frequent cleaning. Tiles are not very resistant to impact and often chip easily, they are slightly more expensive than laminate, the use of epoxy grout, which has the benefit of being more resistant to soiling can add to the cost.

Corian: Corian is a brand name for a solid surface kitchen countertop material. It has been available for the past 30 years. Unlike laminates, a solid surface comprises a single block of plastic. Solid surfaces are durable, available in a range of colors, matte and gloss finish, the seams are not prominent, and therefore they present a uniform look. Solid surfaces can mimic the look and feel of stone. They resist staining, are non-porous, and can be cleaned easily with mild soap. Damaged surfaces can be repaired with the help of repair kits that are readily available. Most brands offer transferable warranties. The major disadvantage of opting for solid surfacing is its price. The installation has to be executed by a certified installer. In addition, the surface can be damaged by heat and can be scratched under certain circumstances.

Granite: Granite is the most widely used stone for countertops. Its feel and character are imitated by several synthetic alternatives but never quite equaled. Granite is extremely durable, scratchproof, and heat resistant. Therefore, it eliminates the need for installing trivets or a chopping board. It offers a wide selection of natural colors in polished and matte finishes. It can be cleaned with soap and water, a special cleaner for removing stains is recommended.

Granite has a few disadvantages as well. It is expensive, heavy and requires professional installation. It requires periodic sealing to avoid staining and has visible seams. Granite tiles are an inexpensive option to installing a slab; however, the grouts require regular cleaning in order to maintain sanitation.

Other options in stone worktops include limestone and marble. Limestone offers limited color choice but has high heat and impact resistance. Marble provides a nonstick surface; it can be used for baking too. However marble is porous and discolors easily.

Quartz: Quartz is a beautiful natural material that is tough and durable as well. Silestone and Cambria are quartz countertop surfaces. Quartz offers several advantages when compared to other countertop materials. It provides greater scratch and scorch resistance as compared to plastic surfaces. It also does not require resealing and provides better stain resistance than granite. Quartz is available in a range of colors and offers many edge design options. Since, quartz is an engineered product the colors are more uniform than natural surfaces such as granite. It is also an approved surface for food preparation by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) in the United Sates. Quartz countertops have seams but these are slender and when installed properly are hardly noticeable. Most of the manufacturers provide a 10-year warranty for the material.

Wood and Butcher Block: Wood is another natural surface that is favored for the character it can add to your kitchen. Wood is an ideal cutting surface, as it does not blunt the knife-edge. A wood countertop is prepared by gluing together strips of rock maple or beech wood. Wood is easy to care for and lasts long. However, designs and edge details for a butcher block should not be too intricate as they are difficult to clean. A thorough scrubbing is required after using the butcher block for raw meat. Periodic sanding and oiling help to remove the scratches that appear over time. Wood also requires regular sealing treatment.

How long does it take to install a countertop?

The time taken to install a countertop will vary with the material. Heavier materials, such as granite and quartz will take more time for a proper installation. A pre-formed laminate kitchen counter can be installed in approximately 2-3 hours. With most installations, there are always some adjustments to be made since on many occasions’ factors such as, the walls not being plumb or the cabinet surface not being level come into play. If the countertop is fabricated onsite the process may take 2 days or more, as the sealing and finishing take time to set.