Kitchen Counters: What you need to know
As stated several times within this website, the kitchen is the place. We have discussed the cabinets and what you need to know, the counters are the next most obvious finish in the construction or renovation of the kitchen. The countertops like the cabinets are a visual, as well as functional element of any kitchen. The selection of countertops is varied, however there are not as many options as there are kitchen cabinets.
What should be considered when deciding on the type of kitchen countertop?
1.) Value / The levels of cost for countertops is as varied as the materials and processes that can be selected. The lower end countertops are the plastic laminates or in the past, formica, countertops. Formica was the descriptive term, when the prominent manufacturer of plastic laminate was a brand called formica. The material selections for countertops has grown, and there are several different suppliers of plastic laminates. Plastic laminate is a thin sheet of manufactured material that is a combination of synthetic products. Each manufacturer offers a different type of composite, each claiming better functionality and performance, due to their blend of materials. Like cabinets, the consumer needs to spend time researching the marketplace, either by internet or by visiting the many kitchen countertop contractors and material suppliers. From the plastic laminate counters to the upper end stone countertops, the value is varied. What should be considered when deciding on how much to spend on your countertop?
a.) Functionality / How is the countertop going to be used. Will there be a lot of activity on the countertop? Will the activity be cooking and food preparation, or will the majority of the activity be simply piling and storage of papers or using the countertops as domestic working surfaces, such as folding clothes, paying bills, setting your laptop computer on the counter and working in the kitchen. Dependent upon the functionality, the type of countertop will differ. A plastic laminate countertop will function without an issue, if the majority of the activity on the countertop is domestic. If the countertop will be heavily used for baking, cooking, food preparation, the selection of a more exotic type of plastic composite top maybe more practical. In regard to the stone and the creative countertops of ceramic tile or other masonry products, the ability to accept hot surfaces should be considered. How you will use the countertops will be a large factor in properly selecting the correct material.
b.) Aesthetics / The aesthetics of the countertop, what it looks like, is obviously important, however the cost or value of the visual appearance should be considered. There are an infinite selection of colors for plastic laminate as there are for granite ,marble or tile. The design of the kitchen will determine the aesthetic characteristics necessary for the proper selection of the countertops. Is the beauty of granite or marble worth the expense? Is the durability of concrete worth the expense? Each material must be considered in terms of aesthetics as well as value.
c.) Longevity / The longevity of the countertop will depend on the use or functionality of the counter. Will there be heavy use for cooking, food preparation, baking, etc. Will the countertop be subjected to the damage and abuse that a hobbyist might subject the countertop to. The longevity of the counter will totally depend on the use and the subjection of the countertop to heat and cold cooking pots and pans.
2.) Types of countertops;
a.) Wood / The construction of a basic, inexpensive countertop, consisting of lumber or even plywood, is a possible alternative to a more expensive type of countertop material, however, this alternative for a countertop will need creativity to accomplish with any type of style or flair. This basic counter would certainly be the least expensive alternative for a countertop material. The use of a water resistant finish on whatever wood is utilized, is strongly suggested, and any surface application of sealer, stain, or paint should be carefully researched to ensure that the material does not pose a danger due to chemicals or other products within the surface finish. The primary function of a kitchen counter is normally to prepare food. Therefore any surface product should be selected based upon this acknowledgment.
b.) Plastic laminate / This product is probably the next material in line regarding cost for countertop selections. Plastic laminate used to be referenced as formica due to the fact, that this was the only plastic laminate product for several years. Technology, research and development has increased the selections of plastic laminate, and has improved on the functionality of the product. It is now possible to obtain plastic laminate that is produced with a color resin throughout the depth of the product. With this full depth coloration, scratches and cuts will not be as easily seen due to the full color throughout the panel. In addition there are different composites that have improved the stain resistance as well as the temperature susceptibility of the material. Any plastic laminate material is applied as a veneer over the actual built up portion of the counter. This built up portion can be constructed of particle board, plywood or a combination of different materials. The build-up of the countertop prior to the lamination of the plastic laminate is dependent upon the kitchen installer. It is recommended that the homeowner make themselves aware of the intent of the contractor regarding this construction. It is my opinion, that two layers of 3/4 inch plywood, screwed and glued together, is a good base for the plastic laminate.
c.) Composite / There are different composite counters on the market that are made of synthetic material. These countertops are made up of resins and epoxies and are available in several different colors and thicknesses. In most cases, the thicker the material the more expensive the countertop. The manufacturers of these countertops offer various claims for stain resistance and as well as heat and cold functionality. The majority of these countertops are full depth color, which means that any surface markings will not be easily detected. These countertops can be easily shaped to accommodate the layout of the majority of kitchens.
d.) Stone / For a long while the ultimate countertop was the granite countertop. All custom homes and condos were built with custom granite countertops that matched in the kitchen as well as the bathrooms. The use of granite will always be popular and a very functional countertop selection. However, countertop manufacturers and stone suppliers realized that the popularity of granite could be an indication that other stone products might be equally attractive for a kitchen countertop. Various other stones such as marble, soapstone, limestone, slate, etc. are now being used in very creative fashions for kitchen and bathroom countertops. Probably nothing will rival the popularity of the granite countertop, however, there are several other stones for selection.
e.) Ceramic tile / The use of ceramic tile for the countertop and backsplash allows the introduction of color into the kitchen. Creative layouts of ceramic tile as well as specialty pieces, allows the creative side of kitchen design to shine forth. Ceramic tile is available in special edge profiles and can accommodate any design and layout of the kitchen. Ceramic tile is a popular material for countertops, especially if the visual impression is for a bright, cheery and colorful kitchen. The selection of the proper mortar is important to the functionality of the countertop. Mortars have a tendency to stain, therefore the selection of a stain resistant mortar is important. Also, if a ceramic tile countertop is selected, the homeowner must understand that the surface is not smooth and even. The surface will have the profile of the tiles as well as the mortar joints. The ability to simply wipe off the surface in a neat and quick fashion is not quite as easily performed as with another more consistent surface, such as stone , composite or plastic laminate surfaces.
f.) Poured in place / Poured in place countertops are becoming extremely popular. These countertops can be shaped in any fashion and can be provided to cover the most intricate and confusing layout of base cabinets conceived. The use of a poured in place countertop will provide a consistent surface, totally uninterrupted throughout the layout of the kitchen. The materials used to pour into the forms surrounding the perimeter of the countertop are varied. The most popular is concrete, or a composite mix of concrete materials and stone. There are several resins and composite synthetic materials that are being introduced for countertops. If a poured in place countertop is being considered, the introduction of inserts, different colorations, etc. can become quite visually creative.
g.) Stainless steel / The use of stainless steel as the countertop surface is the ultimate in professional cooking and food prep counters. Although not a warm and cozy appearance, the indestructibility of stainless steel as well as its ability to be easily cleaned and maintained, makes this product very popular with professional chefs and individuals that consider their kitchen a working kitchen and value functionality over aesthetic considerations.
The price of each type of countertop is dependent upon the location of the project, the popularity of a particular material or technique, as well as the contractors capable of supplying and installing the countertops. In general the value of the material, which is normally priced per square foot will range as follows.
a.) Wood / the cost of this product is totally dependent upon the type of wood selected, as well as the application. If a piece of plywood is used, then the cost is a basic minimum value of $1.00 to $2.00 per SF. If oak, hickory, poplar or a more expensive wood is used, the cost could range from $5.00 to $25.00 per SF.
b.) Plastic laminate / the cost of a plastic laminate countertop is once again based upon the product selected. There are very expensive plastic laminates and more economical selections. In addition, the build-up of the countertop with plywood, or another material will determine the cost of the laminate countertop. In general the range of cost is from $15.00 to $25.00 SF
c.) Composite / The costs range for this material is dependent upon the selection of the material and the manufacturer. In general the range is from $25.00 to $40.00 SF
d.) Stone / The cost of a granite countertop can run between $50.00 and $100.00 per SF. However selection of another type of stone is totally dependent upon the ability to obtain the stone, who will cut the stone, etc. Some stone countertops can exceed the $200.00 per SF and beyond.
e.) Ceramic tile / The cost range, once again is determined by the type of tile selected, as well as the size of the tile, how it is shaped, etc. In addition, the labor cost for this type of countertop is much higher than the cost for installation of a wood, plastic laminate or composite counter. In general the range for a mid priced ceramic tile countertop will be between $50.00 and $75.00 per SF. Of course due to the complexity of the installation, the cost of the tiles and the grout, the cost for a very ornate and intricate tile countertop can be well over $200.00 per SF.
f.) Poured in place / The labor cost for a poured in place countertop is the majority of the expense. The actual material, unless a very intricate and expensive composite material, is not the primary cost factor. A poured in place countertop will range from $75.00 to $150.00 per SF. Depending on the shape and the time required to form the countertop, if complicated then the final cost could be substantially higher.
g.) Stainless steel / The use of a stainless steel countertop will be expensive. However the durability and the functionality for a stainless steel top in many instances is worth the money. Custom stainless countertops can range over $150.00 per SF. However, stainless steel countertops can be purchased at standard dimensions for somewhat less money, the kitchen will have to be designed to accommodate the countertop instead of the other way around.
In summary the selection of your kitchen countertop is based upon your predominant use of the kitchen and the countertop. There are several selections, as well as a full range of prices for this element of the kitchen. The decision is entirely yours to make, and each countertop discussed within this website page will make a satisfactory countertop. Functionality and aesthetics must be considered, as well as the social and reputation supporting hype that a certain type of countertop will offer. The removal of the plastic laminate, wood or composite counters is easily accomplished if the need to replace or update the countertop is required. However the ceramic tile as well as poured in place options will not be as easy to remove.
The kitchen is the most important room in the home. The kitchen cabinets, together with the countertops make up the majority of the aesthetic value as well as the functionality of the kitchen. Select both items carefully, and with the knowledge and information provided by researching the internet, visiting suppliers and kitchen installers and discussing your options with family and friends.
Good luck, combining the kitchen cabinets with a beautiful and complementary countertop is one of the pleasures of construction.