Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Counter(top) Intelligence

            Archeologists have found, even before recorded history, that people have had an area in their home devoted to food preparation. Traditionally referred to as “THE KITCHEN”, over the millennium this specialized subdivision of the household has developed from a simple work surface to the exciting kitchens of today. And, one of the most exciting parts of a new kitchen is the countertop.
The countertop, and its vertical counterpart, the backsplash, can add to your kitchen’s distinctive style, but choosing a material for the surface is not as easy as it was a thousand years ago. There are so many types of countertops available today that it can be very confusing when you decide to get a new one.
            Although certainly a factor, your kitchen’s work surface should not be chosen solely for its aesthetic value. When you’re ready for a new counter, find a contractor who will take the time to review your specific needs. What types of foods do you prepare? How much do you cook? Do you have kids? The answers to these questions will help determine the appropriate counter material for you.
The laminate counter, referred to by many as “Formica,” is the most economical of all the choices and, with proper care, can last twenty years. Easy to clean with good stain resistance, it does have limitations: you can’t cut on it and it will scorch if you place anything hot on the surface. Once a laminate top is damaged it is difficult or impossible to repair.
The most popular countertops today are those made out of stone, which, by the way, is just what the archeologists found in the kitchens of yesteryear. The most popular stone materials are granite, marble and the new tops made up of crushed quartz. Granite, the traditional standby, is considered by many as the most beautiful surface available because granite has movement! Movement is the suggestion of motion in the elements making up the finished surface. The swirls and patterns created by nature cannot be fully duplicated in a stone that is fabricated. If you exercise a little care with granite, you can avoid stains and scratches, and have a work surface that will last until the next batch of archeologists digs up your home. Granite should be sealed when it is installed and at least once a year afterwards to avoid staining.
Quartz, sold under the trade names of Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, etc. is the second most abundant mineral on earth, and is a basic component of granite. In a typical quartz countertop, the raw quartz is crushed and combined with pigments to give it color, and resins (sticky stuff) to hold it together. The resulting process creates one of the most durable countertop surfaces on the market today. It is harder than granite, more scratch and stain resistant, and non-porous. For the geologists who follow the K&B Insider, quartz ranks #7 on the Mohs hardness scale! Only diamonds, sapphires and topaz are harder. The cost of quartz and the average granite slab is comparable.
The newest offerings in countertops are the eco-friendly products such as PaperStone and Richlite. They are made from recycled paper and/or cardboard and come in several colors. IceStone is made from recycled glass (supposedly beer bottles), and Portland cement. These products are great for the environment, however, as with most “green” products, they are usually more expensive than their traditional counterpart.
            As with all decisions in upgrading your home, don’t rush in making your selection for the countertop.  Thoroughly investigate all the possibilities with your contractor and select a surface that is suited to your needs, as well as visually pleasing.