Kitchen countertops give homeowners a horizontal work surface for food preparation and providing storage. 

Typically installed upon and supported by cabinets. The surface is positioned at an ergonomic height and needs to be functional for it’s homeowner.

Have a look at our Buyer's Guide to help you make a more informed choice.

Introduction

Countertops may be constructed of various materials with different attributes of functionality, durability, and aesthetics. Some may be chosen purely for aesthetics, while others for their functional benefits. Because each material performs differently in the kitchen environment, homeowners must understand the different types of options available and be able to weigh pros and cons of the many choices.

Types

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TypeDescriptionProsConsCost(Avg)Idea For
Sintered stone Sintered surface Compact Sintered surface Ultra-Compact Surface

Sintered stone consists of a composite of blended stones, compacted under extreme pressure and heat. Particles are bonded together permanently, without a need for resins or bonding agents. The end product is non-porous, extremely easy to maintain and highly resistant to stains. 

Differences between brands are usually color and pattern options. Durability and quality between well-known vendors are indistinguishable. 

Common Brands: Dekton, Neolith, Vulcan, Gardenia, Arkstone

  • Scratch resistant
  • Heat resistant
  • UV Resistant (Color won’t fade and turn yellow over time under sunlight)
  • Anti-microbial properties (vendor specific)
  • Cracking – If countertop is not properly leveled during installation, it can place pressure on the countertop, resulting in cracking.
  • Chipping - Sintered stone does damage if exposed to impact, particularly on edges. The impact of items such as a pot or a plate falling on the surface can result in damage, particularly along edges. 
  • Difficult to repair -  Because of how they’re made, repairs can be more difficult and noticeable than granite, marble and quartz.
  • Printed designs and textures do not run through the full thickness of the slab. This means that on the cut and polished ends of the stone, the finish and texture will not be the same as the top surface. Workarounds like mitered edges are required and will cost slightly more.
  • Cost is generally costlier than the other options.
Quartz

Quartz countertops are a form of engineered stone, made from ground-up particles of stone bound together with plastic resins. They’re usually made from around 90% ground quartz with 10% resins, polymers, and pigments. 

The resins and polymers bind the quartz together, making it hard and durable while pigments are added to give the countertop color. In some cases, recycled glass or metal flecks are added to spice up the design.

 

  • Stain resistant
  • Crack resistant
  • Non-porous, does not require sealing or resealing
  • Seams between slabs are less visible than between slabs of concrete or natural stone
  • Not heat tolerant
  • Seams are inevitable for large countertop designs
  • Direct sunlight over an extended period of time will cause color fading
Granite

Granite is a naturally durable igneous rock and occurs in many natural colors. Granite countertops are made from full natural stone slabs from granite quarries. 

Countertops are typically made from a single slab so that the color and veining pattern will match.  

Some granite is more porous and needs to be sealed more often than others. Sealing helps the stone resist damage from spills, which can cause staining and dull the appearance.

  • Extremely strong and durable
  • Highly resistant to scratches and damage from heat
  • Stain resistance and easy to clean when sealed correctly
  • Granite is porous. Improper sealing can lead to staining and can harbor bacteria in its pores
  • Fewer color varieties and patterns in granite than in engineered stone countertops.
  • Corners can chip or break
Marble

Marble is a natural, metamorphic rock which has been physically and chemically transformed over time due to intense heat and pressure.  

It is a hard, crystalline form of limestone and  is often white with streaks of grays, although there are many color variations. 

Marble countertops and tabletops are not as hard as granite or quartz countertops and are much more porous with many natural veins and fissures.  

Thus, Marble surfaces are more susceptible to staining. Any acidic or alkali substance that may come in contact with the marble tops will cause a chemical reaction that will etch and remove the polish of the marble.


 

  • Elegant vein patterns
  • Lots of colors and styles
  • Heat resistant
  • Marble’s porous nature makes it prone to stains, scratches and etching from acidic substances
  • Requires periodic sealing
  • Stain easily when not sealed correctly
Solid Surface

Solid-surface is a man-made material that combines alumina trihydrate (ATH) as filler with acrylic or polyester resins, along with added pigments.

With polyester or acrylic solid surface materials, each type has some advantages and disadvantages. Polyester solid surface is high-gloss yet fairly brittle. Acrylic solid surface has more of a flat, matte texture and is relatively durable.

Most solid-surface manufacturers do not make the resin content obvious. You will need to search the technical specifications to learn if a particular manufacturer's solid-surface material is based on acrylic or polyester.


 

  • Edge Profiles -  It’s hard to create curves with natural or engineered stone, but is fairly normal with solid surface top.  With themaforming,  rounding curved edges are possible.
  • Easy to Repair:  Burns can be sanded out; deep gouges can be filled easy
  • Seams are fused together to create undetectable joints. 
  • Durability – Although both custom granite and quartz are more durable, solid surfaces are hard and impact-resistant.
  • Non-porous surface – This countertop material is non-porous and resists stains and food-borne bacteria.
  • Weak (Impact, Scratches) - is relatively soft and can be scratched by knives and sharp utensils.
  • Heat Deformation: Solid surfaces will begin to deform at higher temperatures. Hot, dry pans (e.g frying pan) and wet pans (such as a pot of pasta with boiling water) should not be placed directly on a solid surface counter.
  • Vulnerable to strong chemicals – If exposed to nail polish remover, paint thinner, lacquer, over cleaner or other harsh chemicals, solid surfaces can become damaged.
Laminate high-pressure laminate (HPL)

Laminate, or HPL is produced with multiple layers of kraft paper bonded with resin and topped with a printed decor layer. These layers are then stacked between laminates before being compressed under high pressure and heated to permanently meld together. 

The high temperature used in the manufacturing process creates very strong bonds that make for a very durable product.

  • Lower cost compared with other options
  • Emulates the look and texture of natural materials, including wood and marble
  • Non-porous and durable
  • Resistant to heat, stains and spills
  • Can scratch easily
  • Susceptible to burns and chipping. Direct contact with hot objects can result in cracks and melt
  • May suffer from delamination or warped over time, especially from water damage
  • Relatively shorter lifespan compared to other options
  • Limited edge profiles - due to the stick-on nature, the number of edge profiles are limited
  • Visible joint lines but usually only in corners
  • Prolonged exposure to sun can lead to discolouration
Compact Top Compact Grade Laminate

Compact laminates are a class of HPL, and are made in the same way. The key difference being that compact laminates have a thickness greater than 2mm, compared with 0.7mm for HPL. 

This added thickness comprises further layers of phenolic resin-impregnated kraft paper, giving Compact laminate its superior impact resistance.


Common Brands:  Formica compact, EDL compact, KompacPlus

  • Lower cost compared with other options but higher than HPL
  • Better resistant to heat,  impact, moisture, scratch than HPL
  • Emulates the look and texture of natural materials, including wood and marble
  • Susceptible to burns and chipping. Direct contact with hot objects can result in cracks and melt
  • May suffer from delamination or warped over time, especially from water damage. 
  • Relatively shorter lifespan compared to other options
  • Limited edge profiles - due to the stick-on nature, the number of edge profiles are limited
  • Visible joint lines but usually only in corners.
  • Prolonged exposure to sun can lead to discolouration

Buying Considerations

  1. Seams - Seams are formed when two separate material pieces are joined together to create a larger countertop piece.  What vendors typically do is to minimize the addition of seams, or make the seam as inconspicuous as possible. Talk to the vendor to get an understanding how the countertop will be installed and where the seams are. 
  2. Compare different material’s small features -  Some are designed to be anti-microbial and more scratch or stain resistant. When validating such features, it is important to ask for certifications or test that was performed to benchmark said material versus other competitors. If you’re looking for a material that is safer for your loved ones, do look out for certifications like ISO 14001, American National Standard for Food Equipment (NSF) or Greenguard.
  3. Warranty - Manufacturer and Install/Fabricator warranty are 2 types of warranty to take note of.  Focusing on these will help to ensure homeowners get quality and longevity of any countertops installation.
    1. Install/Fabricator warranty are covered by the contractor/ID and typically cover the installation of the countertop -including the seam and the sinks.
    2. Manufacturer warranty covered any manufacturer defects, such as holes, pitting, mis-coloring
  4. Repair procedures - Regardless of the material you’ve selected for your tabletop, it is very important to know how to get it fixed in case of accidents. Different vendors and different materials have different repair methods and ways to get it fixed. Also some might require additional cost as well, thus it is very important to ask the question on what happens if an owner damages the countertop, and that as a homeowner you’re comfortable with the process.

Specific considerations for:

  1. Mohs hardness - Quartz from different vendors are made of different composition. Check with the vendor on the Mohs hardness of the quartz you are intending to get—the higher it is on the Mohs scale, the harder and more compact your quartz is and therefore of better quality.
  2. Resin ratio - Typically resin ratio is less than 15%, anything more than that may result in Resin Pooling. Resin Pooling is defined as an area on a Quartz Countertop where the Resin used to produce the slab pooled up or settled in one spot.It can leave dark spots on the Quartz Countertop and detract from the overall color pattern of the slab.
  3. Slabs sizes - Typically, bigger the better. If not, they will need to be joined together and seams will occur. Do check with the vendor to ensure this is within your expectations.
  4. Miter Edges - At corners, you may have countertop pieces placed together in what is called a miter. Sometimes, instead of joining with complete contact, there’s actually a gap between the pieces. Make sure to check with the vendor beforehand on this and whether this could happen to your counter. 
  5. Potential VOCS (Volatile Organic Compounds) - The VOC risk within quartz comes from the ‘resin’ element, the composition of which is often unknown, and it can vary hugely from manufacturer to manufacturer. Potentially harmful levels of VOC emissions and the micro porosity that can make the surface difficult to clean or sanitise and most importantly, the surface finish leaching of toxic chemicals that can contaminate food. It is important to ask the vendor for certifications for the Quartz.

FAQ

Technical Terms

  • Seam - a line where two pieces of material are jointed together.
  • Miter - At corners, you may have countertop pieces placed together in what is called a miter.
  • Edge Profile - Type of edge for the protruding corners of a  countertop. Some popular edge profiles are: Eased Edge, Bullnose Edge, Bevel Edge, Ogee Edge, Miter Edge
  • Per foot run (pfr) - Typical cost calculation for kitchen counter top.  Pfr is measured by the length multiply by depth of the countertop.