Kitchen Countertops

Kitchen Countertops 101: What's The Difference?

If you're thinking about renovating your kitchen, you've probably revisited the topic of countertops many times already. You know you want to get rid of what you've got, but with so many alternatives, you're a little overwhelmed. Marble, granite, concrete, tile, steel, soapstone -- what should you choose? Looks and budget will always play a part in the decision, but you really need to give some thought to things like maintenance and function as well. How much time and effort are you willing to put into it to keep it looking like the one you saw on that home makeover show?

The cost of your new kitchen countertop can also vary wildly depending on the material -- from $10 to $200 a square foot. If you've got high-end tastes and a mid-level budget, be creative about how to get the look you want. One simple 'cheat' is to cover a small area, such as an island, with that dream countertop material, and the rest with something more cost-efficient. A little can go a long way, after all -- in your kitchen as well as in your budget.

Here's a simple summary of countertop options:

Laminates

Remember Formica�? Thought so. The kitchen counter you grew up with was most likely laminate. Laminate counters are made from particle board and melamine veneer, and are attractive, durable, and easy to clean. Most importantly, they're inexpensive, making them a popular choice for homeowners. Laminate counters can even be a DIY project. Dishes usually won't break if dropped on this surface. Chips and scratches can occur over time. Today's laminate counters come in an amazing variety, with matte and gloss finishes that mimic stone, steel, and other metals.

Tile

Tile counters are a timeless classic. Durable and easy to clean, tile countertops offer limitless creative possibilities. Tile counters can withstand heat and don't scratch easily. The surface is usually not perfectly smooth -- expect imperfections -- but this is typically only a problem for rolling dough, or long-stemmed glasses. Grout needs to be done well to keep runaway crumbs from making wipe-ups inefficient, and sealed to prevent mold. (Prefab counters are pre-tiled and grouted and ready for installation.) Tile can also be used as a backsplash. Decorative tiles and custom patterns can create a unique and very personal look to your kitchen. Cost is reasonable, depending on the tile type and variety.

Solid Surfacing

Solid surface countertops are durable and water resistant. They came into their own in the space age 1960s, a blend of minerals and polyester or acrylic resins. Solid surface counters offer easy maintenance and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Sinks can be incorporated into the design, creating a clean, seamless look. Most people know solid surface counters by one of their most famous brand names, such as Corian� or Avonite�. Solid surface countertops can crack under excessive heat, stain, and show knife marks. However, most defects can be sanded out, and some can be buffed to a high luster, like granite. 'Green' buyers might be put off by the petroleum base, however.

Engineered Stone

Manmade materials with the durability of natural stone -- that's what homeowners find appealing about engineered stone. Created by combining quartz with resins, pigments, and intense pressure, these solid slab surfaces are non-porous (keeps bacteria at bay) and scratch and heat resistant. They are different than their plastic-based, solid-surface cousins because they include stone particulate rather than just plastics. In fact, the stone particulate accounts for over 90% of the materials. Engineered stone comes in a head-spinning variety of imitation stone patterns, with the same pattern consistency as solid surfaces. Quartz-based solid surfaces (Cambria�, Caesarstone�, Silestone�, and Zodiaq� are some of the major brands) do not need to be sealed. Engineered stone is generally more stain and bacterial resistant than granite, for about the same price. Resins and pigments make it a less 'green' choice.

Concrete

Concrete is a versatile material. Long underfoot and overlooked as a floor and general construction component, concrete is making itself heard as a countertop material with plenty to offer. Practical, durable, natural, and attractive, concrete can be pre-cast or shaped on-site, easily accommodating even custom features such as sinks and drainboards. Concrete can be combined with other materials such as tiles or shells for a novel and personal touch. Concrete countertops do not stain or scratch, and stains, pigments, coatings and textured finishes make design possibilities endless. Concrete counters should be sealed when installed (although some homeowners like the aging of unsealed concrete counters), and waxed every few months. Concrete tiles are another alternative. Like laminates and tile, concrete offers DIYers another option.

Natural Stone: Granite, Marble, Slate, and Soapstone

For some homeowners, nothing can beat the value, beauty, and integrity of a completely natural product. Natural stone countertops remain the high-end of the design spectrum, although engineered stone is cutting into the market significantly. Durable and long-lasting, natural stone counters bring luxury into the home with beautiful patterns and a variety of colors. Natural stone counters, while beautiful, are not gentle with plates and glasses.

Elegant marble remains the priciest of the natural stone choices. It is softer than other stone surfaces, but is just as unfriendly to your dropped dishware. Bakers prefer it because it maintains a cool temperature, and is perfect for rolling dough. However, it is very porous and can stain and scratch easily, requiring frequent sealing. It is difficult to match sections if you've got a long continuous area. Marble must be mined, transported, and is seldom recycled, so it isn't a good choice for 'green' homeowners.

Limestone, another quarried stone, is also quite expensive, and like marble is a softer stone. It has a very warm natural look and is beautiful, but has a more limited palette of rich earth tones (brown, beige, grey, yellow, black). Like marble, it absorbs moisture and stains and scratches easily. For similar reasons, limestone is also a poor choice for 'green' homeowners. Jerusalem stone is similar but more durable.

Slate is also quarried, and like concrete is making a new reputation for itself as a countertop surface. Slate has a wide price range of $25 to $100, so shop well. Slate can be matte or polished, and has a small palette of dark colors (green, rust, black, maroon, grey). Slate is extremely heat resistant, which is why it is so often used for hearths. However, it can be brittle, especially around the edges and corners. Slate does not stain as easily as marble or limestone. It scratches easily, but is durable if well taken care of. It does not require sealing, and a light coat of mineral oil every once in a while will make it glow. Although it's also quarried, it's a common surface rock, and so more environmentally friendly.

Soapstone is a smooth, dark stone that is millions of years old, and softer and less porous than marble or granite. It can have a 'soapy' feel to it due to the talc content, but it is very durable and is widely used in high-traffic locations such as laboratories and washrooms. It is easy to cut and thus easily customized. Soapstone has a high tolerance for heat and is inert, which means it is very resistant to stains (acid and alkali). Though it can scratch fairly easily, it can be sanded. Mineral oil can help reduce scratches and keep it looking great. Soapstone is ideal for busy households. Like slate, it is a surface stone.

Granite remains the most sought after natural stone countertop for homeowners. It is luxurious and easily becomes the focal point of any kitchen. Versatile, gorgeous, and durable, granite is a worthwhile investment for most builders and renovators, even at prices up to $100 per square foot. Granite is a hard stone, which means it is practically impervious to scratches (except by a diamond or granite), but also unforgiving to dropped glassware. It is heat resistant, easy to clean, and mostly stain resistant, but like all natural stone it is porous and susceptible to stains if not properly sealed. Granite is mined in large slabs, but the color can be inconsistent and the veining in variegated granite can sometimes make it hard to seamlessly cover large contiguous areas. Consistent granite has a more uniform appearance and is easier to match at the seams. Granite counters will need to be sealed periodically. Deep mining and transportation make ecological considerations a tradeoff for its sophisticated glamour.

Hardwood

Hardwood counters imbue a kitchen with natural warmth and charm. Easier to cut and install than stone, they are also comparatively inexpensive. Wood countertops can also help reduce the noise of a kitchen, absorbing the clatter of dishes and cutlery. Not all wood countertops are intended specifically for food preparation (cutting), however, and the type of countertop makes all the difference.

Hardwood countertops can be lacquered (veneered), end-grain wood (butcher block), or face grain (oiled planks of solid wood, sometimes called plank grain), and each has specific attributes: Veneered counters come in a wide range of colors, offer custom match finishes, and are reasonably priced. However, liquids can affect the lacquer and knives can score the surface. Lacquered counters are the least durable. End-grain (butcher block) counters are denser, aren't damaged by knives, and wear more evenly, but they can also absorb strong flavors and are prone to warping, and heat fluctuations can create cracks. Planks are the most expensive of the three options because they are more resistant to heat, more flexible, and easier to maintain through sanding and oil. However, they are also more likely to warp and crack, and don't provide the best chopping surface.

The most common woods used for hardwood counters are hard maple, red oak, and teak, although cherry, black walnut and many African and South American exotics are also becoming popular, as are sustainable woods such as bamboo. Wood counters are high maintenance, and should be cleaned daily. Over time, the color of a counter can change due to oxidation. Wood countertops must also be sealed and kept as dry as possible, as wood reacts to water and humidity. When properly sealed, however, water will simply evaporate off a wood countertop if not wiped up.

Wood countertops are stain-resistant, although some substances (silver polish, ammonia, acetone) will damage the finish, necessitating some minor first aid. Wood counters can be heat-resistant to low temperatures, but trivets are always recommended. Wood also offers some natural anti-microbial properties, although proper cleaning is still necessary. Nicks and scratches can be sanded out and the surface re-oiled and re-finished. Bottom line: Wood counters wear well.

Metals: Stainless steel, copper, zinc, pewter, bronze, and brass

Metal countertops are good choices for many reasons. They are non-porous, anti-microbial, stain resistant, do not have to be sealed, and are easy to clean (soap and water). Copper and zinc are even recyclable. Most metal counters cost about the same as granite.

Long the hallmark of the commercial kitchen, stainless steel counters and appliances have been surging to the forefront of home makeover trends in recent years. Crisp, shiny, and modern, stainless steel lends a kitchen a sleek, contemporary look that appeals to many homeowners. From a design perspective, stainless steel is 'neutral' and will blend well with almost any color scheme. Highly durable, the gleam of a stainless steel countertop can also make a small room look larger. Available in random grain or brushed finish, stainless steel counters are heat tolerant, bleach-safe, and don't chip. The surfaces can show fingerprints, but non-directional finishes can mask most scratches. Stainless steel counters are rust-resistant as well.

Copper is warmer and less common than stainless steel, and more expensive, but offers many of the same advantages. Copper has higher anti-microbial properties than any of the other metals -- 30 times greater than stainless steel. It is more prone to warping, however, so deflection should be considered. An occasional waxing can restore the finish and reduce fingerprints. Copper is softer than stainless steel, but scratches and the inevitable golden brown patina are generally considered part of the charm of copper. Owners who prefer the radiant orange-brown original to the patina will have to polish it diligently.

Zinc and pewter, with their muted silver tones, bring an old-world feel to kitchens. Non-magnetic zinc is a soft metal that can be kept at a high shine resembling pewter, or allowed to oxidize to develop a striking blue-grey, textured, semi-matte patina. To preserve the original luster and prevent oxidation, apply wax periodically. Zinc is a soft metal and will scratch, but polishing can remove most surface scratches. As with copper, many owners like to allow the zinc to develop a patina, and scratches (which won't rust) can often enhance that look. Zinc reacts with alkalis, acids, other non-metals, and even moisture. Zinc is also heat sensitive. Hot pots and pans should never be placed directly on the surface. Pewter is an alloy of tin and other metals, and has a soft warm, matte luster. Pewter surfaces have long been found in bistros and brasseries, and can add a hint of casual sophistication to a kitchen. Pewter is a rare choice in countertops, and many that are available are still handcrafted in Normandy and imported. If allowed to oxidize, pewter develops a rich grey or charcoal patina. It is often chosen by homeowners who like the look of stainless steel, but want something warmer and less clinical. Like zinc, pewter is extremely heat sensitive.

Bronze and brass are rarely used as counter tops, which only makes them that much more distinctive. However, warm metals are increasingly replacing nickel and stainless steel in faucets and drawer pulls, and counters can't be far behind. Especially complementary to the cream and gold hues so popular today, the deep, rich golden tones of these countertops give the appearance of a flickering candle when reflecting light, making them much more welcoming than stainless steel. Bronze and brass counters can be wax or resin coated, and matte and distressed finishes can help camouflage fingerprints and scratches better than polished finish. As alloys, bronze and brass are harder than copper but still not quite as scratch-resistant as stainless steel. Regular waxing and polishing is required to prevent the patina from developing, but most homeowners prefer the rich, sumptuous appearance of patinaed bronze and brass. Left free to oxidize and age, these metals will develop from a golden glow to dark, brownish-black tones.

New Entries in the Market

Shirestone�

Newer products such as Shirestone� are billed as seamless, non-porous, and stain and heat resistant. Shirestone� is like engineered stone in that it is crushed, blended stone mixed with a liquid. Poured on-site, Shirestone� is twice as hard as concrete and uses recycled materials. It can be poured over your existing counters, whether they are Formica�, tile, wood, or something else and is sealed at installation. Finish varieties offer the look of natural stone or concrete, without the weight (it's poured at less than half an inch thick). Like concrete, it allows custom touches such as leaves, flowers, shells, tiles, etc. to be included in the cast.

Enameled Lava Stone

Enameled lava stone is a high-end, natural stone countertop made from extracted lava stone and glazed with enamel. Because it is kiln-fired at 1300 degrees to create a smooth crackled finish, it is most definitely heat resistant, and can even be used outside because it can withstand temperature fluctuations. It is also extremely stain resistant, and does not require sealant. The smooth enamel surface cleans easily and inhibits bacteria. The glossy surface can be scratched, but with proper care should last a lifetime. Enameled lava stone is a niche entry, made in France by a handful of manufacturers. It is very expensive, not easily recycled, and the use of enamels means there are waste byproducts.

Green Alternatives

Recycled metal tiles

Newer alternatives to stainless steel are recycled cast aluminum or bronze tiles made in the US by Eleek. They are lighter than stone and can also be used as floor or wall tiles. Equally appropriate indoors or out, they are applied with mastic or tile adhesive, then grouted with a silicon grout. Treated with with a clear powdercoat finish, these tiles are pre-cut for standard cabinets but can be modified for custom layouts, appliances, and fixtures. They are non-toxic, non-reactive, stain proof, and highly durable. Eleek tiles do not show fingerprints and are heat resistant to 300F. Custom patinas and colored powdercoats (amber, black, red) are available. Available as squares in varied sizes, rectangles, frontwraps, and backsplashes. Cost is roughly $80 per square foot.

Wisconsin's Eco-Friendly Flooring make fingerprint-proof, 100% recycled tiles from aluminum or brass. They are offered in a variety of sizes, from 2x2 to 12x12 as well as accent tiles. Grouting is optional; the tiles can be edged close together. A sealant for high-moisture climates is available to prevent salt-water corrosion. Eco-Friendly's recycled metal tiles are not scratch resistant. They can be cleaned with dishsoap and water. Installed like any other tile, they come in polished, matte, or sandblasted finishes, and range from $35 to $70 per square foot.

Durat

Scandinavian know-how and ecological consciousness resulted in Durat, a solid surface polyester-based countertop made with 50% recycled plastic. This heat- and stain-resistant material can be cut with regular woodworking materials and is 100% recyclable. It is seamless, and comes in 46 colors, with custom tinting available. It is impervious to chemicals and humidity, and scratches and burns can be sanded out.

Alkemi

Alkemi is another solid surface 'green' alternative, made from low-VOC, post-industrial scrap waste -- fine flake aluminum milling scrap, to be specific -- and polymeric resin. LEED-accredited, Alkemi is non-porous, durable, and does not require sealing. It is stain-resistant to most substances, but acids such as lemon juice can stain if left on the surface for long periods. Alkemi is not heat-resistant, but scratches can be sanded and polished out. Alkemi offers three styles and several finishes.

Kirei Board

Kirei board is a fiberboard panel product made from agricultural waste. Sorghum stalks left over from harvests (sorghum is used to make molasses), and which would otherwise be thrown out, are combined with poplar scrap and heat-pressed into Kirei Board. A no-VOC, natural fiber product, Kirei Board is an engineered, sustainable material that is lightweight, strong, LEED certified, and resists warping. Kirei is highly porous and must be sealed if it will be exposed to water or humidity.

Recycled Paper Countertops

Paper might be the last material most people think of when shopping for countertops -- especially given the frequent exposure to heat, water and humidity -- but several manufacturers offer a durable, attractive, recycled paper product that looks and feels like stone and is resistant to scratches, stains, water, and heat.

ShektaStone, the brainchild of a college professor, uses 100% pre- and post-consumer paper waste to create high-end counters priced between Corian� and granite. ShetkaStone is fire-rated and resistant to bacteria and fungus. It is also unaffected by water and humidity. All byproducts of the process, and the counters themselves, can be recycled.

Richlite� counters are made from pre-consumer paper pulp (from managed forests) that is treated with resin, then pressed and baked. Richlite� does not off-gas during production, but as a result the product isn't biodegradable and can't be recycled. Richlite� is extremely durable, and was originally used in the marine industry and as skatepark surfacing. Light sanding will remove scratches, and food-safe oil restores the shine. These counters are priced mid-range, generally comparable to engineered stone.

PaperStoneT is made from 50% post-consumer recycled paper (a certified, 100% recycled version is also available) and a water-based resin derived from cashew shells, then heated and compressed. A dense material, it is impervious to water and therefore bacteria-resistant. Heat resistant to 350F, it has a soft, smooth feel that is similar to soapstone and comes in several warm rich, dark earth tones (mocha, slate, grass, etc.) with a matte finish. A light pass with a ScotchBriteT pad will repair scratches. PaperStoneT is priced comparable to quality granite.

EcoTop is the newest of the paper countertops, created by the man who developed PaperStoneT. EcoTop is actually a bio-composite of 50% renewable bamboo fiber and 50% recycled wood fiber (salvaged from demolition sites). EcoTop took advantage of the scientific advancements and growing 'green' interest in the years since PaperStoneT was invented to develop a better, lighter-colored, 100% natural resin. This means EcoTop is able to offer a much broader range of colors, including light and neutral shades (such as beige, thistle, and white) that PaperStoneT's darker resin makes impossible. LEED-certified and VOC-free, EcoTop's water-based resin is also petroleum free. EcoTop's colors are UV stable and more color fast than many of the other paper-based countertops. Sealing is optional, and the company offers an organic wax made from soy oil, palm oil, and carnuba wax. It is bacteria-resistant, and impervious to water and humidity (the company also makes cladding). Although stain- and scratch-resistant, scratches can be easily sanded out with a ScotchBriteT pad. A cooperative medium for DIY installation, EcoTop can be cut and sanded with typical woodworking tools. EcoTop counters are also recyclable. Comparable to Corian�, EcoTop is a budget-minded alternative at roughly $35 per square foot.

Syndecrete

Syndecrete is not exactly a new company, but with the green revolution has only recently appeared on many homeowners' radar. A pre-cast, cement-based composite made of up to 41% recycled materials (waste polypropylene carpet fibers and fly ash, a coal combustion byproduct), is half as heavy as concrete and twice as strong. Syndecrete is highly porous and requires a finish. Created by an architect, there is no off-gas in production, and it is LEED certified. Easy to clean, it can easily be repaired and refinished and comes in a variety of natural and earth tones. Syndecrete is also available as an aggregate (with post-consumer glass, wood chips, metal shavings, etc.) Syndecrete is a very eco-friendly but high-end product.

Lithistone

Lithistone is a LEED certified magnesium-based cast stone that is twice as strong as Portland cement. Organic mineral pigments create a palette of 18 vibrant colors. Depending on the finish, Lithistone contains 25%-75% recycled content and post-industrial waste (crushed stone, seashells). The manufacturing process produces no off-gas. Although mostly stain resistant, acid food spills (vinegar, lemon juice) should be wiped up as soon as possible. Lithistone is easy to clean using non-toxic, non-abrasive cleaners. It is sold sealed and waxed, and does require rewaxing periodically. Depending on use and care, resealing may be necessary every 10 or 15 years. Lithistone will patina over time. Lithistone is not scratch-resistant. A green alternative to resin-based solid surface counters, Lithistone is a luxury item.

Recycled Glass Countertops

Recycled glass countertops are surprisingly sturdy, attractive, very eco-friendly, and increasingly popular with consumers. VOC-free and easy to maintain, recycled glass countertops are based on Venice's centuries-old practice of terrazzo -- creating floors by mixing marble chips and concrete. Recycled glass countertops are less porous than marble, about as hard as granite, scratch- and stain-resistant, and easy to clean with non-toxic, neutral detergents.

Vetrazzo� is a renewable alternative to quarried stone, and was first created in 1996. Made from 100% recycled glass and concrete, Vetrazzo� also boasts the highest glass-content of the recycled glass countertops with an 85% glass, 15% binder ratio (including fly ash). As with most finished surfaces, acidic foods (lemon juice, red wine) will cause etching and should be wiped up immediately. Trivets and cutting boards are recommended to lessen the frequency of waxing and resealing. Vetrazzo� is less porous than marble and concrete, but slightly more susceptible to stains than granite. Vetrazzo� can be repaired.

Made from 100% post-consumer, post-industrial recycled glass and cement (75/25 ratio), IceStone� is an eco-friendly, highly durable, LEED-certified countertop. As heat resistant as stone, it is available in 27 colors and can also be easily customized with pigment additives. The cement bond means this product requires sealing, preferably annually. IceStone� has also received MDBC Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification. IceStone� can be used outside as it is freeze-thaw rated, and it is UV stable (won't fade). It is comparable in price to high-end granite at about $130 per square foot.

LEED certified EnviroGlas is made from 100% recycled glass and an agricultural-based epoxy resin (again, a 75/25 ratio), and runs about $50 per square foot. It requires no sealing, which means it is easier to install and maintain than IceStone�. Like granite, it is heat- and stain-resistant, but can stain if proper care isn't taken. Trivets and cutting boards are recommended. Minor scratches and even some stains can be removed using Goddard's Granite and Marble polish. EnviroGlas comes in over 100 readily available designs, or is infinitely customizable by combining a range of epoxy, aggregate, and finish options.

Trinity recycled glass is a joint effort made by the companies that produce Squak Mountain Stone and EcoTop. Trinity Glass is handcrafted and contains 75% post-consumer and -industrial recycled glass and 25% low-carbon cement. Trinity offers a narrowly focused earth tone palette that closely resembles polished granite in appearance. It should be sealed periodically with a stone sealant. If etching occurs, it can be polished out. Where Trinity Glass really distinguishes itself from its recycled glass counter competitors is that it can be molded into sinks and comes in tiles as well as slabs.

Bio-Glass by CoveringsETC is a relative newcomer to the US recycled glass countertop market. It is made from 100% post-industrial and post-consumer recycled glass (wine bottles, glassware) without the use of binding agents, resins, pigments, or chemicals, creating continuous color surfaces. Made in Europe with no off-gas and zero energy use, it is non-porous and 100% recyclable. Because there are no pigment additives, the slabs come in a limited color palette. You can restore the surface gloss with diluted original finish wax.

Squak Mountain StoneT

Squak Mountain StoneT is a natural stone alternative made from recycled paper and glass, fly ash, and Portland cement, and does not include binders. The hand cast, LEED-certified stone resembles soapstone and limestone and is available in both slabs and tiles. Air holes and other imperfections are considered standard, and even sealed the stone can develop a patina. If properly sealed and handled under normal conditions, the fibrous cement material is remarkably stain- and scratch-resistant. Like concrete and marble, it is porous and should be regularly cleaned to prevent bacterial growth. Squak Mountain StoneT is lighter than cement and doesn't use rebar or other reinforcements. Non-toxic, non-abrasive, non-acidic cleaners are recommended. Oils, acids, and staining agents such as coffee and tea should be wiped up quickly; even when sealed it is stain-resistant and not stain-proof. Chips, dents, and scratches can be sanded out. Use trivets and cutting boards, and use warm water to loosen stuck-on substances. Squak Mountain StoneT is also a good cost alternative; it runs about $40-$50 per square foot.

Bamboo Countertops

A handful of manufacturers have seized upon the idea of using bamboo, a hard and renewable material, as a countertop. Bamboo, which is actually a grass and not a tree, is an excellent choice for environmentally-oriented consumers: It's 16% harder than maple, fast-growing, and sustainable. (In contrast to traditional butcher-block countertops.) Bamboo also naturally contracts and expands less than wood.

PlybooSquared is a formaldehyde-free bamboo plywood, using bamboo strips to create mosaic patterns in amber or tortoiseshell panels. Plyboo was the first company to produce bamboo flooring for North American buyers. PlybooSquared is LEED-certified, and can be used as countertops or flooring.

Totally Bamboo has created plank countertops using cross-band laminates and a food-safe, formaldehyde-free glue. This process helps also prevents warping and twisting. Four grain patterns are available. Totally Bamboo can be resurfaced by sanding, finished using walnut or mineral oil, and sealed with a light coat of bee's wax. Totally Bamboo runs about $35/square foot.

Teragren� end-grain parquet countertops are low VOC, IEQ- and LEED-certified, formaldehyde-free, and completely food-safe. Teragren maintains complete control of its entire manufacturing chain, from harvest to distribution, and as a result Teragren� bamboo is the hardest and purest on the market. Teragren� counters come in natural and caramelized.

Cork

Cork has been a popular and hardy flooring choice for eco-conscious buyers for years, and now cork countertops are just beginning to appear on the market. Heat and water resistant, cork is a lightweight material that is also a renewable resource. (A cork tree can last hundreds of years, providing many harvests.) It retails for about $25 per square foot.

Reclaimed wood

These countertops are crafted from a variety of woods, such as chestnut, beech, cypress, pine, oak, and redwood. The wood in these countertops is salvaged from old mills and barns, or is rediscovered 'lost' lumber retrieved from river bottoms, lakes, millponds, and swamps. Other wood may come from fallen trees, stumped orchard trees, or fire- or bug-damaged forests. Some reclaimed lumber may be over 100 years old. Reclaimed wood adds history and character to your home, and age enhances the beauty of wood. Reclaimed wood countertops offer the same general advantages as hardwood and butcher-block counters, with the added environmental bonus of repurposing cut timber. However, supply can be inconsistent, and costs can be very high.

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