A kitchen renovation is a great way to add value to your home, but what counter material is best? Well, it depends. Cost, durability, appearance, and other factors have to play into your decision, so let's go through them, from lowest to highest cost:
Laminate for counters is just a thin piece of laminated plastic adhered to a substrate, like particle board or MDF. The product has been around for a while and remains somewhat popular because it's a budget friendly option. Plus, manufacturers continue to come out with attractive colors and patterns, so there is demand. However, with the lower cost comes a lower quality product, namely that laminate can burn, scratch, and stain. As a side note though, my kitchen counters growing up were a stark white laminate, and I don't recall it being an enormous issue. A few laminate companies that you could look into include Formica, Wilsonart, Pionite, Nevamar, and Arborite, though there are many, many more in the marketplace.
Let me start by telling you to just not go with this option. Yes, it's out there, and yes, it can function as a counter surface, and yes, it's fairly inexpensive, but there are two
reasons to avoid. First, it dates your space, pretty much in all installations. But secondly, if you have tile, it means you have grout. Even if you can get a thin grout line, you would need to keep it clean and sealed. White grout will be virtually impossible to keep clean, so you might as well start with a gray or dark grout which reminds us of mildew, which is a bit unappetizing on a kitchen counter surface. If you just love the look of tile, use it on your backsplash. If you decide to use tile anyway, at the very least use a rectified tile (for a slim grout line) and a professional installer (for a level surface).
It's a different kind of look, but concrete has gained popularity over the last ten years or so, particularly because of the infinite variety of textures and colors. It's not significantly
expensive, but should be installed by a professional. Concrete that has been mixed, prepared, and poured properly is resistant to chipping and cracking and unlike natural stone countertops, concrete can be repaired without being replaced. Concrete countertops that are regularly maintained—cleaned, stained, sealed, and protected from extreme temperatures—can last a lifetime.
Solid Surface and Quartz
I'm lumping these two into one category, because they are close cousins, especially with respect to cost and maintenance. They are also both aggregates of polymers (man-made stuff) and minerals (natural stuff). Solid surface tends to have more resin or binding compounds (read: glue), around a third of its makeup, compared to quartz where the binding compound is usually around 1/10th. Because of the higher resin content, solid surface can scratch, but can be sanded and buffed. These materials are enjoying popularity right now, and you see them fairly regularly in new construction. The price point of both solid surface and quartz is about middle of the road between laminates and granite, though this can vary dramatically depending on the manufacturer. Both should be installed by professionals and both are non-porous, so sealing isn't necessary. If you want to learn more, try these vendors:
Solid Surface: Corian, Caesarstone
Quartz: Silestone, Zodiaq
This is an interesting choice, and can be gorgeous. Wood does require a fair amount of maintenance, which can be minimized if a marine-grade sealant is applied. Wood countertops are more likely to be found in a traditional kitchen design, although they’re very adaptable and could fit in well in a more contemporary space.
When thinking through the advantages of wood, the material is very durable, but also incredibly heat-resistant and can easily hold a hot pan without any damage. If it’s sealed properly, a wooden countertop can be hygienic, and is preferable for preparing food with its "chopping board" style.
This group includes Marble, Travertine, Soapstone, and Terrazzo, Limestone, and even Granite, though I'm going to make Granite a category of it's own for our purposes here. Natural stones are unaffected by heat, and every stone is different so whatever you choose is likely to be one of a kind. On the downside, the cost of fabricating and installing stone on top of the cost of the stone itself, can make the choice cost prohibitive. Without a doubt, stone is one of your higher cost options and most stone types do require sealing and regular maintenance.
I put this in its own category because as a Realtor, I see granite installed fairly often. It has a connotation of a high-end product, which of course it still is, but has decreased in popularity. In my opinion, this drop in favor has come from the simple fact of other products that are less expensive and easier to install becoming more widely available. This does not mean you necessarily need to rip out your granite to stay up to date, there are some beautiful stones out there that will last for years and years.
If you're planning a kitchen or even bathroom renovation, be knowledgeable about your options and why certain materials are better for your situation than others. As you can see here, there are a wide variety of choices for every taste and budget, and new options hit the market all the time!
Rebecca Robertson is a Realtor in the Houston area who enjoys helping clients determine how to be smart when preparing their home for sale and improving the value of their home. If you have any questions you'd like her two cents on, or would like her to come visit your home, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.