Marble countertop (C) D Friedman Design Guide & Choices of Countertops for Kitchens and Baths

  • COUNTERTOPS, KITCHEN & BATH - CONTENTS: Kitchen countertop design: material choices, installation, layout. Countertop Design Issues: what countertop attributes provide the most convenient, durable, and attractive work surface for kitchens and baths?Cleanup Advice for Countertops. Advice About High-Pressure (Plastic) Laminate Countertops. Edge Treatment Choices for Countertops. Cast Polymer (Cultured Marble, Engineered Stone) Countertop Guide. Guide to Cultured Marble Countertop Properties & Quality. Solid Surfacing Corian-type Countertop Guide. Recommendations for Using Engineered Stone Countertops. Guide to Choosing Ceramic Tile Countertops. Guide to Choosing Natural Stone Countertops: Granite, marble, soapstone, slate countertops
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Countertop choices for kitchens or baths:

Tthis article discusses the choices of kitchen countertops or bath countertop materials, including laminate countertops, cultured marble or engineered stone countertops, solid surfacing Corian type countertops, ceramic tile counters, and natural stone countertop choices among granite, marble, soapstone, slate.

We discuss the properties, pros and cons of each countertop type and material.

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Design Guide & Choices for Countertops for Kitchens and Baths

Sink mount under countertop (C) D Friedman Queretaro MexicoAs detailed in Chapter 6 of Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction:

After the cabinets, the countertop is the most visible element in most kitchen and bath designs.

[Click to enlarge any image]

In addition to providing a visual focal point, durable and easy-to-clean counters are critical for both hygiene and efficiency.

These workhorse surfaces should resist scratching, knife cuts, and burns, be impervious to water and stains, and wipe clean with a sweep of the sponge.

Figure 6-46 below offers a table of popularity of various countertop surfaces.

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]

Figure 6-46: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Below we illustrate a cultured marble bath countertop installed in a bathroom where, as you can see from the table at left, use of this material is more common than in kitchens..

Bath sink, cultured marble countertop (C) D Friedman

Figure 6-47: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Nonporous surfaces like plastic laminate, solid surface, and engineered stone fit the bill well.

While plastic laminate still dominates the market based on its combination of good performance and low cost, both natural and manmade stone products now account for a substantial and growing share of the market (Figure 6-46 above and Figure 6-47 at left)..

Since no one product can meet every need in a home, it often makes sense to mix and match materials, particularly in the kitchen.

The main counter areas might be plastic laminate or solid surfacing with special sections using, for example, stone for baking, wood for a cutting board, and tile for a place to set hot pots.

The most common countertop materials and their characteristics are shown in Table 6-8 below. [Click to enlarge any image]

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]

Table 6-48: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss


Countertop Design Issues

Ceramic tile countertop (C) D FriedmanFor ease of use and maintenance, a countertop will function best if it has the following characteristics:

Cleanup Advice for Countertops

For most customers, easy cleanup of countertops is a top priority. While most of the materials discussed below are at least moderately stain-resistant, the actual performance will vary, depending on the specific color, pattern, finish texture (gloss vs. matte), and porosity of the material. If possible, obtain samples of the materials being considered, with sealers applied if planned.

Mark each sample with a few stubborn stains: indelible marker, grape juice, salad oil. Let them dry for an hour and then see how easily they clean up with normal household cleansers and nonabrasive cleaning pads.


Advice About High-Pressure (Plastic) Laminate Countertops

Plastic laminate still dominates the market for kitchen counters, because it provides an attractive, durable surface at a cost of $5 to $10 per square foot versus $50 to $100 per square foot for solid surfacing or stone. The range of colors and textures continues to expand with new printing technologies that have produced realistic looking wood and stone surfaces.

Made from a sandwich of resin-impregnated kraft paper, a decorative paper layer, and a top layer of clear melamine fused under heat and pressure, plastic laminate is impervious to moisture and resists scratches, dents, and chips. It can be scratched with a knife, however, or scorched with a hot pot. Small chips can be repaired with special sealers, but scratches and burns are permanent.

Before selecting a countertop color, it is a good idea to test a few sample squares with an indelible marker to see how easily the marks clean off. Matte finishes stain much more readily than gloss, and there may be considerable variation from one pattern and finish to another. More expensive color through plastic laminates show wear less than the standard type, and they eliminate the dark band at exposed edges.

If using a postformed counter with a miter joint, it is essential to mechanically draw the joint tight and to seal that joint to prevent water intrusion, which will degrade the particleboard and open the joint. Silicone or special laminate seam sealer can be used.

Edge Treatment Choices for Countertops

There are now many alternatives to the traditional square edge that exposes the dark edge of the horizontal sheet of laminate. The least expensive is a postformed counter with either a seamless square edge or raised dripless edge. A wide variety of upgrades are available to dress up the counter. Beveled laminate, solid surfacing, and hardwood edging are common details. Site applied wood edging, however, can lead to problems over time if the joint is not watertight.

Cast Polymer (Cultured Marble, Engineered Stone) Countertop Guide

Cultured marble, solid surfacing, engineered stone, and most other composites used in kitchen and bath counters, sinks, and wall panels are different types of cast polymer. Cast polymer products consist of a plastic resin, either acrylic or polyester, and a mineral filler.

The type and amount of filler largely determines the hardness, stain resistance, and overall durability of the product. Cultured marble, for example, which uses crushed limestone as a filler, is relatively soft and porous and needs to be protected by a gel coat.

The new granite and quartz “engineered stone” composites, on the other hand, are nearly indestructible. These materials are described in greater detail below.

Guide to Cultured Marble Countertop Properties & Quality

Cultured marble has been produced since the 1960s. It combines ground-up marble dust with polyester resins and pigments to make a sheet material for use in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as fireplace surrounds and other ornamental applications.

Nearly all cultured marble products are finished with a thin clear or colored gel coat, which provides the color and pattern and creates a relatively hard and stain-resistant skin.

Quality varies widely, as there are hundreds of small-volume manufacturers around the country producing the material. Some of the lower-quality products have had problems with crazing (small cracks) in the gel coat around drains and other areas subjected to thermal shocks. High-quality products should carry a label certifying compliance with ANSI standard Z-124.

While cultured marble is stronger and less brittle than natural marble, it is less impact-resistant and scratch resistant than other cast polymers such as solid surfacing. The nonporous surface resists mildew and most stains and is easily cleaned with nonabrasive cleaning agents.

Cultured marble is commonly used for vanity tops with integral sinks, as well as shower and tub enclosures, but it is rarely used for kitchen counters. Scratches and small chips can be repaired using a special gel-coat compound available from the supplier, but cracks or breaks cannot be repaired. Since the gel coat provides the color and pattern, significant damage to the gel-coat cannot be repaired.

The sheen, however, can be restored with a thin coat of auto wax or Gel Gloss (TR Industries).

Because many of the light-colored products are translucent, they should always be installed on a light-colored background material with clear silicone adhesive.

Solid Surfacing Corian-type Countertop Guide

Initially introduced as Corrigan® by Dupont almost 40 years ago, solid surfacing products consist of mineral fillers, usually alumina trihydrate (a product of bauxite), and acrylic or polyester resins. Solid surfacing is a hard and durable homogenous material with color throughout and is easily machinable with woodworking tools.

It can be seamlessly welded to itself at joints and to under mount sinks made of the same material. This creates an attractive, continuous work surface that is easy to wipe clean. An economical veneer version, laminated over a particleboard substrate, is available from some manufacturers.

Because solid surfacing is nonporous, stains do not penetrate and it will not support mold or bacterial growth. Most stains can be wiped away with a nonabrasive pad and mild cleanser, although bleach is OK if needed. It also resists mild chemicals, but it should not be exposed for long to harsh chemicals, such as acetone or paint thinner. The alumina trihydrate filler also makes solid surfacing fire resistant, although it is possible to scorch the surface.

While relatively easy to scratch or stain, solid surfacing is easily repaired. Tough stains as well as minor scratches or burns can be buffed out of a matte finish with an abrasive cleanser and Scotch-Brite pad, or wet sanded with very fine sandpaper (start with 1000-grit and use coarser grits as needed). Most solid surfacing used on countertops has a matte-satin finish, which is the easiest to maintain. For a gloss finish, follow the recommendations of the manufacturer.

Recommendations for Using Engineered Stone Countertops

The newest class of cast polymer, sometimes called composite or engineered stone, uses a high percentage of quartz, quartz silica, and granite to produce a material with the hardness of natural stone and the easy maintenance of solid surfacing. Engineered stone typically has over 90% stone aggregate with just enough acrylic resin and binders to hold it together. Combined under heat and pressure, the resulting material is uniform throughout and has greater flexural strength than stone.

The nonporous surface is virtually stain-proof and very scratch-resistant, although it should not be used as a cutting board. Unlike natural stone, it does not require any sealing or waxing. Although it will not burn or scorch, placing hot pots directly on the surface can cause surface damage from the thermal shock.

Some manufacturers are able to add a seamless under mount solid-surface sink to the engineered stone slab, adding to the appeal of the material. Products include Silestone® (Cosentino USA), Zodiaq®, (Dupont), Cambria®, (Cambria), Technistone® (Technistone USA), Ceasarstone® (U.S. Quartz Products), and Granyte® (Halstead International).

Guide to Choosing Ceramic Tile Countertops

Ceramic tile is a popular countertop material in the West and Southwest. Its main advantages are high durability and imperviousness to heat and water. Glazed tiles will not stain, and tiles rated for use on floors and counters are very scratch resistant. Softer tiles are prone to chipping, but damaged tiles can be removed and replaced if necessary. Installing ceramic tile on one section of counter near the range can provide a handy place to set down hot pots and pans.

The main problem with tile counters are the grout joints, which tend to discolor over time. Using a latex modified grout and sealing the grout will help but will not prevent stains altogether. The best solution is to use an epoxy grout and to choose a dark or neutral grout color such as gray.

Figure 6-33: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Lighter colors are generally OK on backsplashes and walls. Tile is also very hard and prone to breaking fragile glasses or dishes that strike it.

[Click any image or table to see an enlarged version with additional detail, commentary & source citation.]

Two details that will enhance a tile counter are a V-cap nosing tile, which will create a clean-looking dripless edge, and a coved corner at the backsplash, which will make it easier to keep the corner clean. Tile counter details are shown in Figure 6-33 above and Figure 6-35 below.

Figure 6-4x: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Figure 6-35

Guide to Choosing Natural Stone Countertops

Natural stone has become as popular as solid surfacing in the past few years as stone prices have dropped and finished stone slabs have become more widely available.

In general, natural stone is hard, heavy, and cold, and is unaffected by heat and water. Bakers like the cool, smooth surface for handling dough. Stain and scratch resistance varies with stone type, but all stones need some type of sealer to prevent staining. The most common choices are discussed below:

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

This article describes common defects found at installed cabinets and countertops. This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc. We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets.


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