Try 'solid surfaces' for counters Resilience, softness and variety of colors are advantages

Homework

March 02, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

IT'S ALWAYS surprising how many style decisions have to be made when you're remodeling, especially in redoing a kitchen or bath. Euro- or American-style cabinets? Wood finish or laminate? Painted or natural? Mixed or matched? What kind of door and drawer handles? What kind of flooring? Resilient sheet, ceramic tile, wood? And what kind of counter tops?

To the last question, the standard answer used to be tile or laminate. Occasionally, someone would use butcher block, solid wood, copper, stainless steel, marble or some other exotic surface.

There may not yet be an ideal counter top surface; every material has its benefits and disadvantages. Staining, cracking, pitting and chipping are problems with traditional tiles and laminates; copper, stainless and stone are sturdier but they're noisy and, if you drop something fragile, it will almost certainly break.

However, in the past decade, a new family of surfaces has become popular, the so-called "solid surface" materials such as Surell from Formica, Corian from Du Pont, and Swanstone from Swan Corp. They're more resilient than ceramic, softer and warmer to the touch than marble or stone, and because the color goes all the way through, they can be cut at any angle or finished with any profile.

Randy's just wrapping up a kitchen project where the homeowners chose Corian. Like the other solid surfaces, Corian is nonporous, so it's stain-resistant; any stains that appear can .. be scrubbed out with ammonia or abrasive-type cleaners. Small imperfections such as cuts and scratches can be sanded out with fine sandpaper.

Corian is made of natural and acrylic materials, and comes in 41 colors. It can even be sandwiched so another color (or colors) will show along the edges. It comes with a 10-year warranty, as long as it is installed by a certified installer and as long as the homeowners (or their successors) maintain it according to company instructions.

Most solid-surface materials are molded, unlike laminates, which are basically printed designs faced with melamine, or some other plastic-type finish. "The immediate benefit, if you scratch or burn or dent a laminate surface, it's fairly difficult to repair," said Julie Maslov, a spokesman for Formica Corp. of Cincinnati. Solid-surface materials, such as Formica's Surell, "tend to be more renewable," she said. "You can buff out a scratch."

All the solid-surface materials are scratch-resistant and heat-resistant. Swanstone is somewhat more resistant to damage because it is molded under heat and pressure between matched steel dies -- "sort of like a waffle iron," said Terry Gibbons, advertising and promotions manager. The process makes it more heat- and impact-resistant, he said -- as much as five times stronger than other solid-surface materials.

Swanstone comes in 18 colors and it can be layered for decorative edges. However, its hardness makes it slightly less versatile when it comes to surface decoration such as inlays.

Solid-surface materials can be molded into almost any shape, so they can appear as bathtubs, shower bases, wall surrounds, sinks, vanity and counter tops, and even in commercial applications, such as service counters in fast-food restaurants.

The reason these materials haven't become more widespread, and more familiar, in the market place is their cost. The average cost for a laminate surface is about $15 to $25 per linear foot, installed, Maslov said, while a solid surface costs about $80 to $120 per linear foot installed.

Randy Johnson is a Baltimore home-improvement contractor. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail us at homeworlark.net, or write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 3/02/97

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