E NGINEERED STONE AKA: QUARTZ Cost: Installation: Durability: Maintenance: Health and Environment:
About $50-100 per square foot. Requires specialized equipment for fabrication. The most impact, heat and scratch resistant surfacing product available. Harsh bleach, chemical cleansers, and scrub pads/abrasives are never necessary. Only mild soap and water is necessary to clean. Quartz surfacing is non porous and does not harbor the growth of bacteria and mold. Quartz consists of stone dust, so is often manufactured from otherwise discarded material making it a reasonably environmentally friendly product.
L AMINATE Cost: Installation: Durability:
Maintenance: Health and Environment:
Prices will range anywhere from $2-6 per sq. foot for raw materials to $35-50 per Lineal foot ($14-20 per sq. foot) when fully fabricated. Easy to install. Can be cut and shaped to fit any space. Well cared for laminates with Gem-Loc Premier Edge can be expected to last decades. Gem-Loc can greatly prevent damage, cuts, and chipping on edges. Without Gem-Loc, laminates are more prone to edge damage. Laminates are impervious to moisture, and are relatively heat resistant. Laminate is thermoformed or postformed at a temperature of 325 degrees and is very rare to see these kinds of temperatures in the kitchen. It’s recommended that heat for any extended time frame be separated by a heat transfer device such as a trivet, cutting board, etc. This is true with all surfaces. Harsh bleach, chemical cleansers, and scrub pads/abrasives are never necessary. Only mild soap and water is necessary to clean, and baking soda with water for trickier spots. Laminate does not harbor the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria, or other microorganisms. Laminates are also becoming increasingly available with Green Guard certification, which regulates emissions and recycling. US manufacturers produce laminate in the states, drastically reducing the carbon foot print from other surfaces. In addition, laminate counter tops are comprised primarily of a wood substrate that is a renewable resource.
S OLID SURFACE Cost: Installation: Durability: Maintenance:
Health and Environment:
$40-70 per square foot, price varies depending on pattern and texture. Fabrication requires specialized training along with some specialized tooling. Solid Surface is generally scratch, stain, and chemical resistant, though not impregnable. It is still susceptible to scorches and cracks around high temperatures, and may stain if spills are not quickly wiped up. Solid Surface, like laminate, requires minimal care and simple common sense to maintain. Use pot holders or trivets to protect from heat damage, clean spills quickly, and cleansing should be done using the process recommended by the fabricator. Solid surface materials, being plastic, are subject to the same environmental concerns as any other plastic. Solid surfacing countertops can be made with up to 100% recycled post-consumer material with the trade- off being design limitations.
S TONE Cost: Installation: Durability: Maintenance:
Health and Environment:
About $50-100 per square foot. Stone is quarried worldwide, and is a very transportation and labor intensive product. Very specialized and expensive equipment is required for fabrication. Durability can vary depending on the specific type of stone. Natural fractures and fissures in stone make them less resistant to heat and staining than engineered stone. Stone must be sealed regularly, especially those which are more porous. The frequency of sealing and maintenance not only varies based on the type of stone, but by the type of product used and the type of use the surface gets. If the surface cracks, usually the entire surface must be replaced. Any weakness in the sealant can create vulnerabilities. Hot pots and pans can also cause cracking. Because stone is porous (some more so than others) this can harbor the growth of bacteria or mold. Grinding and polishing of stone during repairs or installation can be toxic. Stone is also not recyclable or renewable – it has a high environmental impact and requires a lot of energy to produce. Stone also emits radon, probably but not enough to be harmful.
W OOD Cost: Installation: Durability:
Health and LEnvironment: AMINATE
$50-140 per square foot installed, based on the specie and thickness. Wood products typically are easy to fabricate and install. They don’t typically require any specialized equipment. Wood is softer than stone, and can be susceptible to dents and cuts. It will oxidize over time and may change color as it ages. Wood is susceptible to moisture damage, but this is easily avoided by applying a non-toxic finish regularly. Minor damage is also easier to repair than most other surfacing materials. Wood is highly susceptible to damage from heat, so it is important to protect surfaces from heat by using pads or pot holders for pots and pans. The use of sanding, finishing, and gentle cleaning will help to keep countertops in good shape. Wood must be finished regularly, to keep out surface moisture, retain the natural moisture of the wood, and protect from food and food residue. Maintenance is relatively labor intensive. Even properly finished wood can lend itself to harboring harmful bacteria and mold. While harvesting wood materials is environmentally disruptive, wood is renewable and available from FSC certified and managed areas. This material also requires less industrial processing.
S TAINLESS S TEEL Cost: Installation: Durability: Maintenance:
Health and Environment:
Anywhere from $100-200 per square foot. Stainless steel is heavy, and is usually mounted onto wood backers and screwed or fastened into place. Generally very durable, though scratches can stand out. Dents and serious scratches are very difficult to remove. Steel will age over time. Different grades of steel are used for different types of applications, some of which offer better stain resistance. Acidic foods, water, and other household chemicals can cause staining. Cleaning should be done with soapy water and a cloth or sponge. Scratches can be hidden with textured finishes or by using a slightly abrasive pad. Also keep in mind that steel will show fingerprints! Stainless steel is made of from steel, nickel and about 10% chromium. Because of the impacts of mining for materials used to create steel, steel is generally not considered a green product and requires a lot of energy to produce. Recycled steel, however, uses just a small fraction of the energy needed for mining original materials.
OOD CWONCRETE Cost: Installation:
Health and Environment:
About $90-150 per square foot, installed. Concrete must be poured and cured prior to installation and weighs about as much as granite surfacing, so it can be difficult to install and has little to no room for error. Concrete also requires some hefty demolition should the counter need to be removed. Because concrete is porous, it must be sealed. Cutting utensils and heat can damage the sealant. Concrete will get hairline cracks, which may or may not become an issue depending on how well the surface was made. Typical care involves regularly waxing, anywhere from monthly to quarterly. A bad or damaged seal can cause the concrete to stain easily. A concrete countertop that isn't properly sealed or maintained can harbor bacteria. Each manufacturer mixes their concrete with a different “recipe”, so the environmental impact can vary from mixture to mixture. If cement is used (usually about 12 percent of a mix), the CO2 emissions can be a concern. Substitutions for cement are widely available and concrete does not emit harmful chemicals.
T ILE S TAINLESS S TEEL Cost: $10-30 per square foot for materials, $35-70 per square foot installed. Installation:
Inlays and cutting tiles will increase the cost. There are two fundamental ways of installing tile countertops. One involves wire mesh, a cement base, and a thin layer of cement and sand, followed by careful placement of tiles, and finished with grout. The other way uses a cement backer board, which can accommodate a more professional quality of installation. A base is screwed to the counter and the backer board is then screwed and glued onto it. Tiles are installed on this base and grouted. Poor installation can cause tiles to move or pop up, expose uneven edges or require more maintenance. Tile is susceptible to scratches and chipping, especially around the edges, but can last if well maintained and cared for. Damaged tiles can be chise led out and replaced. The grout of the tile requires the most care and attention. Sealing and regular cleaning is necessary to keep the grout from becoming discolored and dirty.
T ILE C ONTINUED Health and Environment:
Grout will attract mold if not regularly sealed and cleaned! Grout is highly porous and usually demands regularly thorough cleanings. Ceramic tiles can be made with up to 70% recycled materials, which can help to offset the high amount of energy necessary to fire the materials and to ship them.
D IRT Cost: Installation: Maintenance: Health and Environment:
Very inexpensive, free if you have a good source. Mildly labor intensive but doesn’t require any professional training or tools. Frequent trips to the back yard yield a renewed surface. Soap and water not recommended. Usually considered to be the most environmentally friendly surface on the planet!
SOURCES TAINLESS S TEEL Bob Vila.com: http://www.bobvila.com Green Home Guide: http://www.greenhomeguide.com/index.php/knowhow/entry/852/C219/