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Less expensive and less durable than stone, but easier to repair

According to experts, solid-surface countertops are basically plastic. Most are made by combining acrylic or polyester resins with a filler material made of minerals. Solid-surface countertops are nonporous, so they're resistant to stains and food-borne bacteria. Although they can get scratched, the surface is renewable and repairable; scratches and burns can be sanded and gouges can be filled. Seams can be fused together to create undetectable joints on large stretches of countertop. Prices start at about $40 per square foot installed.

Solid-surface countertop material comes in hundreds of colors and patterns, many of which are made to resemble stone. Josheph Truini at Popular Mechanics points out that, as much as high-end decorators look down their noses at solid-surface countertops, "they've been around for nearly 40 years and have performed admirably in thousands of kitchens." Another advantage, according to Joyce Carrol at BobVila.com, is that solid-surface countertops allow you to have molded sinks that join seamlessly to the countertop. Popular brands include Corian by Dupont, Wilsonart's Gibraltar and Avonite. Prices hover around $50 per square foot -- less than what you'll pay for granite or quartz.

One issue with solid-surface countertops, Carrol says, is that they don't lend themselves to do-it-yourself installation because the seamless pieces have to be formed by professional fabricators and installed by experienced contractors. Carrol also points out that as durable as solid-surface countertops are, they're not invulnerable. Contact with hot pans can cause cracking, they can be scratched by knives (though they can be repaired afterward), and they are brittle.

Made from petroleum-based products, solid-surface countertops aren't high on the list from an environmental point of view. However, Green Home Guide does give the nod to solid-surface brands (like Yemm and Hart's Origins) that are made out of recycled plastic. According to the editors, "Recycled plastic surfaces are typically quite long lasting, resist moisture and do not offgas [volatile organic compounds] -- but they burn easily, can be scratched and may warp."

An enormous variety of colors are available. The most popular choices are made to resemble stone, while others look like frosted glass. If you want something unusual or funky, solid-surface countertops might be the way to go.

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