With the wide range of countertop materials available today, a stylish look doesn’t have to cost a fortune. New countertops can make a huge difference in a kitchen. Before making such a big purchase, however, it’s important to determine which material best suits your budget and lifestyle. Before you replace your old counters, consider the options below.
Laminate counters are the most affordable option available. Laminate is made from layers of plastic bonded to particleboard to form a solid surface. Preformed counters with a built-in backsplash come in a limited range of colors and patterns. You can dress up this product by paying for extras like end caps, mitered corners, or bullnose edges. There are also more expensive custom laminates that use advanced printing technology to mimic the look of granite, marble, butcher block, or other pricier surfaces. Typically sold by linear foot, laminate counters are fairly simple to install. The counters are easy to maintain and they’re lightweight so they don’t require heavy cabinet bases for support. On the downside, the material is susceptible to scratches, burns, and stains. Also, the layers can peel if exposed to too much moisture or wear.
Tile countertops can be cost effective, depending on the material you choose. Ceramic and porcelain tile are among the most affordable options and come in a wide range of colors and patterns, including designs that mimic granite and other stone. Natural stone tiles are pricier than ceramic but are much more affordable than slab granite or marble. In addition to a lower upfront price, tiles are a DIY-friendly product that can save on professional installation costs. Tile counters are easy to clean, heat- and stain-resistant, and very durable. Chipped or cracked tiles are fairly easy to replace (always purchase extra tile to have on hand in case of repairs). But tile is not without potential problems. The grout can stain if not regularly sealed and wide grout lines can be a collection point for dirt. Also, tile can be quite heavy and it’s important to consult a professional installer if you are uncertain whether your cabinets require reinforcement.
Butcher block has a classic appeal that complements a traditional kitchen or can add unexpected contrast to a modern space. Maple countertops can be less than half the cost of stone tile, but higher-quality butcher block can be as expensive as slab granite. Butcher block is finicky. Spills must be cleaned immediately to avoid stains. Wood counters are not heat resistant and extreme dryness can cause cracking, so it’s important to use pads or trivets with hot pans. Butcher-block counters must be oiled often to fill in scratches and protect the surface, and also need frequent disinfecting to prevent bacteria. Butcher block tends to show nicks and scratches for a shopworn look, but if you don’t like the wear and tear you can lightly sand out flaws and re-oil the surface to restore it.
Solid surfacing counters are made primarily from acrylic and polyester. The material is popular because it is virtually maintenance free and scratches and burns can be easily sanded out. Not intended to look like natural materials, solid surfacing offers adventurous homeowners the opportunity to experiment with bold colors (basic shades are also available). Standard colors, patterns, and edges can be quite affordable. However, some custom looks can be as expensive as natural stone. Professional installation is suggested to ensure a seamless look and prevent cracks that can trap dirt and debris.
Before you commit to any budget-friendly countertop material, do your homework: What materials are neighbors using in their kitchen upgrades? If a majority are biting the bullet and installing granite, consider doing the same. Although a little pricier, it will be worth it when you put your house on the market.