Countertop Options

Dear James: I always wanted an attractive solid surface countertop in my kitchen, but my husband resisted. Well, I am divorced now, and I am remodeling. What do you think of these types of countertops? — Catherine H.

Dear Catherine: Solid surface (usually glossy plastic materials) countertops are beautiful, durable and easy to care for. They are still a bit on the pricey side as compared to some other countertops, but as with most building materials, you get what you pay for. 

With proper care, a good-quality solid surface countertop can last a lifetime or at least until you are ready to remodel your kitchen again. Although the countertop surface is very hard, impress upon your children not to use it as a cutting board.

Since the surface, especially for acrylic and its compounds, is nonporous, liquids will seldom harm or stain it. Still, it is a good idea to wipe up any spills, such as fruit juices, that may have a high acid content.

This is also an excellent countertop material for bathrooms, which will probably be your next remodeling job now that you are making all the household decisions. Its smooth, nonporous finish is a real plus here.

The only real threat to solid surface countertops is heat. Never place any hot pots, pans, cookie sheets, etc. directly on the surface. Since the countertop is basically a thick piece of plastic, heat will discolor and weaken it. Always place hot items on a pad or trivet.

If it ever does get scratched or burned (even cigarette burns) in small spots, you can often easily repair these spots yourself because the color goes completely though the material. Most countertop manufacturers offer repair kits that basically allow you to buff out any small scratches or blemishes.

An experienced do-it-yourselfer could probably install a solid surface countertop herself. Since it is just a solid piece of plastic, the countertops can be molded into many attractive and unique shapes. This minimizes the installation and customization time required.

If your countertop is fairly large or is L-shaped and requires seams, a professional installer is your best choice. They can make seams with these materials that are virtually invisible. Special chemical adhesives are used that actually chemically weld the two pieces together into a single countertop.

Solid surface countertop materials work very similar to wood or wood by-products. This allows you to select just about any edge treatment that you prefer so you can match the decor of the rest of your kitchen cabinets. Keep in mind that when someone first enters your kitchen, they see the countertop edge before they see the countertop itself.

The most common solid surface countertop material is acrylic or compounds containing mixtures of acrylic, polyester and fillers. A higher level of acrylic often provides better durability, strength and a long-lasting attractive surface.

Now that you have determined the type of countertop material you want, don’t forget the basic “kitchen triangle” design concept when determining its size and shape. The three primary areas that should form an easy-to-access triangle are the range, sink and refrigerator. Avoid obstructions between any two of them.