countertop
The ideal countertop would improve the look of your kitchen, stand up to sizzling cookware and sharp knives, and repair easily--all without busting your budget. That's not an easy order to fill, but with so many counter materials available, you should be able to find one that fits your needs. We spoke with manufacturers, fabricators and homeowners to sort out the options. Not surprisingly, plastic laminate remains the most popular choice. But there are more alternatives than ever: ceramic tile, wood, fiber cement and, for considerably more money, solid surfacing and natural stone. Prices range from $10 to $100 per square foot installed, but the fabricators we spoke with pointed out that every job is unique, and prices will vary considerably by region. You'll pay more for granite in Connecticut than you will in Alabama, for instance. Sink cutouts, overall layout, edge and backsplash design and other considerations all affect the price, sometimes dramatically. Laminate
Manufacturers bristle at the suggestion that plastic laminate is "cheap." But relatively inexpensive it is, and it's offered in a tremendous variety of colors and textures. There are two types of laminates used for counters. High-pressure laminate. This material, about 1/16 in. thick, is glued to a substrate of particleboard with contact adhesive (on site or typically in a fabricator's shop). High-pressure laminate is an excellent value. Prices start at about $15 to $20 per square foot installed, and the material is easy to keep clean, resists stains and, with care, is extremely durable (no hot pans, and no cutting on the surface, please). It does have a few weak points: Laminate is difficult or impossible to repair if chipped or burned, and it probably shouldn't be combined with an undermount sink that's used frequently. Fabricators say there isn't much difference among brands of laminate. You can install a finished counter bought from a fabricator, but unless you've had some experience, stay away from attaching the laminate to the substrate yourself. Working with contact cement can be tricky and unforgiving. As for edge treatments, the least expensive is the "self-edge." It's a strip of laminate glued to the outside edge of the counter, leaving a telltale black line where the two pieces are joined. But there are now many more choices in edging--wood, beveled and rounded edges, as well as edges that incorporate solid surfacing. These edges give laminate counters a much more polished appearance, but add $10 and up per running foot to the final cost of the installation. Post-formed laminate. A less expensive laminate choice--at $10 or less per square foot--is post-formed laminate counter, which comes with an integral backsplash and a rolled front edge. These ready-made counters come in fewer colors (home centers may carry as few as half a dozen), and because the laminate is thinner, these countertops are more susceptible to damage. Post-formed counters also do not lend themselves to designs with curves, bump-outs or other irregularities.
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