LESLIE: Well, updating your kitchen is always a great home improvement project, since kitchens are one of the key selling points of any house.
TOM: That’s right. And the good news is that this project doesn’t always have to include a massive makeover. In fact, just replacing the countertop can make a very good first impression. Here with tips on the many options available to do just that is Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: You know, it used to be that laminate was the only choice but we’ve come an awfully long way, haven’t we?
KEVIN: Boy, there are a lot of choices out there. We’ve spent a ton of time on our television show helping homeowners go through all of those different choices. And I guess it’s good news that you’ve got a lot of different options out there.
LESLIE: Yeah but I always find options are always the most overwhelming. As soon as you start sharing those with the customer, they really just drown in a sea of choices.
KEVIN: Yeah. And I think you need to sort of break it down into two categories: sort of what is the look that you’re going for but then also performance. And every one of the options out there is going to give you a different look, obviously, but it’s also going to perform differently.
So, let’s start with sort of the tried and true; the thing that folks are always sort of hoping for: granite countertops or another natural stone, right? So these are stones that we pull up out of the earth which – they’re natural. And they’re really popular right now. It’s an elegant choice and they’re great because they’re durable. You can take that hot pot right off of the stove and put it onto the granite countertop and you’re not going to have to worry about necessarily damaging it.
The downside is is that they can be costly, even though there is now a wide range of prices. They generally aren’t thought of as costly and they do require some maintenance. They’re kind of porous, so you want to seal them. So they can stain, depending on the color you use.
TOM: And people are shocked when they figure out their granite countertops can stain. We get calls on that all the time where there’s been a spaghetti-sauce stain or something like that and they’re a bit tricky to get out sometimes.
KEVIN: It’s funny to think that something so durable that comes up from Mother Earth is actually going to be so fragile underneath a can of spaghetti sauce or a jar of spaghetti sauce.
LESLIE: Or oil or red wine. The key is, when you do get a spill like that, clean it up as fast as possible. And I think a lot of people – marble has seen a resurgence in kitchens, as well, because it’s so beautiful and you get a very different look as far as the veining from granite. And it’s a viable option; you just have to make sure that you maintain it properly. And should you spill something, you must, must, must clean it up right away.
KEVIN: Yeah. And natural stones – marble, granites, soapstone – they’re really some of the most popular choices out there but not the only choices. There’s another category called engineered stone. Typically, they’re made from a material called quartz and people might recognize the brand names like Zodiaq or Silestone.
And these are good because they are durable like the granites but they don’t need as much maintenance. They resist the scratches and they don’t necessarily have to be sealed as much. You will pay a little premium for it, though.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I think the interesting thing when you go with the engineered stone or the granites or even the solid-surface options is that they’re all antimicrobial, which is a big, key factor when you’re thinking about a countertop with so much moisture involved.
TOM: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Now, the other option, of course, is solid surfacing and that’s been around for quite a while and it’s still really popular.
KEVIN: They look really good. There’s a lot of different options in terms of the looks that are available, so it’s easy to sort of design a kitchen around them or fit these into a kitchen that you already have.
And people like them because, well, they – if they scratch, they’re solid all the way through, so they’re easy to fix. You can actually sand down or buff out a little scratch and all you’re doing is exposing more of that solid color and pattern. So they’re great for upkeep. They sometimes can be damaged by the heat, though, and sometimes can stain, so you have to be aware of that. And they are going to cost you a little bit less than the granite countertops or engineered stone, in general.
LESLIE: Now, what about a concrete countertop? I’ve seen them just rise in popularity so much so that certain manufacturers out there have a do-it-yourself, concrete-countertop kit which, as a great product, I don’t know if that’s something I would tackle on my own because there’s really an art to that, isn’t there?
KEVIN: Yeah, this is fascinating. I mean I’m intrigued by the fact that you say you see it more often, Leslie. We see this all the time.
LESLIE: Oh, yeah.
KEVIN: This is sort of kind of like a rage out there now; people making concrete countertops. And what I hear from folks, the reason they like it is because they can really make it a piece of art; they can individualize it. They can not only choose the color and the texture but we see people adding stuff to the concrete mix. They’ve got bottle caps or colored class in there. They’ve got mementos from the house thrown into the concrete countertops and they’ve really personalized them.
We have worked with both. We have worked with folks who do it professionally where they come out like a traditional granite salesperson and they template your counter space, they go off and they make it just to your specifications and install it. And we’ve also seen people who said, "Build the form, pour it yourself and make it as individual as you’d like." And I think that’s the benefit of concrete countertops is that you can really dress it up and turn it into a work of art.
LESLIE: What about maintenance, though? Concrete is so porous and hydroscopic. How do you handle it? Because there’s so much water on a countertop on a regular basis.
KEVIN: If you really want to take care of it, it comes down to sealing but I’ve also seen people who just like that sort of rustic look and let it go and say, "Hey, it’s a concrete countertop."
TOM: Just kind of let it grow. Whatever happens, happens.
And, Kevin, there’s another option out there which is, of course, ceramic tile. Folks have been tiling countertops for years but there’s actually a new product out there that makes it a lot easier. Have you heard of this Bondera?
KEVIN: Heard of it but never worked with it. What’s that story? It saves you a step?
TOM: Oh, it absolutely does. In fact, it’s a mastic; it’s a sheet mastic. And basically, you glue it down to the top so it could be the plywood surface of the countertop or even if it’s a laminate top, you can lay it down right on top of that. Then you can stick the tiles to it and immediately grout, so you don’t have to wait for the mastic to dry.
KEVIN: Hmm. And it’s sticky stuff, huh?
TOM: Really sticky stuff.
LESLIE: It’s super-sticky. Tom and I worked with it on a project for the AARP and I, being that it was my first go-around with the product, I had peeled off the protective layer from the other side to start setting my tile and leaned across it and my arm was stuck on it; my shirt was stuck on it and my belt. It is super-sticky. It really does a great job.
TOM: Yeah, it’s really good stuff. So that’s another option, as well, for countertops.
KEVIN: But as you say, it has grout so like traditional ceramic tile, you want to make sure that you seal that grout immediately because that will stain.
TOM: Exactly. You need a good silicone sealer as quickly as possible after that grout dries. A couple of coats of that and believe me, you’ll be doing a lot less cleaning as time goes on.
We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, about kitchen countertop-material options.
And, Kevin, finally there’s one countertop that’s almost the original top that everyone loves but boy, it does take a lot of work to maintain: wood butcher blocks.
KEVIN: Well, I’m a big fan of it. I like the look of wood on a counter. Butcher block is definitely one of my favorites, as well. It’s a great surface to work on. It is porous and you’re putting food stuffs on it, so you just want to make sure that it’s something you clean, clean, and clean again. There are specialty products out there for cleaning butcher block.
And I would say, don’t be afraid to use a cutting board – something that you can run through the dishwasher – and have the butcher block just be a good look.
TOM: Great advice. Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Great to be here, guys.
TOM: For more tips on kitchen countertop materials, you can search "countertops" at ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And you can, of course, watch Kevin and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by Stanley. Stanley, make something great.