Countertops for Your Budget and Style

January 28th 2008
Countertops for Your Budget and Style

Maybe you're building a new home, or upgrading your kitchen or bathroom with new countertops. Either way, choosing the right countertop can be overwhelming. Each type of countertop has pros and cons and a broad range of pricing. From plastic laminate to stainless steel, our handy guide covers the basics of counters on the market. One of the newest trends in kitchen countertops is to mix different styles and materials. Butcher Block pairs well with stainless steel and stone. There is a considerable choice of materials and finishes available in kitchen countertops to suit all styles and budgets and each material brings its own advantages and disadvantages.

Laminate: One of the most commonly used kitchen counter materials; laminate is inexpensive and is low maintenance. It is a plastic-coated synthetic available in many colors, patterns, and textures. Resists grease and stains but is susceptible to damage from sharp knives and hot pans. It's best to choose matte finishes and patterned designs to keep nicks, which are difficult to repair, less noticeable. Consider adding an edge in a solid surface material such as Corian for a higher end look.

Granite: A forerunner in countertops, Granite is one of the most sought after counterops on the market today. It's durable hard surface is easy to clean, hard to scratch and even harder to stain. Available in a broad range of colors is often flecked with bits of minerals which gives it a salt and pepper look. Best for kitchen countertops and fireplace surrounds. Avoid ammonia based cleaners.

Marble: Marble is softer and more absorbent than granite and can stain and scratch easily. It must be resealed often, but the effect can be worth it. Marble is available in a variety of colours and patterns and like ceramic tile, you can create unique patterns, but you'll have to deal with keeping grout clean. Ideal for backsplashes, floors, vanities, pastry surfaces and tub surrounds. Clean marble with water and if necessary mild detergent and rinse thoroughly. Sealing is an option but some sealants may darken white so test a small are first.

Soapstone: A popular granite-looking material, soapstone doesn't stain or show marks, but it's more prone to scratches than granite and can crack over time, but resists high heat. Great for kitchen counters, sinks, vanity tops and fireplace surrounds. Do not seal; rub out scratches with mineral oil each year.

Ceramic Tile: Available in many colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes. It's durable, long-lasting and heat-resistant, but can chip or crack. Damaged tiles are easy and affordable to repair. Grout lines can stain or collect food particles so be sure to choose your grout colour wisely. Epoxy and acrylic grouts are more resistant to stains. For other grouts, most stains will come out with scouring powder and household bleach

Butcher Block: A popular countertop with chefs, a butcher's block looks and acts like a wood cutting board. When choosing the type of wood, opt for durable maple, oak or beech. Scratches and cuts will be noticeable but can be reduced by treating with mineral or linseed oil periodically. Water damage is an issue, so it's better to use it for an island countertop and away from sinks and dishwashers.

Stainless Steel: Ideal for a clean Contemporary industrial appearance, shows nicks and scratches easily -- avoid scouring powders. Like tile, stainless steel makes sense around cooktops and ranges as a landing area for hot pots and pans.

Copper: Like stainless steel, copper can give a polished, chef-like look to your kitchen. It's non-porous, easy to clean and a natural beeswax coating can reduce fingerprints. Copper is much softer than stainless steel and can warp or dent, but any scratches are considered part of the patina, so you don't need to worry about them. Over time, copper changes colour so you'll need to polish it or embrace the new shade.

Concrete Concrete countertops are showing up in more homes for an industrial look or loft style environment. Concrete is versatile and different colours or patterns can be added. Heat and chip resistant but plates or dishes dropped on this hard surface almost always break. It is porous, so it must be treated with a sealer to make it smooth and resistant to stains. Maintenance consists of applying wax to protect
the surface.

Corian: A trademarked brand of solid surface material, this type of counter is custom-made to fit your space, and since it's not a coating, any nicks and scratches can be sanded out, but it's not heat or stain-resistant. Available in a wide range of colours, textures and patterns.

Silestone: This trademarked, manufactured stone is becoming a popular kitchen counter choice for homeowners. Comprised of natural quartz, one of the hardest minerals available, Silestone is less expensive than granite and has better colour. Unlike granite, Silestone does not need to be sealed to keep its shine. It's non-porous and therefore it is highly resistant to stains from coffee, wine, and olive oil etc. To clean, wipe the surface with soap and water on a regular basis.