The Great Countertop Debate
If you ask me, choosing a kitchen countertop for your new home or your remodel project is exciting. A countertop can totally set the tone for the style you are going for in the kitchen. It’s also a part of your house that you will literally use and look at multiple times a day. Unless you’ve really spent the time doing research, it’s hard to know what kind of kitchen top will be the best for you. It’s super common for our clients to ask for a little help with this category and that’s why I took some of the guess work out the question. Keep reading to find out which kitchen top would best fit your lifestyle and budget…
For this blog post, I’m going to focus on four main countertop materials that are the most commonly used by our clients. These are granite, quartz, solid surface, and laminate. Much of the info used in this post comes from Ruth Farrington, a contractor sales/designer at Marling Homeworks of Janesville, Wisconsin.
GRANITE: It’s almost become a cliché over the years that everyone dreams of having granite kitchen countertops. The pseudo status-symbol of owning a home with granite countertops has made this top material even more popular. One of the many reasons why homeowners choose granite is because it is a material that is 100% natural – meaning that there is nothing added to or taken out of it. It’s an actual sheet of stone, mined, and then polished to a final product. Because of this, no two slabs of granite are exactly the same. This is why if you’re choosing this material, you’ll likely go to the granite supplier and choose your actual slab of granite. The uniqueness and inconsistent patterning are what draws many to fall in love with this option for a countertop, but it really comes down to personal preference. When you buy granite, you choose from different tiers of products. In my own personal experiences, I found that the more inconsistent and out of the ordinary that the pattern is, the more expensive of a tier that slab will be in.
Granite is also heat and scratch resistant, which is another huge selling point for many. You can easily use your kitchen without worrying about your countertops. Could you cut on it without leaving a mark? Probably. But you’d likely dull your knife and like any material out there, scratch resistant doesn’t mean it could never be damaged. In terms of up-keep, granite does need to be sealed when it’s installed, and then re-sealed periodically. Daily upkeep just involves wiping down the tops with soap and water when needed.
QUARTZ: Quartz and granite are often front-runners for those looking to upgrade their kitchen. Although both materials seem to be very similar in looks (and sometimes even price), the main difference between the two is that quartz is actually an engineered stone. Where granite is 100% natural, quartz is a manufactured blend of about 93% stone and then the rest is made up of polymers and resins that hold everything together. This is why quartz, in general, typically has a more uniformed look. It doesn’t have as much inconsistency in patterning and since it’s a denser material, there are no flaws or fissures in the stone, like you would find with granite. Quartz is purchased in groupings, so certain color options are clumped together into price categories.
The advantage to choosing quartz over granite is in the maintenance. No sealing is required for quartz, making this countertop surface maintenance-free. The resins used in the product also make it even more resistant to staining than granite. It’s an extremely durable material (also heat and scratch resistant) that will hold up for years to come.
If you’re deciding between granite or quartz for your kitchen tops, the deciding factor here will likely be personal preference as the pricing is fairly comparable between the two. If you love the totally natural and varying look of granite, and you’re okay with a little maintenance, then this is the choice for you. If you prefer no-maintenance at all and you’re okay with a more uniformed looking top, then quartz might be your winner.
SOLID SURFACE: If you’d love a solid surface top in your kitchen, but you’re not ready to spend the money needed for granite or quartz, solid surface tops can be a great budget-friendly choice. This countertop material might be more recognizable for you by its manufacturer names. Companies like Corian, Swanstone, and Wilsonart all make these types of tops. Solid surface tops like these are man-made and include approximately 33% plastics and resins that bind the materials together, and the remaining 66% is minerals. So, as you could probably guess, the look of these tops is less natural and more uniform. Solid surface tops lack the “stone look” that many who choose granite or quartz really like, and instead they tend to have a more smooth, matte finish.
While solid surface tops are also considered somewhat stain and scratch resistant, this material doesn’t hold up quite as well as its stone counterparts. Although, scratches on a solid surface top can easily be buffed out and repaired, which counts as a huge advantage. These tops also do not require maintenance.
LAMINATE: Definitely the most cost-effective option for a kitchen top is laminate. Laminate tops are also man-made and actually composed of mostly layers of paper along with resins to hold it all together. Although there are tons of color options for laminate, the disadvantage style-wise is that these tops lack depth that can be seen in stone options such as granite and quartz. Although, the surge in popularity of laminate has prompted many manufacturers to create HD laminate choices. These tops have more of a texture, more patterning, and often a shine that is achieved through a protective coating.
The main disadvantage to laminate is that it does not hold up to the daily wear and tear on a home like other surface materials will. Laminate isn’t easily scratched, but it does happen – and the unfortunate thing is that it can’t be fixed or buffed out like you would with solid surface. The paper make-up of laminate also does not hold up well to heat. Any laminate supplier would tell you not to set anything hot on these types of tops. So, although you definitely need to be more careful with laminate tops, they can be the perfect low-cost option if needed.
RECAP: To recap, choosing a kitchen top all boils down to two things; the style you like best, and your budget. Personally, I like the look of stone for kitchen tops, so I was on a mission to achieve this look without breaking the bank. I ended up choosing a granite top, but chose from the lower tiers in terms of pricing. The patterning on my kitchen top is pretty uniform and doesn’t include a ton of inconsistencies or veins (which some people really like) but for us, it still achieves the overall look and allowed us to stay within a budget.
Here's a quick-look chart that you can reference to help you make your countertop decision!
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