Countertops represent one of the largest visual aspects of any new kitchen, and with so many different materials and styles offered today, many new homeowners find it more challenging than expected to design this important focal point. An ideal countertop material should offer both durability and a pleasing aesthetic that matches the overall design theme of the room. Today, we review five of 10 of the most popular countertop materials offered today to help you quickly narrow down your choices.
We begin with one of the most time-tested and cost-effective materials available. Laminate, which first came to prominence in the 1950s and ’60s, is created by layering plastic and bonding it to particle board. Laminate is ideal for homeowners on a budget. Its lower price point also makes it perfect for owners that enjoy remodeling every few years. Many laminate patterns are designed to visually mimic other materials such as stone and wood, and this material can be a great choice for homeowners desiring bright countertop colors or or a “retro” theme. Since laminate is composed of plastic materials, it is not an ideal material for resisting heat damage or cuts and gouges from sharp utensils so show extra care when dealing with hot pots and pans or sharp knives.
Estimated Price Range: $15-$50 per square foot
Available in ceramic, glass and porcelain, tile is another dependable and cost-effective countertop material to consider. Thanks to its ability to be cut in endless sizes and shapes, tile is generally considered one of the most versatile materials to work with and is an ideal choice for someone interested in designing a countertop with unique custom designs. Tile is also frequently used when installing backsplashes that can be matched with the countertops underneath. Ceramic is the most common tile sold due to its affordable price point and large variety of colors, shapes and sizes, but many people choose porcelain or glass for a different appearance.
While tile itself is a durable material — both heat and stain-resistant — that should last for many years, homeowners will need to ensure that the grout between each tile is properly sealed to avoid staining and to avoid possible sanitary issues. Periodic sealing of the grout may need to occur every few years so routine maintenance is required. Tile is also not the best choice if you desire a completely flat surface.
In the event a tile is chipped or damaged, it can be challenging to replace, and homeowners should keep replacement tiles if possible. While the material itself is very cost-effective, installation costs can be quite high depending on the amount of custom design work required.
Estimated Price Range: $25-$100 per square foot (depending on custom install requirements)
A longtime favorite of many homebuilders, granite offers a high-end appearance to any new kitchen. Derived from a natural resource, each granite slab is visually unique, which allows homeowners to create distinctive looks within their new kitchen but may not be the best choice for those seeking a completely uniform appearance. Granite is a very hard, durable material and resists cuts and scratches well, but in turn, it could dull knives over time if used as a cutting surface. It is also heat resistant, so you don’t have to worry about hot pots and pans around it.
Granite will resist stains but it must be properly sealed as it is a somewhat porous material, and additional periodic sealing may be required to ensure it remains stain-resistant throughout the years. Additional support structures are sometimes required underneath the countertop due to granite’s natural density and weight. Honed granite offers a softer matte finish for those seeking less of the glossy appearance that natural sealed granite provides. A timeless kitchen countertop classic, granite is a solid contender for those seeking a durable material that offers a unique, non-uniform appearance and will do its part to help your new home retain its resale value.
Estimated Price Range: $90-$230 per square foot
Sometimes referred to as engineered stone and comparable to granite in many ways, quartz is quickly becoming a popular substitute for homeowners seeking a rich, natural stone appearance but preferring a material that is more stain-resistant and requires less long-term maintenance. Quartz is an excellent choice for homeowners wanting a consistent and uniform appearance compared to the natural variations found in granite.
Quartz countertops are manufactured by crushing quartz and combining it with a binding agent such as resin. This process provides homeowners with many visual options to choose from and helps ensure the look and pattern selected in the showroom will be what appears on your countertop once installed. While quartz is not as heat-resistant as granite, many homeowners prefer quartz due to its nonporous nature and reduced maintenance requirements.
The price point for quartz is typically in the same range as granite since it is a manufactured product and price ranges are closely controlled by the companies that produce it. A solid competitor to granite, quartz is an excellent option to consider if you’d like a natural stone appearance while having greater control over the colors and patterns of your countertops.
Estimated Price Range: $95-$220 per square foot
Formerly a classic choice in many kitchens, marble has taken a backseat to both granite and quartz due to its being a less durable and more porous material. Marble countertops can offer homeowners a truly stunning appearance with unique patterns and colors thanks to the natural mining process that ensures no two slabs are exactly the same. Unfortunately, that beauty comes with a price, as marble is more porous and less resistant to stains, heat and physical damage than granite and quartz. In fact, many builders refuse to provide a warranty for a marble countertop when installed in a high-traffic kitchen environment due to its natural limitations. Homeowners choosing to install marble countertops will need to pay close attention to any items that may stain it and keep all surfaces clean at all times. A full sealing process will be required during installation and annual sealing treatments are recommended thereafter. For those who are willing to meet the somewhat challenging upkeep requirements, and may be designing a minimally used kitchen, marble can offer a very appealing upscale look.
Estimated Price Range: $125-$245 per square foot
For homeowners seeking the distinct appearance of stainless steel, it can be an excellent kitchen countertop choice thanks to its durability and hygienic properties. With a large number of kitchen appliances offered with stainless steel finishes, many builders now offer countertops in the same material to complete the look. Due to its nonporous nature, stainless steel is easy to clean and provides one of the most sanitary countertop environments available today. (No wonder you find it in so many hospitals!)
Stainless steel is available in several finishes, which allows a homeowner to better match the appliances and surroundings of their new kitchen. Thicker gauge stainless steel is recommended for countertops to provide maximum longevity. If you are drawn to the look of stainless steel, it is more than capable of providing you with many years of low-maintenance, highly durable countertop use.
Estimated Price Range: $75-$150 per square foot
No countertop review would be complete without the inclusion of natural wood. Offering a warm appearance, natural wood provides homeowners with a durable surface that, once properly sealed, is ideal for food preparation. Natural wood is heat-resistant and, as you might expect, ideal for cutting and food prep. Its softer density keeps your knives sharper for a longer period than granite or quartz does. As with other porous materials, natural wood must be sealed during installation and owners must periodically reseal surfaces to ensure they remain hygienic and stain-resistant.
Types of wood used can vary and may include maple, cherry, oak, birch and teak. The type of wood can also affect the budget so be prepared for larger price variations compared to other materials. Natural wood will wear over the years and may eventually need to be sanded, refinished and resealed. Depending on the type of wood and frequency of use, expect 12 to 20 years on average from most natural wood countertops before this type of maintenance may be required.
Butcher block countertops are another natural wood option and may be installed in smaller sections for food prep within a larger natural wood countertop area. Butcher block is composed of the grain ends of various woods with rectangular ends joined together to create the traditional block-like appearance. As with natural woods, butcher block must be properly sealed and maintained to ensure proper sanitation and longevity.
Estimated Price Range: Varies greatly based on types of wood selected
For many, the word “concrete” conjures up visions of a driveway or parking lot, but thanks to new color options, stains and texturizing techniques, concrete has become a viable choice for homeowners seeking a durable yet aesthetically pleasing kitchen countertop material. Through the use of pigmentation, concrete can be transformed into almost any color scheme to match your new kitchen décor. Add in a bit texturing and concrete can also mimic other materials such as natural stone or granite.
As expected, concrete is durable and can be a perfect match for a high-volume kitchen thanks to its natural heat-resistant qualities and ability to repel cuts and scratches. As with other porous materials, concrete must be properly sealed during installation to avoid stains and maintain a hygienic surface area for food preparation. Additional resealing of all surfaces will need to occur every two to three years so if routine maintenance is not part of your countertop checklist, concrete may not be your best option.
Concrete is best for homeowners seeking a more rugged appearance versus those seeking a visually perfect countertop. Installation times can run a bit longer than other materials as concrete will need to properly cure once in place. Again, don’t judge this book by its cover as concrete is a very versatile material that could be the right choice for you.
Estimated Price Range: $70-$205 per square foot
A relative newcomer to the countertop scene, crushed glass countertops are catching on with new homeowners by offering unique visuals and eco-friendly materials. Crushed glass countertops are available in two primary configurations: encased in a tough acrylic base or embedded within concrete. Since these countertops are composed of varying blends of crushed glass, no two will ever look alike, offering homeowners a completely unique presentation. In the acrylic-base method, the crushed glass pieces contained within appear to be suspended in place as if floating.
Use a concrete base if you desire more of a mosaic countertop appearance. Acrylic-base countertops are nonporous and durable, requiring minimal routine maintenance while concrete-base ones will require sealing and other routine maintenance as expected with the more porous material. It has become common practice for crushed glass manufacturers to use recycled glass, making this an ideal material for eco-conscious homeowners. Many homeowners employ countertop backlighting to further enhance the visual beauty of crushed glass, especially when embedded within an acrylic base.
Installation prices can vary greatly depending on the types of glass chosen and the color schemes required by the homeowner but should still be in line with traditional materials such as granite and quartz.
Estimated Price Range: $75-$175 per square foot
The use of slate as a countertop choice is slowly growing in popularity thanks to its extreme durability, low maintenance requirements and reasonable price points. Slate is a nonporous material and resists staining while also offering exceptional heat protection, making it an ideal choice for all countertop sections of your kitchen. Not as flashy as its cousins, granite and marble, slate tends to have a darker appearance, but each slab contains unique hues and patterns. Thanks to its dense composition, slate should clean up easily and stand up well to possible cuts or chips. If you are seeking a more understated countertop appearance that is built to last, you should consider adding slate to your short list of candidates.
Estimated Price Range: $55-$80 per square foot
- Consider the type of kitchen you are planning to build and how much traffic and use your countertops will receive. Larger families might do better choosing more durable materials such as slate, tile or quartz, while couples that don’t plan on spending much time in the kitchen may have the luxury of choosing materials that visually present well but may not be as durable.
- Decide how much periodic maintenance you’re willing to accept before choosing a countertop material, as more porous materials will require periodic sealing and more frequent cleaning.
- Understand that unique materials, such as granite, may look different once installed versus the showroom, as each slab is unique in appearance. Those seeking a guaranteed visual outcome would do well to choose materials such as quartz or tile versus natural stone, granite or marble.
- Feel free to mix and match countertop materials based on different sections of your kitchen. For example, you could select butcher block for the prep area near your stove and a different material for the main section of your kitchen.
- If the kitchen is a focal point of the home, you may want to consider the resale value a given countertop material provides especially if you plan on selling your home in the near future.
- Many materials offer unique and labor-intensive customization options, so installation pricing may vary greatly — be prepared to shop around for maximum cost savings.
Brian Ford spent more than a decade in the specialty appliance retail industry and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation. Brian is also a contract consultant within the call center industry. In his free time, he operates a YouTube channel specializing in instructional guitar videos that he composes and produces at his home studio in Austin, Texas.