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After cabinets, countertops represent the next largest remodeling expense for the majority of kitchen projects. On average, kitchen counter materials, design, construction, and installation make up between 15% and 25% of the overall kitchen price tag. The specific percentages will vary by project, of course, but there can be no denying that countertops are a major cost and should be viewed correspondingly. In turn, this is not surprising given the important role that countertops play from the standpoint of both appearance and functionality. It is the cabinets and the counters, more than anything else, which set the tone for the kitchen. 
The greatest determinant of cost for countertops is the material used. Natural materials tend to be more expensive than plastics and composites, but not always. A great deal depends on not only the type of material, but the specific sub-type. A wood countertop's price tag depends more on the species of wood than on just the fact that it is wood. Similarly, for stone, there are going to be significant price differences among granite, marble, limestone, soapstone, travertine, and slate. For synthetic materials, such as solid surface and laminate, a major determinant of cost is the specific design, including any unusual colors, textures, and edge effects. More intricate or complex designs will tend to raise the price tag relative to basic or standard options.

Another important determinant of cost is the extent of labor required to construct a particular countertop. In the case of concrete or cement-based terrazzo, the labor is actually more expensive than the materials, because the countertop does not come pre-made, but has to be mixed, formed, and cast for each individual application separately. For other materials, any unusual shaping or design selections which require significant additional labor will always inflate the overall expense of the project. In addition, the removal of the old countertops and the installation of the new ones will incur a substantial labor expense on top of everything else. Consequently, failing to include the cost of labor in the countertop budget can result in a significant underestimation of the final price tag.

Our goal in this section is to present typical cost ranges for a full set of countertops in an average sized kitchen. However, actual costs will depend on such factors as region, service provider, kitchen size, decorative elements, shape, and thickness, among others. For example, if you have a large double-L shaped kitchen, you may easily end up needing twice as much counter space as someone with a small galley kitchen. As a consequence, your cost may be significantly higher even though you are using the same materials and service provider. For this reason, we try to present the costs on a per square foot basis.

When receiving an estimate from a service provider, it is important to understand whether this is a base line cost, or whether it is the full "out-the-door" price which incorporates all of the "extras", such as edge profiling, backsplashes, sink cutouts, installation, sealing, and finishing. Certain service providers may apply pressure to select a particular color or design in return for a lower cost. Be careful with such pressure tactics as you definitely do not want to end up purchasing something that you later regret.

In general, whether you are using a single service provider or several, the main expense categories for a countertop project should include the following components: materials, including exact type, thickness, color, and, if applicable, texture; precise measurements for the countertops, including backsplashes, if applicable; fabrication costs, including templating, edging, and cutouts for sinks, cooktops, faucets, and any other appliances; removal and disposal costs for the old countertops, if applicable; and costs of plumbing and sink removals and installations, if applicable.

With that in mind, we begin our discussion of costs by considering the most popular natural countertop materials, which are stone, wood, and metal. Depending on the specific sub-type used, these are considered either mid-range or high-end options for countertops. These materials are relatively non-renewable, wholesome, attractive, and highly durable. They are also safe, particularly if a low-VOC finish or sealant is used in the case of stone or wood. In the case of metal, not only is the material safe, but it also has proven anti-bacterial properties.

For granite, as for most natural stone products, the final cost will primarily depend on the quality of the slab and the thickness of the countertop. The general range is $40 to $180 per square foot, with especially rare granite going as high as the $200s and even $300s. The quality at the very low end - in the $40 to $50 range - may be questionable or, alternatively, this pricing likely does not include any of the extra work associated with finishing a granite countertop. Slabs that cost above $100 usually represent rare coloring or veining. A price of $100 or more for basic granite that does not offer upscale texturing or edging is too high and you should consider an alternative service provider. Most granite countertops land in the $50 to $90 per square foot range, finished and installed.

For marble, the range is somewhat narrower and generally lower than that of granite. Marble will generally run $40 to $90, with most marble countertops landing in the $50 to $70 range. As with granite, a great deal depends on the specific slab of marble and how far it needed to be transported. Especially rare slabs can cost well upward of $100. Regional differences in price can account for swings of 50% or even more in the final cost.

Soapstone tends to be somewhat more expensive than marble, costing about as much as a mid- to high-range granite. A 3/4 inch thick soapstone counter will generally run between $90 and $110 per square foot, installed, although regional differences and the origin of the stone can drive the price higher or lower. Offering similar durability and stain-resistance, slate is somewhat less expensive than soapstone, coming in at $70 to $90 per square foot. A much less costly option is limestone and travertine, which generally run between $20 and $60, installed. However, at that price range, the limestone types - such as travertine - will generally be softer and require more upkeep than soapstone or slate. On the other end, the most expensive stone option is enameled lavastone, which costs between $200 and $300 per square foot, installed.

A lower cost alternative to stone slab countertops is stone tile countertops. These tiled countertops cost about 50% of the stone slab equivalents, installed. However, the downside of those cost savings is the incorporation of grout lines and the lack of consistent, natural patterning and texturing associated with single slabs.

Compared to stone, wood countertops are generally going to be less costly, but not always, and not necessarily by much. With wood, the main determinant of cost is the species of wood that is used in the construction. Oak or pine countertops will be the least expensive option, costing between $30 and $45 per square foot, installed, assuming no intricate design elements. Rock maple or cherry will be substantially more, running $60 to $80 per square foot. Walnut pushes the range up to $90 to $100 per square foot. An exotic wood such teak, zebrawood, or bubinga will be in the $125 to $150 range.

With wood, you may be able to reduce your expenses by purchasing the materials and the labor separately. By looking online, checking with wood wholesalers, and contacting lumber yards, you may be able to get a good deal on an upscale or exotic wood. Then, you can contract separately with a local carpenter to construct a set of countertops using this wood.

While both wood and stone countertops can get up there in terms of price, the most consistently expensive countertop material would have to be metal. Although most metals are not as expensive as lavastone, they are just about the next costliest option, with a lower bound at around $75 per square foot and an upper bound in the mid-$200s. Stainless steel typically runs $75 to $150 per square foot, depending on the gauge, surface texturing, and edge profiling. Copper runs $90 to $200 per square foot. Zinc runs $120 to $250 per square foot. For more unusual choices, such as pewter, brass, or bronze, all of the work is highly customized and usually incorporates intricate designs. These are definitely luxury choices and can run as high as $300 to $400 per square foot, completely finished and installed.
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A lower cost alternative to natural materials are composites and laminates. These are synthetic, man-made materials which typically combine plastics with processed wood or stone particles to create a uniform, dense and durable substance with many different possible looks, designs, and textures. The main types of materials within this category are engineered stone, solid surface, and laminate.

Engineered stone is the most expensive of the composite materials. Its pricing is close to real stone which is not surprising as engineered stone is typically composed of more than 90% quartz. In addition to a more natural look and feel than other composites, engineered stone offers excellent durability, heat-resistance, and stain-resistance. Engineered stone is available in a range of colors and designs, which are more uniform than natural stone since engineered stone is ultimately a man-made material. Depending on the brand, design choice, and edging profile, engineered stone typically runs between $50 and $130 per square foot, with most options ending up in the $70 to $100 range. If you are quoted a price above $120 for engineered stone, you should strongly consider seeking out other service providers. Moreover, if you have the budget for that price range, that means you can also afford high-end granite, soapstone, stainless steel, and even copper, which are all plastic-free, natural options.

Solid surface is less expensive than engineered stone, but it is still considered to be a mid-range to high-end material. As with engineered stone, the final price will largely depend on the brand and design choice. In most cases, solid surface will run between $40 and $80 per square foot, installed. Generally, solid surface prices at a 30% to 40% discount to natural and engineered stone. This savings, coupled with solid surface's durability, stain-resistance, resemblance of natural stone, and ability to be thermoformed, have made it a popular choice for many homeowners.

Laminate is the least expensive option of all, and the go-to material for budget-minded homeowners. Running between $10 and $50 per square foot, laminate can reduce the cost of countertops by a factor of 10 relative to stone. With laminates able to resemble any other surface with photographic precision, it is possible to get a set of countertops that look like granite, marble, rosewood, teak, copper, bronze, or terrazzo for a fraction of the price any of those surfaces would actually cost. However, laminate is essentially layers of kraft paper or melamine and plastic resins attached to a fiberboard backing. It may look like a designer counter, but it definitely feels and wears like the impostor that it is. In addition, low-cost laminates in the $10 to $20 per square foot range do not have a great track record when it comes to longevity or durability and unlike other materials, laminate countertops cannot be repaired - once damaged, they have to be either replaced or completely refaced.
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Another man-made option which has been steadily gaining in popularity has been concrete and cement-based terrazzo. With the advent of decorative concrete, the material has been making a successful transition from the gray industrialism of sidewalks and driveways to the functional elegance of kitchen and bathroom interiors.

This is surprising to discover for many consumers, but concrete is actually considered to be a higher end countertop option. Generally, concrete will run between $80 and $150 per square foot, including installation, making it an option that is on par with natural stone and metal. In cases where the concrete is thicker than 1.5 inches, includes intricate edge treatments, or incorporates decorative inserts or inlays, the price can rise to the upper $100s or low $200s per square foot.

A number of homeowners are willing to take on the relatively high expense of concrete because it provides the opportunity to create a completely unique set of countertops whose shape, texture, design, and color can be controlled with absolute precision. Unlike industrial concrete, the decorative concrete used for kitchen counters is really a craft product which is mixed and shaped by hand and made unique for each customer. The level of artistic expression that concrete enables is unmatched by any other countertop material.

Cement-based terrazzo is much like concrete with uniform inserts. Typically, pieces of glass or small stones are set into a cement mixture, creating a heterogeneous surface which provides more visual interest than a monochromatic surface. Terrazzo offers a beautiful and unique look and the price to go with it, costing between $120 and $250 per square foot, depending on the brand and the specific design.

A lower cost alternative to professionally made concrete or terrazzo countertops is the do-it-yourself (DIY) option. All of the tools and materials required to mix and cast either concrete or terrazzo are available for purchase through hardware stores and home improvement centers for a fraction of the price associated with hiring a professional contractor. Moreover, there is a great deal of information available both online and at bookstores providing step-by-step instructions for constructing your own concrete countertops. On the other hand, this is definitely toward the upper range of DIY projects in terms of difficulty and complexity.
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Even if you are unwilling or unable to pay the prices for specially designed concrete, you can still have unique countertops in your kitchen by utilizing tile or glass. Although costs differ materially between these two, both represent incredibly versatile materials which combine an aesthetic appearance with the durability required of a countertop surface.

The most common type of tile is ceramic, which is made from a clay mixture that is shaped into bisques, then fired, painted, and glazed. Ceramic tiles are made in varying degrees of strength. The ones used for bathroom walls are Class 1 or Class 2 tiles and even though they can be both attractive and inexpensive, they are too fragile for use as a kitchen countertop material. You should make sure that you are purchasing tiles that are rated Class 3 at minimum.

Ceramic tiles are available in a broad range of designs, colors, and shapes. Most are fairly inexpensive, available for just a few dollars per square foot. With installation, the price of tile generally falls in the $10 to $40 per square foot range, making it one of the least expensive options, on par with laminate. Of course, if you purchase hand-painted, imported, specially textured, or otherwise rare tile, the price can go up to $50 or even $100 per square foot, depending on the unit cost of that particular tile.

Tile offers excellent functionality, strong durability, ease of replacement, a customizable appearance, and a highly attractive look for one of the lowest costs among all countertop surfaces. However, it has one major drawback, which is grout lines. These borders between the individual tiles are difficult to clean and to keep free of stains. Grease, oil, and food particles have a way of seeping into the grout and, over time, discoloring it and wearing on it. In addition, it can become a breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria. Consequently, even though its cost is low and it has many excellent characteristics, tile has a major drawback with respect to upkeep. Although new, epoxy-based grout provides better moisture- and stain-resistance, it is still a more challenging surface than other alternatives.

Glass tiles are usually not used for kitchen countertops, as they scratch too easily. However, other forms of glass offer not only a viable, but indeed an intriguing alternative for kitchen counters. Specially manufactured, thick tempered glass is becoming an increasingly popular choice for countertops in contemporary kitchens due to its combination of unique look, design possibilities, non-porous surface, and light enhancing properties. It is also an environmentally friendly choice, as glass countertops are commonly manufactured from recycled glass.

However, glass countertops are not inexpensive. A slab of countertop-appropriate tempered glass runs on the order of $70 to $100 per square foot, with fabrication and installation adding another $50 or more per square foot. This makes glass an upscale option, on par with quality granite. However, there price bands for glass can be quite wide, with a $100 per square foot or more difference between the lowest cost options and the more hand-crafted, specially textured designs.
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Although it is incorporated in many material-based estimates, the cost of countertop installation can also be considered on a standalone basis. The difficulty of the installation work and the amount of labor that is required for a set of counters can vary significantly. While these variations depend on a number of factors, such as kitchen size, ease of access, removal needs, and so forth, by far the most critical factor is the countertop material that is used.

Stone installations are somewhat challenging because of the heaviness of the stone and typically require at least a two-person team. As a consequence, the installation can run as high as $70 per square foot, although it is usually on the order of $30 to $60 per square foot. You will find that the more expensive the stone, the more you are charged for the installation. This does not make logical sense given that installation needs are the same for most any slab countertop regardless of how expensive or inexpensive the stone. However, many service providers take advantage of the opportunity to up-charge better heeled customers. To avoid this, you can ask the provider to price out the cost of installation in advance, before you commit to a particular slab. Alternatively, you can hire a separate service professional for the installation work.

Wood and metal are on opposite sides of the installation cost spectrum relative to stone. Wood is one of the easiest and, by extension, one of the least expensive countertop materials to install. It is relatively light and straightforward to adjust and manipulate. Consequently, the cost of wood countertop installation should be in the range of $20 to $30 per square foot and certainly not much higher. By contrast, installing metal is a more involved process, particularly as metal usually needs to be welded to the cabinet base. Generally, metal countertop installation will run on the order of $40 to $80 per square foot, depending on the service provider, the specific metal type, and the installation specifics.

Concrete, terrazzo, and glass are all rather expensive to install, particularly if the concrete or terrazzo are being cast on site and that labor expense is counted toward installation. Generally, $50 to $100 per square foot will be where most installations for countertops made of these materials end up. However, these are considered less mainstream and more upscale options for kitchen counters, so the higher installation costs should not be surprising.

Laminate and tile are both low-cost countertop options, but the expenses are divided differently between the two. Laminate is more expensive to purchase and less expensive to install, being a very installer-friendly material. Generally, laminate will run between $15 and $25 per square foot for the installation. By contrast, the tile itself is generally not too costly, but the installation is labor-intensive, requiring preparing the bed, setting each individual tile, and filling in the grout. As a result, tile installation will tend to run $30 to $40 per square foot, although it can go as high as $70 or $80 per square foot for high-priced tiles or specialized installations.

Finally, for engineered stone and solid surface, the installation costs are almost always included in the overall purchase price, and the fabricators will do their own installations. As a consequence, it is difficult to separate out the actual installation cost from the cost of materials and fabrication. If you decide to use one of these composite surfaces, you will have to accept that the installation comes as a package deal with the countertop.
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The costs explored so far have to do with purchasing new countertops, however you may also wish to consider the costs of refinishing if you are open to the possibility of refacing rather than replacing your current countertops. In most cases, refinishing can save you considerable expense while providing much the same result from the perspective of not only appearance, but also functionality.

If you decide to replace your old countertops, you will have to contend not only with the costs of the materials, fabrication, and installation of the new countertop, examined above, but also with the costs of removal and disposal of the old countertop. Generally, these costs will add between $400 and $1,000 to your overall price tag, which is a considerable expense for most homeowners.

For an average kitchen, which has on the order of 30 to 40 square feet of counter space, the cost of removing the old countertops and installing new countertops using a mid-range material such as solid surface, for example, will run around $2,500 to $3,500. Using granite or engineered stone will push it up into the $3,000 to $5,000 range. But if you choose to reface rather than replace the countertops, that will shave a thousand to several thousands of dollars off the price tag.

The specific cost of a countertop refinishing job will depend on the material and condition of the existing countertops and the materials and edge profiles of the reface. Generally, refinishing utilizing laminate or tile runs in the $20 to $40 per square foot range, all-inclusive. However, if you choose to go with a higher quality refinishing material, such as engineered stone covers, that could easily double the price. In either case, you will end up saving between 30% and 50% relative to replacing the countertops with the equivalent material as you are using for the reface.

Most refinishing jobs are done in such a way that it is impossible to tell that a new surface material has been applied to an old countertop. This can be a particularly effective approach for a situation where you are preparing to sell your home and are updating its look in order to put your best foot forward to prospective buyers. However, if you are simply tired of dealing with your old, worn out counters and want a fresh start without spending an arm and a leg, refinishing can also be the right step.
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