Kitchen countertop choices

Because kitchen countertops represent such a substantial investment -- installing new countertops can easily cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on the size of your kitchen and the material you use -- there's no shortage of online advice. In assembling this report, we consulted sources ranging from the websites HomeStyleChoices.com, Kitchen Countertops and Kitchen Countertop Spot (all vast compendiums of information on various types of countertop surfaces) to the websites of popular TV channels and shows (HGTV.com, BobVila.com, ThisOldHouse.com) to the occasional overview of kitchen countertops from reliable magazines like Popular Mechanics and Consumer Reports.

With a few notable exceptions -- for example, Consumer Reports is much more bullish about laminate countertops than some reviewers -- these sources pretty much concur about the advantages and disadvantages of various types of countertop surfaces, ranging from the increasingly popular granite and quartz countertops to cheaper plastic laminate and Formica to even cheaper ceramic tiles. Some websites, like DoItYourself.com, address kitchen counters from a DIY standpoint.

In general, experts say to consider the following when shopping for a kitchen countertop:

  • Decide how much you can afford. Countertop prices span an enormous range, from as little as $1 per square foot for ceramic tile to over $250 per square foot for high-grade granite or quartz. Even on the cheap end of the granite spectrum, a kitchen with 30 square feet of countertop space will cost more $2,000 to cover.
  • Read up on maintenance issues. Some countertop surfaces (like quartz and solid surfaces) can be pretty much installed and forgotten. Others (like granite, concrete and wood) need to be maintained regularly with mineral oil or sealants. Decide how much time you have for this necessary chore, and choose your surface accordingly.
  • Factor in your long-term prospects. The best granite and quartz countertops can add significantly to your home's value and can really pay back when part of a larger kitchen renovation. Real estate professionals say that an investment in the kitchen is money well spent when it comes time to sell your home.
  • Don't overestimate your DIY capabilities. Unless you're working with prefab laminate countertops, installation is best left to professionals. Laminate and Formica are the best choices if you want to do the work yourself because cutting laminate counters involves standard power tools. It's also possible to lay ceramic tile on your own if you're confident in your abilities.

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