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Tile is inexpensive but fragile and harder to clean

If your kitchen redecoration budget is severely limited, you might want to consider a ceramic tile countertop, rather than more expensive stone, wood or plastic laminate. Although the average cost of tile is about $5 and up per square foot, it's possible to buy decent solid-color ceramic tile for as little as $1 per square foot, though you may not be able to save additional money by installing the countertop yourself. Carrol cautions that "undertaking a laminate or tile installation can be a nightmare," so expect to pay $50 an hour or so for professional contracting. Experts also warn not to cut corners by using tiles intended for bathroom walls. Yes, they're cheap, but they're also very thin and will crack at the first opportunity. Robert Levesque at HomeStyleChoice.com adds that large natural stone tiles such as granite can also be used to create a countertop at less cost than a granite slab.

Ceramic tile is impervious to heat, so you don't have to worry about damaging your countertop by setting a hot pan on it. But cleaning can be a chore because the grout that joins the tiles can become discolored over time. Tile countertops aren't very trendy right now, and they are unlikely to contribute to raising the value of your home.

If you do opt for ceramic tiles, your primary maintenance task will be cleaning -- and occasionally regrouting the seams between the tiles, lest moisture or contaminants seep underneath and damage the countertop from below. Experts recommend keeping a few extra tiles on hand to replace the inevitable chipped or damaged tile; with a little practice, you should be able to learn how to chisel out individual tiles without damaging the entire counter. Sources of tile countertops include Classic Tile in Oakville, Conn.

Ceramic tile can be laid on top of an old laminate countertop, or over old tile. For a clean installation, you can use plywood as a base.

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