Countertops for Life
When Brian Brandt of Tyler, Texas, was looking to install new kitchen counters, he decided to go with granite. "We wanted a surface that we would enjoy, would be long lasting and easy to clean and maintain," Brandt says. "Also, my wife grew up as the daughter of two realtors, so she understands the value that granite provides for resale."
Granite and concrete kitchen countertops are growing in popularity, despite being more expensive than other countertop materials. They are more durable than almost any other counter, can be color blended to match your kitchen and aren't difficult to care for. However, when purchasing a new countertop it is important to know which surface is best for your budget and needs.
Granite vs. Concrete
While they may look somewhat similar, granite and concrete counters are different.
"The main difference between the two styles is pretty obvious," says Genevieve Gorder, a designer on TLC's Trading Spaces. "Granite comes from the earth, and concrete is a manmade mixture of various stones, sand and water. Granite is generally the less expensive of the two."
The reason why granite is less expensive, she says, is because of the labor. "Granite is simply tiled or cut, whereas concrete requires a mold template and poured into a custom form," Gorder says.
"Granite has become the industry standard in higher-end kitchen projects," says Dan Thompson, president of DDK Kitchen Design Group in Glenview, Ill. "Concrete fills an alternative niche."
Concrete, he says, is more fragile, not heat impervious and can scratch relatively easily compared to granite.
"Being a natural product, granite needs to be sealed periodically to ensure a long-lasting finish," says Eric Phillips, vice president and general manager of Dreammaker Bath & Kitchen in Apex, N.C. "Because concrete is manmade, it allows for various forms of customization, including color, inlays, inserts, stamps and finishes."
The Pros and Cons
Like any surface, there are positives and negatives.
The pros for granite are these:
- Natural beauty.
- Very strong and durable.
- Easy to install.
- Good for a home's resale value.
- Heat resistant.
- Becoming more affordable.
The downside to granite countertops, say the experts, include the following:
- Not a lot of color or pattern choices.
- Allows little customization.
- Pricier than other stone tops.
The upside to concrete, on the other hand, include these:
- Available in any pattern, color or hue.
- Easily customizable.
- More unique look.
- More bacteria resistant because it can be permanently sealed.
However, these are a few concrete cons:
- The extra labor needed makes concrete a most expensive option.
- Can crack and is difficult to repair.
- Less readily available.
How to Choose
"When selecting your new countertop, there are a few fundamental things a homeowner should keep in mind to ensure they are happy with their investment," Phillips says. "Consider the quality of the product. Whether using concrete or granite, homeowners should balance value and quality. Also, homeowners should consider the look and primary purpose of their countertops. It is important to choose a countertop, whether granite or concrete, that will create a consistent feel throughout the space. Homeowners should consider cost, as well. What are you willing to invest in your countertops? Both materials are very durable, but costs for maintenance and installation may vary."
Gorder says the homeowner needs to look at her or his lifestyle when making the decision. Is the room primarily focused on kitchen-related chores or will the counter area double as an office/homework station or a place where small children will be coloring or racing metal cars?
"Are you a big-time cook?" Gorder says. "Are you juggling many pots, both hot and cold? Do you entertain a great deal?" If you do cook and entertain frequently, granite may be the better option because of its durability, while concrete might be the better choice for those whose kitchen is gently used.
Also, when deciding on the type of countertop, the homeowner should take room lighting into consideration. A kitchen that is already dark would benefit from a light-colored countertop.
Most important, Gorder says, the homeowner needs to ask, "How would I like this room to feel when I and others walk into it?"
Because it is more readily available and seemingly in every new kitchen, granite is the more popular of the two styles of countertop material. However, not everyone in the home improvement industry is enamored with granite.
"From what I know about granite, I steer customers away from it," says contractor Pat Broe of Cooperstown, N.Y. "It's too pricey for the thrill. Granite counters can cost up to three times the cost of your cabinets." As for concrete, he says, "I've never used concrete for that purpose [counters]. It needs a lot of maintenance."
Despite Broe's opinion, Tom Zarob of Phoenix decided granite was the way to go. "I like granite first because of the look and function," he says. "It is clean, easy to clean, is a great material to prepare food and cook with, looks great against the mahogany cabinets I selected and gives the feel I want in my kitchen – kind of classic and a little hard. Plus I think buyers like telling people that they have granite counters when they are showing friends/family their place for the first time. It is an upgrade much like wood floors and there is a sense of pride in going with the best, I believe."
Caring for Your Countertop
Once you've made your decision and install either your granite or concrete countertop, you will need to take care of it.
"When caring for a granite countertop, it is important to keep in mind that granite is a porous surface," says Eric Phillips, vice president and general manager of Dreammaker Bath & Kitchen in Apex, N.C. "Be sure to maintain the integrity of your sealant by having it resealed annually. It is also important to keep the surface dry by cleaning spills immediately or by placing wet kitchen towels on a rack."
To clean both granite and concrete, use mild non-abrasive cleaners, like mild dishwashing soap. With concrete, Genevieve Gorder, a designer on TLC's Trading Spaces, recommends to "be mindful of not placing hot pots on the surface."