4 Most Popular Kitchen Countertop Materials

From on September 15, 2010 in Kitchen Remodel

Today’s post is from Rob Jones, blogger and social media practitioner of online building materials company BuildDirect, which deals in large quantities of kitchen countertops, among other building products. So, this post is all about countertops and the advantages and challenges presented by a select variety of them ...

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The kitchen is in many ways the nerve center of your home. Sure, you spend a lot of time in living rooms, dens and family rooms. But, the kitchen is a major social center, household business hub, and of course a place to prepare food both out of necessity, and - for you culinary artists out there - out of love. So given how important your kitchen is, it makes sense to take a look at kitchen surfaces, particularly kitchen countertops, and find out what makes the most sense when you’re thinking of remodeling.

When you’re doing your research about kitchen countertops, the biggest areas you’ll want to look at will be these four:

  • Look and feel
  • Durability and longevity
  • Maintenance demand
  • Upfront cost vs. long-term investment

All of these are important, and you’ll probably need to think about which order these aspects should go in. Remember though, the issue of cost is very much connected to the durability and longevity elements. For instance, a kitchen countertop that costs more upfront but is hard-wearing and durable may actually save you money down the road—simply because you probably won’t ever have to replace it. This is at least part of what I mean when I say ‘long-term investment.’

After the choices of colors and styles are decided upon, striking the balance between these four areas should be a big part of what lies at the heart of your decision.

With that in mind, here are a select group of 4 popular kitchen countertop materials that you might want to consider when doing your comparative research.

#1 - Laminate & Formica

Laminate countertops have a couple of obvious advantages. First, they tend to be on the lower end of the budgetary spectrum. Second, you can install laminate countertops relatively simply, assuming some basic DIY skills. And third, they’re easily cleaned with no need to seal them. If you need a new kitchen surface quickly, and relatively inexpensively with a short turnaround time, laminate countertops may be a solution to consider.

Some challenges you may face falls under the durability and longevity question, with edges of the laminate chipping easily, and with the adhesive often losing its hold in these areas as well. Where the short term advantages, including cost, are worthy of your attention, the probability of having to replace them later is often higher than it would be with other materials.

#2 - Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin is a manufactured item designed primarily with functionality in mind. Epoxy resin countertops are designed to be scratch-resistant, easy to clean, and non-absorbent. All of these features are definite virtues in the kitchen. Further, the materials which are derived from dense polymers, are also treated with anti-UV features to keep them from fading. Basically, epoxy resin countertops are great for low-maintenance functionality. If that element scores highest on your list, they may be the choice for you.

The challenges with epoxy resin lies in the ‘look and feel’ department for many people, with an often less than aesthetically pleasing feel. A common observation is related to a perceived look that isn’t quite as warm and inviting as a natural surface. And of course, even if the material is robust and scratch-resistant, reports of visible scratches in epoxy resin over the long-term should be taken into account when it comes to long-term value for money.

#3 - Concrete

There is a reason that the word ‘concrete’ is synonymous with permanence, and that’s because it’s a very robust material that can be expected to last a long time. Further, concrete is very versatile for both indoor and outdoor applications. So, if you’re thinking about building an outdoor summer kitchen, surfacing with concrete is a great choice. In terms of look, a lot of people really go for the smooth, uniform surface that concrete countertops offer.

The biggest challenge with concrete countertops are twofold. One, they’re very labor intensive if you decide to make them yourself from scratch, and are of course then very expensive when you hire someone to do it for you. And two, they tend to show signs of wear earlier on, particularly if you’ve got kids. You can read more about the challenges and advantages of concrete countertops by AskTheBuilder.com’s Tim Carter, who knows a thing or two about all kinds of surfacing.

#4 - Natural Stone - Granite, Marble, Travertine, Quartz & More

At this point, I should offer a bit of disclosure: the company I work for, BuildDirect, has favored natural stone surfaces for kitchen counters and vanities for a long time. Therefore, take what’s written here with that in mind as you embark on your own research on kitchen countertops.

But, here’s the thing, everyone. Natural stone is more than a surface solution; it’s an investment most likely to produce a return. Further, you can buy the counters in traditional slabs, or in relatively easy to install kits. The continuous smooth lines of slabs is a favored look for most people. And the kits, which give you the choice of creating grout lines or with tiles flush against each other for a more seamless look, often avoids the risk of cracking and breaking during shipment or installation. Natural stone countertop kits also empower you to install your new countertop yourself, like any other tile job.

The challenge most associated with natural stone is also twofold. One; the materials are very heavy. When it comes to ordering slabs, the transport, lifting, and the cutting of the materials should best be left to the professionals. This can add an extra layer of cost to your budget if you want that continuous, seamless look that a lot of people go for.

And two, natural stone requires more of your attention when it comes to maintenance. This includes proper sealing and occasional resealing of the stone. It also requires fast action when it comes to spills of acidic liquids like tomato sauce, red wine, and fruit juices. These substances can create stains that aren’t impossible to remove exactly, but involves more energy in getting rid of them later if they’re left to set.

Despite these challenges, natural stone surfaces offer some of the hardest (specifically in granite and quartz), and most naturally heat-resistant materials on earth. Their unique natural patterning makes each installation unique and offers something beyond function and exceptional look; resale value. And again, the presence of natural stone adds value to the whole property, which can often help to absorb the extra cost to some degree.

So, taking the principles of look and feel, durability and longevity, maintenance demand, and long-term and short term costs and return in mind, hopefully this guide will give you a bit direction on where to start your continuing personal research.

Here’s another important tip. When you’re shopping, make sure that you get a good dialogue going with your chosen vendor through out the buying process. Ask them about installation issues, and shipping issues too. Also talk about things like warranties, product support, and maintenance tips. Make sure that your vendor, and your installation professional (if you hire one) will support your purchase and your project the whole way along.

Whatever you decide, enjoy your new countertops!

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For more information about building materials like countertops, flooring, home improvement and decoring, and other areas related to homeownership, check out the BuildDirect blog. Also, follow Rob and BuildDirect on Twitter, and ‘like’ BuildDirect on Facebook.