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Choosing a Bathroom Vanity Top

Updated: 2013/12/23

If you're looking for a bathroom countertop—usually called a vanity top—look for something that will stand up to water, soap, toothpaste, cosmetics, and alcohol- and acetone-based liquids. Replacing a vanity top is a feasible do-it-yourself project since you don't have to replace the whole vanity cabinet if you don't want to. Most bathroom vanity tops are surfaced with one of the following five materials.

•Granite and marble
•Laminate
•Solid surface material
•Tile
•Wood


Granite and Marble

Though marble and granite are unrivaled for their beauty, at $125 to $250 per running, or linear, foot (as measured from one end of the counter to the other), these classic materials warrant careful thought. Also, while marble stains easily, granite shrugs off most stains, except grease, especially if the granite is unsealed. If a solid sheet of stone for your coun­tertop is beyond your budget, granite or marble tiles may be substituted at a lower cost.


Cultured marble is less expensive and is made from real chips of natural marble embedded in plastic. It's available in sheet form and in standard counter dimensions of 19 and 22 inches deep. Cultured marble comes with or without a wash basin molded into it, for $50 to $80 per running foot, installed. Although easy to clean, cultured marble must be well cared for. Once scratched, it cannot be resurfaced. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for what type of finish to apply to cultured marble to best protect it.


Laminate

At an installed price of $24 to $50 per running foot, laminate offers good value and per­formance. As a result, it's the most widely used countertop material in bathrooms, just as it is in kitchens. Various manufacturers market laminates under different brand names, but they're all based on the same principle—a stack of thin plastic layers bonded together under heat and pressure. Laminate countertops clean easily and are resis­tant to water and stain. However, laminates can burn, wear thin, and dull over time. Hard blows can chip or dent the plastic, and there's no remedy short of replacement.

Available in many colors and patterns, lami­nate finishes range in texture from high-gloss smoothness to a mottled, leather-like look. Dealers usually have a few standard patterns in stock. you can view color chips in the store to order others

Do-it-yourselfers can buy prefabricated lami­nate vanity tops or have them made to order with a hole for the sink cut where needed. Installing the finished countertop is a fairly easy matter. You can apply pieces of laminate material to an installed particleboard countertop, but a professional will do the job best.


Solid Surface

Solid surface countertops offer many of the advantages of stone with few of the drawbacks. Cast from an acrylic resin that sometimes include crushed stone—particularly quartz—solid-surface material demands little maintenance and is extremely durable. Intense heat and heavy falling objects (which shouldn't pose much of a threat in bath­rooms) can cause damage, but scratches, abra­sions, and even minor burns (if you leave a curling iron on the vanity top, for example) can be repaired with fine-grade sandpaper. The methods and tools needed for working with this material are similar to those required for woodworking. However, some manufacturers require that a trained pro­fessional install their materials.

Solid surface material is available in white, beige, pastels, and imitation stone, usually in ready-formed vanity tops with integrated sinks. Prices range from about $100 to $250 per running foot installed.


Tile

As it does for floors and walls, ceramic tile makes an attractive, durable finish for countertops. It's available in many colors, designs, and textures. Grout lines that trap dirt and encourage mildew are a major drawback, although new grouts and sealers help alleviate these problems to some degree. Costs range from $10 to $40 per running foot installed.

Getting professional results with tile is a chal­lenge for do-it-yourselfers. A slightly irregular look can be appropriate for rustic, unglazed quarry tile, but most other tile varieties demand greater precision. Using pregrouted tile sheets, or sheets of mosaic tile on a mesh backing, makes it easier to space tiles evenly.


Wood

As a countertop surface, wood is attractive, versa­tile, and easy to install. It is, however, especially vulnerable to water damage, and its porosity makes it difficult to keep clean. All hardwood and softwood species must be well sealed with polyurethane or marine varnish. Special care should be taken to seal around the edges of plumbing fixtures so standing water can't seep in and cause wood rot.

Maple butcher block is a popular countertop material in the the kitchen, and it sometimes appears in bathrooms as well. Available in 24-, 30-, and 36-inch widths, butcher block is thicker than vanity tops, so to install it you may need to modify plumbing connections. Costs for wood countertops run $25 to $40 per linear foot, installed.

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