Solid surface countertops have been around for close to 50 years now, and a half-century birthday is one milestone that this surface material well deserves.
While some counter materials innovations might arguably be called faddish (concrete counters, for one, haven't seized popular imagination), solid surfaces' standing in the world of kitchen remodeling shows no signs of faltering.
What Solid Means In the World of Solid Surfaces
It all began with DuPont's Corian.
The idea behind their invention was to have a surface that looked reasonably like natural stone, but unlike stone, was non-porous. Slice granite and you will see a wild make-up of particles forming the slab. Beautiful, indeed, but offering up multiple avenues for cracking and breaking.
The word solid in solid-surface does evoke the idea that this is a stable base, unlike bouncy laminates. But that is a peripheral meaning. Dupont's true intent was to create a surface that was the same through-and-through. A homogenous product, Corian's top is the same as its middle, and the middle is the same as its bottom.
Solid surface has many benefits:
- Nearly Non-Porous: No surface is completely non-porous, but tile, quartz, and solid surface come as close to being non-porous as any countertop material. Solid surface's extremely low porosity keeps bacteria away, promoting a cleaner and more sanitary countertop.
- Strong: Unlike laminate or tile, the solid surface's material goes all the way through, from top to bottom. As a result, it resists impact better.
- Easy To Rehab: Yes, solid surface will scratch if you cut on it. But with the manufacturer-provided sandpaper, it's a simple task to sand down the scratches.
As Close to Perfect as You Can Get?
Cooks are restless, always searching for the perfect countertop material. The stainless steel counters of restaurant kitchens are highly valued by professionals, but are not cost-effective or practical in residential kitchens.
Mainstays such as wood and ceramic tile have limitations. Wood is porous; is hard to clean; and develops a slimy feel. Ceramic tile, on an individual basis, is hard and non-porous. But when installed in numbers, those much-hated grout lines which make it impossible to roll out large sections of pie dough.
Even the popular granite and marble options are not perfect: they are expensive, prone to cracking, and can even be damaged by hot pans.
Laminate surfaces (think: Formica) are a sandwich of paper or fabric impregnated by melamine resin, all of that glued onto particleboard Laminate easily chips and its appearance lacks depth. Worst of all, it is not a single, cohesive material; it a thin covering for a sub-standard slab of wood.
Acrylic vs. Polyester Solid Surfaces
Polyester-based solid surface counters are cheaper but are considered inferior to newer acrylic-based counters.
Some brands, like Staron, are 100% acrylic; others, like Formica, might be either acrylic or polyester (they are in transition).
Polyesters tend to impart more vibrant colors than acrylics. Acrylics are great if you need to do any fancy fabrication work, like thermoforming.
Solid surface countertops are about 33% binding resins and 66% minerals. Those minerals are a bauxite derivative, Aluminium TriHydrate (ATH). ATH is a kind of fine, white powder that helps Corian maintain its smooth consistency.
Contrast this with quartz counters, which are about 10% resins and the rest minerals. These minerals are more easy to identify: marble and granite industrial waste, ground-up mirrors and glass.
Fabricating Solid Surface Is Difficult to Do Yourself
One downside of solid surfaces is that it is not easy for the DIYer to obtain source materials. You must be an authorized retailer to purchase Corian brand, and a trained fabricator/installer to work with it.
It should be added that nearly all kitchen countertop materials, with the exception of wood, are difficult to fabricate without special tools and expertise.
However, some simple fabrication can be done by amateurs, such as cutting straight lines or creating sink cut-outs. Also, there is one online company, SolidSurface.com, that will supply solid surface materials to non-authorized buyers.
Tip: Hack Off a Cutting Board
When the installers come, they will have to create a sink cut-out Request that they turn that waste cut-out piece into a cutting board. Most installers will oblige.
Top Solid Surface Brands
When Dupont's patent expired, other companies rushed in to make Corian substitutes. Along with Corian, other popular brands of solid surface countertop materials include:
- Formica Solid Surfaces