One of the most popular countertop installations, granite has a lot going for it, making it an ideal surface for either the kitchen or bath. Its distinctive appearance notwithstanding, granite is ultra durable, highly heat- and scratch-resistant and, because of its popularity, is cost effective and yields a comparatively high return on your investment. Because granite is sold in slabs, there may be a bit of waste if youre not able to use the entire slab.
Maintenance: Lighter surfaces tend to be more porous and stain more easily, while darker surfaces pick up fingerprints easily. Granite requires resealing of the surface once or twice a year.
Price per square foot: $45-$75
OTHER NATURAL STONE
Some of the most gorgeous surfaces on the market are natural stone countertopsmarble, limestone and travertine among them. Nothing compares to the look of natural marble, says Jerry Moore, president of Top South in Marietta. Marble is one of the most elegant natural surfaces there is. Limestone and travertine, in addition, boast a weathered yet refined appeal.
Maintenance: Because of their high porosity and softness, stone surfaces are most appropriate in bathroom applications or in low-traffic kitchen areas and should be sealed once each year.
Price per square foot: $50-$65
Generally crafted from ceramic or porcelain, tile can add a wealth of beauty and character to any kitchen or bath. According to Color Tiles Leigh Van Lydegraf, tile counters will last as long as your home if properly installed. Mixing and matching tile also offers amazing opportunities for creativity.
Maintenance: Though slightly more high-maintenance than smooth-topped surfaces (consistent washing is required after use to keep grout clean), glazed tile is quite durable and heat- stain- and scratch-resistant and can be easily repaired. (Be sure to buy extra tiles when you purchase your countertop.)
Price per square foot: $10-$90 (Tile pricing varies vastly depending on quality and level of design intricacy.)
Rising rapidly in popularity in recent years, concrete has given design gurus a new outlet for creativity. Aesthetically chameleon-like, concrete can lend a rough-edged, rustic look or a subdued elegance to any room, and offers a range of options with regard to color, texture and finish. The ability to choose colors to mix with pigments makes the coloring options that much more variable, notes Joshua Johnson, president of J. Aaron Cast Stone. Though concrete runs on the pricier side because each job is made to order, there are no limitations in slab size, eliminating waste and cutting costs in the long run.
Maintenance: Concretes softness ranks closely to that of marble and softer granites, so it does scratch and is susceptible to heat damage, but care involves little more than cleaning with a non-abrasive cleaner. To maintain appearance and function, concrete countertops must be re-waxed approximately twice each year and re-sealed once every one to two years.
Price per square foot: $60-$65
One of the most durable and cost-effective countertop options, manufactured quartz (composed primarily of quartz blended with resin composites) can mimic the look of natural stone without the need for sealing and at a slightly lower price. It almost duplicates granite with colors, swirls, veins and matrixes, says Diana Barnes, owner and designer of Golden Eagle Countertops.
Manufactured quartz is sold by a number of companies, including Siletone, Zodiaq, Caesarstone and Cambria. One downside is the limitations of slab sizes available, which almost always means seams and a bit of waste.
Maintenance: It is scorch- and scratch-resistant, highly durable, non-porous (so it wont stain) and requires little maintenance as it demands no sealant.
Price per square foot: $35-$65 (Prices vary depending on color, the type of edge desired and the thickness of the slab.)
One of the most oft-requested countertop surfaces today, solid surface, which often aims to achieve the appearance of natural stone, is most commonly referenced by its manufacturers namessome of the better known brands are Corian, Staron, Gilbraltar and Avonite. Composed of either polyester or acrylic, these hard synthetic surfaces are some of the easiest to maintain and repair, and, because solid surface is extremely pliable, it can be molded to nearly any specification, giving outstanding design flexibility.
Maintenance: Solid surface is entirely non-porous, making it impervious to stains.
The few fallbacks of solid surface hinge on its sensitivity to heat and scratchingbut since the surface is easy to repair, it may be an ideal choice for homeowners who anticipate giving their countertops a heavy workload.
Price per square foot: $35-$55
Quickly gaining steam as one of the trendiest options in countertops, glass has made enormous technological strides in recent years and can bring a cool, contemporary artistry or rustic sensibility to a kitchen or bath. One of the most exciting products on the market, crystallized glass can be molded into a bevy of countertop styles, and rivals granite in terms of its durability.
Recycled glass countertops, which can contain up to 90 percent recycled glass content, are one of the homeowners most environmentally friendly options. Typically fashioned from recycled colored, tinted or stained glass pieces embedded in concrete, these countertops are both durable and eclectic, and offer a wealth of design flexibility.
Maintenance: Regardless of the variety of glass you choose, it should be heat- and stain-resistant, and easy to care for, though not immune to scratches.
Price per square foot: $45-$85
Most commonly noted for the sleek, industrial and contemporary feel it lends to appliances, stainless steel is also a great candidate for countertop use.
Maintenance: An extremely durable surface, stainless will never be affected by heat or spills, and cleanup is a breeze. This surface is prone to scratching and fingerprints, and may dent if manhandled, but installing a countertop with a brushed finish will minimize the appearance side effects of normal wear and tear.
Price per square foot: $65-$100
Favored for their beauty, wood tops (built from countless wood sources, including cherry, maple, walnut and exotic-looking mesquite) can be both economical and charming additions to the kitchen. As cutting surfaces, they cant be surpassed (virtually any other surface dulls knives relentlessly), though wood will show knife marks over time.
Maintenance: Wood is especially prone to heat and water damage, and so it is likely to warp or rot if installed anywhere near a water or heat source. Maintaining a wood top involves a bit of ginger cleaning, as well as regular oiling.
Price per square foot: $20-$50
Though generally not considered as fashionable or user friendly as most other surfaces, laminate countertops are one of the best options available for budget-conscious buyers. Given the current design options offered by manufacturers like Wilsonart, Nevamar, Pionite, Arborite and Formica, homeowners are no longer limited to dowdy shades or designs. I think laminate deserves another look, says Mark Galey, president and owner of Magnet Construction Services Inc. You can get the upscale look without the price tag.
Maintenance: Laminate falls short in its tolerance for heavy use. Neither heat-, stain- nor scratch-resistant, it needs to be treated carefully. Water logging or cracks can ruin this surface.
Price per linear foot: $20-$50
Compiled by Emily Horton