Fiber Cement
Stone at roughly the cost of laminate? Well, almost. Fiber-cement countertop material, sold as Fireslate2, SlateScape and other names, has a slablike quality that recalls slate. The material, imported from Germany, is fabricated into finished countertops by several retailers around the country. Sheets are 98 in. long and up to 55 in. wide, and come in four colors--red, green and two shades of gray. Various edge options are available. Depending on where you live, 1 1/4-in.-thick material will cost $30 to $40 per square foot (some fabricators will charge more); it's $20 to $30 per square foot for 3/4-in.-thick material. Fabricators work from drawings or templates, machining the material into just about any shape you want and adding details such as cutting-board recesses or integral drain boards. Fiber cement has high compressive strength and is strong enough to serve as a support-free overhang. It is heat-resistant, and scratches and other surface defects can be sanded and buffed out. Installing one of these countertops is as easy as setting it in a bead of silicone caulk and sealing field seams with tinted epoxy. The catch? Like other cement-based products, it is porous and will stain if not sealed regularly with mineral oil or pure tung oil. If you're the kind of person who loses sleep over slight stains, or are seeking a maintenance-free countertop, look for something else. High demand has slowed fabrication and delivery in some areas.
Pioneered by DuPont as Corian some 30 years ago, solid surfacing, a cast-acrylic or polyester material, is now made by a six or so manufacturers; it is widely hyped as a wonder material well worth its fairly steep cost (from $45 to $80 per square foot installed). Nonporous and nonstaining, solid-surface counters are manufactured in dozens of colors and patterns, including several new ones that look like glass or quartz. A standard counter is 1/2 in. thick. Edges are built up with additional pieces and then machined into a variety of profiles. There are at least two big advantages to these counters. One is that the material doesn't have a thin color or decorative layer like laminate--it's the same all the way through, so scorch marks, scratches and other defects can be sanded out. The other plus is that integral sinks can be added for a completely seamless installation (sinks, however, are very expensive).
In addition to standard solid surfacing, Wilsonart also makes a solid-surface veneer, slightly less than 1/8 in. thick, that is glued down to a particleboard substrate much like plastic laminate. Veneer can lower the cost of a solid-surface counter 30 to 50 percent. Another variation is Silestone, a product developed in Spain that is 93 percent quartz aggregate plus a polymer that binds it together. Priced at $40 to $50 per square foot, Silestone will, according to the manufacturer, outperform stone or plastic surfaces. DuPont's recently introduced Zodiaq solid surfacing has a similar composition to that of Silestone.
Installing solid surfacing is a job best left to a pro.
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