Choosing a kitchen countertop is an important choice since so much money is involved and because this is a purchase that you will be looking at every day for many years. Choosing a countertop is as much about appearance as it is about function. For many homeowners, the choice narrows down to a solid surface countertop material (such as Dupont's Corian brand) or natural granite countertops.
Solid-surface material and granite are both premium countertop materials that will return excellent value to the homeowners for years, plus each has good resale value. Beyond that, you will find that the two countertop materials vary greatly. In fact, the only attribute that both solid-surface material and granite share is that they look somewhat alike—at least from a distance.
Solid-Surface Material vs. Granite
The name Corian is the Dupont Corporation's brand name for its flagship solid surface countertop material. Because Corian was the first of the solid-surface materials marketed for use as a countertop, the name often is used to refer to all solid surface materials, including brands made by other companies. Swanstone, Formica, Wilsonart, and several other companies all make their own forms of solid-surface material, and virtually all of the virtues and drawbacks of Corian also apply to those other brands.
Corian and other solid surface materials are fully manmade products that are manufactured by mixing acrylic, epoxide and polyester resins with various pigments and a filler material derived from natural bauxite, a sedimentary stone. The difference between various brands lies in the specific blends of resins and the pigments used. Solid surface materials heavier in acrylic resins are usually considered superior products to those that have predominantly polyester resins.
Corian and other solid-surface materials can be molded into a variety of shapes, but they are most commonly sold as sheets or slabs for use in fabricating countertops and other flat surfaces. Many, but not all, Corian styles have a speckled appearance similar to some forms of natural granite.
One advantage to Corian and other solid-surface materials is that pieces can be glued together with a solvent so that the seams are entirely invisible. This gives the appearance of a huge, continuous slab of unbroken countertop.
Pure granite countertops are made from slabs of natural igneous stone that are sawn from huge blocks of quarried granite. The polished slabs are sold and shipped to various fabricators, who customize countertops and other building products from the stone.
Granite countertops come in many different colors and styles, depending on where the stone was quarried. Colors can range from a nearly total black to nearly pure white, with pinks, greens, yellows, browns, and even blue tones possible. Many types of granite are blends of different colors. Granite countertops are noted for having random graining patterns that make every countertop truly unique. These are among the most expensive countertops you can buy, and they send a strong signal of luxury.
Natural vs. Engineered Stone
The term granite is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to other stone-based counter materials such as quartz (engineered stone). These are not the same as slab granite, which is solid stone without additional materials. Slab granite typically is not associated with specific brand names, while engineered stone is often sold under brand names such as Cambria, Silestone, and Caesarstone.
Corian and other brands of solid-surface material are typically formulated so they have a speckling that is similar to some forms of natural stone, but most styles are considerably more subtle than the dramatic veining and color variations typically found in natural granite. This smoother, more homogenous appearance can be an advantage where you don't want the countertops to be a primary design features—such as when you want gorgeous cabinetry to be the main feature of a kitchen.
Solid-surface materials come in many different tones. Corian, for example, is available in more than 40 different styles, ranging from pale white to deep black, with yellow, brown, reddish, pink, and green tones. Many types are fairly solid colors, but newer offerings include some with quite dramatic granite- and marble-look patterns.
For some consumers, the uniformity of pattern and color in solid surface countertops is an advantage, while for others, solid-surface materials have a plastic look that is boring and artificial.
Granite countertops are typically very dramatic, with color and pattern blends that are entirely unique to each countertop. Unlike a solid-surface material, every slab of granite has a one-of-a-kind appearance. These countertops shine as designed elements, drawing attention to themselves. Colors can range from palest white to darkest black, with an amazing diversity of colors in between. Bright blue, yellow, and red granites are available, if you are willing to pay a premium price to have a countertop slab fabricated.
Some homeowners prefer the look of natural granite as being decidedly better than solid-surface material—at least when the materials are viewed on their own. These people love the look of natural stone, with its color variation and deep luster. But the drama of a granite countertop is not for everyone. The mottled and often bold coloring of granite can be a bit too busy for many decorating schemes. More notably, all of that color can do an annoyingly good job of hiding crumbs and smears on the countertop surface; often a granite top looks perfectly clean when it's anything but.
Best for Appearance: Granite
When it comes to appearance, it is really a matter of personal choice, but most people will find the natural beauty of granite superior to the uniform appearance of solid-surface material.
Water and Heat Resistance
Corian and other solid-surface materials have excellent resistance to moisture. Corian can be scorched by hot pans, thus requiring the use of hot pads, trivets, or cutting boards to protect it from extreme heat.
Granite, although very hard, is a surprisingly porous stone, and it requires an initial sealing and periodic follow-up applications of sealer to keep moisture and stains from penetrating. As for heat-resistance, granite tends to do a bit better than solid surface material. You can set a hot pan on it without worry, in most cases, but red-hot skillets have been known to crack a granite countertop.
Best for Water and Heat Resistance: Tie
Solid-surface material wins as the most water-resistance countertop material, but granite takes the top position when it comes to tolerance for heat.
Care and Cleaning
Both materials are essentially nonporous and are considered hygienic surfaces and easy to keep clean, unlike grout lines in tile.
Corian and other solid-surface materials are quite easy to clean with soapy water or an ammonia-based detergent solution. You should not use glass cleaners, which can leave a waxy residue. To avoid water spots, dry the countertop thoroughly. No sealers are ever needed on a countertop made from solid-surface material. Do not place hot pans directly on a solid-surface countertop. Staining agents should be wiped up immediately.
A simple soapy water solution is best for cleaning a granite countertop. Avoid the use of vinegar, window cleaners, or other acidic cleaners which can etch the surface of a granite countertop over time. Most stains on granite can be removed with a baking soda paste, but regular sealing of granite surfaces is recommended.
Best for Care and Cleaning: Solid-Surface Material
Corian and other solid-surface countertops are generally easier to clean than granite.
Durability and Maintenance
Solid-surface materials such as Corian are fairly easily scratched, but minor scratches and blemishes can be easily buffed out with an abrasive pad. Solid-surface materials are softer than granite and thus more difficult to crack, and the material has no vulnerability to etching from acidic materials. It can be stained, but discolorations are usually fairly easy to scrub out.
Granite is difficult to scratch or damage with knife blades. But while granite is relatively scratch-proof, it is brittle and thus can crack quite easily. Granite is susceptible to etching from acidic materials, such as lemon juice and vinegar. Granite should be sealed every couple of years to minimize the risk of staining.
Best for Durability and Maintenance: Solid-Surface Material
Both materials are quite durable, but solid-surface material gets the top grade since it does not react to acidic materials and does not need regular sealing.
Both granite and solid surface countertops are usually professionally fabricated and installed.
Corian is a more forgiving material that is fairly easy to cut with ordinary woodworking tools. Do-it-yourselfers have been known to build their own countertops, though finding a source for buying the material can be challenging. Solid surface materials are generally not available at home centers in the same way that sheets of aminate are available in-stock You will need to find a specialty building supply outlet that caters to the professional market in order to buy materials yourself.
Corian countertops are created by cutting slabs of the necessary size, then forming built-up edges and joining seams with special solvent glues that melt the material together to form virtually invisible joints. The surface is sanded and polished smooth, and cutouts for sinks and other fixtures are cut, usually with a woodworking router.
Granite countertops are so heavy and difficult to cut that this work is virtually always performed by a fabricator who takes careful measurements, shapes the countertop slabs, then returns to your home to install the countertop. Seaming can be fairly well hidden, but the joints between slabs will always be evident to the sharp eye.
Best for Installation: Solid-Surface Material
Although both types of countertops are generally fabricated and installed by professionals, solid-surface material is considerably easier to work with than granite.
The cost of solid-surface countertops averages about $60 per square foot, installed. But solid surface can cost as much as $120 per square foot when fabrication is complicated or when special colors or patterns are selected. The material itself, purchased in sheet form, costs $35 and up per square foot, plus the costs for the epoxy glue to join seams.
Granite countertops are usually purchased with materials and labor as part of the same bid. The installer generally computes this by adding the cost of the materials ($40 to $100 per square foot for the granite slab), plus a labor cost of $35 to $85 per hour. In total, you can usually get a granite countertop installed for $70 to $100 per square foot, on the low end. You may pay up to $200 per square foot for unique colors and styles of granite.
Keep in mind that this price is for slab granite, not granite tile. Tile is much cheaper and offers the option of do-it-yourself installation. Tile granite, though, does mean grout lines, which most people want to avoid on a kitchen countertop.
Best for Cost: Solid-Surface Material
Solid-surface countertops are notably less expensive than granite.
Corian and other solid-surface materials are generally warranted for 10 years; but in practice, they can easily last 30 years or more. Scratches and burns—or simply the need to change styles—may eventually make you want to replace these countertops.
Granite countertops are one of the most durable of all materials, and lifespans of 50 years are not uncommon.
Best for Lifespan: Granite
Granite countertops have an even longer lifespan than solid-surface materials, which are are also quite durable.
Once regarded as a high-end, premium countertop, solid-surface material has seen its reputation slip somewhat as engineered stone (quartz) countertops have emerged as the favorite second-tier countertop material after natural stone. But Corian and other solid-surface materials are still regarded as superior to the other two most popular countertop materials—laminates and ceramic tile.
Granite slab countertops are almost always viewed as a good investment when it comes to increasing the sale value of your home. But be aware that granite tile or modular granite does not have nearly as much prestige as solid slabs. And many of today's engineered stone countertops have almost the same real estate value as granite.
Solid-surface material such as Corian makes an extremely practical and attractive countertop that now ranks above laminate and tile, but slightly below granite and engineered stone in terms of prestige and real estate value. Natural stone countertops such as granite still hold the top slot in terms of the most desirable countertop material, but the lower cost and great performance of solid-surface material makes it worth a careful look.