Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group
Here's a quick and easy way to upgrade your home: Install new countertops. Installing new countertops does not require moving walls, making structural changes or imposing drastic disruptions to your life. The actual disruption can be limited to just one day of switching out the old and new. New counters can be considered for bathrooms and laundry rooms, though today we will focus on kitchens.
While this is a quick and easy upgrade, it is important to have the big picture in mind before making even small upgrades. If you need to make larger changes, like replacing cabinets or reconfiguring the kitchen, it would be unwise to start with new countertops. Countertops are not flexible — they can rarely be reused in a different location or with different cabinets. But if you plan to keep your cabinets and configuration for some time to come, then new countertops might be the perfect update to your home.
Be sure to keep the function of your space in mind so you can choose the material that will work best for you. Consider issues of durability, maintenance and the general aesthetic impact associated with how you use your countertops and what each material has to offer.
Ceramic tile is a popular choice and can make a nice do-it-yourself project. Tile is impervious to heat and it won't stain if it is glazed. Tile comes in a wide variety of colors, shapes and special accents, so it easily accommodates individual design. Sealing the grout is required to keep it in mint condition. New epoxy grouts are expensive but far less apt to absorb dirt and stains. Tile can also be unforgiving with glassware and china, and the surface will not be perfectly even. The cost is $10-$100 per square foot installed.
Historically, wood was a common kitchen countertop material. It fell out of favor as tile became more affordable, but it's making a comeback. Wood has a warm feeling and soft texture. It won't dull knives and is forgiving on falling glassware. The countertop surface can be renewed by sanding and re-oiling or re-staining. However, wood burns easily and can absorb food odors and stains. The cost of custom wood kitchen countertops is $50-$200 per square foot, installed. Prefabricated pieces of butcher block (commonly available in 6- and 8-foot lengths) are a less expensive option.
Laminate counters are commonly called Formica because this was one of the first manufacturers to produce the material. Laminates are made by binding layers of printed paper and resin under high pressure to create a rigid sheet that can be cut, shaped and glued onto medium-density fiberboard. Many patterns and colors are available, including some that mimic stone or wood. Laminates are easy to clean and maintain but are susceptible to cuts, scratches and burns. At $10-$30 per square foot installed, this is by far your least expensive choice.
Solid surface counters have been around since 1966 and offer a luxurious look with low maintenance. Often referred to as Corian (an early brand name), this type of counter is manufactured by blending acrylic polymers and stone-derived materials. Solid surface counters are not heat-resistant, but the process produces a finish that is resistant to staining and can be renewed by professional polishing if an accident does occur. Many colors and designs are available at a cost of $35-$100 per square foot installed.
Natural stone is another countertop option that adds beauty to any kitchen or bathroom. No two pieces are identical. All stone is porous and therefore requires sealing. Granite, an extremely hard stone, is the most popular choice for countertops. Slate and soapstone are much softer and less porous. Marble and limestone are beautiful, but they are easily stained by food and cosmetics. Stone is resistant to heat but tough on glassware. The cost is $50-$200 per square foot, installed.
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