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Counter Tops – How to make the right choice!

Countertops are a major element in the design and feel of your kitchen. They are the showpiece of that room, setting the tone for its style and character.

Whether planning the kitchen for your new dream home, or considering a kitchen remodel, there is a huge array of colors, textures and materials from which to choose. As you look at the many counter tops available, you will most likely base your decision on your own personal style, the functionality you need and the budget you have available for your project.

There are nine different materials that most countertops are made from today. They vary greatly in price, functionality and look.

Laminates

This is the most popular counter top material due to its affordability and durability. A laminate is made of plywood, chipboard or medium-density fiberboard, covered with a decorative paper and topped by a thin plastic laminate. It is available in literally hundreds of colors, patterns and textures; even some that resemble the more costly stone, granite, or ceramic tile surfaces. While the laminate is very durable, it does have some limitations. You will want to always use a cutting board and not place hot pans directly on the counter as laminates are not resistant to heat, and can be scratched and dented. Because the laminate is not one solid piece, care must be taken to not allow water to seep below the surface through the seams, possibly warping and damaging your counter top. If you have discounted using laminates in the past because they didn’t have the look you wanted, take another look at what is on the market today. Laminates are an affordable and durable, as well as beautiful, option for today’s kitchens.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is another very popular material for counter tops in today’s homes. Tiles come in any number of colors and styles, are relatively easy to maintain and, are a cost effective solution for your kitchen. They consist of natural clays, minerals and sands, and are fired until they are hard; glazed, and then fired again for a finish that is water and heat proof. Ceramic tiles also resist scratching, and will not burn, stain or discolor. Because the tiles are so hard, you will need to be careful to not drop glasses or dishes on this surface as they break easily. The tiles are held together by grout, which must be sealed to prevent stains and bacterial growth. The beauty, versatility and durability of ceramic tiles have provided thousands of homeowners with enjoyment at their choice.

Natural Stone

Another material that is becoming more popular for countertops is natural stone. You can choose from granite, marble, and engineered stone, also know as quartz.

  • Granite – The beauty of these polished stone counter tops will only add to the elegance of your kitchen, but it will also add to the cost of your project. Granite is an expensive counter top. While it comes in hundreds of different colors, it is a natural stone and no two counter tops will be the same. Granite is an extremely hard surface that is difficult to scratch. However, it will chip, but these can be repaired.

Granite is a seven on the Mohs hardness scale. To put that in perspective, a diamond is a ten!

  • To maintain the finish and prevent stains, granite counter tops need to be sealed periodically. It is not recommended that you cut directly on the granite as it will dull your knife. While expensive, granite is an elegant addition to your kitchen.
  • Marble – This natural stone can provide you with a very luxurious look in your kitchen, but can also be quite expensive. Because of its costs, you see it used more frequently as an island or baking center. Marble is softer and more porous than granite, making it less practical for rigorous kitchen use. It can be sealed to protect against stains, but the polish will etch or dull very easily if acidic liquids such as wine, coffee, juices and alcohol are spilled on the surface. Marble will also scratch more easily than granite. If you love the look of marble but have a limited budget, consider it as an accent to your room.
  • Engineered Stone – Engineered stone, also referred to as quartz, consists of 93% quartz particles, binding resins and pigments resulting in a beautiful and durable counter top available in many colors. This counter top is very hard and cannot be easily damaged. It is resistant to heat, cuts, slices, and scratches. It’s non-porous quality does not require sealing as granite does. Quartz is an attractive, though expensive, addition to any kitchen.

Solid Surface

These counter tops are a solid piece of plastic in a large variety of colors and patterns, and can be considered moderately expensive. A common example of this type is Corian. The solid surface counter top is non-porous which makes them resistant to stains, but care should be taken to not place a hot pan on the surface as it will damage it. Though moderately expensive, this is a great alternative if you want the look but not the expense of natural stone.

Wood

Wood counters have been used for many years and provide a warm and inviting look to your kitchen. They come in a wide range of colors and finishes, with the most commonly used woods being maple, teak and oak. At the time of installation, the wood should be sealed with a varnish or a natural mineral oil to prevent drying. The wood should be re-sealed as needed. Over time, the wood can be damaged and blacken when exposed to water, so it is not recommended around continually wet areas such as sinks. Wood counters can burn when a hot pan is placed on them so always use a hot pad.

Concrete

While most of us would not consider concrete a material used in kitchen counter tops, it can provide you with an exotic yet beautiful element to your home. The mixture is made up at the manufacturer or in your kitchen, and includes pigments, textures and objects like decorative stones to express your style and personality. However, this does produce a porous surface requiring regular care. The surface should be sealed at the time the counter tops are installed and needs to be re-sealed every few months, if not every month, based on your use. It is time to re-seal when liquids no longer bead up, or you see worn spots. Damage to this type of counter top is more likely to be to the sealant, not the material itself. You will not want to place hot pans on the counter or chop food directly on its surface. While concrete may not be the answer for every kitchen, it does provide a very unique look.

Stainless Steel

This material provides your kitchen with a contemporary, industrial look. While these counters are very durable and low maintenance, they can scratch easily and will show fingerprints. They are very easy to clean, but can be noisy and dent easily. Again, this is a unique alternative but may just be the right one for you and your family.

As you can see, there is no end to the choices available to you to make your kitchen a unique reflection of you and your lifestyle. Look at the countertops you have today and determine what you like and want to keep, and what has not worked and you want to change. Then, using your budget as a guide, compare your needs to the products and materials available to you. You can create a beautiful kitchen design all your own.

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