As with most decisions in remodeling, the 'one size fits all' just doesn't do it. There is no pat answer on which countertop material is best but this article should get you pointed in the right direction. Each countertop material has its own pros and cons so it pays to do your research before you make your final decision and pony-up the dough. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference but no matter which countertop choice you make, there are three main considerations that you will need before making your countertop choice: They are: Cost - Design - Utility.
I place these in this order for a reason: Your budget will ultimately determine the material choices you will have. Next is the design: Achieving your design / style goals can usually be achieved at all the various price points. The final choice is utility. These days, durability (like design) can be achieved through all granite countertops materials. Ok, let's get started:
Wood: Yes, you heard right 'Wood'. Most of us have seen 'butcher block' island cabinets of a piece of butcher block incorporated into the countertop, but there is a whole new world of wood countertop solutions if you have the cash. Pricing on these countertops make granite look like a bargain! If you want a 'Stand-Out' kitchen, this will most certainly do it. Cost: Prices (just for the materials range from $100 sq. ft. to $500 sq. ft.! Design: The choices of wood species are extraordinary: Just to name a few... Cherry, Bamboo, Beech, Black Walnut, Canary, Hickory, Maple, Chestnut, Red Oak, Reclaimed Redwood, Teak, Zebrawood (among others). Utility: Incredibly, this choice is quite durable. Other than re-oiling the tops 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. As well 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 $70 to $150 per square foot depending on the quality and scarcity of the stone. Other factors that determine cost is the thickness of the stone (2 or 3 centimeters widths) as well as the amount of pits and imperfections. There are typically 2 to 3 quality levels depending on which slab yard you go to. This can have a substantial impact on the final cost. Design: Styles and colors of granite are plentiful. Some estimates are in the 3,000 range. You need only to go to a few of slab yards to see that 'the sky is the limit' with regards to available choices. Utility: Granite is very durable and holds-up well to heat. Although it is important to seal the granite countertops a couple of times a year, overall care and maintenance is relatively minor.
*** Note: There has been (of late) a lot of press about the 'radon gas' issue with granite. Most of the findings state that while there are some levels of radon, it does not pose a health threat. Further information is available by going the to the Marble Institute of America website.
Marble: Using Marble in kitchen applications creates a number of issues that may preclude you from making this choice. however it is widely used in Italy (and other European countries) as a standard countertop material. Cost: The cost for Marble is high - comparable with granite. Design: There are sufficient colors of Marble to achieve the color and style you are looking for however, it may take more time and effort than with granite. Utility: Marble holds-up well to heat however it is a highly porous stone. For this reason, it is susceptible to staining etching even if you seal it on a regular basis. As well, this material will change color over time. While some people will appreciate this, most want to have their countertops to look as good in 10 years (shiny & new) as it looks the day they install them.
Cultured Marble: This product is made from crushed marble, resin and pigments (for color). While it is widely for countertops in bathrooms, 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, there comes with it, numerous issues that you need to know up front so you don't find yourself regretting the choice. Cost: Typically less expensive than marble or granite but it is still natural stone and can get expensive. Design: There are fewer choices (compared to granite) however limestone does come in some vibrant blue colors that marble does not. Canada is the main source of limestone in North America. Utility: While Limestone is highly resistant to humidity, it nonetheless a very porous material that stains easily and can erode over time. Proper sealing is an absolute must and is highly susceptible to erosion from juices, fruits and foods that contain acidic properties.
Quartz: You might recognize the most popular industry names as Cambria, Zodiaq, Silestone or Cesarstone. While these quartz products are appx. 93 natural stone, they are in fact an 'engineered stone'. Resin and pigments make up the remaining 7. Cost: While Quartz is an engineered product (unlike Granite) it is nonetheless expensive. Prices can reach the price of the lower-end of the granite spectrum. Design: Due to the fact it is 'engineered' you can find a color to meet your needs with little difficulty. Utility: This engineered fabrication affords extremely high durability however it will chip with high impact or sharp objects falling on it.
Solid Surface: The most commonly known name Corian. Corian is made by DuPont and is a non-porous, engineered material. It has lost some market share over the last few years to granite and quartz however it still finds favor with homeowners who like the 'seamless sinks'. Cost: Pricing for this material is less expensive than granite but 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 there will be no problem finding a color and finish to achieve the style you are looking for. Utility: Corian is very durable and most stains and spots can be cleaned off with soapy water or an ammonia based cleaner (no window cleaners though). 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 some 4,000 years so it is safe to say that longevity is something you won't need to worry about. While it has lost some of its luster (figuratively speaking) it still finds favor in the marketplace. Cost: Very cost effective for basic tile however custom tile can bring the price-point up significantly. Design: Literally hundreds of colors and styles to choose from including ceramic, porcelain and granite. Utility: Very durable and heat resistant however is susceptible to chipping or breakage if heavy or pointed objects dropped on tiles
Stainless Steel: Cost: Price points for stainless are reasonable however stainless steel comes in different qualities. It pays to go with the better qualities as the less expensive option has a tendency to scratch easier. Design: Great for contemporary look but best if used in conjunction with another surface so that it does not become too sterile. Utility: Very heat resistant and durable however will scratch with sharp objects.
Concrete: While not generally known, concrete is becoming a popular choice for kitchens... the counters and sinks are 'poured in place' so they can achieve designs and styles not afforded by the other countertop materials. If you have an 'irregular' 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 get pricy. Design: Since it is a poured product, you can get very creative with regard to shapes, color and flair. Utility: Concrete is very porous but can be sealed. This material requires regular maintenance to reduce the chance of staining. Cracks and chipping are also possible if heavy or sharp objects are dropped on the counters.
Laminate: 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 choice for the lower price point. Cost: Hands-down the most cost effective granite countertops material on the market today Design: Multitudes of color and pattern choices. Utility: Very strong with a high resistance to scratching and staining. Fairly resistant to heat however it can burn if pots or pans are placed on the surface when taken right out of the oven or from the cooktop.