“Hi Norma – We are thinking about changing our countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms. I know that the current trend is to use granite, but I also know that there are other alternatives out there, such as stilestone and quartz. Can you help me in my decision by telling me the differences in each type of natural or manmade stone, and which one would be the easiest to care for? Also, is one better to use in the bathrooms? I would appreciate your help.  Thanks so much. – WYSK Reader, Jean B”

NV: Hi Jean B! Turns out I’ve done a lot of research on countertops for my kitchen renovation book, Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-Ups. Here’s an excerpt that answers your question, and more!

Norma_kitchen_bookAs for your question about a preferred countertop for bathroom or kitchen, a kitchen countertop will come in contact with food, water, oils, heat, etc., so durability and ease of cleaning should be considered when choosing. There’s far less to consider when it comes to a bathroom countertop/vanity.

Countertops see a lot of action in a kitchen. Visually, they have a huge impact on the look of your space. Because they serve both a design element and work surface it’s important to do your homework before choosing one (or more than one, if so desired). There are two common mistakes people make when choosing a countertop: clashing color or pattern with the floor or cabinets and choosing a material or color that either doesn’t wear well, or is more trouble to maintain than they had anticipated.

I like the idea of applying various countertop materials as dictated by use and design of the space. For example, using butcher-block top only next to a second sink for washing and chopping vegetables. Or, say you have a peninsula that serves as an eating area and gives way to a den, you may choose a different, more formal countertop for it than in the rest of the kitchen.

Countertop Options

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile countertops can offer a wide variety of looks because of the plethora of types and colors. They are highly durable, stain and heat resistant. A drawback may be the grout lines – when wiping down the surface these nooks and crannies can trap food particles. Also, if not properly sealed, grout can stain. Glass tiles are not recommend for kitchen countertops because they scratch easy and may require large grout lines. They should be considered for accents and backsplashes instead.

countertop options_vGranite is considered by many to be the ultimate in countertop surface – both aesthetically and functionally.  It’s one of the hardest materials nature offers, making it highly scratch and crack resistant. Hot pans can go right on them straight from the oven. Their smooth surface is also ideal for rolling and kneading. Unlike marble, it’s stain resistant, and wipes down with ease. Granite carries a look of luxury and is always considered an upgrade in a kitchen.

Marble, Travertine, Soapstone, and Limestone are all quarried stone that offer unique and natural beauty to countertops. As compared to granite, however, they are inferior with regard to durability. They are far more porous and less dense, making them more prone to stains and scratches. It is imperative that they are maintained with a proper sealer.

Engineered Stone (i.e. Silestone) combines the durability of natural stone with the flexibility and variety of manmade surfaces. Made predominately of crushed quartz this material is highly heat, stain, and scratch resistant. Considered an advantage over natural stone is its consistency in pigment and pattern. Cost wise, it’s about the same price as granite.

Solid Surface countertops (i.e. Corian®, acrylic) are 100% manmade material. They can be molded with a built in backsplash and offer a variety of edging and borders with no visible seams – giving a fluid look to countertops. Textures, colors, and finishes are abundant. As the name implies, being solid throughout, there is no veneer that can chip and scratches can be buffed away. Although they are made to be stain and heat resistant, they are not as durable as natural stone. Scorching and staining will occur in certain conditions.

solid surface countertop

Laminate countertops are one of the more affordable surfaces. In addition to being sensibly priced you can relish in the vast number of looks, patterns, and colors to choose from. It’s important to choose one that is high quality to ensure wear-resistance. Chipping and scratching are the biggest drawbacks of these surfaces.

Concrete is a unique and diverse material that offers a natural look to countertops. It can be cast to fit almost any shape your kitchen calls for. Various stains and finishes can make it look like and feel like quarried stone. In its natural state, concrete is porous, but sealers are applied making them water and stain resistant. While concrete is impervious to heat and scratches, the sealer is not. Placing hot objects and cutting on the surface will compromise the sealer, therefore resulting in damage to the concrete.

Stainless Steel is ideal for an industrial or contemporary look for a kitchen. They offer sleek and seamless design. While they can’t be cut on, they are highly durable with respect to heat and staining. Of all the surfaces, they are most easily kept sanitary. Something to consider is the noisy aspect of the surface – be prepared for “clinking and clanking” as you work on this surface.

bamboo countertopWood and Bamboo countertops offer a natural appeal to the look of a kitchen. Bamboo has gained popularity because of its renewable and environmentally friendly properties. These surfaces are not one solid piece of wood, but rather many pieces glued together. For this reason the various grains that will be visible change the top’s look – namely face grain, end grain, and edge grain. These surfaces are known for their excellent properties for cutting and chopping. You must carefully consider what type of finish is applied to the wood since it will impact the woods ability to be water, stain, and scratch resistant. It is not recommended to use either of these materials in areas that are perpetually wet.

Recycled Materials such as paper, plastic, stone and glass are being used to create innovative countertop surfaces. They come in a wide variety of looks and colors. Each offers environmentally friendly and healthy properties, but no countertop material has zero impact on the planet.

Norma sig

Got A DIY Question? Ask-The-Expert!

If you have a DIY home repair, maintenance or improvement question for Norma, now is your chance to ask-the-expert and have her answer. Your burning question may just be the “star” of an upcoming Fix-It Friday column.

Add your question to the comments section below or email it to Women You Should Know.

Fix-It Friday is an exclusive Women You Should Know® editorial series authored by seasoned veteran of home improvement, Norma Vally, the former host of Discovery Home Channel’s series “Toolbelt Diva” and a show on Sirius Satellite Radio by the same name. The weekly column is designed to inspire women – weekend warriors, aspiring handywomen, and even seasoned DIYers – to take on home repairs and maintenance projects with confidence and gusto.