How to Select the Best Kitchen Countertop for Your Home

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The kitchen is the heart of your home and sets the decorative tone for the entire house.  The kitchen countertops also need to be functional, align with your lifestyle in terms of upkeep, and be cost effective for your budget.  When you are building or remodeling your kitchen, taking the necessary time to choose the best kitchen countertop can make a world of difference in the appearance, mood, and function of your kitchen.

Different types of countertops

There are several types of countertops with multiple color options in each from which to choose.  From the traditional laminate to various wood options, natural stone, quartz, concrete, and solid surface the possibilities can seem overwhelming initially.   The first step is to narrow your search to the type of product you prefer based on your budget, usage, lifestyle, and the decor you are seeking.

Laminate counters – Most of us are familiar with laminate countertops which are made of thin sheets of hard plastic laminate glued to a thick layer of particle board. The color choices and patterns for laminate counters are typically small patterns or solid colors with some of the more up to date replicating natural marble or granite.  This is your most economical option and with proper care can last for years. Once damage, such as swelling caused by water in the particle board, scratches on the surface or any type of burns, sets in they cannot be repaired.

Wood counters – Wood counters can bring a warm, natural feeling to a kitchen space.  High-end wood counters are made from thicker slabs of hardwood species of trees, such as maple, cherry, and teak and tend to be costly.   Less expensive “butcher block” types are made from laminating strips of pine or balsa wood. Wood can be finished with polyurethane, varnish, shellac, mineral oil, or wax.  Some of these finishes require more work than others and some are better for cutting on the wood. You must take care to use only food grade finishes for countertops. With the proper finish and care,  solid wood tops can last for years and even be resanded if the damage is unsightly to you. Even the less costly butcher block types can be resanded but they tend to look tattered or not as smooth as a harder wood.  Removing the inevitable water, oil and mildew stains is possible but you should know which cleaning process to use for which types of stains. A wood island surrounded by another surface is an ideal way to add the warmth and beauty of wood while having another more durable surface for food prep.

Natural stone counters –There are different types of natural stone.  These various stone types are categorized by their mineral makeup and not by hardness.  There are marbles hard enough to be used as exterior wall cladding on buildings, but they tend to be costly.   The marble look is very popular for countertops today for good reason, it is irresistibly gorgeous. Sealers that you can apply to marble have improved greatly making it possible for more and more people to enjoy this beautiful stone in their homes, but you must be willing to adhere to a strict maintenance regimen. Marble can be kept in a visually pleasing appearance but it takes regular sealing (3-4 times per year) with quality sealers and more mindfulness on a daily basis. Granite is reliably durable, a natural bacteria inhibitor (bacteria cannot grow on natural rock), long lasting, suitable for outdoor use, easy to repair if any chips or scratches do appear, requires easy to no maintenance (contrary to popular belief) and comes in thousands of colors and patterns.  The cost varies greatly depending upon the look and availability. Quartzite – not to be confused with quartz- is a natural stone which can be soft to extremely hard. It comes in a huge variety of colors but the more popular today are the marble looking options. Quartzite is more durable than marble because it is more stain resistant and typically harder. It is well suited to almost any lifestyle. The softer varieties are affordable relative to natural stone while the hard quartzite tends to be more costly. Soapstone is an amazing natural stone that has been loved for hundreds of years.  While the talc mineral gives this stone the soft feel it is also the reason it can mar and scratch easily. This stone is extremely dense and is not susceptible to staining. Using mineral oil or wax to finish the stone is optional and darkens the stone. Although most people who own soapstone enjoy the character of usage soapstone can be sanded to remove scratches with household sandpaper.

Quartz – Quartz is a man made product which is typically billed as 93% natural stone product.  This is a little misleading since that is the percentage of natural stone dust by weight not volume.  By volume, it is closer to 66% with the rest of the material consisting of polymer resins. The new variety of surface textures are open for debate with some brands recommending that the textured surface not be left with even water standing on it.  That said, the traditional polished surfaces can be durable and cost-effective depending upon the look you desire. The quartz surfaces that attempt to replicate the look of natural marble are more affordable than a natural Calacatta marble would be but still costly.  However, simple solid colors can actually be very affordable depending upon the brand. There are dozens of brands on the market. Some are made by The DuPont Corporation while others are made in China, India, Turkey, Vietnam, and Italy. The Cambria brand is very costly but is manufactured in the US.   The quality of one brand over another is also up for debate. They are all susceptible to scratches and burns and repair is difficult to non-existent. They are not suitable for outdoor use and can discolor with direct sunlight even indoors.

Concrete – Concrete countertops are a mixed bag.  The process is the key. When performed properly these tops can be artistic and durable but extremely costly.  When performed poorly the tops crumble over time and removal is complicated. Only consider these tops if you hire an expert with a proven track record.

Solid Surface – Solid surface is a man-made product usually manufactured with a combination of alumina trihydrate (ATH), acrylic or polyester resins and pigments.  This is a seamless countertop. The most well known is Corian which is manufactured by the DuPont Chemical Corporation. This product is highly susceptible to deep scratches which can theoretically be buffed out.  It is best to use preventative care with this product and protect your surface. This product typically comes in small patterns of various pastel colors. The cost is comparable to granite tops.