Countertop Buying Guide

On any given day, your kitchen countertops may wind up playing the roles of cutting board, hot pad, office desk, food prep, snack bar and headquarters for hindquarters. You need a surface that’s durable, attractive and easy to deal with. It’s worth weighing the options carefully when you’re remodeling. Top-notch tops are installed by pros, but they have a look and feel no other material can match.

Expect to spend 10 to 15 percent of your kitchen remodeling budget on countertops and installation. If you spend disproportionately more or less, you may wind up with tops that don’t fit the look and feel of the rest of your kitchen or losing much needed finances for other aspects of your kitchen project.

Laminate

Pros: Budget friendly. Doesn’t require sealing. Good for rental remodels.
Cons: Will show burn marks and scratches. Visible seams.
Cost: $

Laminate countertops are made from layers of plastic that are bonded to particleboard or Kraft paper to create a solid counter top surface. These counter tops are available in a wide variety of colors, textures and patterns, ranging from options that look like marble and granite or even mirror the appearance of stainless steel.

Solid Surface (Corian, Living Stone)

Pros: No sealing required. Uniform color. Seamless installation.
Cons: Can be damaged by heat. Scratched fairly easily.
Cost: $$

These tops are made from acrylic and polyester blends. Solid surface tops are nonporous, making them excellent for food preparation and difficult to stain. They can be formed into nearly any shape and size, sinks can be under-mounted, and joined sections, when installed correctly, appear seamless. These tops are durable, and if they’re burned or scratched, the damage can usually be sanded and buffed out by a certified installer. Avoid placing hot pans directly on the surface; intense heat can pop seams and discolor surfaces.

Granite


Pros: Stain, heat and water-resistant when sealed. Requires minimal maintenance.
Cons: Very heavy and must be supported by strong, sturdy cabinets. Can chip or crack if not supported well.
Cost: $$$

Granite is available in a variety of colors, sinks can be under-mounted and a variety of edgings can be crafted. Since each piece is unique, you may want to visit the fabricator to select the exact slabs for your kitchen. Seams are slightly more evident in granite, and hot grease can stain unsealed tops, but overall, granite requires very little maintenance.

Engineered stone (Quartzite, Caesarstone, Silestone)


Pros: Low maintenance. Doesn’t need to be sealed. Stain, heat resistant and scratch-proof.
Cons: May have visible seams where the pieces meet. Can chip. Can be damaged by extreme heat.
Cost: $$$

Engineered stone tops combine the beauty of natural stone with the functional benefits of solid surface materials. They’re composed of a blend of about 95 percent crushed natural stone—usually quartz—and 5 percent synthetic resins to bind the stone. Tops can be tinted to a wide variety of colors. They’re nonporous and resistant to both stains and scratches. Sinks can be under-mounted and a wide range of edging options are available. Like genuine stone, they have an extremely hard surface, which is excellent for durability but also slippery and cold to the touch.