Although many people don’t spend time dwelling on it, countertops are perhaps one of the most trend-driven features of a home. From a real estate professional’s perspective, we can tell you that countertops are an aspect of the home that many buyers choose based on what’s hot at the moment. And for the past 10 years, what has been hot among buyers is granite – period.
Some of us thought the fad would have passed by this time, but no…granite is still the number one countertop material in new homes (this according to a report from the National Association of Home Builders). Where did other countertop materials fall in the study? Here’s how the rest of them ranked:
- Laminate – 14%
- Engineered stone (often made of quartz, this engineered stone encompasses brands such as Silestone, Caesarstone, IceStone and others) – 9%
- Solid surface (sometimes solid colored, sometimes flecked with tiny dots to make it resemble stone, but always synthetic) – 9%
- Other (examples below) – 4%
Why are Granite Countertops so Popular?
That’s a great question, because by comparison granite countertops are not necessarily the most sustainable or sanitary. Granite countertops can be full of cracks and crevices that allow harmful bacteria to seep through; unless it’s well sealed and cleaned frequently with an effective disinfectant, it can be unhealthy for the people in the home.
Then there’s the sustainability factor, which is a growing concern in our increasingly eco-minded consumer culture. Before investing in slabs of granite countertops, environmentally concerned home buyers might want to consider the impact that quarrying granite has on the environment; no matter how much the industries involved abide by their regulations, there are still ecological consequences to mass-producing these products.
Taking both of these factors into account, it’s a bit perplexing why granite countertops are – nearly 10 years after they first began to spike in sales – still regarded as such incredibly popular countertop choices for homes in the United States. Of course, that’s where the trend factor comes in. Occasionally, there are things that consumers internally crave guidance on, via popular opinion; the kitchen countertop in your home, it seems, is one of them.
But if you aren’t a fan of granite countertops, don’t worry; you aren’t alone. Fortunately, you have company – and even better, you have choices. Let’s explore some of those now.
Alternatives to Granite Countertops and Other Countertop Choices
So, what are some other countertop choices may one wish to consider? Here are some details about the types of countertops listed above.
– Engineered Stone
These countertops may be manufactured under brand names, but they look and feel like real stone without the headaches of granite’s high maintenance (like vigilant disinfection and re-sealing). And if they come from the quartz family (as many engineered stone countertops do), then they should have a lighter color scheme that represents more current design trends than granite.
– Solid Surface
Remember Corian, the most trusted brand name in early 2000s countertops? It’s still around, but this solid surface countertop may be inferior to granite in terms of durability. All it takes is a quick search to learn that many manufactured solid surface countertops are highly scratchable. It’s funny, too, that many times I look at a home for sale, or homes for rent, and see one with Corian countertops… they always seem to turn yellow and they look very “out of style”, but maybe that’s just me. If you are still interested, be sure to do your research to see how other solid surface countertops have held up over the years.
– Glass and Ceramic
Both of these alternatives to granite countertops fall under the category of “other.” Ceramic countertops feel very similar in touch to porcelain tile – but unlike tiles, they come in slab form so they fit like modern countertops. As for glass countertops, these are still being “discovered,” as it were – but early adopters say the tempered glass is highly heat resistant and people seem to like the unlimited color choices.
With 14% of new homes still featuring laminate countertops, there seems to be hope for a comeback for these countertops, which were actually the norm in the 1950s and 60s. Fun fact: 80% of the countertops in Europe are still made of laminate. Over there, laminate countertops are perceived as both practical and stylish. But because some Americans are still traumatized by what they believe were the tacky laminate countertops of their childhoods, the crest of the comeback may still be a few years off. Either way, they are a good alternative to granite countertops for people who like a colorful retro aesthetic (plus, they are surprisingly durable!). Laminates come in a variety of color formats, too. If you like the granite look, there are even laminates that look like it. It’s come a long way since the middle of last century.
Another “other” in terms of countertop choices, marble is popular among people who want a lighter look and can afford to pay for the most expensive option to get it. Gray and white marble is attractive, but pricey – sometimes, up to $200 a foot, and sorry to say, often gaudy or generally unappealing to the average American looking to buy or rent a home. But, if you like that look, fortunately for you, some smart home buyers have found a way around that: quartz. A gray and white quartz can look almost identical to marble at a fraction of the cost. If you want a light aesthetic and don’t want to fork out big bucks for marble, it may be worth looking into. One final word of caution about marble: Some homeowners report that marble countertops are difficult to maintain, as it is a soft stone and may develop etches over time.
– Stainless steel
This was another intriguing pre-recession trend in countertops, particularly among the “industrial look” crowd. Now that some time has passed, many of those homeowners are admitting to buyer’s remorse because their stainless steel countertops are loaded with scratches. Some manufacturers do offer brushed stainless steel countertops that may appeal to the same customers (brushed metal is, for lack of a better description, already scratched – just in a strategic pattern). This makes it easier to hide any scratches that occur from use.
Cost is always a top concern, whether you’re exploring countertop choices or nearly any other fixture of your home. If you’re meeting with a home builder and the countertops can be bundled into your existing upgrade package, then cost may not be a great worry for you and you may even be able to add it into your price and loan financing. But if you’re embarking on a home upgrade after refinancing or saving up, well…then you’re bound to be a little more sensitive to cost, especially if you’re thinking of selling or renting your home.
Because countertops are a long-term purchase, try asking yourself this: “Will I like this in 10 years?” If the answer is yes, ask yourself one more time: “Really?” Home buyers who have the ability to look past their immediate feelings about any permanent installment are generally happier, more satisfied consumers in the long run. So if you’re thinking of upgrading your countertops, whether it be for your own personal enjoyment, or in preparation to rent your home, or sell your home, make sure the decision fits your long-term plan. None of these options are truly “cheap”, so no matter which decision you make, you’re likely to be living with it for a while.