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When it comes to home improvement, a few changes in paint and furniture can go a long way towards changing the look of a place. But for a bigger transformation, updating countertops can bring shiny new appeal to a room or home.

Like most flooring materials, countertops now come in a wide variety of options. Even if you love the look of white marble, but worry about water stains and other normal wear and tear, there are plenty of other materials that mimic the look, but match your lifestyle — and budget.

Let’s take a look at a range of countertop options.

The Stone Age

Natural stone holds up to heat and water, is extremely durable and with repeated sealings can last a lifetime. Even if the stone chips or cracks, repair is easy. However, the cost and installation of stone countertops can be a show stopper.

Granite
Cost (including installation): $50+ / sq. ft

Granite has become one of the most popular options for countertops. Available in a variety of colors ranging from blacks, greens, browns to whites, beige and corals, no two granite slabs are the same. The cost of granite can depend on the color, finish and origin of the stone.

Due to the nature of the stone, granite may require professional installation. Additionally, to protect the stone from stains and water, granite needs to be sealed periodically as suggested by the manufacturer.

This Meridian home for sale in Idaho features granite countertops in its kitchen.

Marble
Average cost (including installation): $50+ /sq. ft

Marble has a majestic look, partly because of its soft tones and smooth surface. However, marble is not as strong as granite, is more porous and may do better with lighter or more delicate use. Like granite, it is usually requires professional installation and needs to be sealed periodically for protection.

Quartz, soapstone, limestone, travertine and other natural stones
Average cost (including installation): $30 + /sq. ft

A little more affordable than marble or granite, these natural stones can vary in their level of resistance to stains and chips. Soapstone and slate are dense and acid-resistant, but they scratch easier than quartzite or travertine.

With lighter stones, the countertop can be accidentally stained by dark juices or wine. Citrus fruits, vinegar and some cleaners can also damage a counter but a professional can re-polish the counter to remove damage.

This West Linn home features another stone option for countertops: Travertine

Stone Tile:

Like other the tile options in flooring, the look of stone can be achieved with a fraction of the cost — and perhaps on your own without the help of a pro.

Engineered Stones:

The latest stone countertops combine natural stones like quartz with 5-percent polymer resin, creating a low-maintenance, durable counter top that doesn’t require sealing, however, installation can be labor intensive.

Solid surface is another version of engineered stone, blending marble dust, bauxite, acrylic or resin for a non-porous, low-maintenance countertop. Ranging from a variety of colors and blends, even wood-grain effects, solid surface is often found in commercial properties.

A Tile or Two

Ceramic
Average cost: $10 to $30 per tile

Ceramic tiles can be a durable and stain-resistant choice for countertops. Grout needs to be resealed to protect against stains.

While you can install ceramic tiles on your own, if the shape of your counter is unusual, it will make installation more labor intensive.

This Greenville apartment features white ceramic tile in its kitchen.

Porcelain
Average cost: $40- $100/ sq ft

Like ceramic, porcelain is made from fired clay and is resistant to heat, scratches and stains. However, the grout, as in most tiled finishes, must be sealed often to prevent discoloring and wear.

Glass
Average cost: $50+/sq ft.

Unlike porcelain or ceramic, glass is not as durable but is a high-end countertop or accent option with a wide variety of colors and stains. Recycled glass can also be an eco-friendly option.

Concrete

Average cost: $65- $135/ sq. ft

The cost of a concrete countertop varies greatly on the installation. Concrete can be precast in molds and installed, or poured at site. Each way creates a unique, durable and environmentally-friendly option. However, concrete can be a labor-intensive installation and needs regular maintenance to keep it from cracking and staining.

Butcher block countertops

Average cost: $75 – $150/sq. ft

Butcher block countertops are a way to warm up a kitchen space and comes in a variety of wood types, from maple to eco-friendly bamboo and exotic zebrawood. One of the easier countertops to install, with proper maintenance and sealing, butcher block countertops have great durability.

Butcher block countertop in this home on the Healdsburg real estate market creates an ideal work space.

Laminate

Average cost: $20 – $50 per linear foot installed

The preponderance of granite and other high-end countertop materials in many of today’s homes has given laminates a bad name. But really, does anything else wipe up easily and come at such a wallet-saving cost? Similar to laminate floors, laminate countertops come in a wide variety of finishes and customizations in color and design. Laminate is a great choice for being cost-effective, durable and fairly maintenance-free.

About the Author

Erika Riggs, the Zillow Digs manager, covers home design and trends.

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