Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
While most people consider granite to be the best material for countertops, it can also be very pricey. There are plenty of other countertop materials that you can use in your home that may be even better and cheaper than granite.
Cheap alternatives to granite countertops should have similar or superior durability, heat resistance, porosity, and care needs. These include sintered stone, soapstone, and quartzite. Granite countertops are more expensive, but it is not necessarily any better than other stones, woods, or metals.
If you are looking for a new countertop, you might wonder why granite is so expensive. Granite has no substantial advantages over other countertop materials. There are many options other than granite that will withstand the test of time without breaking the bank, which we will discuss in this article, so keep on reading!
What to Consider When Deciding What Material to Use on Your Countertop
When deciding what material you want to use on your countertops, you may want to consider what you want from your countertops. There are several different qualities in a countertop material that might make it better than other materials.
When deciding what material to use, you may want to consider the hardness of the material you use. The hardness of a stone is measured on a scale called the Mohs Hardness Scale. This scale grades the durability of stone materials on a scale from one to ten, ten being the hardest and one being the softest.
Porosity is another factor to consider. Porous materials are materials that have pores or little holes in them. All objects are porous, but some countertops are more porous than others.
When your countertop is very porous, it absorbs food, liquids, and cleaning solutions, often leaving visible stains. Counters that are more porous than others are also prone to growing more bacteria and fungi since food and other materials can get trapped in the counter’s pores.
You may also want to consider the heat tolerance of your countertops when shopping for countertops. Depending on your needs, you may wish to purchase a countertop that can withstand high temperatures. The benefits of having a heat resistant countertop are that you can put hot pots, pans, and other dishes right on the countertop without any barrier.
Some countertop materials, especially porous countertops, also require sealing. Depending on the stone, you may have to reseal your countertops with impregnating stone sealer anywhere between one to four times a year. Impregnating stone sealer can cost quite a bit of money and is more of a hassle than some people want.
Naturally, the price will be a factor in determining the countertop material that you use. You will find that granite is not superior to any other countertop material, except for its strong reputation and high price. Finding the right countertop material for you is an essential part of making an informed decision before investing in a potentially expensive countertop.
Why Granite Is Good for Countertops
Although granite is widely considered the best material for countertops, it is not necessarily any better than cheaper options. Granite countertops are expensive, usually costing $80-$175 per square foot. Granite is costly because it is considered to be the most beautiful countertop material.
Granite contains quartz and feldspar, giving it colors such as pink, cream, black, and gray. It has a reputation for being the best countertop material, which is why stone sellers can charge so much for granite.
Granite is a porous material that requires sealing. If you do not seal a granite countertop, it can stain and crack easily. Generally, granite isn’t any more durable or stain-proof than other alternative countertop materials. When you pay for granite, you are mostly paying for the aesthetic of granite.
Suppose granite is a bit out of your price range. In that case, many countertop materials are just as durable, porous, and heat-resistant as granite, if not more so. Every material has its own strengths and weaknesses. Informing yourself of each countertop material’s strengths and weaknesses can help you choose the one that will fit best in your home.
Marble countertops usually cost from $25-$60 per square foot. The type of marble you get will determine the cost since some marble varieties are rarer and more exotic than others.
Marble is one of the most timeless, beautiful countertop materials. Marble countertops are aesthetically pleasing, and they come in many colors with various veining patterns. Marble is especially popular because of its elegant color and ornate marbling patterns.
Marble is a relatively soft and very porous stone. On the Mohs scale, marble has a value of 3/10, meaning that it is very soft. Marble will chip and scratch easily under pressure and hard wear. The porosity of marble also makes it a stone that is prone to staining. In addition, marble will absorb any food, liquid, or cleaning chemicals you put on it, making it difficult to keep clean.
Most experts recommend sealing marble countertops with impregnating stone sealer every 3-6 months to keep your marble from absorbing food particles and liquids.
Quartz countertops usually cost anywhere from $15-$70 per square foot. They are incredibly durable, and they make some of the most beautiful countertops. Quartz is non-porous, so it is easy to clean, and it does not stain easily.
Quartz countertops are made from human-engineered stone. Quartz slabs are made using crushed quartz and polyresin, and they come in many different colors and textures.
Since quartz is an engineered stone, it can be modified to have a glossy or matte surface. Quartz engineers can also add additional colors to quartz countertops. Since quartz contains resin, you do not need to seal quartz countertops.
There are only a couple of downsides to quartz countertops. Quartz countertops are easily damaged by heat. If you put any hot pans or pots on a quartz countertop, the heat will melt and burn the quartz, leaving a blackened indentation in the countertop. Likewise, quartz countertops are not suitable for outdoor use since the sun’s heat can bleach and crack the stone.
Quartzite countertops can cost anywhere from $60-$120 per square foot. If you want a countertop that looks like marble but is more durable and heat-resistant, you may want to consider a quartzite countertop. Quartzite is a natural stone that looks a lot like marble.
Quartzite forms when sandstone shifts deeper into the earth’s mantle, which raises the sandstone’s temperature, forcing it to crystallize. On the Mohs scale, quartzite has a value of 7/10, making it a very durable stone.
Unlike marble, though, quartzite is very durable and does not scratch easily. Quartzite is also heat resistant, unlike quartz countertops. Quartzite is a very dense stone, making it stain-resistant as well.
There are only two significant downsides to having quartzite countertops. Quartzite countertops may look like marble, but they do not come in as many color varieties as marble. Also, quartzite countertops need to be resealed two times a year.
Slate is exceptionally affordable, usually costing $20-$60 per square foot. It is an absolutely stunning material for countertops. Slate comes in many colors ranging from greys, browns, and blacks to blues, greens, and reds. Each slate slab is subtly unique, making it an excellent material if you want your countertops to look clean-cut and uniform.
Slate is extremely durable and will not scratch or chip under everyday wear. Although slate usually has a hardness level of 4/10, meaning it is softer than quartzite, it is very dense and does not wear away. Slate’s softness is only affected by impact force, and it may chip if you drop something as hard as a cast-iron skillet on it.
Slate is also non-porous, making it very clean and resistant to stains. Slate is heat-resistant, so you can put hot pots and pans on it without damaging your countertops. The only possible downside to slate is that it can sometimes have sharp corners. Otherwise, slate is an excellent material for countertops.
Limestone is relatively inexpensive, costing about $15-$35 per square foot. It has an elegant, neutral tone and is usually white, but it can be tan, beige, pink, yellow, or gray.
Limestone is a porous stone formed mostly from calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate dissolves in acidic conditions, so limestone countertops will dissolve and become brittle if you leave acidic solutions such as vinegar or citrus juice sitting on them.
Likewise, you should never use corrosive cleaners or rough sponges on limestone countertops. A protective sealer should be applied to limestone countertops to prevent erosion, chipping, and damage once a year.
Since limestone is porous, it is also prone to staining. When cleaning limestone, you should only use cleaners that have a neutral Ph. If the cleaning solution is too acidic, it will dissolve your countertops. Limestone scratches easily, so you should only use soft towels to clean limestone countertops.
Limestone is not heat resistant, either. If you apply too much heat to limestone, it will stain. Caring for limestone can be annoying, but it is a beautiful stone that can be used in any part of your home, from the bathroom and kitchen to a firepit.
Soapstone countertops usually cost $45-$85 per square foot.
Soapstone, also known as steatite, is relatively soft, but it is very dense, making it easy to clean. Since it is so dense, soapstone is resistant to bacterial growth and staining. You can put hot pots and pans on soapstone without worrying about stains or cracks. Soapstone is very resistant to heat, and it is even a favorite stone for making fireplaces.
Most soapstone is a shade of gray, although some soapstones are green or blue. Over time, soapstone develops a patina due to an oxidation process, making it darken. Some people appreciate patinated soapstone, but others do not, so you may want to take that into consideration when choosing your countertop materials.
Soapstone does not require sealing, but you may want to treat it with mineral oil once or twice a year. The mineral oil will keep the soapstone from getting too dry, and it will even out the coloration from the patina.
The only downside to soapstone is its softness. On the Mohs scale, soapstone usually ranks between 3.5/10, making it just a little harder than a marble countertop but much softer than quartzite. Hard wear, such as dropping heavy objects and using knives directly on the counter, will scratch and chip the surface.
7. Sintered Stone
On average, sintered stone costs $30-$80 per square foot. It is an engineered stone that is made from particles of ceramics and quartz.
In a lab, the particles that make up sintered stone are treated with high pressure and high heat to form a crystallized stone. Sintered stone can be made with many different materials, giving it many different color varieties and patterns. It is essentially man-made quartzite, although it is far less porous than quartzite. It is also not as heavy as natural stone.
Sintered stone is very durable, as it has a hardness level of 7/10 on the Mohs hardness scale. While sintered stone is about as hard as quartzite, it is even less porous.
Sintered stone is so dense that it is waterproof. This means that sintered stone is easy to clean, and it does not require sealing. It is also heat resistant, so you can put as many hot pots on it as you want without causing any cracks or damage.
Sintered stone is a relatively new invention, and it has not been given enough credit as a superior countertop material. Since it is lab-made, it is less environmentally-friendly than natural stone materials. Still, it is one of the most durable countertop materials out there.
Concrete countertops usually cost between $50-$100 per square foot, depending on how elaborate your design is.
Concrete is perfect for custom jobs. When making a concrete countertop, you can give them a custom color, texture, and shape without the hassle of cutting and dying. You can even embed cutting boards, bowls, tiles, and patterns in your concrete countertops.
The only downside to this customizability is that you may have to pay extra installation costs if you do not make concrete countertops yourself.
Most concrete countertops are made with glass fibers, making them far more substantial than stone. Concrete is practically impervious to heat and scratches, so you can even forget the cutting board for these countertops. It does stain, though, and to keep them from staining, you will need to seal concrete countertops at least once a year.
Wood countertops usually cost between $10-$38 per square foot, depending on the wood you use. Wood countertops can be made from lumber such as bamboo, oak, cherry, maple, and walnut.
Wood is a soft material with lots of forgiveness. When you drop a glass on a wooden countertop, it will not break like it would if it were dropped on a granite countertop. This softness, however, can also result in cracks, cut-marks, and chips. Still, wood is a good countertop material because it can easily be sanded to refinish the surface of damaged or stained countertops.
Wood is prized as the most eco-friendly countertop material since it is biodegradable and does not require much processing. Wood countertops can even be sourced from your own home. Next time a tree falls in your backyard, you might want to consider turning it into a countertop.
Wood requires a monthly treatment of mineral oil to keep from cracking. In addition, sealing your wood countertops will help you keep them clean and stain-free since wood is a very porous material. Moisture and humidity can also damage wood countertops, so it is essential to keep them dry. However, if you take good care of your wood countertops, they will last more than a lifetime.
Tile is one of the cheapest countertop materials, costing between $1-$15 per square foot on average.
Tiles come in every color and pattern under the sun, and you can even make a mosaic masterpiece on your countertop with tiles. They are heat resistant, so you can place hot pots and pans on them without causing any visible damage. They are also pretty scratch-resistant, so they can last a long time.
It is a lot easier to repair damaged tile countertops than natural stone countertops. Compared to natural stone, tiles are more likely to chip and crack under hard wear. Unlike stone slabs, though, tiles are easily replaced and repaired, so if you damage one tile, you can seal it back in place or replace it with a new tile.
Tile grout is porous, so it can be hard to clean the rough cracks between tiles. Some tiles are designed with this in mind, and they offer an almost seamless countertop.
However, these unique countertop tiles are more expensive than other tiles. If you use standard tiles, you will have to seal the grout between tiles with an epoxy grout sealer to ensure that bacteria does not grow between your tiles.
Tiles are a very cheap and customizable countertop material that allows you to quickly replace and repair any damage. If grout is exposed between tiles, it will need to be sealed once a year.
11. Stainless Steel
Stainless steel usually costs $60-$100 per square foot of countertop. This may be more expensive, but stainless steel countertops rarely need to be replaced, and they do not need to be sealed.
It is also extremely easy to clean, making it perfect for busy people who are always on the run. Since stainless steel is not porous, it will not absorb bacteria or liquids that get on your counter. Cleaning stainless steel is as easy as giving it one quick wipe. It does not require any sealers or treatments, making it easy to manage.
Stainless steel countertops are the most durable option possible. Stainless steel is impervious to heat, stains, and hard wear damage.
However, stainless steel countertops do scratch easily. This is not necessarily a drawback to stainless steel countertops, as they patina and start to blend together over time. Also, scratched stainless steel will hide the fingerprints that always appear on unblemished stainless steel countertops.
Stainless steel counters are also noisy. Placing one bowl on a stainless steel countertop will ring like a bell throughout your house, so they are usually a better option for larger homes.
On average, laminate costs between $20-$30 per square foot of countertop. Prices will be lower if you install your own laminate countertops since laminate countertops are very easy to install.
Basically, laminate is a polyresin blend that has been treated under high heat. Laminate is sealed with melamine resin and joined to plywood. Since the polyresin blend is heat-treated, it can easily be modified to be any color, print, or design. It is one of the most aesthetically versatile countertop materials. If you want, you can even get laminate that looks just like granite.
Laminate countertops are waterproof. It is also remarkably non-porous, making it extremely hygienic and easy to clean. Additionally, laminate is very easy to clean, and it does not stain easily. It repels any liquid or bacteria that spills onto your countertop, so a quick wipe will remove any potentially hazardous materials from your countertop.
They are also very easy to install on your own, so there is no need to hire an installer. Installing a laminate countertop is just a cut-and-caulk job, making it easy for anyone willing to put the time in to install their own laminate countertops.
Laminate has a shorter lifespan than other materials. It is susceptible to burns, stains, and further damage such as water damage and hard-wear damage. Laminate is also difficult to repair. Suppose you want to fix a laminate countertop. In that case, it is usually about the same price as replacing your whole laminate countertop.
13. Solid Surface
Solid surface countertops cost between $35-$85 per square foot of countertop material. They are resin countertops that mimic the patterns and structure of solid natural stones.
Solid surface countertops were designed to look like natural stone but not to crack as natural stone does. They were also intended to have the lowest porosity possible so that they could be as hygienic and easy to clean as possible. Solid surface countertops look just like natural stone, but they are less porous, and they are much cheaper.
Solid surface countertops scratch easily, so you should use caution when sliding sharp objects across a solid surface countertop. However, solid surface countertops were made to be repaired easily, so they can easily be refinished with a sander if they get scratched.
Because solid surface countertops are made from plastics, they melt under heat. You should use caution when placing anything hot on a solid surface countertop. Putting hot objects on solid surface countertops can cause the whole countertop to melt or warp, causing later problems such as heat deformation.
Pros, Cons, and Cost of Alternative Countertop Materials
If you still cannot decide on a specific countertop material for your home, you may want to weigh out each material’s pros and cons. The average cost of countertops varies wildly, depending on the materials that you use.
Here is a breakdown of the materials discussed, including their average price in 2021 and the significant pros and cons for each material:
|Many beautiful varieties with different colors
|Scratches and stains easily
|Glossy, durable surface
|Looks like marble, heat-resistant, stain-resistant, durable, easy to clean
|Fewer color varieties than marble, requires sealing two times a year
|Durable, non-porous, heat resistant
|Can have sharp corners
|Elegant neutral tones, can be used in every area of your home
|Porous, soft and brittle, requires yearly sealing, burns easily
|Non-porous, heat resistant, easy to clean, doesn’t require sealing
|Can chip and scratch with hard wear
|Very hard, non-porous, doesn’t require sealing, heat resistant
|Needs to be sealed once a year, could cost extra for installation
|Soft, easily refinished, environmentally-friendly
|Requires mineral oil treatment every month, cracks when too wet or too dry, porous, easily scratched
|Colorful and decorative, easy to replace, heat resistant
|Chips and cracks easier than stone, grout is porous
|Stainless, heat resistant, durable
|Scratches easily, noisy
|Comes in many colors and prints, waterproof
|Scratches easily, melts under heat, doesn’t last as long as other countertop materials
|Looks like natural stone, does not crack as stone does
|Damaged by heat, scratches easily
There are so many materials that you can use instead of granite countertops without compromising your needs. Granite countertops may be glorified as the best countertop material.
Still, they have just as many, if not more, cons than alternative countertop materials. Choosing the countertop material that is right for you is a personal choice, but it can easily be made by comparing the price, strengths, and weaknesses of alternative countertop materials.
- American Federation of Mineralogical Societies: Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness
- Wikipedia: Porous Medium
- This Old House: All About Quartz Countertops
- Sefa Stone: Limestone Countertops: Maintenance, Advantages & Disadvantages
- HomeAdvisor: 2021 Kitchen Countertop Prices
- Bob Vila: All You Need To Know About Soapstone Countertops
- Chore Relief: 9 Things You Should Know Before Installing Sintered Stone Countertops
- The Spruce: Laminate Countertop Review: Pros and Cons
- The Spruce: Solid Surface Countertop Basics to Know Before You Buy
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