February 2003 Edition

How To Choose Countertops?

We are building a new house and cannot decide on the type of countertop to use in our kitchen. The prices range from inexpensive to extremely expensive. How do you decide on cost versus value?
The following information should help you with the differences between the different types of countertops, and you will need to decide how much you are willing to spend.
Maintenance and Use Factors
Maintenance on most countertops is minimal - but fail to do it and permanent, or at least difficult-to-reverse damage can occur. There are preventive maintenance (mopping up spills, using hot pads, working on cutting boards) and long-term maintenance (which usually involves applying some form of sealer or finish). Ask yourself, how careful (really) are you and your family? What do you expect your top to look like in five years? Does it make more sense to stick with laminate until the kids are out of grade school?
Aesthetic and Tactile Factors
If budget and maintenance aren’t decisive factors in your mind, how the top looks and feels are the true deal makers. Both you and your countertop have a personality; select one that you can get along with. Texture, aesthetics, glossiness, "warmth," how natural the material looks and feels, and how it fits in with the design of your kitchen and home are all part of the final equation.
One of the beauties of today’s trend toward multiple countertop surfaces is, when torn between two tops, you can install them both!


The three most common and most popular products are plastic laminates, solid surface and granite.
Plastic-laminate tops may not grab headlines, but they still account for 75 percent of the market. They’re inexpensive, durable, come in lots of colors and can be installed by do-it-yourselfers. The laminate sheets can be made into countertops in two ways. It can be post formed at a fabrication plant to create tops with the rounded "unibody" backsplash and nosing. Post-formed tops can be purchased off-the-shelf at home centers in limited colors or special ordered. This style top is the least expensive, easiest to clean and quickest to install. They can also be custom fabricated into an extraordinary range of styles.
DuPont introduced the first solid-surface countertop, Corian, to the world 35 years ago, and the category continues to thrive. There are currently more than a dozen manufacturers offering countertop materials in hundreds of colors and designs. Most, if not all, solid-surface tops are handled by trained pros who have been certified to fabricate and install that specific product. Solid-surface tops are normally 1/2 in. thick and made of acrylic, polyester (or blends of the two) along with fillers. Edges are built up with two or three layers of material for a thicker appearance. Some have labeled solid-surface tops the "near-perfect" product. They’re non-porous, making them ideal for food preparation. They’re difficult to stain. They can be formed into nearly any size and shape. Because they’re of uniform material through and through, light scratches can be buffed out, deep scratches and burns can be sanded out, and severely damaged areas can literally be cut out, replaced, then blended to be darn near invisible. Sinks can be undermounted and backsplashes can be integrated into the top, making them seamless.
Although granite’s been around for millions of years, it’s still considered the new kid on the block. Ten years ago granite
fell into the "exotic" or "extravagant" category. Today it’s become more accessible and affordable. In its natural state, it resists most stains and when sealed becomes tougher yet. Many edge styles can be crafted: most commonly bevel, radius, half-radius, ogee and square. A natural material; it comes in a wide range of colors, patterns and depths. Each top is absolutely unique. Sinks can be undermounted, and it can handle hot pans.

Source: The Family Handyman, October 2002

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