Inexpensive Kitchen Upgrades
By: Danny Lipford
Options When Replacing Kitchen Countertops
There are a wide variety of countertop choices these days that range from as little as $10 a square foot to over $100. Here are those choices in order of expense from lowest to highest:
Plastic Laminate Countertops
This inexpensive but durable material has been around for decades, but continues to offer a huge array of colors, patterns and even textures (though these aren’t great for a kitchen countertop). Laminate is made by covering what is essentially a photograph with clear melamine resin, backing it with phenolic-impregnated kraft paper, and putting it under high pressure.
The least expensive plastic laminate countertop is “postformed” to create an integral backsplash and rolled front edge. They are often found in home centers and lumber yards in a few colors already made up. But most plastic laminate countertops are ordered from a countertop or cabinet shop after picking one of hundreds of samples of laminate and specifying the edge treatment you want.
Ceramic Tile Countertops
Ceramic tile offer a wide variety to choose from, including size—from tiny mosaics to one foot square, although tiles in the 4 to 6 inch range are scaled best for countertops—and color.
With the popularity of stone surfaces these days, many ceramic tiles are made to imitate travertine, limestone, and even granite. The disadvantage of tile, as with natural and engineered stone, is that it is a very hard surface if a glass slips out of your hand, and it has mortar joints versus a smooth continuous surface.
Ceramic tile comes in a wide range of prices (machine-made tile is more economical than handmade), but it requires a good deal of labor on site in setting the tile and grouting it. It should be adhered to cement backer board or a mortar bed for longevity.
Solid Surfacing Countertops
This stone imitator, often called Corian because it was the first entry in the field, is made from plastics with a mineral filler. It also comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and it has the advantage of being repairable. An abrasive sponge or fine sandpaper will polish out scratches.
The seams in a solid surfacing countertop are literally invisible, and cast solid surfacing sinks can be combined with it to form a smooth, seamless presentation. The only major downside of this material is that will not take a hot pot out of the oven.
For the kitchen, the premium choice in stone is granite. It has become much more affordable in the last decade, though it is still a high-end option.
Some of the softer stone like limestone and travertine found so frequently in baths these days are not great choices for the kitchen because they will absorb stains. This is also true of marble, so limit marble in the kitchen to a baking center area where it is ideal for rolling out dough.
Granite is very hard and dense, so it will not stain as readily as softer stone and will resist wear and hot pots. It’s not indestructible, but it is very durable. Part of the magic of stone is that every piece is a little different-an expression of nature.
Most homeowners opt for slabs (you are sometimes offered the choice of picking out your own) which are fabricated into countertops. In almost all kitchens, there will be several different slabs, and it will show where they butt.
A less expensive alternative is “tiles” made of granite that are set in mortar. The joints are kept very narrow (3/16 in.), but they are grouted-typically with a colored grout.
Engineered Stone Countertops
This is a manufactured material that is often referred to as “quartz” because it is more than 90 percent crushed quartz stone with enough polymer to hold it together in large slabs. It is fabricated into countertops and backsplashes from the slabs, and is available in a number of vibrant colors and in several patterns.
Engineered stone is very hard and durable, can’t stain and will take the heat of a pot. Because it is manmade, it is uniform in look, but has a depth that is unique to manufactured countertop surfaces.