(for 30 sq. ft., installed)
(for 30 sq. ft., installed)
(for 30 sq. ft., installed)
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The kitchen countertop is one of the most important components of the room. It needs to function as a cutting surface, storage area, and decorative element in the design of the room all at the same time. Many different materials can be used for the countertop. Two of the more popular are laminate and granite. Both have their positive and negative attributes. We will outline them below so you can make a more informed decision for your home.
Granite counters are made of natural stone. The counters sold as granite are actually what is known as “commercial” granite, or a group of stones comprised mainly of silica, feldspar, and quartz. Because of this, granite counters have a nearly endless number of colors and patterns. No two stones are ever the same because the mineral composition of each one can vary slightly from slab to slab, even when quarried in the same place. This variation is part of what gives granite counters their charm and beauty but can be a drawback for anyone who wants a more uniform appearance in their kitchen.
Granites can be polished, honed, or “flamed,” heated to remove weaker surface particles, to give them texture. They can have several edge designs, and sinks used with granite can be installed in several ways, including undermounted for a clean look.
Laminate countertops are made of a mixture of wood and paper products held together with glue and resin. On top of these, a plastic surface has been “laminated” or heat joined to the wood particle core. Laminates have a more limited color palette, dictated by the manufacturers of the brand you choose. Some laminates are designed to look like granite or other stones with a repeating pattern copied from real stone. Because the designs are printed, however, they are much more uniform and regular than granite. Depending on the manufacturer, you may be able to have your sink undermounted, but most lower cost laminates require a drop-in sink installation.
Granite countertops are fabricated specifically for your kitchen. After you select a slab, the fabricator will take a template of your cabinets, then cut the stone to fit. Approximately two weeks after templating, the stone will be installed by the fabricator. Granite counters are very heavy, and while most new cabinets can support their weight, older cabinets may need to be reinforced with plywood 1 before installation. Undermounted sinks are installed at the same time, but a plumber will need to hook it up approximately 24 hours later to give the epoxy 2 time to cure.
Laminate counters are faster and easier to install. They can be purchased in pre-cut lengths or cut on site for a quick installation. Some smaller kitchens may be able to have the counter installed as a DIY project, but complicated installations should be carried out by a professional. Your laminate counter can be installed and working within a day, unlike the two-week timeframe of granite.
Granite is sold by the square foot, with additional costs for the edging and sink installation. Because it must be fabricated and installed by professionals, the cost of installation is usually added to the cost of the stone. Granite can cost between $30 and $500 a square foot installed, but most stones fall between $40-$75 a square foot. Edging is priced by the linear foot, with costs starting around $10 a foot. Sink cutouts are approximately $100 a piece. The average kitchen is around 30 square feet of counter, with one sink cutout, for an average cost of $3,500 installed.
Laminate may be sold by the foot, but is more often sold by the panel because they are usually pre-made. A 96-inch counter costs around $100. For 30 square feet of material, the cost would be around $200, plus installation at around $10 - $40 a foot gives you a total of $500-$1,200 installed. Keep in mind that luxury vinyl 3, such as that sold by Wilsonart, costs closer to $2,000 installed, with the material alone costing $1,000.
Laminates may burn or melt when exposed to heat, so hot items should never be placed directly on them. Granite, however, is made of stone and is not susceptible to heat, which means that hot pots or pans can be placed directly on its surface.
Granite is a fairly dense, hard stone that is tough enough to withstand a lot of force. However, not all granites are created equally. Gabbros or black granites are amongst the strongest stones in the world, while some very light colored granites are weaker. All granite is rated from A to D regarding strength. A class D stone should not be installed without an underlayment 4 or used in an overhang, as it may break without support.
Laminates are made of a particle board 5 topped with a printed surface. They are not nearly as tough as granite, but you can use them without support on an overhang without fear of sagging or cracking.
Both granite and laminate can be installed with a 4-inch backsplash 6 of the same material. In the case of laminate, the backsplash 6 is usually integral, or formed in one piece with the counter. Granite backsplashes must be epoxied into place. Both will eliminate the need for a tile backsplash, unless you want a more decorative option.
Any sink can be installed with a granite countertop, with undermounted being the most popular choice. Most laminate counters require a drop-in sink because the laminate does not have a finished edge. However, Wilsonart makes a laminate countertop that can be used with an undermounted sink. It requires professional installation but can give you a cleaner look.
Both granite and laminate countertops are durable enough to withstand daily use in the home. However, they do have some differences in how durable they are and how long they last.
Laminates are non-porous materials, so while they are susceptible to both scratches and water damage, they will not stain. The edge may also delaminate if exposed to enough water, which can cause it to peel. Kits are available to repair some of the damage done to laminates. On average, laminates last approximately 10 years.
Granite does not scratch easily. In fact, it is more likely to dull your knives before it scratches. However, some lighter colored granites may etch if they come in contact with acidic liquids like lemon juice. Etching is the dulling of the surface due to the removal of the finer surface particles. Some granites may also stain, so it is a good idea to test a sample of granite ahead of time with the oil and lemon test. Put a small amount of oil and lemon juice on a piece of granite and wait 10 minutes. If there is a change in the stone where the liquids sat, you will need to take care to avoid etching or staining during use. If there is no change where the liquids were, the stone will not stain during ordinary use. Granites can last as long as you own your home, provided they are cared for properly.
Laminates are extremely low-maintenance materials. They do not require sealing or special cleaners. If they do become scratched, a kit can be used to repair them. They can be cleaned as needed with your preferred cleaner.
Granites may require more maintenance, depending on the type of stone. In addition to the oil and lemon test, a good rule of thumb is that the lighter the color, the more maintenance the stone will need. Many stones require periodic sealing to prevent stains. When water stops beading on the surface of the stone, it is time to reseal. Always wash your stone with a PH neutral cleaner made specifically for stones to avoid damage to the surface. If properly cared for, your granite will not require any additional work.
According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Guide, both major and minor kitchen updates, which use laminate countertops, can recoup between 65 and 80 percent of the investment. Granite countertops add value to homes in high-end neighborhoods but will not recoup as much of the investment when installed in neighborhoods where most homes have laminate.