Get beyond the brand names and your countertop options really just come down to a handful of materials.
Once upon a time, you were lucky to have some faded laminate as a small prep area beside the sink. Today, you can choose from hundreds of colours, patterns and textures in materials ranging from natural stone, acrylic sheets to quartz composites and stained concrete. Here’s a some insights at the best countertop materials.
The most common natural stones used to make countertops include granite, soapstone and slate.
Once found only in expensive, high-end kitchens, it is more commonplace today and is by far the most popular natural stone countertop material. Granite counters are sold primarily through local fabricators, but they’re also available at many home centres. Granite comes in a wide array of colours, ranging from vibrant blues and variegated browns, to midnight black, deep red and mottled white. It’s cut into long, thick slabs that require few, if an seams. Most fabricators routinely make one-piece granite counters up to 10 ft long. After cutting and polishing, the granite is treated with an impregnating sealer that makes the countertop stain resistant. This treatment usually lasts 10 to 15 years, but be sure to use a stone cleaner not an abrasive cleanser for everyday cleaning. The widespread popularity and availability of granite has stabilized prices somewhat, but it’s not exactly cheap. Expect to pay between $75 to $250 sqft, depending on the granite colour and complexity of the fabrication.
SOAPSTONE / SLATE
Both come in far fewer colours than granite. Soapstone is usually dark greenish-black, although lighter green / grey slabs are also common. Slate is an extremely dense stone that comes in five subtle colours: green, red, grey, purple and black. Slightly less common are variegated purple and mottled purple slates, which have visible veins and shades of contrasting colours. Both soapstone and slate can be fabricated into sinks to match the countertop. Soapstone is porous, and must be sealed with mineral oil to reduce staining. Slate, on the other hand, is nonporous and virtually maintenance free. Slate is relatively soft, but scratches can be buffed out with steel wool. Slate has a soft, matte sheen, but you can create a wet look by rubbing the slate with lemon oil. Slate countertops cost roughly $100 to $200 sqft, depending on the fabrication. Soapstone is priced comparably with midrange granite: $100 to $150 sqft.
Solid-surfacing materials–such as Corian, are made of 100% acrylic, 100% polyester, or a combination of acrylic and poly. They’re highly resistant to stains and scratches, and completely renewable and repairable. Scratches and burns can be sanded out; deep gouges can be filled. Seams are fused together to create undetectable joints. And the material comes in literally hundreds of colours and patterns, many of which resemble natural stone. Solid-surface sinks are also available. Solid-surface counters have been around for nearly 40 years and have performed admirably in thousands of kitchens. A unique characteristic of solid-surfacing material is that the design possibilities are virtually limitless. From intricate inlays and custom backsplashes, to elegant edge treatments and colourful pin-striping, if you can dream it there’s a good chance the fabricator can create it. Consider quartz composite, a newer type of solid surfacing material. Also known as engineered stone, this unique material is composed of about 90% quartz and 10% acrylic or epoxy binder. Silestone, CaesarStone are a few of the many quartz composites now available. The main differences between engineered stone and traditional solid surfacing materials are that engineered stone is much harder and has a depth, clarity and radiance not found in other solid surfaces. Quartz composites cost slightly more than traditional solid surfaces, but both materials are comparable to granite;
The trend in kitchen design over the last decade or so has shifted toward low-maintenance, seamless counters. As a result, there are fewer countertops covered with ceramic tile. However, that doesn’t mean you should totally discount tile for your kitchen. Tile is an excellent choice for backsplashes or for secondary work surfaces, such as islands, eat-at counters, peninsulas, wet bars or butler’s pantries. Ceramic tile is often applied to a plywood substrate topped with 1/2-in.-thick cement backer-board. It’s difficult to estimate the cost of a tile countertop since much depends on the tile chosen and complexity of the installation. Simple solid-colour tiles cost as little as $1 per sqft, but the average cost is more in the $3 to $5 sqft range. A pro installation will cost between $30 to $50 sqft, plus the cost of the tile.
Wood is another traditional countertop material that has lost prominence over the years due both to the widespread popularity of granite and solid surfaces, and to the mistaken perception that wood can harbour germs and bacteria. In fact, according to a University of Wisconsin study in which microbiologists intentionally contaminated wooden cutting boards during testing, 99.9% of the bacteria introduced died within 3 minutes of exposure to the wood’s surface. The study found that wood cutting boards are safer, bacteria-wise, than plastic ones. Wood maintenance can be another issue, though. While polyurethane seals can protect a counter for a few years, many owners prefer to draw out the natural beauty and warmth of wood with a less glossy mineral oil finish. Maintaining an oiled surface, which requires reapplication every four to six weeks, is more of a commitment than most busy homeowners are willing to make. But, as with ceramic tile, there are secondary surfaces where using wood makes sense, such as a baker’s prep area, a dining counter or a food chopping block. In fact, wood is the only countertop material recommended for cutting, slicing and chopping.Wood counters are typically made from rock maple–an extremely dense, blond hardwood–but teak, walnut, cherry and oak are also used Wood counters are often finished with mineral oil or some sort of varnish,Prefab slabs of edge-grain counters can be special-ordered at most lumberyards The 1 1/2-in.-thick x 25-in.-wide counters are typically available in 8-ft and 12-ft lengths.End-grain and wide-plank counters must be custom made by a cabinetmaker that specializes in wood counters. Prices vary depending on the wood species used, but on average they’re comparable with quality granite counters: $100 to $200 sqft.
Concrete counters, which closely resemble slabs of natural stone, are becoming increasingly popular. Unlike the concrete counters of the late-1980s, which were poured messily atop the cabinets, today’s fabricators offer precast counters that are made in a workshop and delivered–fully cured and finished–to the job site. There many advantages of precast counters Precast molded slabs are extremely flat and very smooth, as compared to hand-troweled finishes. And poured-in-place counters are notorious for curling up at the corners due to uneven curing.” Poured concrete needs several weeks of curing time before it can be adequately sealed, which creates a huge inconvenience for homeowners. Precast concrete counters are typically 1 1/2 in. thick and available in slabs up to 10 ft long. A variety of colours can be achieved by adding pigments to the concrete during mixing. Once cured, the slabs are honed and sealed to prevent staining. Cracking is always a concern with concrete, and fabricators often use wire mesh, metal rebar or fibreglass fibres to strengthen the counter. A high-quality precast concrete counter costs from $85 to $100 sqft, which isn’t outrageously expensive when you consider that each counter is custom made from scratch.
You’ve no doubt seen laminate countertops and likely have it in your home. It is still a very popular choice and a top contender for countertops due to its durability, affordability and versatility. But what exactly is laminate ?
Believe it or not, laminate is made from paper.
• First, sheets of brown paper (called kraft paper) paper are saturated with a type of plastic called melamine resin.
• Then, the resin-soaked papers are pressed together under high heat.
• Next, decorative paper is placed on top, and the whole thing is cured in an oven.
• Finally, the sheets of laminate are glued to particle board to create a countertop.
The result is a hard surface that is both durable, flexible, easy to clean and maintain, available in numerous colours and patterns, pricing usually falls between $14 to $38 sqft installed. Many improvements in technology / manufacturing allows for highly detailed surfaces and edging profiles. And yes you can even do an under-mount sink.
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