Remodeling your current kitchen? Perhaps renovating your kitchen and bathrooms? One of the most visually defining (and important in terms of practicality) are your countertops. There are a great deal of countertop options to take into consideration including natural stone e.g. granite or marble, engineered stone and stainless steel, timber and modern laminate. Each have distinct pros and cons you need to be aware of before making what can often be a sizable investment.
Kitchen countertops in particular need to not only look appealing but also withstand the rigors of food preparation, cooking and in most cases being used as a temporary storage area for all manner of household items.
Bathroom countertops as a rule do not need to be as durable as they are not subject to as much heavy treatment. Obviously in the bathroom however it is desirable to use a less porous surface to withstand moisture.
Below are some of the most popular countertop materials available. As you will notice each choice has specific advantages and disadvantages (e.g. budget friendly, durable, low maintenance, less porous) that will range in importance depending upon the location of the countertop (e.g. kitchen or bathroom) and how much it is used.
Countertop Options and Materials for Bathroom and Kitchen
Stone in most cases is a more popular countertop material than timber or steel and is considered more durable e.g. able to withstand knocks from kitchen utensils, it’s also heat resistant. However it does require more regular maintenance as stone is naturally more porous. Below we have listed some of the most popular stone countertop materials available.
Easily the most popular kitchen countertop option available. Granite is seemingly always in style and there are a number of countertop designs you can consider with any stone surface. All things considered, granite countertops age very well. They also handle impact as it is a harder surface, do well with moisture although not as porous as some other stone surfaces and withstand heat. Granite is available in a wide range of colors and tones from very pale to very dark. Granite is available in both polished and matte finish. *Granite does require some maintenance most typically sealing which depends largely on the amount the surface is used.
Arguably the second most popular countertop option behind granite, marble exudes quality and is visually striking. It is most popular with those with more expensive kitchen fit outs and works well with almost all styles of kitchen from traditional to modern classic. Marble does have a downside as it is considered less durable than granite and requires regular sealing to protect it from moisture damage.
Quartz is another (less expensive) option for those looking at a stone countertop such as Granite or Marble. Quartz is even harder than Granite and almost completely stain resistant as it is less porous. Quartz is also more consistent in pattern and provides a more uniform looking countertop. As far as available options Quartz can be found in a variety of tones from light to dark. While not as popular as Granite at this point in time Quartz is a popular choice for many homeowners.
Limestone and Soapstone Countertops
Softer stone surfaces such as limestone and soapstone countertops generally require more maintenance than Marble, Granite or Quartz. While it’s true these surfaces can look appealing both are considered a very soft stone and as a result aren’t ideally suited as a kitchen countertop option. They also absorb stains and moisture very easily. There are varieties of Limestone however which may be considered more resistant. As it is porous it is more difficult to maintain and not considered as hygienic.
Cultured Stone / Engineered Stone
Also known as engineered stone or composite stone, cultured stone is a blend consisting most typically of Quartz and other composite materials. As it is engineered it is more uniform and a larger variety of colors and options are available. Silestone, Caesarstone and IceStone are some of the more popular types of cultured stone you may be aware of. It is also commonly used as a veneer as it can be applied as a surface material. The very same reasons (the uniformity and engineered appearance) that appeal to many homeowners considering cultured countertops are also the very same reason some may dislike it.
On the one hand it is less authentic but it is also more uniform, as a result the price isn’t a great deal less expensive compared to natural stone surfaces such as Granite or Marble.
Metal countertops are appealing to homeowners for a number of reasons including:
- Less seams required compared to stone as it is more flexible. (This is a consideration for those with large kitchen benches)
- Able to withstand heat very well and is impervious to moisture.
Metal does have some drawbacks however including the fact that all metal surfaces when scratched or damaged are very difficult to repair. See below for more information on the various types of metal countertops.
The great thing about stainless steel as a countertop option is it’s extremely versatile and is often suitable for both modern and more traditional styles of kitchen. It’s often used in commercial kitchens for it’s ease of use when cleaning and it’s ability to wipe clean which is more hygienic than other surfaces. Maintaining stainless steel is also pain free as the surface is completely impenetrable by moisture and can be cleaned with minimal effort. This however also means that the cost is generally higher than stone countertops.
Copper is also used as a countertop material and less expensive that stainless steel. It shares many of the same benefits as it is strong and handles heat very well. Interestingly Copper also contains a number of antimicrobial properties that reduce the impact of bacteria growth. Copper can also be shaped to reduce seams when transitioning from countertop to splash back.
Copper can also form what is known as a patina which is a greeny, brown surface material that is produced over time by oxidization. You may have seen this before in copper items such as jewelry.
Zinc much like stainless steel provides a more industrial look and feel to your kitchen, ideally suited to a more modern style of home it can however work well in almost all instances. Zinc much like copper develops a patina over time, this appeals to some homeowners but the process does take some time to develop. It also has antibacterial benefits much like copper and is obviously impervious to water.
Zinc by nature doesn’t have the same natural shine as stainless steel and requires more regular polishing if you are trying to achieve this look. It is also very easy to mark and scratch and isn’t as heat resistant as other metals. In extreme cases Zinc can actually melt but in most cases isn’t an issue as it would require extremely high temperatures in excess of 300 degrees. Zinc is quite expensive compared to stainless steel or stone countertops and like copper conducts electricity.
Wood countertops have the distinct advantage of being very easy to repair if scratched or cut when preparing food, however it must be said they are also more likely to become damaged e.g. marked or scratched due to their softer nature. Wood countertops such as butcher block style countertops are considered appealing by those with more traditional style kitchens. Wood however requires more labor than many other surface material and as a result can become quite expensive depending on your needs. Wood countertops require much more frequent sealing than stone however it’s a relatively simple task to undertake. Wood is also much less likely to withstand heat, moisture (stains relatively easy) and heavy knocks but it is an appealing material that instantly adds warmth to a more traditional e.g. country style kitchen.
Concrete can be a great choice as a kitchen countertop as it’s very versatile and in most cases can be customized in color to suit almost all styles of kitchen. Concrete does absorb moisture and because of this needs to be sealed more regularly than other countertop materials mentioned in this article. Concrete works well with more natural materials such as timber cabinetry or stone splash backs.
Tiles if chosen as a countertop material offers the home owner a larger variety of colors and textures than any other material mentioned above. Tiles are well suited as a countertop option as they are highly customisable and can withstand moisture and heat. As you will no doubt be aware tiles wont handle impact as well as many other surfaces and this is why it is not more popular as a kitchen countertop and more suited to bathrooms.
ECO Friendly Countertop Materials
Bamboo, Recycled paper and glass, Reclaimed timber. Eco friendly countertops are less common but for the most part the characteristics are similar to typical glass or timber countertops, being easy to clean but less resistant to marks, scratches or chips in the case of glass.
Laminate is an inexpensive countertop material and probably the most commonly used. Laminate countertops have actually come quite a way in more recent times as advancements in technology have allowed for far more attractive laminate styles. These days a laminate suurface can be made to mimic stone and cater to all edge styles available in stone. It’s the least expensive option of all countertops mentioned in this article. It is also more difficult to repair if marked or scratched which tends to age the surface very quickly. It is relatively easy to maintain but it’s ability to withstand heavy use is a concern for many modern homeowners.
How to Make the Right Choice for your Countertop
It’s important to consider the practicalities of each material before making a decision on the type of countertop material you choose. Price is obviously going to be the major consideration for most people but it’s smart to also consider some of the following points.
- How much heavy treatment will the surface be subjected to e.g. how often will it be used as a second table in the house or a drop of destination for heavy grocery bags.
- How much maintenance are you comfortable with? In some cases you will need to seal or polish the surface on a fairly regular basis.
- How resistant to moisture should it be? consider shower moisture, water, wine and kitchen condiments and how often the surface may become exposed to any of these.
- How resistant to chipping and scratching does it need to be? In the case of stone countertops this is obviously not as much of a problem as a stainless steel or wood countertop.
- What style are you trying to achieve in your kitchen. Where possible (especially if not prohibited by cost) it’s best to match the style of countertop with the look and feel of the kitchen. As an example consider steel countertops in more modern surroundings and Marble or Butcher wood in more traditional kitchens.
- How large are your countertops? the larger the area the more seams required if considering stone such as Granite or Marble.
- How much are you comfortable spending? In some cases especially when considering stone or stainless steel the cost can be prohibitive for many. Consider how much area you need to cover and get at least three quotes before you choose to proceed. There are also less expensive substitutes which will provide the same look and feel at a fraction of the price and in many cases require far less labor to install as they can be fitted over your existing countertop.
Obviously the choice of countertop is different for everyone. We advise if unsure to first consider a composite stone surface in your kitchen which is arguably the most practical option and Granite in the bathrooms to provide some continuity from kitchen to bathroom. However don’t take our word for it develop your own bathroom and kitchen countertop ideas and explore the options available to you.