Countertop Buying Guide

Learn about countertop materials, and gets answers to your questions about what's available, what does it cost, how do you maintain it, and how is it best installed.


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Granite Countertop
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Choose the Right Countertop Material

    Here's what you need to know about the most popular types of countertops, including:

    -- Laminate countertops
    -- Tile countertops
    -- Wood countertops
    -- Solid-surfacing countertops
    -- Quartz-surfacing countertops
    -- Granite countertops

    Price ranges include the average material and installation cost, but installation expenses vary considerably so check with an installer for an accurate total cost.

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Laminate Countertop

    What it is
    Industrial paper or fabric laid onto a high-density fiberboard (HDF) or plywood substrate (backing) and coated with melamine resins. Wide range of available colors, textures, and edge treatments.

    Care & maintenance
    Withstands heat and abrasion fairly well. Cannot be repaired if scorched. Knives or harsh scrubbers will scratch. Impervious to water and common solvents/cleaners.

    Do it yourself?
    Most confident woodworkers can cut and glue their own. You can also buy limited selections of prefabricated and preformed sections.

    What it costs
    About $8 - $20 per square foot, installed; more with custom edgework such as bevels or rolls.

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Tile Countertop

    What it is
    Clay tiles fired in kilns and sealed with a hard-fired glaze. For countertops, specify "impervious" tile that won't absorb water or other liquids.

    Care & maintenance
    Extremely heat-tolerant and hard to scratch, but can break with heavy impact. Easy to keep clean, but grout joints require periodic cleaning, bleaching, sealing, or regrouting.

    Do it yourself?
    Laying ceramic tile is within the reach of many do-it-yourselfers. Rent a tile saw or cutter, and expect to spend $50 on other tools. Tile also requires cementboard substrate (backing).

    What it costs
    Most common residential tiles run $5 - $20 per square foot, professionally installed.

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Wood Countertop

    What it is
    Most often strips of hard maple laminated with water-resistant glue (aka butcher block), forming a 1-1/2-inch-thick slab. Other woods, including exotic types such as teak or zebrawood, are also available.

    Care & maintenance
    Requires a food-friendly sealer, such as mineral oil, renewed periodically. Will scorch and scratch, but surface can be renewed by powder sanding. Standing water and other liquids can stain. Not practical everywhere, but great for a baking center or an island.

    Do it yourself?
    Don't plan on making your own unless you have woodworking experience and tools. Instead, order a standard size and use as is; fasten from below with screws.

    What it costs
    For standard laminated maple tops, about $50 per linear foot is typical. Exotic woods cost more.

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Solid-Surfacing Countertop

    What it is
    Plastic resin composites available in a variety of colors; most mimic the look of stone. Can be fabricated with integral sinks and other details. Available in 1/2-inch-thick panels or 1/8-inch veneers.

    Care & maintenance
    Nonporous and resists scorching. Softer than stone, but scratches and stains can be sanded and buffed out. Easy to clean.

    Do it yourself?
    Professional fabrication and installation only.

    What it costs
    About $50 - $80 per square foot, installed. Custom edge treatments add as much as $20 per linear foot.

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Quartz-Surfacing Countertop

    What it is
    Crushed quartz mixed with pigments and binder resins; often mimics granite but also features intense hues and consistent patterns not found in stone.

    Care & maintenance
    Durable and nonporous; resists scratches, burns, and stains; and does not need periodic sealing.

    Do it yourself?
    Requires stone-cutting tools to fabricate. Professional fabrication and installation only.

    What it costs
    About $60 - $90 per square foot, installed; add more for custom edges.

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Granite Countertop

    What it is
    A hard and dense stone, known for durability and great depth of color. Most home centers and stone yards sell dozens of varieties.

    Care & maintenance
    Impervious to heat and abrasion, but scratching from knives is possible. Periodic sealing required to prevent stains. Glossy surface shows fingerprints, but you can opt for a honed/matte finish.

    Do it yourself?
    Professional fabrication and installation only. Requires specialized machinery and diamond blades, plus edge shaping and polishing. It's heavy, and must be fitted on-site.

    What it costs
    Most varieties run $60 - $100 per square foot, installed; exotic types or custom edge profiles increase cost.

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