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Countertop (also counter top, countertopping) usually refers to a horizontal worksurface in kitchens, other food preparation areas, and workrooms in general. It is frequently installed above and supported by cabinets.
When installed in a kitchen, countertops are usually about 647.7 mm (25 1/2 inches) from front to back and are designed to slightly-overhang standard kitchen base cabinets. This allows a convenient reach to objects at the back of the countertop. They often contain some sort of integrated backsplash to prevent spilled liquids from falling behind the cabinets and the face of the countertop may be decorated in ways ranging from plain to very elaborate. They may be cut away to accommodate the installation of sinks, cooktops, complete ranges, or other accessories such as integrated drain boards and cutting boards.
Countertops can be made from a very wide range of materials and the cost of the completed countertop can vary very widely depending on the material chosen. The durability and ease of use of the material often rises with the increasing cost of the material but this is not necessarily so; some very expensive materials are neither particularly durable nor easy to use, just stylish. Some common materials are as follows:
- Natural stones:
- Wood and butcher block
- Stainless steel
- Synthetic materials:
- Pre- and postformed high-pressure decorative laminates such as Wilsonart Laminate, Formica (plastic) and Arborite
- Quartz Surfacing99.9% solid @ 93% aggregate / 7% polyester resin, colors and binders -(Hanstone, Technistone, Silestone, Caesarstone, Avanza etc.)
- Solid-surface acrylic plastic materials such as Hanex, Corian and Wilsonart Solid Surface
Post-formed plastic laminate
A very common style is the formed plastic laminate countertop. These are factory-produced with a single thin sheet of laminate curved and glued over medium-density fiberboard or other similar base material. The base material is shaped to provide an integrated front edge, work surface, and backsplash, and on the job site, need only be cut to length before installation (and possibly, have an end trim applied using a glue if the end of the countertop is exposed). Factory-made miter-cut pieces are also available, allowing the easy production of "inside corners".
Self edge or Wood edge laminate
Self or wood edge plastic laminate countertops are also very popular for those who chose to have few or no surface seams. In this style, the top shop uses substrate for the countertop out of MDF, or particle board and then glue sheets of laminate to the substrate using contact cement. The laminate is then trimmed using a router. This method can't reproduce the curved contours of post-formed countertopping but can be made to easily conform to a much-wider range of floor plans with fewer seams.
Tile is installed in much the same way as flat lay laminate except that the gaps between the tiles are grouted after the tile has been glued down.
Solid-surface plastic materials
Solid-surface plastic acrylic or polyester materials are usually prefabricated at the installer's shop and then assembled on site. The plastic material is readily glued and the glue joints are then sanded, leaving almost no visible trace of the joint. The edge treatment for solid-surface countertops can be very elaborate. The material itself is usually only about 12 mm (1/2 inch) thick so an edge is usually created by stacking up two or three layers of the material. The built-up edge is then usually shaped to a rounded edge or an ogee. Fancier edge treatments are, of course, more expensive.
Natural quartz surfacing
Natural quartz surfacing is made from natural quartz and held together with a plastic resin, making it non-porous and scratch resistant. As with solid surface countertopping, the materials are prefabricated and installed by professionals. Thicknesses may be 1.2 cm (1/2 inch), 2 cm (3/4 inch), 3 cm (1 1/4 inch) or 4 cm (1 1/2 inch). Brands include Hanstone, Technistone, Silestone and Avanza.
Stainless steel, stone, concrete, terrazzo, and other materials are usually prefabricated and assembled on site as well. The difficulty of prefabrication rises with the more exotic materials. As with solid-surface plastic materials, the edge treatments can vary widely, but the material is usually thicker than with plastic so there is often no need to build up the edge with multiple layers of the material.
Many predesigned, prefabricated units (including sinks, drainboards, and other accessories) are available in stainless steel. These may be used "stand-alone" or integrated into larger custom assemblies. Some stainless steel systems stand on their own legs and don't require the support of cabinetry.
In any of these styles, "self-rimming" sinks can be used. These sit in appropriately-shaped holes cut in the countertop (or substrate material) using a jigsaw or other cutter appropriate to the material at hand and are suspended by their rim. The rim then inherently forms a fairly close seal with the top surface of the countertop, especially when the sink is clamped into the hole from below.
The materials also allow the installation of a "bottom-mount" or "under-mount" sink. With these, the edge of the countertop material is exposed at the hole created for the sink (and so must be a carefully finished edge rather than a rough cut; this cut is generally done at the fabricator's workshop). The sink is then mounted to the bottom of the material from below. Especially for under-mount sinks, silicone-based sealants are usually used to assure a waterproof joint between the sink and the countertop material. The advantage of an "under-mount" sink is that it gives a contemporary look to the kitchen but the disadvantages are extra cost in both the sink and the counter top.
Solid-surface plastic materials allow a third option: sinks made of the same plastic material as the countertop can easily be glued to the underside of the countertop material and the joint sanded flat, creating the usual invisible joint and completely eliminating any dirt-catching seam between the sink and the countertop. The disadvantage is that the sinks do not have the same impact resistance of stainless or cast iron and may differentially expand and contract with extreme temperature change (as might be caused by a pot of hot water dumped into the sink). In a similar fashion, with stainless steel, a sink may be welded into the countertop; the joint is then ground to create a finished, concealed appearance.
- Synthetic materials made specifically for countertops