Get tips on choosing the right material for your replacement countertops. Learn about the pros and cons of laminate, stone, solid surface, ceramic tile and more.
LESLIE: Well, kitchen counters  serve as the work surface for family life. It’s where you prepare food, eat your family meals, perhaps even pay bills and help your kids with their homework.
TOM: And if you’re thinking of replacing your countertop, there’s lots to think about when it comes to choosing the right materials. Here with tips to help us sort it all out is Kevin O’Connor , the host of TV’s This Old House .
KEVIN: Thank you, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: Now, the most basic countertop material is laminate. But that conjures up images of kitchens that can qualify, truly, as antiques. That’s a material, though, that’s making a comeback.
KEVIN: Well, it has been around for a very long time but it is completely different today than it used to be. And it has got some great features to laminate. You can get a lot of better looks out there right now. It’s very durable and one of the most attractive features: it is not expensive at all.
TOM: And lots of colors besides avocado green and Pepto-Bismol pink.
KEVIN: That’s right. I have to confess: I’ve got it in my own house.
LESLIE: On purpose or you sort of moved into it?
KEVIN: Well, I moved into it but I haven’t changed it. And I may update it at some time but I’ve got three young kids and it takes a beating and it looks alright.
TOM: It does. And we should talk about how laminate is made. It’s a resin with a transparent layer that protects it. And laminate  is used not only for countertops today but for floors. And it can actually be quite durable with the new technology.
KEVIN: Yeah. It’s going to withhold against scratches, it’s going to take a beating over the years, it’s actually going to put up with some heat. And so it’s served us very well and there’s no reason we should dispense with it.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that, really, today you could have it look like anything. I’ve seen beautiful laminates that look like butcher block, really creative colors and patterns. So, it’s a really interesting lifestyle choice for your kitchen and one that’s affordable.
Now, I think one of the countertop materials that people really sort of look up to when it comes to kitchens are natural stone surfaces. How do you feel about those?
KEVIN: I love them. I’ve got laminate in my house right now but my previous house, when we renovated, we upgraded to granite. I think it’s a great way to actually put a big splash in a particular room and there a lot of great features. Stone is very durable, as well. There are a lot of choices out there. And people just like the look. It’s a good feel and it’s a good look.
TOM: Now, ceramic tile is actually pretty popular these days and I think it is because it’s a very do-it-yourself kind of a project.
KEVIN: Do-it-yourself, lots of choices out there. You put it down in small pieces, you lay it out. The one thing I would say with ceramic tile  is that you’re going to have grout between the individual tiles.
KEVIN: And that’s going to be a surface that needs to be sealed and could potentially get dirty after a lot of wear.
TOM: And the best time to do that is right after you put it down.
TOM: Because wait a week and you can be sure there’s going to be tomato sauce or something worse spilled on it.
KEVIN: No doubt.
LESLIE: Now, Kevin, one other counter material that’s really growing in popularity and certainly is gorgeous would be concrete. But is that a do-it-yourself project?
KEVIN: Well, it’s interesting that you bring this up, because we have actually put in several concrete countertops  on This Old House over the last couple years, so I agree. I think they are becoming more popular.
Now, in 90 percent of the cases, I would say, it has been done by a professional. But there are some kits that you can buy that allow you to create a form, pour the concrete in, trowel it down and you’ll have yourself a nice concrete countertop.
TOM: Now, that’s a fun project. But one that you can’t do yourself is solid-surface material. Now, I’ve got those in my house. They’re beautiful but it’s not DIY.
KEVIN: No, it’s not DIY. But the material is incredibly durable. They’re typically non-porous, so they really put up with a lot of wear and tear. You’re not going to have to worry about things like bacteria. And again, the choices? Every year, there seems to be more choices out there. It’s a sharp look.
TOM: And because it’s solid-surface, if you get a little ding or a scratch, you can actually sand it out.
KEVIN: Sand it out and patch it.
TOM: Something else that you can sand is butcher block.
LESLIE: Yeah. And I think that’s really sort of a classic kitchen touch: a butcher-block countertop. But they really require a lot of maintenance to sort of keep your family safe, right?
KEVIN: On the scale of sort of maintenance, this is probably highest up there right now. They’re not going to be as strong, so the knife cuts are going to get in there. But also, you want to make sure that you don’t get any bacteria buildups. They have to be kept clean all of the time.
TOM: Now, speaking of safety, there was a concern some years ago about granite countertops containing radon. I never really made very much of it. What do you think?
KEVIN: Well, radon is typically found in our basements and there are systems out there to mitigate any radon  buildup. They actually have fans that pull the air out from underneath the slab and then they exhale it away from the house. I’ve heard these reports that the EPA has found trace amounts but generally, I think the final analysis is they haven’t determined that you can actually have enough radon from a granite countertop to cause any health trouble.
TOM: Makes sense. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, great advice. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings and some great step-by-step videos on many projects, you can visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.