Kitchens Rated

Kitchen Countertops: worksurface types and costs

Kitchen countertops, worktops or worksurfaces suffer from a huge amount of abuse – the clue is in the name. Therefore fitting the correct material for worktops in your kitchen is essential both for the aesthetics of your kitchen, and for how long your kitchen’s going to stay looking good, and working how it should.

There is now an incredible choice of worktop materials available when fitting a new kitchen, or refurbishing an existing kitchen – from stainless steel to glass, concrete to tile – but here in the UK we tend to fit four surfaces, being:

1. Laminate
2. Wood
3. Stone
4. Quartz

Laminate Worktops

Laminate worktops are still the number one surface in American kitchens – and for a reason. They are relatively cheap, hard wearing, easy to fit and come in a huge variety of colours, effects and finishes.

However not all laminate worktops are created equal.

As with kitchen units, kitchen laminate worktops come in a range of grades – both of the laminate outer and the woodchip core. Typically the lowest quality laminate worktops come in 28-30mm thickness, have a low density core and can cost as little as $40 per 3m length. They are often used as temporary worktops – such as when a client is having stone or specialist worksurfaces installed, but wish to use their kitchen in the time between templating and fitting. However because they are cheap, they can often be fitted in tight budget fits, or by builders or developers trying to cut costs. They are a false economy and seldom last more than a few years.

Higher quality Laminate worktops will last for many years, especially laminates with a textured finish, as this tends to hide inevitable scratches better than when the surface is smooth and significantly better compared to a high-gloss laminate. They last longer because they have a thicker laminate layer, denser and variable density board to cushion heat-shock from hot pans being laid on their surface. The better laminates also tend to have a good quality drip bar below the lip, and are sealed fully on all edges. Provided they are fitted by a competent joiner and sealed to manufacturers guidelines, particularly round the sink area, they are impervious to water and household chemicals.

Better laminate worktops are sold in standard lengths 4100mm (although DIY outlets and merchants will usually stock 3600mm, 3000mm and 2400mm) and standard widths (600mm, 670mm, 900mm) with either one edge profiled, two edges profiled, or edges left for an edging tape or specialist edge to be applied. Corner joints are typically achieved using a router and specific worktop cutting jig with a Masons or Hockey Stick mitre – and dog-bone recesses to accept worktop connecting bolts. If your joiner produces a handsaw or circular saw to cut your worktops, he or she shouldn’t be fitting your kitchen. Expect to pay £300-600 for good quality laminate worktops in a typical kitchen.

Solid Wood Worktops

Wooden worktops are the second most popular choice of worksurface in the US, both for the look and feel they lend to a kitchen and because they are still relatively simple for a good joiner to fit.
They are available in a large number of woods, with Oak, Walnut, Beech, Cherry, and Rubberwood, Iroko and Bamboo (technically a grass) being the most readily available.

Wooden Worktops are manufactured using small blocks or staves, glued and fingered together to produce large semi-uniform blanks – both for cost (the wider a single piece of wood is the more expensive it is) and stability (large widths of wood will warp and crack in the kitchen environment).

Wooden worktops can be easily fitted without the need for specialist mitre jigs, but many joiners still prefer the look and stability of the hockeystick mitre. Wooden worktops are increasingly being “wrapped” onto the vertical of end units and mid height oven units in the more modern kitchen aesthetic – something that is next to impossible with laminates (Some IKEA laminates being the exception).

The most common thicknesses for wooden worktops are 40mm, 30mm and 50mm – plus edges can be doubled up or sandwiched to create the appearance of 60-100mm thickness.

What many people don’t realise with wooden worktops until it’s to late is the need for continuous maintenance.

A new wooden worktop should be oiled on all its edges – top bottom and sides before fitting and then oiled weekly for the first 2-3 months, monthly for the next year and then quarterly thereafter – or it WILL split, crack, stain and discolour. Whilst some patina is good and can be beautiful in a country kitchen, it can just take one cup of coffee, chicken tikka or spilled glass of red and that worktop is ruined.

Well maintained wooden worktops will last for years and the average cost per kitchen is $1,000 to $5000 depending on the wood.

Stone Worktops

Most people think of granite when it comes to stone worktops, but marble, soapstone and slate are other stone types commonly fitted in UK kitchens.

Stone tends to be fitted in higher end kitchens – both because of its expense and it’s weight – it can be too heavy for budget kitchen units designed for lightweight laminate worktops.

Stone worktops are beautiful and add real wow to any kitchen – but they do have disadvantages. They are a natural material and believe it or not are porous and can stain. They are cold to touch and have broken many a wine glass or china cup. They can shatter or crack when subjected to a hot pan base. If your kitchen units move, the worktops will crack.

The stone is imported to the UK in large slabs, typically 20mm or 30mm thick and then cut, polished, riven or hewn by a fabricator to a template taken from your fitted kitchen, NOT from the plans (This means there is a need for temporary worktops if you are to have use of your kitchen between templating, manufacture and fitting of your stone worktops). Holes for sinks, drainage channels etc are cut at this stage and edges are finished to a range of profiles, or doubled up or even trebled (sandwiched) to create the appearance of a very thick slab.

It is best to have the fabricator fit the worktops as they will have experience of this specialist trade, the weight of the pieces and know how to handle such valuable materials without chipping or snapping the worksurfaces.

Stone can be joined almost invisibly in the hands of a craftsman, and there is scope for beautiful matching upstands and splashbacks, or to wrap the material onto the verticals of neighbouring cabinets. Typical costs of stone worktops installed are $5000 – $10,000 again depending on stone choice.

Quartz Worktops

Quartz worktops are a manufactured surface, either as a solid material or more usually 6-12mm of quartz wrapped round an MDF core.

They have a similar appearance to granite, but have less of a sheen and to many they look a little plastic. That’s because they are a mixture of crushed or powdered quartz, polymer resin and pigments – taking the strength of stone but making a uniform manufactured surface.

The main advantage of quartz worktops is that joins can be made using the same material in liquid form, and sinks can be moulded within worktops, giving a completely impervious monolithic surface. Also if you get a scratch in a quartz worktop it can be sanded out with fine sandpaper. There is an almost infinite choice of colours with many stone types being accurately modeled – or you can go crazy and have them in bright red, green or pink.

Like stone, quartz worktops tend to be templated and installed at a later date to the kitchen, but many can be bought in pre-formed sections, or with half-circular, or d-shaped ends as standard for end of runs or for breakfast bars. The fitting of quartz is a specialist trade, but many experienced kitchen fitters are able to do so given the right tools, sealants and chemicals.
The average cost of a quartz kitchen can be from $5,000 to $10,000 or more if built in sinks and upstands are specified.

(A guide to more specialised kitchen worktops coming soon…)

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