We are spoiled for choice when it comes to counter tops, that’s for sure. There are so many different products on the market and it becomes confusing if you are trying to figure out which way to go because it’s such a major decision. A counter top is not something that is easily changed when you get tired of it.
Also, which choices are better for the environment?
Here is a listing of some of the major choices and their environmental impact:
Concrete: the “greenest” choice by far, if it’s produced properly with less Portland cement and more recycled glass content. This choice has come a long way since the days when if you wanted concrete counters, you pretty much had to do it yourself. It is warm to the touch. Similar pricing to high-end granite, depending on complexity of design. Locally manufactured.
Cons: counter edges, especially fancy designs, are prone to chipping and can be repaired, but not invisibly. You do have to reseal, but only every 3 years, depending on usage.
Granite: very popular because it provides that natural, stone look. Extremely durable – it is stone, after all! Easy maintenance – contrary to popular belief, it does not stain, nor do you have to seal it every year. I have had mine for 15 years, never sealed it, nor do I do anything other than wipe it down with a natural cleaning product and I use Method “the daily granite” spray once a week.
Cons: it comes from overseas so the impact on the environment because of shipping it is huge.
Quartz: Brand names are Zodiaq, Cambria, Silestone, Caesarstone, Difiniti.
All quartzes are basically recycled glass/minerals held together by resins of some type. Zero maintenance, does not stain, comes in a great variety of colours, and is warmer than granite to the touch. Manufactured fairly locally and re-uses glass. Difiniti quartz uses up to 43% recycled glass (in the Evolve line), and is 40% less expensive than Cambria.
Paperstone: fabulous, truly “Green” product made of 100% recycled paper. It is extremely tough and durable but the major “con” is it’s so prohibitively expensive that most people are not using it yet. It likely will come down in price eventually.
Laminate: Brand names are Formica, Wilsonart. Price-wise, it is the cheapest choice of all and is very durable if taken care of properly. Not heat-proof so you cannot set a hot pot down on it, and the surface wears off with time and cleaning. Comes in the largest variety of colours and finishes with Formica180FX looking so much like granite you have to touch it to believe it.
Major con: the substrate beneath the laminate is almost always either particleboard or MDF, which off-gasses for years. However, it’s really easy to avoid this off-gassing by using a zero-VOC sealer, available at any paint or hardware store, all over the bottom of the countertop, preferably before it’s installed, but I have heard of people getting into their kitchen cabinets and doing it after the fact too.
Soapstone and Slate: both are natural, locally mined products that look quite similar, with the major difference being that soapstone is extremely durable, does not stain and requires no sealing (Chemistry lab counters are made of soapstone) while slate scratches, dents and stains easily and is the most expensive countertop material.
Cons: more expensive than granite, comes in two colours: grey and grey.
Corian: My least favourite. It’s expensive, stains, scratches easily so you are forever sanding it. I don’t know why people are still using it with all the newer quartz products on the market.
Marble: not a good choice for kitchens as it stains very easily and looks very grungy around the sink in less than a year. Better for use in a bathroom instead, although you do have to seal it periodically. Also a huge environmental impact due to shipping it.
Whichever countertop you decide on, make sure your contractor uses zero-VOC adhesive, to install it. These types of adhesives can be used in all countertop installations and make a big difference to your comfort and health after the product is installed.