Can you even begin to compare quartz and laminate countertops? If this seems like a stretch, you may be remembered the laminate of years past--poor visuals and easily worn down.
However, the formerly huge gap between quartz and laminate is narrowing all the time. Premium laminates are racing to catch up to quartz's wide customer acceptance and market share. Homeowners who once flocked to quartz (if their wallet was fat enough) find themselves considering laminate.
Laminate countertops are a sandwich of materials. The structural part is a thick slab of particleboard, which you never see because it is covered with a thin sheet of laminate. Laminate is often erroneously referred to as "plastic," but it's not. It's largely made of kraft paper and resins.
Quartz counters are a melange of materials, with very little actual quartz. They are made of 10% binding resins. The other 90% is composed of hard materials such as marble, quartz, glass, mirrors, etc. Because of the low quartz content, I believe that alternate terms you often hear, like cultured stone or engineered stone, truly reflect this material's nature.
For stone-look counters, though laminate excels in duplicating stone's distinctive veining quartz is best.
- Depth: If the intent is duplicating the look of natural stone's depth, quartz wins--hands down. It should be noted that high-end laminates that try to replicate the look of stone are becoming more realistic all the time. No matter how expensive the laminate, it may never be able to duplicate quartz's visual depth because it is not physically deep.
- Veining: The distinctive veining and crystalline structure found in marble and travertine are better represented in laminate than in quartz. Premium laminates can "roll" the veins over the edge of the countertop as if showing a cross-section of natural stone.
- Solid Colors: Must all counters look like stone? No. While quartz can admirably pull off a few solid colors--namely, white and black--laminate produces a startling range of solid, contemporary colors that quartz cannot match.
Laminate is best for cost, both for the installed price and materials-only price.
Traditionally, laminate has been the refuge for bargain-seeking homeowners. While it still is, it's possible to buy a premium laminate that is nearly as expensive as a lower-end quartz counter.
One bathroom expert reports that quartz will cost about $60 to $100 per linear foot, compared to laminate's $24 to $50 per linear foot (both prices include installation).
Wilsonart, the manufacturer of both quartz and laminate surfaces, expands the price gap, estimating that your quartz counter will cost $95 to $105 per square foot, with laminate going for $8 to $20 per square foot.
On the DIY front, quartz is non-existent (see the DIY section below). In-stock laminate slabs from home improvement stores go for as low as $300 for a full L-shaped kitchen counter, each leg measuring 10' long. This includes a rolled front edge and a built-in backsplash.
Both materials are very durable. But quartz comes out ahead in abrasion ratings and laminate ahead in heat resistance ratings.
Countertop materials are tested and rated for durability by independent testing services, by ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) guidelines.
Quartz is practically abrasion-resistant, under normal conditions, while laminate's top-most "wear layer" has long been its Achille's heel. This can be a problem since sharp objects such as knives feature prominently in kitchens.
Regarding heat resistance, Wilsonart volunteers that quartz is durable "as long as no heat is applied directly." Once again, hot pans are often found in kitchens. Laminate is extremely resistant to heat. Even 500+ degree cast-iron pans set directly on it have no impact.
Nearly all quartz counters and a majority of laminate counters of quality are professionally installed. It is virtually impossible for homeowners to develop the skill set needed to fabricate and install quartz countertops. Any laminate that seeks to close the "quality gap" between quartz and laminate must be professionally installed, too.
Is it even possible to DIY-install quartz or laminate? There is a class of engineered stone called countertop overlays, where big 18" x 21" slabs go on top of your existing counter. But this is a small market, and over the years, this sector has not grown in popularity. Relative to this, DIY-installed laminate counters are far more popular.