Best Kitchen Countertop: And the Winner Is?

As with most remodeling decisions, “one size fits all” simply isn’t enough. There is no clear answer as to which countertop material is best, but this article should point you in the right direction. Each countertop material has its pros and cons, so it pays to do your research before making your final decision and bulking up. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference, but no matter which countertop choice you choose, there are three main considerations you’ll need before choosing your countertop: Cost – Design – Utility.

I put them in this order for a reason: your budget will ultimately determine the material options you have. Next is design: Achieving your design/style goals can generally be achieved at all the various price points. The final choice is utility. These days, durability (like design) can be achieved through all countertop materials. OK lets start:

Wood: Yeah, you heard “Wood” right. Most of us have seen built-in butcher block one-piece “butcher block” island cabinets, but there’s a whole new world of wood countertop solutions if you’ve got the money. The prices for these countertops make granite look like a bargain! If you want a kitchen that stands out, this one will certainly do it.
Cost: Prices (for materials alone) range from $100 sf to $500 sf!
Design: The wood species options are extraordinary: just to name a few… Cherry, Bamboo, Beech, Black Walnut, Canary, Hickory, Maple, Chestnut, Red Oak, Reclaimed Redwood, Teak, Zebrano (among others).
Utility: Incredibly, this option is quite durable. Other than re-greasing the caps every 9 to 12 months or so, there is very little maintenance. Waterproof: One supplier (Craft-Art) categorically states that all of their countertops are “absolutely” waterproof. In addition, they are stain resistant, food safe, heat resistant and scratch resistant.

Granite: This is currently the most popular countertop on the market. Beautiful, durable and low maintenance sums up this choice.
Cost – Affordability (or lack thereof) is the main issue with granite, as you can easily spend anywhere from $70 to $150 per square foot, depending on the quality and scarcity of the stone. Other factors that determine the cost are the thickness of the stone (2 or 3 centimeters wide) as well as the number of holes and imperfections. There are usually 2-3 levels of quality depending on which tile yard you go to. This can have a substantial impact on the final cost.
Design: The styles and colors of granite are abundant. Some estimates are in the 3,000 range. You only need to go to a few flagstone patios to see that “the sky is the limit” when it comes to the options available.
Utility: Granite is very durable and resists heat well. Although it is important to seal the granite a couple of times a year, the general care and maintenance is relatively minor.

***Note: There has been a lot of press (lately) about the “radon gas” issue with granite. Most findings indicate that while some levels of radon are present, it does not pose a health threat. For more information, visit the Marble Institute of America website.

Marble – The use of Marble in kitchen applications creates a number of issues that may prevent you from making this decision; however, it is widely used in Italy (and other European countries) as a standard countertop material.
Cost: The cost of marble is high, comparable with granite.
Design – There are enough marble colors to achieve the color and style you are looking for, however it can take more time and effort than with granite.
Utility: Marble withstands heat well, however it is a very porous stone. For this reason, it is susceptible to staining and etching even if you seal it regularly. Also, this material will change color over time. While some people will appreciate this, most people want their countertops to look as good 10 years from now (shiny and new) as they did the day they were installed.

Cultured Marble: This product is made from crushed marble, resin, and pigments (for color). While it is widely used for bathroom countertops, it is not used in kitchen applications. For this reason, it is not covered in this article.

Limestone: As with marble, limestone can be used for kitchen countertops, it comes with numerous issues that you need to be aware of in advance so you don’t regret your choice.
Cost – Usually less expensive than marble or granite, but it is still natural stone and can be expensive.
Design – There are fewer options (compared to granite), however, limestone comes in some vibrant blue colors that marble doesn’t. Canada is the main source of limestone in North America.
Utility: While limestone is highly resistant to moisture, it is a very porous material that stains easily and can erode over time. Proper sealing is an absolute necessity and it is highly susceptible to erosion from juices, fruits and foods that contain acidic properties.

Quartz – You may recognize the most popular names in the industry like Cambria, Zodiaq, Silestone, or Cesarstone. Although these quartz products have approx. 93% natural stone, in fact they are an “engineered stone”. Resin and pigments make up the remaining 7%.
Cost – Although quartz is an engineered product (unlike granite), it is expensive. Prices can reach the price of the lower end of the granite spectrum.
Design: Due to the fact that it is “designed”, you can find a color that meets your needs with little difficulty.
Utility: This engineered construction offers extremely high durability, however it will splinter with high impact or sharp objects falling on it.

Solid Surface: Corian’s best known name. Corian is manufactured by DuPont and is a non-porous engineering material. It has lost market share in recent years to granite and quartz; however, it still finds favor with homeowners who like “seamless sinks.”
Cost: The price of this material is less expensive than granite, but it will be more expensive than tile.
Design: Corian comes in 130 different colors and 3 different surface types (Satin, Semi-Gloss and High Gloss) so you won’t have a problem finding a color and finish to achieve the look you’re looking for.
Utility: Corian is very durable and most stains can be cleaned with soapy water or an ammonia-based cleaner (window cleaners are not used, however). For more stubborn stains, use CLR or Lime Away. It is not recommended to place pots or pans directly from the oven

Tile: This material dates back about 4000 years, so it’s safe to say that longevity is something you won’t have to worry about. While it has lost some of its shine (figuratively speaking), it still finds favor in the market.
Cost – Very cost effective for basic tiles, however custom tiles can increase the price significantly.
Design: Literally hundreds of colors and styles to choose from, including ceramic, porcelain, and granite.
Utility: Very durable and heat resistant, however it is susceptible to chipping or breaking if heavy or pointed objects are dropped on the tiles.

Stainless steel:
Cost – Price points for stainless steel are reasonable, however stainless steel comes in different qualities. It pays to choose the best qualities, as the less expensive option tends to scratch more easily.
Design – Great for a contemporary look, but best used in conjunction with another surface so it doesn’t get too sterile.
Utility: Very heat resistant and durable, however it will be scratched by sharp objects.

Concrete – Although not generally known, concrete is becoming a popular choice for kitchens… countertops and sinks are “poured in place” so they can achieve designs and looks not offered by other materials in the kitchen worktop. If you have an “uneven” kitchen shape, concrete may be a good choice
Cost – Equal to or more expensive than granite and engineered stone (in most cases), however depending on the style and amount of labor involved it can be expensive.
Design – Since it is a poured product, you can be very creative with regards to shapes, color and style.
Utility: Concrete is very porous but can be sealed. This material requires regular maintenance to reduce the possibility of staining. Cracks and chips are also possible if heavy or sharp objects are dropped on the countertops.

Laminate: The new laminate products have really changed the perception of the old Formica. New designs and an exponential increase in colors and patterns make it a great option for the lower price point.
Cost: Hands down the most cost effective countertop material on the market today.
Design: multitude of color and pattern options.
Utility: Very strong with high scratch and stain resistance. Fairly heat resistant, however it can burn if pots or pans are placed on the surface when removed from the oven or stove.

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