Kitchen Counters: Plastic Laminate Offers Options Aplenty
Whatever color or pattern your heart desires, this popular countertop material probably comes in it
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Plastic laminate, once the standard surface for postwar home kitchen countertops, still has a big market share due to affordable and maintenance-free options in loads of colors and patterns. Check out the basics and special considerations here to see if a plastic laminate counter might be right for your kitchen.
The basics: Plastic laminate countertops consist of a wafer-thin finish adhered to a plywood or particleboard substrate. That thin finish is a high-pressure laminate (HPL); it's made of three layers of material bonded together by high heat and pressure: a clear melamine top for protection, a decorative layer and a backing made of phenolic resin-coated kraft paper. Well-known laminate manufacturers include Formica, Wilsonart and Nevamar.
Costs: $8 to $20 per square foot, including installation.
Special considerations: Because laminates are so thin, edge details require forethought to avoid that telltale brown line at the counter's edge. Options include:
Advantages: Low cost and a myriad of choices are the boon here. Laminates come in a staggering array of colors, patterns and finishes: from eggplant to amber, maple to marble and high gloss to grained.
Disadvantages: Keep your cutting boards handy, as knives can wreak havoc on the melamine finish. And trivets should be used with hot pans, as the lamination is heat resistant to just 150 degrees.
Maintenance: As with most counters, stick with a damp cloth or sponge and mild detergent for routine cleaning. Avoid bleach, as it can cause discoloration. Long-term care is a breeze, as the top coat of protection is permanent and requires no sealing.
Sustainability: Plastic laminate veneers get a green thumbs-up for the modest amount of resources consumed during manufacturing (though they're roughly a quarter petroleum-based resins). Manufacturers like Formica and Wilsonart have boosted the sustainability of their products with the use of FSC-certified wood. And several manufacturers can boast of GreenGuard certification, which indicates that their products contribute to improved indoor air quality.
More: Compare countertop materials
Ideabook published on Nov. 19, 2012.
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