April 29 2016 0comment

Countertop Materials

A good countertop can truly be the “icing-on-the-cake” for your new Kitchen or Bath.  Don’t feel bad if you are like many Homeowners who get confused and overwhelmed by the wide variety of materials and costs for countertops.  Martin Moss can help!!

Once again, Martin works hard to research the various materials and he shares the benefit of his experience with you.  In that way, you can make a more informed decision and end up with a countertop that is beautiful, easy to take care of, and lasts a long time.

We should start this discussion by stating that there is no perfect countertop material.  They all have pro’s and con’s.  Martin likes to give you his honest opinion about each material and let you choose the one that’s right for your project.

The following list includes the most common materials used locally and represents Martin’s opinions of each:

Formica® is one of the better-known brand names for laminate countertops.  These tops are made by gluing a thin layer of decorative material over a particle board sub top.  They can be custom sized to fit almost any cabinet but are rarely used these days by reputable Contractors  in Kitchens and Bathrooms.  Formica tops have the advantage of being less costly than many other materials but are sensitive to high heat, chipping, and scratching.  Once damaged, they cannot be repaired.

Ceramic/Porcelain Tile countertops have enjoyed widespread popularity for many years.  There are many types of clay and porcelain base materials available.  Good quality tile needs to have a durable clear glaze coat baked in an oven.  This glaze coat is an important key to how long the tile will stay easy to clean.  There are many patterns and colors available to dress up your countertop.  Ceramic tile should be installed over a cement base to give it long term adhesion and structural integrity.  Properly installed ceramic tiles can last for 40 years or more!

Ceramic tiles need to have grout joints between the tiles.  Depending upon the tile and cosmetic effect desired these joints may vary from 1/16” up to 1”.  We have found that grout joints of 3/16” are ideal for decorative effects as well as ease of cleaning.  With the modern cleansers available today, you don’t have to be afraid of having ceramic tile.  In fact, many people feel that ceramic tile with a wider grout joint is one of the most durable and low maintenance surfaces.

Ceramic tile tops are usually in the middle of the price range and have the major advantage of being stable when exposed to hot pans and curling irons.  Tiles can be broken by dropping something very heavy on them but they can be replaced quickly by a knowledgeable tile setter.  These days, tiles has become most popular as a back splash accent installed along with a solid surface top.

Corian® is a well known brand of solid surface polymer countertop made by DuPont.  Currently, there are over 100 different colors available in six different price categories.  On the average, Corian® countertops will be more expensive than Ceramic/Porcelain Tile but less expensive than Stone countertops.  Corian® is usually ½” thick with the color all the way through it.   It comes from the manufacturer in sheets and is made into custom shapes by a factory-approved fabricator who makes a custom template after the cabinets are installed.  Special effects like color inlays and fancy edges are no problem with Corian®.  Corian® is more heat sensitive than tile but can usually be buffed and repaired if blemishes occur.

Granite is a very popular solid surface natural stone countertop here in Southern California.  This is somewhat surprising when you consider that it can be one of the most difficult materials to take care of in a Kitchen.  Most Granite is porous and will absorb oils and colored substances such as mustard and wine.  Some natural stones may also be sensitive to heat exposure.  They will not melt but they may discolor or leave a ring where hot pans were placed.  Once discolored, Granite is difficult, if not impossible to repair.  Sealers are available for Granite but they do not last long (approx. 6 months) and they can be extremely messy to reapply (you have to acid wash or acetone clean every inch of the stone before sealing it a second or third time).

Although Mother Nature has made Granite beautiful, she has also made it somewhat fragile.  Granite countertops are typically installed over a plywood base but they are still subject to cracking along fissure lines in the stone.  Costs for really good quality granite countertops are usually near the upper end of the countertop materials.   Because it is very hard, the edges must be shaped using special equipment and this can add quite a bit to the cost.

Currently, some Contractors are trying to decrease costs by importing low quality Granite from overseas.  Of course, the lower quality stones will tend to have even more problems than the better quality ones.

Engineered Quartz is a manmade product created mostly from natural materials. It’s made up of around 90 percent ground up quartz bearing stone and around 10 percent resins and pigments that are combined into durable, nonporous slabs.  This countertop material has gained tremendous popularity because it is designed to have the beauty of a Granite countertop without the physical weakness or sensitivity to staining.  Cambria® and Zodiaq® are two of the popular brands of engineered quartz.  There are quite a few colors and patterns to choose from, with many of them looking very much like something made by Mother Nature.

Engineered quartz is extremely durable and requires special equipment for shaping and fabrication.  Because of this, it is usually at the higher end of the countertop cost spectrum but it should be one of the longest lasting and easiest to care for.  Two major advantages are that sealers will not be not required and engineered quartz is much more resistant to cracking than most Granite.