Alternatives to Granite

Graham and Sheila via FlickrGranite is tough and beautiful, and it remains the standard for high-quality countertop surfaces. However, there are various alternative surfaces to consider when you're about to install countertops as part of a bathroom or kitchen remodel, and it’s hard to know where to start. Here is a quick guide to the most popular options, using granite as the basis for comparison.

Granite: This glittering volcanic rock is on the upper end of the price range. It can withstand heat and scratches. It will likely outlast you if you seal it every six months or year, according to the manufacturer’s specifications. It also may have unique radiation risks, as explained in this article.

Quartz: Silestone is perhaps the best known of a wide variety of quartz-based engineered stone countertop surfaces. Its cost is comparable with granite, but can be higher, and it doesn’t require sealing. Beautiful yet tough, engineered stone countertops resist scratches, stains and heat, and molded Silestone countertops with integral sinks recently became available.

Marble: Another pricey natural stone, marble has a unique and classic look. However, it is softer, stains more easily and requires more maintenance than granite. Limestone has very similar qualities to granite.

Travertine: Yet another exotic and expensive stone option, travertine is known for a unique look and soft feel. However, it will also require more maintenance and is not as tough as granite.

Formica: One of the cheapest surface options, laminate has a tough layer of plastic molded with paper and bonded to fiberboard. Formica is a popular brand of laminate countertop, and the brand name has virtually become a generic term for laminate surfaces. Many manufacturers pattern laminate surfaces to look like granite, but it’s hard to fool anybody, particularly if you damage the counter. It cuts, burns, scratches and stains relatively easily, though higher-end laminates are more durable.

Corian: Another broadly used brand name, Corian is one of several types of solid-surface countertop material. Top-end solid-surface countertops are made with acrylic resin and may cost as much as granite. The surface is nearly as durable, but it is hard to escape the artificial look.

Tile: The simplest tile countertops can be as cheap as laminate, but high-end tile can be more expensive than granite. The tile is typically durable enough for kitchen counters, but the grout can stain and crack, and must be regularly resealed. Stone tiles are a less expensive way to get a stone countertop if you want the look of stone, but don’t have the budget. Tiles, particularly cheap tiles, are susceptible to cracks and chips, and the thin grooves of grout can be difficult to clean.

Wood: The other cheap alternative (though exotic woods can get very expensive), wood or butcher block is an unusual and natural countertop material. Though many woods tend to stain and scratch, a little TLC goes a long way. Wood countertops must be sealed regularly, and scratches can be sanded out with care.

Metal: Copper and other metals also have a wide range of price tags. Metal is durable and heat-resistant, and it can be molded into any shape, including an integral sink. However, metal is cold and loud, and shows scratches and stains.  

Concrete: Concrete is another mid-range option with the possibility of including an integral sink. It can be customized in infinite ways, as it can be molded on site in any configuration. It can crack, and it must be sealed regularly, as explained in this article.

Glass: Reminiscent of hipster martini bars, glass surfaces are a trendy, albeit expensive countertop option. Glass is heatproof, durable and, like concrete, nearly infinitely customizable. However, it can retain scratches and water marks if not properly maintained.

There are good reasons granite is the gold standard for quality kitchen countertops. But there are also good reasons to choose alternatives. In addition to the options listed above, new materials hit the market regularly, and there are consistently exciting new options in recycled and repurposed materials. Also, keep in mind that this survey doesn’t consider environmental factors, which can be significant.

Updated August 22, 2018.

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