Countertops and Surfaces (Kitchen) Buying Guide

Countertops and Surfaces (Kitchen)
  • Getting Started

  • Countertops are one of the major investments in the kitchen. These surfaces will receive abuse from food preparation, cooking, entertaining, and even eating. Plus, they are one of the most visible features of the kitchen and will enhance the ambiance of the room.

  • What to Consider

  • What type of activities will be done on the surface? Food preparation, hot pots from the stove or oven placed on top? Will seating be included and food served or beverages during entertaining. The amount and type of liquids and solids to be dealt with on the surface will have an impact upon which surfaces should be chosen in which area of the kitchen. Island surfaces with cooktops or sinks may be different from island surfaces for seating and enjoying the food prepared.

    Depending upon the surface chosen, sinks can be molded into the countertop instead of installed separately. Drains may be carved into the material or chopping blocks fitted within.

    Edge Styles will change the look of the countertop. Depending upon the material chosen, a variety of edge styles are available. Consider the cabinetry design and style of the kitchen when choosing the edge.

    What is the budget for the kitchen? Countertops can be created from natural stones that will be expensive, or even man-made products that can be costly, or from practical products that will stand up to wear and tear.

    Professional installation will be required for several materials.  A template will be made mapping out the area, noting the spaces for cooktops and sinks. The template is the pattern the fabricator or stonecutter will use to create the countertop. This step adds to the time needed to install the countertop.

    Reinforcement of floor supports may be needed for some natural stones if used extensively throughout the kitchen.

  • Materials

  • Laminate has been used for generations on bathroom countertops because of its durability, affordability and ease of maintenance. Colors and designs increase with trends. The construction of the laminate product will determine its ability to stand up to heat, scratches, and stains. Nonporous, it is water resistant and does not need maintenance other than cleaning.

    Solid Surface materials are a mixture of natural minerals with resins, providing a range of colors and styles. Care should be taken when using heat or acidic products. Solid surface materials are nonporous and durable in a moisture setting. These may be known by brand names such as Corian®, Silestone® or Ceasarstone®. Easy to clean, these products require little maintenance and can be repaired if necessary.

    Quartz is a man-made material of crushed quartz stone mixed in a resin. Created in a variety of colors and designs, quartz countertops can look like stone without the need for sealing and maintenance. Quartz is nonporous and easy to maintain and clean. Quartz can be heavy and may require additional support if the countertop is large.

    Granite is a natural stone with warm colors that may contain veins. If more than one piece is needed, the veins will not match up in the design. Granite will be sealed and will require resealing to maintain its stain and water resistance. Heavy, granite may require additional structural support if used in large pieces and will require professional installation.

    Marble and Travertine are natural stones often used for countertops. White is the most popular color but marble will contain veins that will not match during installation. If short run pieces are needed, this is not a problem. As a soft stone, marble will require sealing and resealing to provide moisture and stain resistance. Marble provides a warm, generous feeling to the kitchen countertop and will require professional installation.

    Soapstone is a natural stone that that comes in shades of gray to black and is often used for kitchen countertops. Nonporous, it will not require sealing, but it is softer so scratches or nicks will show if not sanded out. Due to its softer nature, Soapstone can be carved with water draining channels around a sink, or cut to allow a chopping block to be set into the countertop. Soapstone is available in a range of colors and patterns; professional installation will be required.

    Wood block countertops work well on islands used for food preparation. Maple, Red Oak, or Cherry are the most frequently used woods. Created with end grain strips or planks. Zebrawood is an African hardwood with a dark grain for adding drama to the kitchen. Even bamboo, when cut with end grain showing, offers an interesting design for butcherblock counters.

    Stainless Steel is nonporous and resistant to all types of liquid spills, stains, and bacteria. Heat resistant, hot pots can be placed directly upon the surface. When it comes to scratches, stainless steel is not immune, but consistent use will provide a patina on the shiny surface and scratches become part of the allure. Dents can be a problem if the surface is not installed properly; a professional will fit the steel tightly to a wood substrate, which will reduce any visual dents. Stainless steel is bright and shiny, offering a particular attraction for some homeowners.

    Concrete can be poured into any shaped mold and tinted with a wide variety of colors to produce countertops. Poured in place, the finished product has a unique look as it is finished smooth or with textured surfaces.

    Tiles of Ceramic or Porcelain may be laid into a form to create a countertop. Once frequently used, tile countertops are not popular at this time due to the grout lines trapping liquids, stains, and bacteria.  Tiles can chip and crack if pots are dropped on them; tiles are not easily replaced in this setting. While tiles can create an interesting surface, consider hygiene when making this choice.

  • Cost Considerations

  • Material costs are the greatest portion of the budget.

        •  Laminate is priced by the square foot, plus the cost of the backsplash if using the same countertop material will be priced by the linear foot is the least expensive of the solid material options. Prices are about half of the other materials.   

        •  Quartz is comparable Granite and is the top of the line of manufactured surfaces

        •  Granite is an affordable stone for countertops and surfaces and is comparable in costs to Quartz and Soapstone.

        •  Soapstone is comparable in price to Quartz and Granite.

        •  Marble and Travertine are beautiful stones and that is reflected in the price. Within the Marble and Travertine family, prices can range due to where the stone comes from.

        •  Wood block will be priced based in the size and type of wood used. More affordable than stone or Quartz or Solid Surfacing.

        •  Stainless steel can be compared to Quartz, Granite or Soapstone, depending on the gauge of the steel. The lower the gauge, the thicker the metal; Residential use gauge should be between 16 and 18; 14 gauge is used in commercial kitchens. Prices are based on the thickness of the metal and the finish.

        •  Concrete costs will be based on pouring in place or cast and shipped. Concrete countertops will be more expensive than most materials, other than the Marble family.

        •  Tiles of Ceramic or Porcelain are the least expensive and are based on the cost of each tile.    •  Solid Surface will range in price depending upon the manufacturer and the quality of the products used to create the material.

    Edge styles will change the cost of the countertop with more intricate designs demanding an upcharge.

    Maintenance costs will add to the budget over the lifetime of the surface. Natural stones must be sealed and resealed in the kitchen. Constant use will reduce the stone’s ability to resist water or stains. Drip water onto the surface; if it beads, the seal is still good. If the bead spreads out over the surface, it is time to reseal.

    Installation costs must be considered. Laminate, Quartz and Solid Surfacing is less expensive to install while natural stones and concrete will be more expensive due to time and weight.•  Weight of the material may necessitate structural supports and must be considered when choosing the countertop.