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How to Compare Kitchen Countertops

Which Style is the Best for You?

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Solid surface countertops are durable buy expensive

Solid surface countertops are durable buy expensive.

Photo: Jade

When you compare kitchen countertops, the best kitchen countertops for you will depend on your budget, your family and the amount of use the counter will get. If you are like the majority of us and polished slab granite countertops are out of your reach, there are some budget friendly alternatives that can give you an elegant look for pennies on the dollar.

Preformed laminate. The most economical countertops are preformed laminate over particle board. The laminate is usually plastic. These countertops come in limited colors and patterns and are formed with a built-in backsplash. The pieces are sold by the linear foot and are frequently available on sale - just watch your home improvement store flyers.

If you want to spice up these basic countertops, extras will cost you. Endcaps (the finished cover on the countertop end), mitered corners and bullnose edges will add to your cost. It will also cost to have a hole cut in your top for a sink. So if you can cut the hole yourself, you can save a few dollars.

Custom laminate. The next step up are custom laminate countertops. More colors, finishes, shapes, lengths and edges add to the flexibility of these laminate counters. Local countertop fabricators can give your counters the shape, length and style you want. You can even introduce more than one color as an edge accent or if you prefer, edge the counter with your choice of woods.

Solid-surface. If you have a large budget, you can choose solid-surface countertops. They are beautiful but costly! And the more customized they are, the more your budget will skyrocket. If you want it to appear seamless,get ready to pay as much as $1000. These countertops are very durable and look fabulous - if you can afford them.

Tile countertops. Tile countertops can span the gamut from cost-effective to eye-popping expensive. Although tiles are durable, heat resistant, and highly stain-resistant, the grout which fills in the spaces between tiles is not. Grout stains easily if not properly and regularly sealed. In addition, grout can collect soil because of its irregular surface. If you install tile countertops, try to make the space between the tiles as narrow as possible while still leaving room for grout. This will reduce the surface area of the grout and reduce the amount of stainng.

Stone or marble countertops. At the top of the budget is stone or marble countertops. These are quarried and sawn into thin slabs that are polished and trimmed. Because the stone is so heavy, transportation costs and costs associated with installation can add hundreds if not thousands to the final price. But I recommend using professional installers for granite - its a tricky project! Holes for the sink or sinks are usually cut before the slab is shipped. The cost can vary according to strength, color, veins or patterns, and thickness so be sure to shop around for the best buy. Whether granite, soapstone or quartz, they can be gorgeous!

But there is hope for those of us on a budget who love the look of stone! As builders are increasing the demand for more cost-effective stone countertops, techniques for cutting the stone to a thinner thickness supported with a wood underpinning have been perfected. These new countertops will give the look of stone for much less. Granite tile is also available for lower prices.

The secret to the best kitchen countertops? Shop around and compare. In every category, there are variations in quality and price. If you know what you are looking for and what constitutes quality for that category, you stand a better chance of spotting a bargain. And we love bargains, don't we?

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