Solid surface countertops were a revolution of sorts when they were first introduced. Until then most modern countertops were limited to tile or laminate. Solid surface has come a long way however, available in a vast array of colors and patterns, made by numerous manufacturers.
The term "solid surface" may seem a bit obvious since all countertops are "solid". But in the countertop and surfacing trade there is no confusion about what this material is.
Like any other surfacing material used for countertops, there are some things to be aware of so that you can make informed decisions. Solid surface can be made from several different types of base ingredients, each with their own attributes and drawbacks.
Installation is important too and isn't something the average do-it-yourself handyman should try. Tools and training are important in getting a good looking and structurally sound solid surface countertop.
Then there's all the different brands to consider and whether there's any real difference among them.
So if you've been considering solid surface countertops, read on to find out if they're the right choice for you.
Solid surface is basically a plastic. It's a petroleum-based product made from the combination of acrylic or polyester resins and an inert filler material. Its beauty, aside from pure aesthetics, lies in its ease of workability and repairability.
From an installer's viewpoint solid surface is very similar to wood with regard to its ability to be cut and joined. Seams are virtually invisible which allows large expanses of countertop space to be connected with no visible joints. This nice feature also means that a solid surface sink can be joined to the countertop for a seamless installation, with no discernible edge between the countertop and the sink.
(Nerd Alert - if you're not into the chemistry-101 aspect of solid surface, skip on to the next section. You'll miss a few tidbits but don't worry, there's no test at the end.)
Solid surface is made up of two main constituents called a "filler" and a "binder". The filler in most cases is a substance known as "ATH" or Alumina Trihydrate. ATH is a natural mineral that's in the form of a white powder when used in the manufacture of solid surface.
This sometimes results in scratches that show up as white or light-colored lines, particularly in darker surfaces. The scratch accentuates the ATH used in the makeup of the surfacing material. ATH is also a natural fire-retardant which gives solid surface countertops good fire-resistance.
The binder that's used to hold the ATH and any other secondary ingredients together is a resin that's either pure acrylic or polyester or a combination of both. This is another important point because there are differences between the two materials. Each has its own characteristics that impact the look, fabrication and in some cases, the durability of the solid surface.
Acrylic also has greater thermoformability - meaning it can be formed and shaped with heat more easily than polyester. This is important during the fabrication of your countertops should your design incorporate any bends or other features that require the material to be formed.
Some manufacturers like Avonite® use polyester specifically to obtain countertops with these qualities. Polyester costs less than acrylic so in general, polyester-based solid surface is cheaper than acrylic-based products.
Beyond these main ingredients solid surface manufacturers include numerous additives aimed at enhancing various aspects of the material. Each has their own "recipe" based on various attributes they're trying to achieve.
There are other considerations in the installation process that also affect long term durability of your countertop. The solid surface material should be acclimated to the room before it's actually installed because it reacts (expands and contracts) with it's environment. This conditioning is needed to make sure there's minimal expansion or shrinkage once the material is cut, bonded and installed in place.
Solid surface is also brittle and susceptible to something called "stress risers". These are defects like sharp corners or nicks that concentrate and accentuate the normal stresses on a countertop. This "concentration" of stress can cause the solid surface to break. A good fabricator is aware of these issues and should take this into account when installing your countertops.
The bottom line on installation is this: you're spending good money on a quality surface. Make sure you're confident and comfortable with the capability and experience of your installer because improper installation can cause problems down the road and in some cases even void your warranty.
To avoid these problems look for fabricators that are certified by the solid surface manufacturer or are members of the ISSFA (International Solid Surface Fabricators Association). Manufacturers typically use the certification process to support their product warranty and ensure the product's reputation is not tarnished by faulty installation. Also, obtain references from an installer and check out their past customers' satisfaction firsthand.
Solid surface countertops look good and perform well but they're not perfect. These highs and lows are meant to offer some perspective but don't consider them as purely black and white. In some cases, one person's positive will be another's negative. It all depends on your view and expectations.
Since solid surface was first introduced by the DuPont® company numerous manufacturers have come on line with their own products. Each has their own unique formulation and method of manufacture but virtually all of them use the same primary ingredients of fillers and resin binders.
So you may ask, are they all the same? The problem with the answer to this question is that it's not that black-and-white. The best answer may lie with an analogy to something we're all familiar with, such as car brands.
Each auto manufacturer can make a car that operates satisfactorily, incorporates the necessary operational and safety features and can transport us where we want to go with reasonable reliability. The same is true about similar 'commodities' like solid surface countertops. The differences lie in the details and that's where being an educated buyer proves it's worth in sorting through all the choices.
So what makes them different? Consider the following:
Duration of the warranty speaks to the level of confidence a manufacturer has in their product. At a minimum, consideration of the warranty is one means of judging a product and may provide you with some level of security in your investment.
The bottom line on brand differences is that they do exist, but they're not drastic enough to warrant complete avoidance of any particular brand. In reality, there are more similarities than differences so your choice comes down to which product provides the features and price point that works best for you.
Here's an alphabetical list of the major brands of solid surface that exist on the market. As you can see there's no shortage of brands to choose from. Sometimes the best way to get familiar with specific products is to take a closer look at what a few brands have to offer. If you still can't find a color or pattern to your liking, dig deeper by investigating some of the other brands. More often than not however, you'll find something you like among all the choices that are out there.
Solid surface is enough of a commodity that it's easy to find. Big-box home stores will carry it, either in pre-formed countertops or as part of a countertop design and installation service. Your local countertop fabrication shops will also carry solid surface, usually from several different manufacturers.
If you're interested in a particular brand you can find out where it's sold by checking the manufacturer's website. There's typically a "where to buy" or dealer locator function that allows you to input your zip code to find the nearest distributor.
Can you get any brand you wish? It's possible but it depends on your location and the distribution reach of the company that makes the product. In most cases however, it won't really matter. The abundance of solid surface makers means you should be able to find quality solid surface countertops in a color you like regardless of maker. The bottom line differentiators are going to be convenience (what brands you can get in your area) and cost (which brand is offered at the best price).
You can find local solid surface fabricators by using the form below. It'll help you find solid surface or other countertop specialists in your local area.
In the crowded field of solid surface countertops there's a lot that's the same, though I'm sure the marketing departments from the various manufacturers would take issue with that. Let's face it; there are only so many colors in the spectrum and the 'speckled particulate' pattern has been around forever. But in the midst of all this sameness, in my opinion several products stand out.
|Corian® Private Collection||Mystera|
Choosing the right solid surface countertop doesn't have to be difficult despite the myriad of choices. Whether it's brand X or brand Y doesn't matter so much as long as you get the color you want at the right price, along with a competent installation.
Browse the various manufacturer's websites for colors you like. If your local fabricator doesn't have that specific brand, there's a good chance you can find something very similar in another brand. That's the upside to all the "sameness" among solid surface countertops.
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