Q&A: Which countertop material is toughest?

Consumer Reports News: July 09, 2007 02:08 PM

I’ve seen a lot of limestone and concrete countertops in kitchen magazines, and the counters look great. But can these trendy materials stand up to the beating they’ll take in my kitchen?—Jordan A., via e-mail

These materials will do well in your kitchen, but only if you’re really, really careful. Both of these natural stones scratched, abraded, and dented easily in our barrage of kitchen-abuse tests. Limestone also stained the most among the 10 countertop materials we covered in our August 2007 report. And at roughly $60 to $120 per square foot, installed, these two are among the priciest. (See how we test countertops here.)

A better bet: quartz, which is the fastest-growing countertop surface. Also known as engineered stone, quartz outperformed even granite in our tests, especially in stain resistance. The latest examples also mimic granite, marble, and other natural stone better than before. You’ll even find imitation quartz—essentially an imitation of an imitation. While you’ll pay about the same for quartz as you will for granite (about $45 to $90 per square foot, installed), you’ll never have to reseal this engineered stone like the real stuff.

If you want to spend less, consider ceramic tile or laminate, though you and your family will have to be careful about dropped objects (tile) and scratches and abrasions (laminate). Both cost about $10 to $30 per square foot, installed.

Solid-surface countertops—think Corian and other big brands—offer the variety of quartz, plus you can get small scratches and burns buffed out. But it’s not nearly as tough as quartz or granite and can cost just as much (about $35 to $80 per square foot, installed)—a reason why solid-surface countertops are losing ground in the marketplace.

Some other countertop tips from our experts:
Create savings. Cut the cost of your countertop by using small, lower-priced remnants instead of a single slab of stone. Also consider using a large, lower-priced run of laminate counters with a small-but-elegant piece of stone on an island or a peninsula.
Design ahead. Lowe’s and DuPont, for example, offer interactive style guides that let you choose color and material options and place them in different virtual settings.
Buy at a stone yard. Unlike quartz, laminate, or solid surfacing, stone can vary between slabs and even within the same slab. Instead of basing your decision on store samples, visit the stone yard and pick the piece with the color, graining, and veining you like.Bob Markovich

Essential information: Before you start work on your kitchen remodel, read our 30-page special kitchen section in the August 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, Great Kitchens for Less. We cover 10 kitchen products that don't match the hype surrounding them, provide expert advice on paying for your project, and tell you where to get the best deals on appliances. And when you need information on appliances, design, materials, project oversight, and other topics related to a kitchen remodel, use our Kitchen-Planning Guide. 

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