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Countertops


Here is comparison information on some of the various materials used to create counter tops.

Laminate

Laminate countertops come in many patterns and colors. Laminates are less expensive than other materials. Laminates sometimes have seams (but seamless counters are also available). Laminates are more prone to heat damage and scratches. Usually just the top surface of the laminate has the coloring. However, you can buy laminate that has coloring that goes all the way through and these laminates are less likely to show scratches. Shiny laminates or solid colors are more likely to show damage. You might want to consider having a seamless backsplash. A seamless backsplash looks nicer and reduces the chance of water seeping through the seam and damaging the countertop. You can also have wooden edges or metal inlays with this type of countertop. Laminate is available smooth or textured. Matt surfaces or textured surfaces hide fingerprints better then glossy surfaces. Avoid using abrasive cleaners on laminate surfaces because they can scratch this material.

Solid Surface Countertops

Solid surface countertops are more durable. Solid surfaces are made of plastics such as acrylic or polyester. This material is non-porous and this reduces the chances of mold and bacteria growth and make them more stain resistant. The counter material goes all the way through which makes it easier to repair surface damage by sanding or buffing the countertop. Solid surface sinks can also be included and this eliminates the edges that rise above counter sinks. Not having sink ledges makes it easier to clean around the sink. Solid surface materials are expensive. A seamless backsplash can be included. When using solid surface, lighter colors and non-glossy surfaces hide scratches better and look new longer. You can also combine different colors for a decorative touch. For example have a different colored border around a solid surface countertop.

Solid surface materials can be damaged by knife scratches or can change color when exposed to heat. Be sure to save left over scraps of the solid surface. If your countertop becomes damaged, then the scraps can be used for repairing the countertop (the damaged section can be removed and a scrap is inserted to replace the damaged section). If you don’t have any scraps then it can be very difficult to match the color of you counter top and a future repair may then require you to replace the entire countertop.

Tile

Ceramic tile can also be used for a countertop. Keep in mind the color of the grout will affect the appearance of the tile. Ceramic tile is more difficult to clean because of the grout between tiles. Using darker grout can make it easier to hide stains. Sealing the grout or using an epoxy grout can help make it easier to clean (Using an epoxy grout is highly recommended when tile is used on countertops). Because it is harder to clean, you may want to limit the use of tile for decorative purposes.

Tile price varies depending on what you want. Usually tile costs more than laminates but less than solid surface countertops. Solid colors tend to cost less then tiles with patterns or designs in them. You can also alternate tiles to use less expensive tiles and more decorative tiles. When choosing tiles you may want to make the color and pattern consistent. If you use too many colors or patterns it can distracting to your eyes and it may make it more difficult to see the food or things you are working on.

Tile is heat resistant. Some glazes on tile may become damaged by certain chemicals or cleaning solutions (be sure to use a tile glaze that is suitable for countertop use). Tile is hard and may chip or scratch some dishes and glassware. You may want to use matt tiles because glossy tiles will more likely show scratches. If you buy tile it is a good idea to buy extra tiles that can be used to replace tiles that become scratched or damaged. Some tile manufacture offer shaped and curved tile to finish off corners or edges of a tile countertop.

Stone

Stone is heavier and the cabinets may need to be built stronger to hold the added weight. Stone is usually a more expensive countertop. You are also limited in color choices depending on the type of stone you choose. Some types of chemicals such as alcohol, oil, or acid can damage some stones like marble or limestone. Natural stone may be limited in size and several pieces of stone may be needed to create a larger countertop. Some types of stone such as granite or marble has a grain or pattern to it. This pattern varies and the look of the counter you see in a storeroom display might be different than the look of the countertop you receive. Here are the various stone materials used for countertops:

Marble - is a softer material and requires more maintenance because the countertop needs to be occasionally sealed to protect the marble. Marble scratches easily and is rarely used for kitchen counters. Marble has more colors and a more interesting grain then granite. Marble is considered a very good material for rolling dough on. Some people inset a section of marble in other countertop materials to create an area to prepare dough.

Granite - is porous and should also be sealed about every 2 years. Granite is more durable and stain resistant then marble.

Cement - Concrete countertops are porous and must be occasionally sealed. Avoid cutting on top of a concrete counter (because that can damage the seal). Over time concrete may change color as it ages and hairline cracks may develop as the material settles.

Limestone - comes in a variety of grades of hardness. Some types of limestone are soft and scratches easily and other grades are harder and more durable. Limestone comes in a variety of neutral colors and is usually smooth and muted in color. Colors available include: black, white, yellow, gray, and brown.

Lava stone - This natural material is made of hardened lava from a volcano. It usually comes from France. This material is very resistant to heat and stains. It has a very shiny surface and scratches may be noticeable if the surface is damaged.

Soapstone (Steatite) - This is a natural material made primarily of talc. It feels soft and smooth. It is resistant to heat and stains. Typically it has a blue or gray color. Occasionally soapstone should be treated with mineral oil to help seal the material and maintain its appearance.

Slate - This natural material is non-porous and heat resistant. Some types of slate (in particular slate mined in Vermont ) does not require any sealing. Slate is softer then granite. The edges of slate counters should be rounded so that they are less likely to chip. Slate is available in these colors: black, purple, gray, and green,

Synthetic Stone / Engineered Stone- You can buy man-made materials that look like stone. These materials are often called "Cultured". For example cultured marble, cultured onyx, or cultured granite. Cultured stone sometimes uses thin veneer layers and are more likely become damaged and may be harder to repair. Other synthetic stone uses solid materials and may be more durable. The quality of synthetic stone varies widely. Avoid using scouring cleansers on cultured stone. Also, some types of cultured stone can melt or burn under heat.

Metal:

Steel - Stainless steel countertops are available. Holds up well in wet areas. You can get fingerprint resistant stainless steel. Scratches tend to fade over time. Steel can be expensive. It gives a kitchen a more commercial look.

Copper or Zinc - Creates a warm smooth surface. Can scratch or be damaged from heat. Surface is non-porous. Over time these metals can oxidize and their appearance will change. If you want to keep the metal looking new then the metal needs to polish occasionally to maintain appearance.

Wood

Wood can give a kitchen a country look. Butcher-block surfaces can make it easier to use a knife. However, avoid cutting meat on top of wood surfaces to reduce the chances of food poisoning (wood is more difficult to clean and bacteria from raw meat can live in the wood). Using raw lemon to occasionally clean a wood countertop can reduce bacteria. Usually, wood countertops are made from rock maple because it has a tighter grain. Oak or cherry is also used or a combination of these woods may be used. Wood counter tops need to be occasionally treated with oil to help maintain the countertop. Scratches can be sanded out of a wood countertop if it becomes scratched. You may want to avoid having a wood counter close to the sink because water can damage or rot wood.

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