3 factors that influence countertop choices

Susanne Clemenz | Improvement Center Columnist | February 25, 2013

Countertops are the workhorses of your home, and even the least costly are a large expense. Keep your mind open about countertop choices. Are you building your dream home, upgrading for selling, or planning a kitchen remodel? Your goal helps determine your budget.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Inc. (NACHI) have done comprehensive surveys of manufacturers, trade associations, researchers, and/or their members about the life expectancy of countertops. Below are important characteristics of each choice.

The two studies agree strongly on this: The longevity of countertops depends on good maintenance, so match your choice to your maintenance preferences.

longevity of countertops

Concrete countertops provide maximum creativity

  1. Longevity: The NAHB listed a 50-year life span for concrete.
  2. Cost: Jobs require custom molds and colors. Inlaid design strips, heating or lighting elements, or specialties like metal strips, pebbles or mosaics add to the cost. Simpler color effects are comparable to granite; unique, creative designs are costlier.
  3. Pros & cons: Use almost any shapes, color effects, and size to create your masterpiece. The surface is tough and easy to clean with non-abrasive cleaners. Concrete can be repaired. They are unforgiving to dropped dishes or glassware. Quite heat resistant.

Cultured marble -- a stone look-alike

  1. Longevity: Both NAHB and NACHI give it a 20-year life span.
  2. Cost: Cultured marble is a lower cost material.
  3. Pros & cons: A mixture of crushed marble particles and polyester resins create cultured marble. Its gel coat resists stains well but can scratch, making it less suitable for kitchen countertops. It resists mold and mildew. If scratched it can be sanded and buffed, but chips or cracks are not repairable. It is now available with a granite look. Not heat resistant.

Laminate features versatile styles and easy upkeep

  1. Longevity: NAHB rates laminate to last from 20 to 30 years.
  2. Cost: Low
  3. Pros & cons: Laminate countertops provide endless design options. Besides natural and high definition stone looks, choose solid colors, textures, particulates, wood grains, fibers, metallics, suede, and graphic patterns. Laminates resist stains. A non-abrasive sponge with soap or non-abrasive, non-acidic cleanser works beautifully. Repair services are available for cracks or burns.

Natural stone: beautiful and authentic

  1. Longevity: NAHB rating -- 100+ years; NACHI -- lifetime.
  2. Cost: High end, though thin stone tiles are less expensive.
  3. Pros & cons: Each natural stone countertop is uniquely beautiful. Although granite and marble are fairly crack and heat resistant, they are porous. Food and beverage stains and bacteria from food and sponges are downsides. Oil stains are hard to remove. These stones require regular sealing and polishing. Quartz-based countertops are over 90% quartz in a polyester resin binder that is hardened for resistance to impact wear, acids, bacteria and abrasives. Stone surfaces can usually be professional sanded and refinished.

Resin (solid surface) countertops are moderately priced

  1. Longevity: NAHB rates it to last 10+ years
  2. Cost: Moderate
  3. Pros & cons: Solid surface countertops made from acrylic resins are tough, stain and bacteria resistant, easy to clean and professionally repairable. Resin countertops come in whites, pastels, and vivid colors plus textures from lightly speckled to very stone-like. There are many edge shapes as well. Not heat resistant.

Tile: go classic or contemporary

  1. Longevity: NACHI rating -- lifetime; NAHB -- 100+ years
  2. Cost: Varies with ceramic, porcelain, or stone, from moderate to high. DIY-installation can reduce expenses.
  3. Pros & cons: Porcelain tile countertops are tougher than ceramic, and stone tiles are tougher yet. Stone is porous and requires regular sealing and polishing. Grout, if used, must be sealed, and light grout shows dirt. Tiles permit great creativity with mixed or matched colors, shapes, and layouts.

Wood countertops add warmth

  1. Longevity: Same as tile
  2. Cost: Moderate to high, depending on species and cut
  3. Pros & cons: Besides looking warm and hospitable, solid wood countertops can be refinished and are easy on cooking knives. They're more popular for food prep islands and chopping block sections than for entire kitchens. Choose edge, end, or plank faces in American and exotic species. Reclaimed wood countertops are another option.

Promptly clean up grease, oil, or staining produce and liquids. Abrasive scrubbers or cleaners can mar any surface, but especially glossy finishes. Order larger samples -- smaller ones give inadequate impressions. Never select countertops from online or printed images -- colors vary tremendously. Some research and upkeep can reward you with countertops you'll treasure for decades.

About the Author

Suzanne Clemenz designed her passive solar home and remodeled two others. She worked with architects and contractors on floorplans, electrical, painting, windows, flooring installations, flood prevention walls and stonework, major drainage issues, an irrigation system and landscaping.She also completed real estate school.