Reviewing your options among kitchen countertops

Are granite countertops the best choice right now among kitchen countertops? It depends: Granite is durable and can help raise the resale value of your home, but quartz countertops are a close second. Quartz countertops (also called engineered stone) have many of the advantages of natural stone, but are easier to maintain.

Other choices include solid-surface countertops -- basically, these are made of plastic, but they're much nicer than laminate. Solid-surface countertops come in a huge range of styles and colors, from faux stone to funky and modern. Plus, solid surfaces are easier to repair than other types. Laminate, including Formica is the budget choice, and an experienced do-it-yourselfer might be able to save on installation costs.

Choosing the best kitchen countertop really depends on whether you're willing to compromise on costs and maintenance, and whether you're considering your new countertops as a long-term investment. This ConsumerSearch buyer's guide outlines the pros and cons of each major type.

Types of Kitchen Countertops

Granite $50 to $250 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Great for heavy use
  • Resists heat
  • Elegant appearance
  • Wide array of colors
  • Raises value of your home
Disadvantages
  • Expensive
  • Must be regularly treated with sealer
  • Can chip or crack
  • Lingering radon controversy
  • Professional installation required
Granite countertops are easily the most popular type. Granite is elegant, durable and can add to the resale value of your home. However, it's expensive, and granite countertops need to be re-sealed a couple times a year to prevent stains.
Quartz $50 to $200 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Low maintenance
  • Resists heat, stains
  • Mimics look of natural stone
  • Excellent color/pattern choices
Disadvantages
  • Expensive
  • Not as attractive as natural stone, some say
  • Professional installation required
Quartz countertops, also called engineered stone, are a low-maintenance alternative to granite. Made of crushed quartz mixed with resins and polymers, quartz can mimic the look of stone, but unlike natural stone, it doesn't need to be periodically treated with sealant.
Solid-Surface $40 to $100 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Less expensive than other types
  • Huge selection of colors and patterns
  • Easy to maintain and repair
  • No visible seams
  • Very durable
Disadvantages
  • Made of plastic
  • Not heat-resistant
  • Easier to scratch than stone
  • Requires professional installation
Made of acrylic or polyester plastics, solid-surface countertops come in a huge range of styles and colors, from traditional to funky. Solid-surface counters are easy to maintain, and although they are more prone to scratches than stone, they are also easier to repair.
Laminate and Formica $15 to $25 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Good selection colors and patterns
  • DIY installation is possible
Disadvantages
  • Not as elegant as other surfaces
  • Visible seams, edges
  • Difficult to repair
  • Prone to heat damage
Plastic laminate countertops offer the best combination of price and durability, but they aren't as attractive as stone or solid-surface counters. Seams and edges are visible, and the surface can be warped by heat, but laminate is otherwise easy to clean and maintain. Formica is the best-known brand.
Concrete $75 to $100 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Extremely durable
  • Elegant, modern appearance
  • Easy to customize
Disadvantages
  • Professional installation required
  • Can crack over time
  • Very heavy
  • May be hard to find
Concrete countertops are a durable and classy alternative to stone. The downside is that they're extremely heavy, can be difficult to fabricate and install, and are sometimes prone to cracking over time.
Wood $100 to $200 per sq. ft. installed
Advantages
  • Warm look
  • Some can serve as a cutting surface
  • No bacteria risk if properly maintained
Disadvantages
  • High maintenance
  • Expensive
  • Limited colors
  • Can dent, scratch
Natural wood and butcher-block countertops look very attractive; the downside is their high maintenance (they have to be kept oiled) and, sometimes, their high price.
Ceramic Tile $5 and up per sq. ft., plus installation
Advantages
  • Inexpensive
  • DIY installation possible
Disadvantages
  • Grout hard to clean
  • Non-level surface
  • Can chip, crack
  • Grout discolors over time
Ceramic tile is perhaps the least expensive type of countertop, and a skilled do-it-yourselfer might be able to handle installation. However, tile can chip and crack, and grout can be hard to clean.
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