Countertops 101



By Heidi Powell

Co-Owner, Powell Construction – Corvallis


There are so many different surfaces available these days, choosing a countertop material can feel overwhelming.  Here is a quick guide to some of the most popular choices.

Engineered stone is currently the most popular selling surface in the industry. These products are quartz composites, consisting of natural quartz mixed with a polymer base.

Engineered stone is a strong material, rivaling granite. Unlike granite, engineered stone does not require sealing or polishing and is stain resistant. It is also non-porous, making it a food-safe surface. Although it is heat, burn, and scratch resistant, manufacturers do recommend that a trivet be used for hot pots.


Common brand names for engineered stone include Cambria, Caesarstone, Hahnstone, and LG Viatera.

Of the natural stones, granite is the hardest and is heat, stain and scratch resistant. Its natural veining is unparalleled by any man-made material. To maintain its stain resistance, granite must be sealed regularly.  The sealing process is similar to applying lotion to your countertop, and then buffing with a soft cloth.

Solid surface countertops are made of an acrylic material, and are often referred to by brand names such as LG Hi-Macs or Corian.  The aesthetic advantage to this material is that it can be seamlessly joined.  Even sinks can be fully integrated without a rim or seam.  Small marks and cuts can be buffed out, however the material is not heat resistant and can be burned relatively easily.

If heat resistance is a top priority, ceramic tile may be your best choice.  When selecting tile be sure to look for a “full bodied tile.”  These tiles have color throughout the thickness of the material, so if a chip occurs the pigment will still come through.  Grout can be challenging to keep clean and must be sealed to reduce staining. However, epoxy grouts and the new power grouts have increased stain resistance.

Laminate countertops have come a long way since their introduction.  Laminate is inexpensive, and comes in a wide range of colors and patterns.  New edge treatments, such as a Corian inlay can make a laminate countertop look like engineered stone, depending on your color selection. However, it is not as durable as many of the materials discussed above.  Keep in mind that sink choices can be limited to self-rimming sinks because of the small number of installers willing to install under-mount sinks with laminate.

Ultimately, your choice of countertop material will be influenced by a combination of practicality, aesthetics, and price.  For the best of all worlds consider mixing and matching.  A little creativity can go a long way toward giving you the look you want, with the features you need, at a price you can afford.

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