Ceramic Tile
Ceramic tile counters seem to be a regional favorite, more popular in the West than in the East. There are even differences in installation techniques. In the West, tile is often set in a mortar bed--definitely a job for a professional. In the East, installers more often set tile in a latex-modified thinset mortar over cement backerboard. Tile can be used with any type of sink, and because tile is so versatile, counters can be made in virtually any shape. Ceramic tile is highly resistant to stains and heat, and a damaged tile can be chiseled out and replaced without tearing out the entire counter. (Buy extra tile at the time of installation because manufacturers change tile colors often, and even seemingly common tile can be hard to find later.) Tough on dropped glasses, tile countertops have another big weakness--the grout line. Grout needs regular maintenance, and it can stain. If you choose tile, specify epoxy grout, which is tougher and more stain-resistant. Basic ceramic tile (4 1/4 or 6 in. sq.) including installation runs about $25 to $30 per square foot, but expect higher prices with complicated layouts, custom touches and nonbasic tile. With a fairly modest investment in tools, laying a tile countertop over cement backerboard is manageable for most homeowners. Wood
Butcher-block counters have a warmth and resilience no other material can match, and you'll never be without a cutting board. Available in lengths up to 12 ft., counters typically are 1 1/2 in. thick and in widths of up to 48 in. The cost for premium hard-rock maple butcher block is about $30 to $40 per square foot installed. Although long-wearing, wood countertops require regular attention and reapplication of oil. John Boos & Co., an Illinois-based manufacturer, suggests counters be oiled every four to eight weeks. On the positive side, problem areas can be scraped, sanded and refinished to get a nearly new appearance. There also is some evidence that wood countertops have some natural resistance to bacteria growth. Old-fashioned butcher blocks were traditionally made from end-grain maple. Although Boos still sells end-grain blocks for use as island tops (up to 60x38 in.), butcher-block counters these days usually consist of boards whose faces are glued together so the edge grain becomes the work surface. Maple is still the most common material, but counters also come in red oak and, through custom shops, in virtually any wood species you like.
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