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Last month I talked about many options in kitchen and bath cabinet offerings. Confused? I hope not, but hang on because this month I am going to tell you all you need to know about countertops. You have some fantastic options on kitchen countertops and bathroom vanity tops these days. This article refers a lot to how “porous” a product is. This means how much moisture it will absorb. The more porous a product is the more likely it is to stain and hold moisture from meats and vegetables which is a health concern.

Laminate: This is one of the tried and true products that have been around forever. Before you had a front drip edge and an integral backsplash and that was about it. It would last 10 to 15 years if maintained. Now it is a whole new ballgame. You have many new edge profiles, limitless colors and styles. Many fabricators offer products that look very close to granite with veins and swirls in lots of colors. You can even get an under-mount sink option. Do an internet search on “Ideal Edge” or “Crescent Edge” and you will see examples of what can be done. New coatings make laminate more scratch and wear resistant. Shiny, matte, and other surface finishes are available. . Laminate is non-porous and is hard to stain. You can get a lot for your money these days if laminate fits your needs and it does price lower than solid surface or natural stone. Some of the dis-advantages are that hot items will damage the surface; it will chip if you drop a heavy or pointed object on it; the sharper the edge profile the more likely you are to get edge chipping. Works well in baths or kitchens. Limited offerings of laminate can be purchased at the big box stores for DIY.

Cultured Marble: This product has been around for many years as well and is a mixture of marble dust and a polyester resin poured into molds and then polished. It is a durable and versatile product and is great for bathroom vanities, shower stalls and some kitchen tops. You can get it with an integral bowl in several shapes with molded-in soap dishes and water dams around the bowl. It is somewhat porous and will stain. Cultured marble is 5 times stronger than natural marble stone. You can now get it as cultured marble, cultured hybrid (marble and granite dust) and cultured granite. Colors, styles and color/mix patterns and veining are limitless. In the kitchen it will stain and you cannot place hot items on it or it will melt. It will also chip, scratch or break, but is repairable. Older product would crack and dis-color in the sink area but the new cultured products are much more stable. You can now get it with under-mount sinks. This product prices above laminate but has limited applications.

Solid Surface: Solid surface is a manufactured product usually made of polyester or acrylic and alumina trihydrate (ATH). It comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. The most well-known and first brand of solid surface is DuPont’s Corian, but there are many other manufacturers. Solid surface can be made in any shape, can be seamless in any length because it can be produced and then seamed on site where the seam is invisible. It can be inlayed with a logo or other object. You can have integral bowls, or use drop-ins or under mounts. It is the most versatile countertop product and is the most widely used commercially in restaurants because it is non-porous, economical and made into any shape. It has a man-made look and is not a substitute for natural stone. It will scratch and break, and will melt if a hot item is placed on it, however it is 100% repairable. Price comes in a little under granite and is a good investment if you like a more consistent color.

Quartz: This product entered the market about 15 years ago and has made an attempt to give you a manmade product that looks more like natural stone. Again, DuPont started this with Zodiac and others have followed their lead. “Quartz” is made up of 93% quartz and natural stone and 7% polyester used as a binder. Some selections are beautiful and look great in kitchens and baths. Fabricators purchase standard size sheets and cut, polish and fit these sheets into the shape you want. Like granite long runs require seams. Also like granite it will chip, break and crack if abused and is not repairable. A variety of edge preps are available but stay away from those with sharp edges that chip. Some claim that Quartz will take heat like granite but I recommend using something that protects the surface from heat. Costs, depending on color and style, can be as much as granite or more. Most quartz is produced in 3 centimeter thick slabs. Quartz products are worth a serious look when considering your options.

Granite: Granite is a natural product and is mined and imported from all over the world. In fact, the majority of granite used as countertops does not come from the USA. Granite gives a beautiful and rich look. The natural swirls and veining is impossible to reproduce in a man-made product that anyone could afford. The only thing that will scratch it is another piece of granite or diamond. Granite is porous but can be sealed. Length runs are usually limited to around 100”, but some slabs are a bit longer, up to 125”. Long runs require seams. Granite is usually sliced into 3 centimeter thick pieces. Many different edge shapes can be applied to granite and you can have matching backsplashes made or bring tile or other constructed backsplashes from the cabinets down to the granite surface. Yes, granite is hard, being 15 to 25,000 PSI. However it can be cracked or broken and is not repairable. It is generally accepted that you can put anything hot on it (and I have many times), but there is always the chance it will crack with localized heat. Sinks are under-mount or drop-in style. You can seal granite and it usually will not stain if sealed. The porosity of granite varies by color and the darker the color the higher density of the stone with less sealing required. Granite pricing is all over the board depending on the rarity of the stone and how far it has been shipped. Many colors and styles are very affordable but some of the more exotic colors and styles can be pricy.

Concrete: Yes, concrete. You can now get colored concrete countertops. Best suited for kitchens, concrete is usually color mixed so that the color is through and through. It can be poured off site and transported in for installation or can be formed and poured in place on location. Concrete used for countertops is hard, usually 5,000 PSI. The advantage of pouring on site is full runs without seams. You can have a consistent color or it can be ground revealing whatever has been put into the concrete when poured such as glass, sand, other rock or other aggregate. It will stain, chip and discolor some and that is the “character” that develops as it ages. It prices higher than granite and has its place. If you are considering concrete have the fabricator show you aged product so you get an idea of what to expect.

Wood and Metal: Wood tops are generally produced in “chopping block” style and can add a lot of character to your kitchen. Wood is porous and must be sealed to be safe and healthy to use. Metal tops are usually stainless steel or copper. Sometimes they make a great combination where you have granite on the main run of the kitchen and metal on the island work area. Then you would go back to matching granite on the serving bar above. Metals scratch and it is hard to buff them out without re-surfacing the entire top. Metal will also dent and dents usually are there for good. Stainless and copper can be used for backsplashes for other types of countertops and are easy to maintain. A kitchen with stainless appliances and matching backsplashes looks rich, but some think it looks too commercial. Prices vary by fabricator. Copper can be purchased as a thin piece laminated to a substrate similar to what is used on regular laminate material.

I hope this summary on countertops will help you as you plan your kitchen up-date. There is also lots of information on the internet, so happy hunting.

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