One of the best types of discount laminate countertop materials is laminate.
It is possible to purchase expensive laminate counter materials—premium, high-definition laminate is gorgeous and high-end, with high prices to match. But on the whole, you'll find that laminate is cost-effective.
One reason is that laminate countertops are made of thin sheets of laminate material glued on top of MDF (medium-density fiberboard). So, the majority of the countertop material is inexpensive. You're only paying for the thin top and side layers.
Not only that but countless local shops can fabricate laminate countertops.
Pre-Laminated Countertop Slabs
Most large home centers and other home improvement stores will have pre-laminated countertop slabs, usually in the back of the store. Not only are they cheap, but if you purchase the slabs in the morning, you just might have a new countertop by the afternoon. They are that easy to install.
A major downside of pre-laminated countertop slabs is the limited selection of colors and designs. Even large home centers will have only two or three styles to choose from. If you want other types of laminate slabs, you'll need to special order them.
DIY Laminate Countertops
Large home centers have those pre-laminated slabs. But they also have individual laminate sheets, and this gives you more style choices.
Laminating the sheets onto MDF is tricky for most homeowners, though. But if you are confident that you can run a router, this is the cheapest way to get a laminate counter.
One downside is that you won't get those nice rolled edges that you get when purchasing pre-laminated slabs. Rolled edges are created in a shop, so it's impossible to duplicate at home.
Bath Vanity Tops
When they come as part of a bathroom vanity unit, laminate counters are fairly cheap, plus the sink insert is already cut out for you. Laminated bathroom vanity tops come in a wide variety of colors and styles.
Ceramic Tile Countertops
Ceramic tile has long been a favorite choice for homeowners intent on doing it themselves and having a nice-looking countertop as a result. Ceramic is vastly cheaper even than granite tile. Add some bullnoses, corners, and a backsplash, and you've got an attractive product.
Seams are the problem with ceramic tile counters, though. Many home buyers who are avid cooks tend to look down on ceramic tile counters because they are more difficult to wipe down. Plus, if you need a perfectly smooth surface for food prep work, you won't get it with ceramic tile. You'll need to use a cutting board.
Granite or Stone Countertops
When you want the look and feel of stone countertops but want to watch your budget, stone tile might be a good choice.
Granite and other stone tile come in 12-inch or 16-inch squares. Since the tile is small and manageable, it's possible to pick up the tiles yourself and load them into most types of vehicles.
Easy to do yourself, tile granite can be installed with epoxies rather than mortar. And with the tiles fitted close together, this eliminates the need to grout between the tiles.
Natural granite—or any natural stone—will always be a more expensive material than a synthetic wood product like laminate.
One reason why expensive countertops are so expensive is that they must be produced in large factories. There are no cottage industries that produce quartz or solid surface from scratch.
That is the controlling idea behind all of the high vs. low-cost counters: is it locked up in an expensive manufacturing process or do individuals have control over the product and process? No material lends itself to cottage industries or light manufacturing more than wood does.
Butcher block countertop production can be as hyper-local as a woodworker in your town who builds wood counters to spec. In fact, a DIY homeowner with a few specialty woodworking tools can build their own butcher block countertop.
Strips of wood, typically hard or soft maple, are milled and planed, then they are laminated together under high pressure. Ordinary wood glue can be used to laminate wood strips in butcher block counters. After fabrication, the butcher block receives several coats of tung oil.
Solid Surface Countertops
Solid surface: that's the industry term for materials like Corian and Silestone. Of all of the expensive counters, this is the one where you have the best chance of finding a cheap one.
In years past, Corian was the only brand of solid surface. So, solid surface was expensive. But once manufacturer DuPont's patent expired, manufacturers rushed in to make solid surface countertops. With this competition, prices began to lower.
As with laminate, those solid surface vanity tops that come bundled with vanity units can be rather cost-effective.
Solid surface countertops come in hundreds of styles. They are easy to fabricate. The surface is hard, much like quartz countertops. One of the more unique features of solid surface is that it can be easily resurfaced. Scratches and minor nicks can be sanded down with an oscillating sander and fine-grit sandpaper. The homeowner can do this; no need to call in a fabricator.
Expensive Countertops to Avoid When Saving Costs
The flip side of discount countertops is expensive countertops that you should avoid. Many, if not most, of these countertops are top-performing countertops, so quality is not the issue. The issue is cost. With these types of countertops, finding a cheap version of them is difficult.
Natural slab granite typically ranks as the most expensive countertop material. The stone itself is pricey, if only because it is quarried in Italy, Turkey, or India, and has to be shipped thousands of miles to get to you. Fabrication is difficult. Installation requires professionals. Slab granite is never a DIY project, so it's impossible to save money by installing it yourself.
Concrete countertops are close to slab granite in terms of cost. Even though the material seems ordinary enough, the real cost drivers are fabrication and installation.
While it's possible for a DIYer to make a small concrete countertop for the bathroom or even a small side counter in the kitchen, professionals must make and install concrete counters if you want them to be of professional quality.
Quartz counters lately have become a favorite alternative to slab granite. Cambria and Corian Quartz are two popular brands of quartz countertops. But this remains a high-end material that is comparable in cost to slab granite and other natural stone countertops. It's a great performer, and you pay for the performance.