Kitchen remodeling: Counters

Wooden toolbox filled with tools

Function, form and style truly come together when it comes to choosing kitchen counters. You need something that looks good and stands up to constant use.

Just think how tough you and your family will be on them. This is a surface where you'll be chopping veggies, rolling out dough, setting hot pots and pans and handling raw meat -- all in the same day.

There are six basic types of kitchen counters, and they vary dramatically in price, appearance and durability. Some materials are just more forgiving than others.

Solid surface countertops, for example, resist staining but will melt if you place a pan from the oven directly on them. Granite has a great, sophisticated look and steaming cookware is no problem. But it requires more maintenance, needing to be resealed once a year.

Which is right for you? Our guide to kitchen counters can help you decide.

Natural stone

Price: Starts at $70 a square foot and can run into the hundreds.

Pros: The upgrade of choice in high-end homes, natural stone provides a beautiful, long-lasting surface that works particularly well with under-mount sinks. Granite is the most popular choice because it's the most durable. You can roll dough on it, put hot pots on it and you practically need a hammer to chip it. Other options include limestone, soapstone and slate.

Cons: It's expensive. The seams will show and you can't count on getting the exact color you saw in the store or consistent color among the pieces used to make a single counter. Stone kitchen counters also must be resealed once a year. Professional installation is a must.

Engineered stone

Price: Starts at $75 a square foot.

Pros: It may sound fake, but engineered, or manufactured stone, has much of the beauty of natural stone, with more consistent color. Made of natural quartz mixed with epoxy resin binders, these extremely durable kitchen counters are scratch and stain resistant, and never need to be resealed.

Cons: They're also pricey and not heat-resistant. Seams will show. Professional installation is recommended.

Solid surface

Price: $70 to $80 a square foot.

Pros: If you like the idea of one continuous, seamless kitchen counter that can include a sink, these are ideal. Solid surface counters are custom-made to your specifications insuring fit and consistent color. They're virtually stain-proof and easy to repair if scratched. Corian is the best-known brand.

Cons: They're a costly option and not heat-resistant. You'll need professional installation.

Laminate

Price: $5 to $20 per square foot.

Pros: This is the most common and affordable choice for kitchen counters. Laminates are available in many styles and colors. Installation is easy enough for many do-it-yourselfers to tackle.

Cons: Seams and edges are noticeable. Chips and cuts are almost impossible to repair. You can't put hot pots directly on them or install an under-mount sink.

Wood

Price: $10 to $40 a square foot.

Pros: Often called butcher block counters, wood can be warm, long-lasting addition to your kitchen. They're usually installed on islands or in other areas designed for food preparation, not clean up.

Cons: That's because wood kitchen counters can easily stain or scorch. They're also prone to water damage if placed next to a sink and need several coats of sealant to protect them.

Tile

Prices: As little as $1 a square foot, plus grout and mortar.

Pros: Available in an almost infinite variety of color and styles, tile allows you to create almost any look you want. It's also durable, heat-resistant and easy to clean. It's an affordable alternative that many do-it-yourselfers can tackle.

Cons: The tiles can chip or crack. The grout can stain and harbor bacteria unless it's kept well sealed. Repairs can be difficult and time consuming.