If you’re considering a replacement kitchen (or bathroom) countertop, there are a number of factors you’ll want to consider: how much of the replacement, if any, you will do; how much money you’ll want to spend; what countertop features are most relevant for your lifestyle; what styles and colours will look best in your kitchen; and what other upgrades might you undertake at the same time as the countertop installation. As with almost any home improvement initiative, the first step is thinking it through.
DIY or Contract
Laminate and wood countertops are the only two that most avid DIYers will likely want to consider doing all or part of the replacement. If you have the skills, time, and inclination you can do the complete job yourself – make your own laminate or wood countertop, remove the existing countertop, sink, and faucet, and install the new unit. It’s obviously the most time-consuming, but it’s the most economical, and you get full bragging rights.
Alternately you can purchase a custom-made countertop, remove the old countertop, and install the new unit yourself. The trickiest part is probably cutting the holes for sink and faucet.
If neither of the two options above appeal to you, but you still want to save a few dollars, consider removing the old countertop, sink, and faucet. It’s straightforward and the only power tool you’ll need is a jigsaw or reciprocating saw. However, unless you have a few renovation projects under your belt, you’ll probably be better off hiring a contractor to do the job.
Installing granite and quartz countertops isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a two-person job as the slabs can be very heavy and susceptible to damage during installation. You’ll also need to use a segmented diamond blade to cut out the hole for the sink. Plus you’ll likely need to cut butt joints for inside corners, which can be tricky. If you’ve never worked with either material before, you might want to begin with a smaller project, such as a bathroom, to build up your confidence. If you choose to hire a contractor, do take the time to find a reputable tradesperson. Don’t base your selection solely on the lowest price. Word-of-mouth recommendations are a great way to find a good installer, but you’ll still want to get an itemized quote and list of clients. And don’t be shy about calling each client to ask how the renovation went. The quote should cover removing and disposing of the existing countertop, sink, and faucets; installing the countertop; reinstalling the sink and faucets; and caulking the countertop if required.
It often makes sense to replace the sink and faucet at the same time as the countertop. Reinstalling a blemished or outdated sink will only serve to highlight, rather than disguise, the difference between the new and the old. It’s also a good time to give thought to other enhancements that will embellish your kitchen. These include installing a backsplash and under counter LED lighting, replacing or refurbishing kitchen cabinet doors, replacing the flooring, and repainting kitchen walls. Any avid DIYer can generally do all of these enhancements.
The type of material you choose for a countertop is more of a practical matter – having to do with your current and future lifestyle – while the colour and pattern is largely a personal consideration – expressing your personal taste and the overall design of your home. Fortunately, while some materials offer greater scratch resistance, most are fairly impact-resistant and are quite good at resisting stains, heat and moisture. And both laminate and synthetic solid surface countertops come in an amazing range of colours and patterns.
Granite, quartz, or solid surface countertops are the most expensive, but they typically last the longest. Prorated over a 30- or 40-year period makes them an affordable option. On the other hand, most people replace a laminate countertop after 15 to 20 years. But, if you have a tribe of youngsters, then it might be the sensible choice till they’ve flown the coop. Likewise, wood countertops have considerable visual warmth, and they’re very environmentally friendly, but they do require more consistent care and maintenance than most other countertops.
The most affordable countertop continues to be laminate. Ceramic tile follows closely behind. At the other end of the price spectrum are granite and quartz. In the middle price range you’ll find butcher blocks, synthetic solid surfaces, concrete, stainless steel, and recycled glass countertops. However, pricing can vary quite a bit, depending on material quality. For example, quartz countertops can range from around $90 per square foot to over $200 per square foot (for materials and installation).
There are well over a dozen countertop materials available today. We’ve listed seven of the most popular materials, beginning with the ones that are most DIYer amenable. These products are also widely available across Canada. Other materials, including bamboo, marble, soapstone, limestone, slate, concrete, and tile are largely still niche products.
The go-to countertop material for the vast majority of homeowners because of its low cost and extensive colour and pattern range. Can be made to imitate granite, quartz, wood, and other materials. Typically made from phenolic treated paper and melamine resin.
Pros: Good impact-, stain- and heat-resistance; easy to maintain; a phenomenal choice of colours/patterns; DIYer can install.
Cons: Easier to scratch than granite or quartz; cannot be repaired; large countertops require seams
Brands: Formica, Wilsonart, Arborite, Pionite, Nevamar
Options include solid wood and end-grain butcher blocks. They provide an alluring look and feel and add considerable tactile warmth. However, because they require greater care and maintenance they are often used on kitchen islands or short sections of countertops.
Pros: Relatively durable; DIYer can install.
Cons: Scratch, dent, and scorch easily; prone to moisture damage near sinks or over the dishwasher; require regular maintenance.
Sources: Canadian Butcher Block Co</a>.; local millwork shops
The most popular natural quarried stone. It provides the ultimate in an ‘all natural’ look and feel. No two slabs are the same, so you get a unique colour and pattern combination. Available in a variety of colours and in solid, marbled, and speckled patterns, along with a matte or glossy finish. Quarried in countries including Brazil, Canada, China, and Italy.
Pros: Stain, scratch, heat, impact, and moisture resistant; low maintenance.
Cons: Limited colour range; large countertops require seams; seams are more prominent than with quartz; periodic re-sealing required; professional installation required.
Sources: Stonecraft Canada</a>; Natural Stone City Inc.
Also referred to as engineered stone, it’s manufactured from crushed quartz (93 percent) mixed with resins, polymers, and pigments (7 percent). Available in a wide range of colours and patterns. Can have a flecked or smooth look depending on the coarseness of the quartz. Provides a more consistent look than granite.
Pros: Stain- impact- and moisture-resistant; uniform appearance; no sealing required; maintenance-free.
Cons: Less scratch-resistant than granite; not heat-tolerant; large countertops require seams; UV-intolerant; professional installation recommended.
Brands: Cambria, Corian, Silestone, Caesarstone
Synthetic Solid Surface
Made of 100 percent acrylic, 100 percent polyester, or a combination of the two. Available in a variety of colours and patterns (but not as extensive as laminate). Typically made to imitate granite or quartz. One of the few materials that can be made with an integrated sink for a seamless installation.
Offers a distinctive modern look that blends in well with stainless steel appliances.
Pros: Hygienic; stain- heat- corrosion-resistant; extremely durable; easy to maintain
Cons: Scratches and dents easily; shows fingerprints; chemical cleaners can discolour it.
Brands: Usually custom-made by local fabricators.
Another material that offers a contemporary look. Available in a vast array of colours, shapes, and textures, as single slabs and in a recycled glass format.
Pros: Heat- and stain-resistant; maintenance-free; very easy to clean.
Cons: Susceptible to cracks; chips are difficult, if not impossible to repair; vulnerable to acidic substances; shows fingerprints.
Brands: ThinkGlass, CDB, Cosentino, Vetrazzo
Planning to Sell
For many buyers, the kitchen is the hub of the home. It’s also the one room that people think of as being most costly to update. After all, it’s not just an empty room, it has all that stuff – appliances, cabinetry, countertops, backsplash, faucets, sink, and the like. If your countertops are stained, scratched, or overly worn, buyers are likely going to factor in the price of replacing them on any offer they make. So, installing new countertops might have an impact on how quickly the home sells, and how much is offered. One major caveat though, if the rest of the kitchen is in mediocre or poor condition, then upgrading just one component is unlikely to have much of a positive impact. This is where the advice from a seasoned professional real estate agent can prove very helpful.