Replacing Kitchen Countertops

From on February 01, 2007 in Kitchen Remodel

Twenty-five years ago, choosing a countertop was easy. You picked from a dozen or so colors of plastic laminate and then moved on to another room in the house. But there’s been a counter revolution in this country that you, the consumer have sparked because of your desire for a more functional, stylish and luxurious counter. The counter is no longer just a work surface, but an integral design element in the kitchen. Let’s face it; the kitchen is the focal point of every home.

Manufacturers around the world have answered consumers need for more, by offering multitudes of styles, surfacing materials and colors so that homeowners can design the perfect kitchen.

When the choice is A, B or C, weighing the pros and cons and making a reasonable decision is easy. When it’s A to Z and sometimes two or three times that - as you will discover when you start selecting countertops for the kitchen in your new house - all those possibilities can become overwhelming. Here’s a descriptive list of products to help you find your top counter:

Plastic Laminate Countertop

Plastic Laminate is priced between $25 and $50 per linear foot, installed.

Plastic laminate countertops have been around since the beginning of the modern kitchen. This common and least expensive countertop material, by a considerable margin, is available in just about any color and texture you can imagine. The latest rage is having your plastic laminate custom-designed to your own color, texture and style, but be prepared to spend a few bucks here. Laminate is a breeze to clean because of its smooth surface, but chips and scratches are very hard to repair. An entire laminate counter can be installed for somewhere between $600 and $1800 for most kitchens.

Ceramic or Porcelain Tile Countertop

Ceramic & Porcelain Tile is priced between $50 to $80 per linear foot, installed. Plain-colored tiles cost from $2 to $40 per tile with hand-painted tiles running from $5 to $75.

Ceramic and porcelain tile is probably the most versatile material that you can use on your countertop to create a specific style or look. Contemporary, retro, traditional, rustic, country, and everything in-between is possible when working with ceramic tile. Most tile supply stores have showrooms which display vignettes of different types of tile installations to provide you with ideas. There is currently a trend towards rustic, timeworn, and stone-look surfaces. If you are selecting this type of look, be sure to ask your salesperson or designer if you can see several pieces of tile from the same lot in order to see how the color can vary from piece to piece.

If you know that you are very hard on your countertops and want a surface that will wear well and still give you the styling of ceramic tile, look for porcelain tiles. Porcelain tiles are a bit more expensive, but since porcelain is the hardest fired product that you can find, they are well worth stretching the budget.

The only drawback to using tile is the grout lines, because nobody wants to invest the time and energy necessary to keep grout clean. And don’t be fooled - tile grout requires regular maintenance and lots of elbow grease. On the flip side, the tile itself is heat resistant and easy to clean.

Solid Surfacing Countertop

Solid Surfacing is priced between $75 to $150 a linear foot, installed.

Known in the building and remodeling industry as solid surfacing materials, these are either a pure acrylic product or a polyester-acrylic mix. Some of the materials are solid colors, but most have flecks that give it a textured look that resembles real stone (that will run the cost up). The solid surfacing materials are scratch resistant; but if you do get one you can sand it out (not as easy as you think). Should you get deep scratches or gauges, the damaged area can be removed and a new piece installed.

Concrete Slab Countertop

Concrete Slab (poured in place) is priced between $50 to $100 per square foot (a hefty price tag for concrete).

Yes, that’s right! A new buzz in surfacing involves a very old material - concrete. It’s available in pre formed sections or poured and formed on-site (great for unusually shaped counters ) Concrete countertops are expensive, require a sealant and must be treated with care. Because of its high cost, industrial look and susceptibility to cracking people are hesitant about bring an outside product indoors. On a colorful note - the concrete can be stained any color.

Granite Countertops

Granite is priced between $75 to $200 a linear foot, installed.

Granite slabs are the most expensive of all countertop surfaces, but this is one product that holds it weight. Not only does it greatly increase the value of your home, but it is timeless and will never date your kitchen the way that some tile products can. The expense of granite will vary greatly, depending on the type, quality and availability of granite that you select, as well as the finished edge that you choose. When getting a price quote from your granite fabricator, find out what style of edge they are including. One of the more popular edges is a 1 1/2 inch bull nose edge.

This high end product is surprisingly practical because it is nearly impossible to damage the surface stone. As the literature says, you need to use a cutting board to protect your cutlery, not the granite.

If you just can’t resist the look of granite and your purse is stretched, try going for granite tiles. The 12” granite tile has all the same scratch and heat-resistant properties that are found in solid slab, and you can reduce the size of your grout joint by butt-jointing them. If you use dark colored granite with a dark colored grout, you can come very close to achieving the look of a solid surface countertop.

Butcher Block

Butcher block generally prices around $30 per square foot.

It’s usually made from rock maple because of its tight grain, as well as oak and cherry and it can also be made in mixed and exotic species. It surface is great for cutting and chopping. A word of caution: Your knife marks will show on this surface and it’s also prone to water damage so it shouldn’t be placed near a sink without several coats of sealant.

Stainless Steel Countertop

Stainless Steel starts around $150 per linear foot.

If you’re looking for a professional, restaurant-style kitchen then stainless steel is worth a look. It’s an alloy steel that contains a splash of chromium to make it rust resistant. Since it’s a relatively thin product it is attached to plywood to provide strength and soften its sound. This is one product where you want to weigh the pros and cons because its fabrication is costly, difficult and not easy to change years down the road if you tire of its look. The benefits of steel are that it won’t stain, can handle heat and is easy to clean. On the flip slide, it shows scratches, fingerprints (not a great choice if you have small children) and dents and it can be a rather noisy work surface.

Trendy Countertop

Every year kitchen dealers and designers put their heads together to decide what’s hot for one of the most important rooms in the house. This year, kitchens are getting all sorts of new and exciting work surfaces. A big change is that laminates have stopped mimicking other material like wood and stone and gone for a high tech look all its own. Another big trend is the use of more metal, especially stainless steel. But a real big trend is the mixing of many types of materials to achieve a highly personal, custom look such as granite tops with tile backsplashes and laminate islands with gleaming metal counters. Granite, marble and solid materials still remain big, but the latest in cutting-edge counter technology are countertops made out of cement.

A Bit of Last Minute Practical Advice on Countertop

In the end function will matter much more than looks. If the kitchen in your new house is not well laid-out and there are not enough practical counter space and cabinets, you will hate it every day you live there, even if everything looks terrific.

Keep in mind that none of these products are trouble free, but you know what you can handle. Corian and plastic laminate will scratch, granite requires periodic resealing, and all of them will stain if food spills, especially if such common staining agents as mustard, red wine or strawberries are left to dry on it for any period of time. With effort, though, you can usually get the stains out. The only fool-proof counter top material that absolutely won’t stain, the scratches are inconsequential and it’s a cinch to maintain is stainless steel, but that’s a look you might want to rethink.

If you’re going for tile, you might want to test the stone to make sure that it won’t fail as a countertop. You can do this by laying a sample in the kitchen sink and pouring vinegar onto the polished surface. If the shiny surface dulls, you know what will happen when it becomes a countertop.

Since granite is a natural material its color range is wide and it can be marked with irregularities. The degree of variation will not show up on 4 X 4-inch sample, so to avoid any unpleasant surprises on this score, you should visit the fabricator and pick out the slab yourself.

Talking to your remodeling contractor or a stone fabricator about a granite countertop made from excess materials or a slab with minor flaws. In either case, you can save 20 to 30 percent of the cost.


Now that you’ve picked out your countertop it’s time to decide how decorative and unique you want your backsplash to look. A backsplash started out as a functional convenience - an easy-to-clean surface that protected kitchen walls, especially those behind the cook top, sink and prep area. It didn’t take long for homeowners and kitchen designers to realize that a distinctive backsplash could help enhance the overall look of a kitchen. The great thing about designing a backsplash is that are no real rules, just tips and creative ideas

Below is a roundup of how some popular backsplash materials measure up when it comes to cost and installation.

Ceramic Tile starts at $2 per square foot for 4-in. machine-made tiles and can easily top $20 per square foot for handmade tiles. Mass-produced tile murals may cost as little as $45 for a six-tile pattern, but you can also spend thousands of dollars for hand-painted murals. Labor varies from state to state but averages from $2.50 to $8.50 per square foot.

Ceramic tile is the most versatile backsplash material because it offers the most in color, shape and size. Tiles are sold in a matte finish that adds a more subtle look and a gloss finish that is shiny. Some also have raised edges or other textured areas to add another dimension to the design. Simple tricks like rotating tiles to look like diamonds, varying and combining different shapes and sizes and adding the occasional accent tile can really spice up your kitchen (and it won’t break your bank).

Stone Tile (Granite and Marble) start at $10 per square foot and just keep climbing. Natural stone like granite and marble come in a wide range of colors and textures. Tumbled marble in 4 inch squares is becoming the favored backsplash because it has a worn, pitted surface and its colors have been softened and muted by abrasion and acid wash.

Solid Surfacing ranges in cost from $25 to $30 per linear foot for a loose backsplash; $45 to $50 for an integral covered backsplash and as much as $75 per linear foot for a full-height backsplash.

If you had a solid surface countertop installed, don’t be shy about asking your fabricator if he has enough material left over to make a backsplash, because he might throw it in for free. The reason for the high cost is that there is a lot of material waste involved when fabricating a solid surface backsplash.

Metal and Metal Laminate

A skilled metal worker can fabricate a backsplash out of virtually any sheet metal on the market (copper, stainless steel, zinc, brass and even nickel) and provide a range of surface textures (hammered, ribbed and even quilted, like in the old diner’s) but good luck finding a shop that specializes in sheet-metal backsplashes. A sheet-metal backsplash is probably the most expensive option - clocking in at $140 to $160 per square foot for copper or zinc. Stainless steel starts at around $20 per square foot depending on the fabricator, while the lesser metal - metal laminates - start at around $8 per square foot (that doesn’t include fabrication and installation, which will run you another $10).

Emerging Trends

A hot new trend in accenting your countertop are backsplash walls that run from counter to cabinets and even up to the ceilings using spectacular materials and designs. Look at the space above your counter as a blank canvas waiting for your artistic touch. Working closely with a designer you can now choose from endless textures and materials, such as glass, hand-painted porcelain, luxury tiles, gleaming metal, raised dimensional designs, and natural stone such as slate, marble and granite. You can also mix and match borders.