Low-maintenance kitchen and bath countertops are great alternatives to stone
Choices in manufactured countertop materials ― with the look but not the higher maintenance requirements of natural stone ― are expanding every day. New surfaces are made from chemical compounds and are designed to mimic granite, limestone, marble, slate, or soapstone. In some cases, bits of natural material, such as quartz, are also part of the mix. Most of these countertops don't need periodic sealing, and scratches are relatively easy to sand out. If you want to maintain a pristine surface, these materials are worth a look. Note: The following products should be installed by professionals; cost ranges include installation.
Made of compressed fibers, silica, paper, cement, or resin.
Characteristics: These materials feel like unpolished stone. Two products in this category are rapidly increasing in popularity: SlateScape, which contains cementlike materials; and Richlite, which contains resin. SlateScape is porous and requires sealing with 100 percent tung oil; Richlite is essentially nonporous and can be finished with mineral oil.
SlateScape is stronger and more durable than most natural stone, making it unlikely to scratch. High temperatures won't damage it, so you can put hot pots and pans on the surface. Richlite is a hard material but will scratch (although scratches can be sanded out).
What's new: SlateScape is available in five colors and offers six edge treatments. Richlite is available in six colors as well as a hemp-based product.
Cost: $50-$125 per square foot.
Products: Richlite, www.richlite.com or (888) 383-5533; SlateScape, www.americanfibercement.com or (800) 688-8677.
Made of crushed quartz crystals, polymers, and pigments.
Characteristics: The fact that this countertop uses quartz crystals makes it look and feel very similar to some granite, although it doesn't have the dramatic patterns found in granite. Quartz-based countertops don't require special maintenance such as sealing. The surface is very hard to scratch or burn. Only a few quartz countertops come in an unpolished finish; most are shiny. They are available in many patterns and colors.
What's new: A broader array of colors in natural tones.
Cost: $60-$150 per square foot.
Products: Caesarstone, www.caesarstoneus.com or (800) 666-8201; Silestone, www.silestoneusa.com or (800) 291-1311; Zodiaq, www.zodiaq.com or (877) 229-3935.
Made of polymers, acrylics, and resins.
Characteristics: These surfaces are stain resistant and impervious to damage from acidic foods; they're not as cold or as hard as natural stone. Scratches buff out.
What's new: Finer grains and bolder textures and patterns make them look more like natural stone.
Cost: $45-$90 per square foot.
Products: Avonite, www.avonite.com or (800) 428-6648; Corian, www.corian.com or (800) 426-7426; Earthstone, www.wilsonart.com or (800) 433-3222; Formica Solid Surfacing, www.formica.com or (800) 367-6422.