Guide To Kitchen Countertops : Part 1 of 3

Are you thinking about renovating your kitchen, but you still have no idea about your countertop choice? Making a decision about your kitchen countertop material should not be a quick decision based purely on aesthetics. Countertops are not made equal and all too often sales reps, contractors, designers and installers do not properly provide enough information regarding a materials characteristics, durability, and maintenance requirements. So, I’ve compiled a list of different countertop choices available on the market and compared their pros and cons at a glance, but also provided in-depth information for those interested in knowing more. This is a three part post, so stay tuned for the other two!

 

1. LAMINATE

AVERAGE PRICE: $7-$50 PER SQ. FT.

PROS: 

Affordable
Quick & easy installation
Variety of colors and styles
Low maintenance

CONS:

Susceptible to nicks and scratches
Not heat resistant
Not anti-bacterial
Susceptible to staining

What is it?

Laminate countertops are paper or fabric sheeting glued to a particle board substrate and is definitely not plastic like some people might think.  Laminate has come a long way and is a master at imitating its more expensive counterparts (no pun intended), the quality of laminates these days has also improved, so it may be an option for your home if you don't want to blow your budget.

Eco-friendliness

Although the process of making laminate is energy intensive, it still uses less energy to manufacture than marble, granite or even composite countertops and the raw materials needed to manufacture them are available domestically, meaning they have a relatively small carbon footprint compared to other materials. Moreover, fabricating and installing them can also be done using low volatile organic compounds (VOC), but do be careful as some laminates are known to have high-VOCs and this can be especially bad for indoor air quality. It's good to know that Both Formica and Wilsonart brands are Green Guard certified, though!

Color and Style:

Laminate comes in so many colors, patterns, and finishes that you are sure to find one that suits your personal style. Printing technologies can make laminate look like marble, granite, or even butcher block at a fraction of the cost. You can also give laminate a custom look by adding bullnose edges, mitered corners, or end caps.

Cost and availability:

It is one of the most affordable options on the market, with prices ranging from $7-$50. This large range is due to your quality options, premium and designer laminate will cost you more, but you do get a more premium look. To add, laminate is also the most readily available material for countertops, and easily found at a home improvement store in standard lengths.

Durability:

Because laminate is made from paper sheets glued together, it is easier to damage the surface of the countertop. Hot pans can melt the top, and even a cigarette left unattended can melt a small area. The top is also susceptible to scratches from sharp knives and other items on the counter. In addition, the layers of laminate can peel over time with natural wear and tear and exposure to moisture. Laminate lasts about 10 to 12 years or longer if it’s cared for exceptionally well.

Maintenance & Care:

Laminate is low maintenance and doesn't require any special care products or yearly resealing. To clean the surface, use a damp cloth or sponge and a mild soap or detergent. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and wipe dry.

Installation:

Average lead time: 1-2 weeks

Laminate is a light product and It is easy enough for do-it-yourselfers to install. The new counter can be installed in a brand new area, or laminate sheets can be installed over an existing countertop (although it's not recommended). However, if you decide to let professionals install it for you, it is still less expensive compared to other countertop materials. Additionally, lead time for laminates are one of the fastest around especially if you just get one “off the rack” from a home improvement retailer.

 

 

2. TILE

AVERAGE COST: $10 - $70 PER SQ FT.

PROS:

Easy installation
Heat resistant
Stain resistant
Relatively affordable
Variety of colors & Styles

CONS:

Susceptible to damage
Grout can discolor
Not a smooth surface

What is it?

There are several types of tile but the most popular for kitchen countertops is ceramic and porcelain. A mix of clay, minerals, and water, ceramic tiles are fired at high temperatures. Glazed styles are then treated with a liquid glass coating and fired again, creating a hard, stain- and scratch-resistant surface. Unglazed tiles are sometimes referred to as “quarry” tiles. Porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile that is fired at a higher temperature than standard ceramic, making it denser and less porous.

Eco-Friendliness

Ceramic tile is not typically considered and eco-friendly product unless it contains recycled ceramic content, and even then, the percentage of recycled content to new content is very low. Moreover, glazed tiles, for instance, are typically glazed with toxic chemicals. However, they are recyclable and durable. For a more eco-friendly option source tiles locally. 

Color and Style:

You can select from a large range of patterns and colors. You can even get tile finished to mimic granite or other stones. You can also get natural stone tiles, the real deal, if you like.  

Cost & Availability:

Tile can be a more affordable option depending on the type of tile you choose average cost ranging from $10-$70 / Sq. ft. Porcelain and ceramic are the most cost efficient whereas natural stone tiles are more expensive. Generally, they are also readily available in stores.

Durability

The tiles themselves are durable, both heat and stain resistant, as well as resistant to dings from knives, but tile doesn’t come without some downfalls. Cracking and chipping is one of the main issues with tiles. If a tile countertop chips or scratches, it can probably be refinished. However, if the tile breaks due to heavy impact,  it may be hard to repair so it must be replaced. So, it’s a good idea to have extra tiles on hand just in case.

Maintenance & Care:

I wouldn't consider a tile countertop low maintenance in my opinion. Daily cleaning is easy though like many others just wipe down with a mild cleaner. Maintaining the grout is where it get tricky. In kitchens, food scraps and liquids can easily get stuck in these areas making it a little difficult to clean. This also makes the grout susceptible to discoloration. However, you can try using an epoxy or acrylic grout, making the grout lines easier to maintain and keep clean, but it doesn't guarantee it 100%. So, sometimes you may need to do a deep grout cleaning using professional strength tile and grout cleaner, be sure to pick one that has low VOC levels.

Installation:

Average Lead Time: 1-4 weeks

Tile countertops are relatively easy to install and are manageable for do-it-yourselfers; it can, however, be a bit of a messy undertaking. The time needed to install tile countertops depends on the size of the tiles and area you’re covering, it is generally not much longer to install than other materials.


3.WOOD

AVERAGE COST: $30 - $100 PER SQ. FT. 

PROS:

Warm, classic look
Bio-degradable
Easy to repair
Quiet surface

CONS:

Not heat resistant
Not anti-bacterial
Prone to damage
Regular maintenance and care
 

What is it?

Well, to be frank, it's wood (haha). There are many types of wood countertops to choose from though. A common type of wood for countertops is butcher's block, which is typically made from hard maple. Reclaimed wood is also gaining popularity when it comes to wood countertops and it is usually salvaged from older homes or barns and made of mostly older trees, which means it’s much sturdier than countertops using new wood from younger trees.

Eco-friendliness:

Definitely a green option, but new wood countertops are not inherently all that green, when you think about it. It's not all that sustainable and there is quite an impact on the environment cutting down and transporting new trees. At the end of its useful life, however, wood can be reused/repurposed, given to materials exchanges or, if not treated with toxic materials, chipped and composted or allowed to biodegrade. Perhaps a more green option when it comes to wood countertops is reclaimed hardwood or bamboo - reuse is better than recycling! 

When it comes to indoor air quality of these products, they vary due to the use of different types of varnishes, sealers, and treatment process. Many of them produce various levels of VOC's so it's important to choose a reputable supplier that uses a varnish or sealant that has the low VOC emission or ones that are VOC free. All in all wood countertops are still a sexy option for green homes. 

Color and Style:

The number one reason people choose wood is the beauty in their warmth, not just in their appearance either, but it’s literally warmer to the touch than other materials. Wood actually offers quite a decent range of choice when it comes to style and color because you are able to choose the species of wood, color, stain, finish, and grain orientation. 

Tip: If you plan on cutting food right on the countertop, choose a non-toxic finish

Cost & Availability:

Wood is a readily available at home improvement retailers if that's the route you want to take. It is also highly likely that there is a local woodworker who can build you are custom countertop to your exact specifications. The price again varies largely depending on the type of wood chosen and whether it is custom or off the rack. Wood like maple can start around $40 / Sq. ft., whereas wood like teak can start around $100 / Sq. ft.

Durability  

Wood is definitely durable with regular maintenance and care! The hardiness of the countertop itself is largely dependent on the wood type was chosen. Hard maple wood countertops will scratch and dent easier than something like mahogany.  What’s nice about wood countertops is that you are able to sand out light scratches, dents and nicks with high grit sandpaper then refinish it.  

Maintenance and care:

Maintenance depends on the type of finish you have. It can be a bit much for busy homeowners. Wood countertops require reconditioning or oiling when wood gets dull or shows signs of cracking or aging, this helps protect the wood from water damage and fight against germs. This generally happens 2-3 times a year. For daily maintenance, you should wipe clean with a damp cloth and mild soap. Avoid the use of harsh detergents, chemicals, and puddles of standing water.

Installation:

Average Lead Time: 1-4 weeks

Wood can be cut, fabricated, and installed easily by a woodworker, or if you wanted to tackle it yourself, it's totally doable, just be sure to watch some videos or read a guide on how to do it properly. 

 

4.     Zinc

AVERAGE COST: $120 - $200 / Sq ft. 

contemporary-kitchen-design-open-shelves-kitchen-island-zinc-countertop-pendant-lamps.jpg

PROS:

Non-porous
Anti-bacterial
Elegant
Durable

CONS:

Expensive
Susceptible to scratches
Susceptible to heat damage
Tricky installation
Not readily available
 

What is it?

An uncommon choice for countertops in North America, zinc is a reactive soft living metal, which has been traditionally used in the finest European kitchens. When first installed it has a white/silvery gray appearance similar to the look of stainless steel. Overtime zinc develops a blue-gray patina (similar to pewter in color) as it reacts to different substances. This process can take up to a year – so, definitely not for someone who cringes at the appearance of a spot. However, you may be able to ask the manufacturer to pre-apply a patina using chemicals.

Eco-friendliness

Zinc is an intrinsically green material and more often than not you can find recycled zinc sheets to be used for your kitchen countertops. No harsh chemicals or sealants are needed to care for it either meaning it doesn't compromise indoor air quality.  

Color and Style

You are definitely limited when it comes to color and style. You are, however, able to select options for its finish such as matte, quilted, hammered or distress, and thanks to zincs malleability you can design fancy decorative edges.  

Cost & Availability

If you are looking for a budget friendly option that is readily available, this is not it. The cost of zinc is depends on its grading, thickness, edging and finish chosen. It typically runs between $120 - $200 / Sq. ft. To add, zinc isn’t readily available. Most home improvement retailers don’t carry zinc in stock, but you may be able to place a special order for fabrication, delivery and installation. You can also find zinc at local sheet metal shops, and have them fabricate it for you.

Durability

Zinc is considered a durable material for countertops. Yes, the malleability and softness of the metal makes it susceptible to warping from heat, dents, dings and scratches, but this gives it the lived in patina that some homeowners welcome. You are able to sand or buff away scratches, but it will also remove the patina, which will return with time, but in a different pattern.

Maintenance and care:  

Zinc countertops are relatively easy to clean and maintain. Care and maintenance will depend on the finish you choose but in general, clean with mild soap and water, and wipe liquids away with a paper towel. When you wax zinc counters it helps preserves their finish and provides resistance to water. If you want to try and keep a zinc counter shiny and new you can polish it frequently, but you’re going to be putting in a lot of work – in that case you’re better off with stainless steel.

Installation:

Average Lead Time: 1-5 weeks

Like other metals, zinc can be difficult to work with depending on the size and layout of the kitchen. Handy homeowners may manage to install a long fabricated sheet of zinc over plywood, but if welding is required it takes skill and experience to make the seams invisible. It is recommended you use professionals to fabricate and install a zinc countertop for you to achieve optimum results. As for time from picking your finish and design to complete installations, it’s a similar time frame to stainless steel, engineered stone, and wood, ranging anywhere between 1-5 weeks depending on complexity of work.
 

5.COPPER

Average Cost: $100 - $175 / Sq. ft.

PROS:

Elegant
Heat resistant
Anti-bacterial
Limited selection

CONS:

Expensive
Difficult Installation
Susceptible to Stain
Limited Selection

What is it?

Like zinc, copper is a soft “living” metal. Its reddish brown color brings warmth to the room and looks wonderful against dark cabinets. When copper is left unsealed, copper is a germ-free, anti-bacterial material.

Eco-Friendliness

The process to acquire copper isn't very green, however, copper is durable and recyclable. Moreover, it is not required to seal copper countertops, so like zinc, it does not compromise indoor air quality. 

Color and Style:

You are limited to the reddish brown appearance of copper, but it does vary in shade from light to dark. Copper is versatile with many interiors, where light shades tend to suit modern kitchens, whereas darker shades complement rustic styles. Copper is available in a mirror-polish, matte, or professionally paginated finish, but because copper is a living finish it will continue to patina as it reacts to substances over time. Like zinc, you have a choice of various edge profiles with can influence the look of the copper countertops. 

Cost & Availability:

Copper doesn’t come cheap. The average cost ranges from $100 to $175 / Sq. ft. It is also not readily available through home improvement retailers. So, you will most likely have to seek a fabrication shop in your area. 

Durability

Due to copper being a soft metal, general usage will produce unavoidable scuff marks and blemishes, although this can often be buffed out, it is also the rustic charm of copper. Copper is considered stain-resistant but does patina over time. However, for many homeowners that’s part of its appeal. Unsealed copper will gradually dull and transition to blends of matte reds, browns and greens, adding character to the countertops. If dents are a concerned you can opt for a hammered or distressed finish, but then again you can opt for a more durable material altogether if a pristine countertop is what you desire.

Maintenance and care:

Copper requires minimal long term maintenance, needing only treatment with wax or oil from time to time, but if you’re attached to the shinny new penny copper and aren’t concerned about maintaining copper’s anti-microbial characteristic then you can seal the countertop and be diligent about resealing to keep it looking new.  Otherwise, for daily cleaning, mild soap and water, or Windex will suffice, as no harsh substances are needed to keep it clean.  

Installation:

Average Lead Time: 2-6 weeks

Installing copper countertops is not difficult, however, installing it properly is incredibly difficult and not recommended for the average do-it-yourselfer, because unless you have experience fitting copper sheets, it is much more challenging than it appears to be. When not installed properly it can lead to problems down the line. 

 

6. SOAPSTONE

Average cost: $60 - $120 / Sq. ft.

PROS

Durable
Low maintenance
Anti-bacterial
Relatively affordable for stone

CONS

Limited selection
Susceptible to chips, scratches, and dents

What is it?

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock that is composed largely of mineral talc, lending to the smooth feel of soapstone. It is commonly used as an alternative to natural stones such as granite and marble.

Eco-friendliness:

Soapstone is made from natural material, which can be recycled/repurposed. It is also extremely durable, giving it a plus. Additionally no harsh chemicals or sealants are used on soapstone to protect it. However, the mining and transportation of soapstone itself is ecologically harmful. 

Color and Style:

Soapstone is not known for its colour choice; typically it comes in grey, blue-ish grey, green and black - the pigment varies depending on the mineral deposit. Soapstone will develop a patina darkening or changing the appearance of the countertop overtime. When it comes to the finish you are stuck with matte, so it is definitely for someone who doesn’t typically like the highly polished, shiny countertops. However, you can oil your soapstone for a low luster finish.

Cost & Availability:

The cost of soapstone is similar to that of granite ranging between $60-$100 on average. Soapstone is not readily available everywhere. Therefore, if it is not readily available in your area, be prepared to pay a little bit more to get it to your kitchen.

Durability

Soapstone gets two thumbs up when it comes to durability as it’s a material that will last for generations, because it is unaffected by heat, and is chemically neutral - meaning it’s unaffected by acids and alkalis in foods and cleaning fluids. However, soapstone is considered a softer stone and barely visible nicks and scratches may accumulate overtime. These blemishes can be sanded out without the help of professionals or it can be considered part of its living patina. It’s good to know that greener slabs of soapstone are often softer, so when selecting a slab seek one with less of a green tint if you would like a harder surface.

Maintenance and care:

Another nice thing about soapstone is that it is low maintenance. It’s non-porous so it is a hygienic surface to work on and is a surface that will not harbour bacteria. Unlike other natural stones, it’s non-porous character also means it does not need to be repeatedly sealed to prevent it from staining. Some homeowners do, however, apply an application of mineral oil  or special soapstone wax to enhance keep the colour consistent, but this is purely an aesthetic treatment. Other than that for daily maintenance, soap and water is all that is recommended.

Installation:

Average Lead Time: 2–4 weeks.

Soapstone can be installed yourself, but be sure to have patience, the right tools, and a strong back. So, perhaps you may want to leave this one to the professionals.