For many years now, granite has reigned supreme as the material of choice for kitchen counters. But while granite remains a popular and desirable choice, a few clear competitors are finally starting to emerge. If you’re planning a major kitchen remodel, we’ve got a few alternatives to the same-old granite slab, as well as a few pros and cons for countertop materials that stand to match or surpass the popularity of granite within the next few years.
Unlike the other materials on this list, solid surface countertops are entirely synthetic. That means they’re non-porous and require very little maintenance – none of the sealing, polish, or special cleaners that granite and marble typically require. Solid surface is one of the few materials that can be installed without any seams at all. You can have it custom made to mimic a variety of natural materials (like wood or stone), custom tinted a variety of colors, and even finished with different levels of gloss to your specifications (though it can look a bit artificial). Solid surface counters are the same material throughout, which means you can sand out small scuffs. But because it’s softer than stone, this type of countertop is susceptible to deep scratches and even scorching when exposed to high heat.
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Of the materials on this list, quartz – aka engineered quartz or engineered stone – is probably granite’s biggest countertop contender. Made of about 93% chips of quartz stone mixed with resin and coloring, quartz countertops are highly durable and low maintenance. Unlike granite, quartz countertops are nonporous. That means you don’t need to seal them, and they’re less likely to stain. They’re also highly heat resistant, and sometimes contain an antimicrobial agent that makes them more hygienic. Quartz countertops are available in a huge variety of finishes, from natural stone patterns to bright, bold colors. They’re more consistent in terms of pattern than granite. This eliminates slabs with undesirable markings and makes seams slightly less obvious than stone, but also means they don’t have quite the same natural character.
One surprising option that’s gaining popularity is the concrete countertop. Concrete has a very industrial look and feel, but can easily be customized and cast in a variety of unique shapes and tinted or stained just about any color. This is an especially nice option for creating unique or odd-shaped kitchen islands. Unfortunately, concrete is very very heavy, and will need strong cabinets to support it. Because it’s a very porous material, it will need to be thoroughly and regularly sealed to make sure it doesn’t stain. That said, they’re fairly heat resistant when sealed properly, and very durable.
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The terms “composite” and “solid surface” are often used interchangeably (and sometimes to refer to engineered or “composite” quartz countertops). But “composite” can also mean paper composite countertops. These are made of a combination of paper pulp (or other natural materials) and a hardening resin. Paper composite counters are a very eco-friendly option, made from renewable resources and are often available with low or no VOC bindings. It’s worth noting that paper composite countertops don’t look or feel anything like paper. In fact, they’re similar in appearance to a solid surface or laminate countertop, but are much more heat, scratch, and water resistant. Some types also inhibit the growth of bacteria, but all types can be stained by acidic foods or liquids.
Old fashioned butcher block style countertops are starting to get some renewed attention as well. They’re a great pair for the slightly more rustic, industrial-yet-earthy look that’s so popular right now. Wood countertops have a great natural look and feel that will warm up almost any space. Done right, you can essentially turn your entire kitchen into a giant cutting board. You want to be careful about what woods you choose, though; some are more resistant to bacteria and water than others. If you plan on using the surface for cutting meat or fish, you’ll need to disinfect it regularly. And be aware that the wood will show knife marks. You can repair small scratches with a light sanding and application of mineral oil, or leave it to develop a natural patina of gentle wear and tear, which can add to the counter’s rustic charm.
Typically the conversation about stone countertops starts and ends with granite and marble. But amongst all the synthetic and composite materials that have been gaining popularity, there’s one solid stone that stands out: soapstone. Soapstone has a medium-gray color with some occasional white veining, but will darken to a deeper gray-black as it ages. Soapstone is a slightly more rustic type of stone, with a coarser, less glossy finish than granite or marble. But it’s also highly heat resistant and won’t stain. That said, the rough finish can scuff glassware or china, and because it’s also a softer stone than granite or marble, it’s particularly susceptible to scratches and scuffs, and needs regular applications of mineral oil to properly maintain its finish.
Stainless steel countertops tend to gain and lose popularity along with modern, industrial style kitchens. Strongly reminiscent of restaurant style kitchens, stainless steel countertops offer very practical workspace that’s resistant to heat, bacteria, and staining. They are very durable and easy to clean, but can be noisy when you set down heavy or metal items. Stainless steel can show some dints and dings, scratches, and fingerprints (though they’re less obvious on satin or matte finishes), but have a sleek, contemporary look you just won’t get from any other material. If you look, you can even find ones with an integrated kitchen sink.
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Recycled glass is a very eco-friendly countertop option that’s beginning to get more attention, especially as part of sustainable, green home kitchen remodels. Made of small pieces of recycled glass (a combination of things like glass bottles, old car windshields, or even building windows) held together with concrete, recycled glass counter tops have a colorful, speckled appearance, but are perfectly smooth and very hard. Recycled glass countertops are fairly comparable to granite in terms of maintenance; you should seal it about once a year and polish it every few months. But is less porous, which makes it a bit less likely to stain and slightly more heat resistant. Recycled glass countertops are resistant to scratching, but can chip or crack if they have something heavy dropped on them.
What do you think of these alternatives to the traditional granite countertop? Do you have a particular favorite that you’re considering for your next kitchen remodel? Let me know in the comments!