Along with cabinets and appliances, countertops form the core of a kitchen's feel, look, and functionality. So, it makes sense to buy the best possible countertops that you can. Popular countertops like quartz, solid surface, and laminate hit high marks for cost, value, maintenance, and durability. You'll also find other contenders such as natural stone, metal, tile, and concrete that are worth considering.
The laminate countertop is a cousin of laminate flooring: layers of paper that are treated with resin and pressed together under high heat and pressure.
Under this paper-and-resin layer is a base of composite chip MDF wood. The thickest laminate is used for horizontal work surfaces; thinner laminate is used for vertical areas such as backsplashes.
Laminate is one of the cheapest countertop options, with installed laminate countertops as low-priced as $35 to $45 per square foot. Laminate also offers the rare advantage among kitchen counter materials of being fairly easy to install by yourself. You can purchase pre-laminated MDF slabs that are sized right for installation on base countertops.
But laminate countertops are easily damaged. The laminate surfaces will easily scratch and chip. Because the base is constructed of particleboard, it may swell if it comes into contact with water.
Wilsonart, Nevamar, and Formica are major brand name manufacturers of the laminate used for laminate countertops.
Solid Surface Countertops
Solid surface is all man-made material, top to bottom. Unlike laminate, there are no layers. It is often called homogeneous because the surface you see on top is the same surface all the way through.
Solid surface counters are cost-effective but not cheap/ They definitely do not reach the price points of stainless steel, concrete, or engineered stone. Solid surface materials represent a middle range choice, both in terms of price and aesthetic value.
One advantage of solid surface materials is that they can be repaired. Should you scratch or gouge your solid surface, you can sand it out with very fine sandpaper.
But solid surface does have a slightly plastic look and feel. Also, solid surfaces will crack and scorch if subjected to high heat, such as a hot pan.
Prominent solid surface brand name manufacturers: Corian, Avonite, Gibraltar, and Earthstone.
Engineered Stone/Quartz Countertops
Engineered stone was developed over a half-century ago by the Italian company Breton. Despite its newness, it already surfaces millions of kitchens worldwide.
Quartz/engineered is a conglomerate of 10-percent binding resins and 90-percent stone-like materials, such as waste natural stone, glass, mirrors, and silica. It has the solidity of real stone but the predictability of solid-surface materials.
One of the best advantages of quartz/engineered counters is their appearance. Plus, quartz can be construed as being a green product, utilizing waste materials. Even the binders may be composed of organic waste materials (non-food vegetable oils).
But quartz counters are rarely cheap; it is difficult to find low-cost quartz/engineered materials.
Natural Stone (Slab Granite) Countertops
Marble, granite, and even soapstone are a few of your natural stone options. This is the real stuff, sliced directly from the earth in quarries. It's the only product in this list that is a solid chunk of unaltered minerals.
Price runs anywhere between $60 and $200 per square foot. Natural stone slabs are sleek and extremely handsome, and they give a very high-end look to your kitchen.
The best thing about natural stone is its continued high resale value. Slab granite, once trendy, is still trendy. Subsequent buyers of your home likely will value this natural material in the kitchen.
But natural stone is porous, so it requires sealing, and it can crack under heavy weight or stain.
Ceramic Tile Countertops
Ceramic tile: an infinite range of designs is possible. The only limit is your imagination.
Ceramic tile counters' claim to fame: it is one of two countertop materials (along with laminate) that can remotely be called a do-it-yourself project, as all other surfaces require special tools and skills.
Even so, installing ceramic tile on a countertop is not for the faint of heart, as this is a highly visible surface and any errors will stand out like a sore thumb.
Even cheaper than laminate, ceramic tile is about as cheap as you want to make it. You can lay a ceramic tile kitchen countertop for as low as $5 per square foot.
Since you can install your tile countertop by yourself, you save on labor charges.
One disadvantage of tile counters is the grout seams. Seams attract food and other gunk, and they are difficult to clean. Not only that, but the grout needs periodic sealing to repel moisture.
With solid, stately, and modern looks, concrete countertops are more expensive than you might expect. plus maintenance is difficult.
The newest entrant in the kitchen counter game, concrete is truly a custom surface. It can be tinted to any color your heart desires, and there is a host of texture options.
Concrete is about as heavy as solid granite. Concrete counters are sometimes poured and cured before being installed in your house. Other times, concrete counters are poured directly in place on top of the base cabinets.
One of the best things about concrete counters is that you can form concrete into any shape you wish and add your pick of colors.
One significant downside of concrete is its porosity. Concrete must be sealed on a regular basis.
Cost can be steep. This very humble building material, used for walkways and patios, can rival the cost of quartz or natural stone when professionally built and installed.
Stainless Steel Countertops
Stainless steel counters are highly unique— showstoppers that always attract attention— but outrageously expensive.
Stainless has come out of professional kitchens and into the home. Sixteen-gauge stainless steel is used in home kitchens, whereas the thicker fourteen- and twelve-gauge steel is found in restaurant kitchens.
Because stainless steel starts as raw material, it can be formed into practically any shape and dimension you desire.
Like stone, steel is all about appearances. If you want to give your house a sleek, contemporary look, stainless is the way to go.
Despite its high price, stainless steel is not as stainless and durable as it seems. It will stain and corrode (though not rust) and it does require significant amount care and maintenance.