Fitting a new kitchen is a huge investment, and it needs to be both beautiful and practical, fitting in with your carefully planned interior design. Despite spending a fortune on fittings and fixtures, many people fail to pick the right countertops, buying for beauty rather than as an important utility that must survive daily use. It is important to find the right countertops, striking the correct balance between budget, practicality, and aesthetics.
There are so many varieties of countertop available that choosing the best type to suit your particular needs and budget is difficult. Before making any decision, you should plan how you are going to use your kitchen. For example, if you do a lot of cooking, you want something that is going to last for many years. If you cook infrequently, you could safely err towards something that is aesthetically pleasing, but not quite as robust.
Laminate Countertops – The Budget Option
Laminate countertops are the budget option and are a decent choice when finances are a little stretched. Laminate countertops are constructed from a lower-quality base wood, plywood or chipboard core, and laminated with a veneer. This veneer is made from a better quality wood or plastic, giving an attractive finish and durability. The price is low, and they are available in a wide range of different colors and textures. Modern advances in technology ensure that laminate countertops are virtually indistinguishable from solid countertops.
However, the major disadvantage of veneered countertops is that they are not particularly durable. Firstly, if damp seeps inside the countertop, then it will permanently warp and swell. You should always avoid countertops with chipboard cores, and also reject any that do not have neat and close-fitting veneer seams. In addition, hot utensils and cooking pots will melt most veneers, so you should buy laminate countertops with a certified heat resistant finish.
Concrete Countertops – Surprisingly Beautiful
Concrete countertops are a much more resilient option than laminates and are available in a range of surprisingly beautiful finishes. Rather than the dull gray associated with concrete, modern technology uses chemical paints and subtle stains to create an elegant option to fit into any kitchen design. Machining and polishing can give a smooth or subtly textured finish, almost as beautiful as solid stone. Concrete countertops are extremely attractive, hardwearing and very hygienic.
The main disadvantage of this type is the price, and the finesse and needed for a beautiful finish means that concrete countertops are difficult to manufacture. Every concrete countertop is individually crafted, so the process cannot take advantage of mass production processes. Concrete countertops are extremely heavy and the supports have to be extremely strong, again adding to the overall price.
If the concrete is poorly maintained or suffers wide extremes of temperature, it is prone to cracking and splintering. In addition, the surface of the concrete is coated with sealant, to prevent liquid damaging the concrete, but hot utensils can damage this, allowing water to penetrate, often with severe consequences.
Traditional Wooden Countertops
Traditional wooden countertops are the most beautiful of all the options, giving any kitchen a touch of style and elegance. Wood is robust and durable, also possessing natural anti-bacterial properties. Even if a traditional wood countertop suffers minor damage or staining, the damage can be gently sanded out.
The price of traditional wooden countertops varies, depending upon whether you want softwood or hardwood. Hardwood is extremely durable and will last for many years, but it is expensive and difficult to work. Cheaper softwood surfaces, whilst elegant, are easy to scratch and dent, so will need regular maintenance, sanding and resealing. If you do opt for traditional wooden countertops, make sure that the wood is from sustainable sources, rather than endangered rainforests.
Solid Surface Countertops
Solid countertops are an excellent mid-range option, blending durability with hygiene and price. Solid surface countertops are fabricated from one solid piece of durable plastic or tough acrylic, similar to the modern plastic chopping boards. Acrylic is very mold and germ resistant, making solid surface countertops a preferred option in cleanroom environments, such as hospital kitchens. The reasonable price and the huge number of options in color and style mean that this type is growing in popularity.
Plastic countertops do carry some disadvantages that are worth bearing in mind. Acrylic and plastic are very prone to scratching and heat, and so cutting boards and hot pan rests are essential. However, solid surface countertops are easy to repair, and specialists are very adept at sanding and heat reforming the surface, to make it smooth and unblemished. Solid surface countertops are not the most attractive option but do offer many unique advantages, especially for ‘working’ kitchens.
Tile countertops are an often-overlooked option, but provide a beautiful finish and are within the capabilities of most competent DIY enthusiasts; anyone who can tile can make their own tiled countertops. They are extremely attractive and are relatively inexpensive, although custom-made tiles will rack up the price. Tiled surfaces are heat resistant and glazed tile will not stain.
Tiled surfaces are often prone to chipping and cracking, especially if thin, low-quality tiles are used. Tiled countertops are not suitable for clean environments, because crumbling, old grout can be a haven for microbes. Tiled surfaces, however well constructed, are uneven and unsuitable for some purposes.
Stainless Steel Countertops
Where hygiene and cleanliness are an absolute priority, such as hospitals and restaurants, stainless steel countertops are by far the best option. Stainless steel is extremely durable, easy to clean, and offers no place to hide for bacteria and mildew. Even in home kitchens, it is common practice to incorporate stainless steel countertops, often near the stovetop and sink, to protect less robust finishes from heat and moisture.
The major disadvantage of stainless steel is the appearance; it is sometimes used in contemporary kitchen designs, but its ‘institutional’ baggage means that other types are preferred in homes. Stainless steel is extremely expensive, outside the budget of most homeowners, although small sections are often incorporated into a kitchen design.
Granite — King of the Countertops
You learn a lot about kitchen countertop options when you decide to remodel your kitchen. Most people spend significant amounts of time in the kitchen and need to choose a durable countertop material. Budget considerations might mean that you’re limited in your material choices, but here is a guide to the different kitchen countertop options on the market.
Let’s begin by discussing the benefits of granite as a material used for countertops. It’s one of the most revered materials used in kitchens and it is known for its beauty and durability.
It’s always nice when you can take something from nature and incorporate it into your home. Granite is a very hard and tough stone which makes it a popular choice for construction purposes. It can withstand severe weather and has become the preferred material for monuments and cemetery headstones. In a kitchen, it’s very convenient to use the stone because it handles heat extremely well and you don’t have to worry about burning the surface.
History of Granite in Construction
Granite has been used for centuries and was even used in the construction of several ancient pyramids in Egypt and Hindu temples in India. The stone can be found in quarries around the world—the first railway in the United States was built in the 1800s for the purpose of transporting the stone across new England. Aberdeen, Scotland is known as “The Granite City” because the majority of its buildings were built from the stone which is abundant there. History of Granite in Construction
Varieties of Granite — Colors and Patterns
The color and patterns of different granite varieties range from grey to pink to green and usually feature striations of crystal throughout. Many homeowners select a granite that coordinates with the rest of their kitchen decor and will select and purchase their desired stone slab before it is cut down into the shape of a countertop. There are over 900 varieties of granite to choose from, so you are sure to find one that will look nice in your kitchen.
Drawbacks — Cost, Maintenance, Potential Health Issues
A few drawbacks of granite countertops are the cost, maintenance, and possible safety issues. First, many of the granite slabs at home today have been imported from foreign sources that use cheaper labor and have lower production costs. It is still one of the most expensive kitchen countertop options, and many homeowners might not be able to afford it. Second, it is recommended that granite should be sealed with a special sealant every six to twelve months. This can be a drawback for those who are looking for a no-maintenance material.
Finally, there have been some questions raised, as in this New York Times article, about unsafe levels of radon in some granites and concern that countertops are emitting cancer-causing radiation. This is still debated and many believe that there is not enough radiation to pose a risk.
Silestone Countertops — A Durable Choice
Beauty from Nature
Silestone is one of the best kitchen countertop options and contains quartz, known for its toughness and strength. Silestone is used in kitchens and bathrooms for flooring, countertops, and other surfaces which makes it a versatile material.
Resistance to Scratches, Stains, and Burns
Silestone’s quartz content makes it resistant to scratches. It is not scratch-proof, but definitely a more durable choice than a laminate countertop. It is not porous like granite, so you don’t have to worry about stains seeping into the material and you also do not have to seal Silestone like granite. In that way, it requires less maintenance. It is recommended to use heat pads and trivets to protect Silestone from heat damage, but it withstands more heat than a laminate countertop material.
Since Silestone is manufactured, you can find a variety of color options including bright colors that don’t naturally occur in granite. If you are looking for a daring color choice for your kitchen, Silestone might be the best choice for you.
Safety and Reliability
One of the best things about Silestone is that it has an antimicrobial property, which helps cut down on germs in your kitchen and keeps you and your family healthy. Cosentino, the manufacturer of Silestone, offers a 15-year warranty on its materials which might appeal to some homeowners. Cosentino also claims that Silestone countertops have low or non-existent levels of radon gas emissions. Granite is also more expensive than Silestone, so many homeowners will select Silestone instead as a durable and more affordable choice.
DuPont Zodiaq Countertops — A Silestone Rival
DuPont Zodiaq Countertops are comparable to Silestone. This material is DuPont’s answer to the Cosentino Silestone product and also contains natural quartz which makes it strong and durable. Available in a variety of colors, Zodiac is also maintenance-free and resistant to scratches, burns, and stains. An interesting thing to note is that DuPont’s Zodiaq limited warranty is only 10 years (compared to Cosentino’s 15 years).
DuPont Corian — An Economical Choice
Corian has been used for over 40 years in all types of interior applications. It is considered a solid surface material, in contrast with granite, Silestone, and Zodiaq which contain natural stone materials. It is usually less costly than the three previously mentioned materials and is also nonporous and stain-resistant. Corian countertops resist mold and mildew and are rated for safe use in food preparation areas.
One advantage of Corian is that you can install coved backsplashes that keep moisture and dirt out of cracks. Another advantage is that you can buff out scratches and nicks from countertops with some fine sandpaper. Corian is more expensive than laminate countertops but less expensive than granite, Silestone, and Zodiaq. This material is also available in a large variety of colors to suit your taste.
One drawback of Corian is that it doesn’t have quite the same hardness or durability as the aforementioned materials, and it actually expands and contracts slightly in the home which gives you an idea of it’s material stability.
Summary of Kitchen Countertop Options
Countertops are available in such a wide array of designs and materials that choosing the best type can be difficult. Budget, hygiene, and aesthetics are all major parts of the decision, and a practical kitchen is not always a beautiful kitchen, leading to compromises. Price is often the major barrier but, whatever type you decide upon, try to go for the best quality that you can afford. For example, a top-quality laminate countertop will generally be better than a cheap wooden countertop.