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The price is right. Laminate is inexpensive and usually costs a lot less than most other materials. It's about $10 to $40 a square foot installed. Look at the largest samples available and try them out in your kitchen. The Design Center on Formica's website invites you to design your own kitchen so you can see what the counters would look like. Keep in mind that unlike pricier materials, laminate can be replaced at a fraction of the cost.

They last. Countertops take a lot of wear and tear so you'll want some idea of how they'll age before choosing a material. In Consumer Reports' countertop tests they stained, sliced, scratched, scorched, and nicked 14 materials from leading brands and found enormous differences in materials but little variation among brands. That's why they rated materials, not brands. Stains and heat weren't a problem for laminate in the tests, but it was easily scratched by knives and isn't repairable so if you choose it, always use a cutting board.

It's not granite. For years some have predicted that granite was on its way out, saying it's been overused and will become as outdated as avocado green appliances. But the NAHB study showed that granite countertops are as desirable now as they were in 2007. On the up side, while granite became more popular, laminate got better looking. Formica's new Anniversary Collection features 12 graphic patterns with a mid-century modern flair, including Dotscreen's microdots and Halftone's printing screen vibe. They're $12 per square foot installed.

It's lost its edge. Cool colors and patterns have been added but until recently that ugly dark line along the laminate countertop edge remained. Formica loses the dark seam by adding a decorative edge. The bullnose is rounded at the top and bottom while the ogee edge has an S-shaped curve. Wilsonart also offers decorative edges for its laminate countertops and integrated sinks are also an option.

Before you start shopping, look at countertop Ratings and think about the pros and cons of each material. Once you choose, have the fabricator take the final measurements - and responsibility for their accuracy. Your contract should list counter thickness and finish, as well as fees for sink and faucet cutouts, edges, back splash, and removal of the old counters.

If you're considering counters for a remodeling project, see Consumer Reports guides to updating your kitchen and remodeling your bathroom.

A familiar name to all of us, Formica, began operations in 1913 making industrial laminate products, and countertops as long ago as the late 1940s. And don't even dare use the word plastic. Laminate is not plastic.

Construction of Laminate Countertops
You have two basic materials: the laminate surface itself and the base.

The laminate surface is largely made up of paper, not plastic. It is a sandwich with these layers, from top to bottom:

  1. Melamine Resin - Transparent. Protects everything else below it.
  2. The Overlay or Wear Layer - Paper similar to the paper used to make coffee filters or tea bags. Also carries some melamine resin and aluminum oxide with it.
  3. Decorative Layer - This is the layer that has the color and design.
  4. Kraft Paper - Similar to paper in grocery bags, the Kraft paper layer forms the core of the laminate surface. This paper is hardened with resins.

2 Types of Laminate Counters: Pre-Fabricated or Installed
One of the promising aspects about laminate counters is that they yield either to do-it-yourself (DIY) or professional installation.

For DIY installation, you can purchase pre-fabricated laminate counters online or from home improvement stores. These counters have the laminate surface already applied to the base and with edge treatments added. Your range of sizes and surfaces is limited.

For professional installation, your choice of sizes and laminate surfaces is greatly expanded. The installer first lays down the wood base, then applies your choice of laminate surface with a strong adhesive. Excess laminate is routered off and edge treatments are added.

There is a third, but rarely used, option. Some do-it-yourselfers install custom laminate counters by themselves. Handling the router with laminate is difficult; even the slightest nudge is enough to nick the laminate and ruin your edge. While DIY installation can be done, it does take practice to get over the learning curve.

Laminate Countertops Cost
There was a time, long ago, when laminate counters were inexpensive--all of them. After all, they were the staple of motels, diners, and offices. Now, with premium and designer laminate available, you need to keep an eye on the price tag.

Pre-fab slabs of laminate (laminate plus base) can run as cheap as $15 to $25 per linear foot, uninstalled, from home improvement stores or online.

Professionally installed laminate counters start at around $30 per linear foot, depending on your locality. If you want custom edge treatments--and this is a time-intensive task that drives up the price--expect to pay upwards of $50 per linear foot.

How Laminate Countertops Differ from Other Countertops
Laminate is distinctly different from other types of countertop materials:

  • Solid Surface vs. Laminate - If laminate is ever confused with another countertop substance, it's usually what we call solid surface. Solid surface (i.e., Corian, etc.) is a thick polymer-based material, solid all the way through. Laminate is typically cheaper than solid surface and somewhat easier to fabricate.
  • Natural Stone vs. Laminate - Natural stone can be either slabs of natural stone or engineered stone (stone particles bound by adhesives into slabs). In either case, stone is solid all the way through, unlike laminate with its particleboard base. Stone is vastly more expensive than laminate and is difficult to fabricate and install.
  • Tile vs. Laminate - Tile, either ceramic or stone, is a little like laminate in that it is a thin layer installed on a wood base. The difference is that tile's base will usually be plywood, whereas laminate's base is particleboard. Tile counters  are comparable to laminate in cost.

Manufacturers of Laminate Countertops
The big names in laminate are Formica and Wilsonart. Other names include Pionite, Bevella, and Nevamar.

  1. Low Maintenance & Easy to Clean.  When we were growing up my mom had ceramic tile countertops and I remember her saying she couldn’t wait for the day to rip them out. I also remember her scrubbing (and making us scrub!) the grout to keep it clean and bright. Laminate offers an easy to clean solution with a household cleaner, a sponge, and some hot water, cleaning them is a breeze and maintaining them is a cinch since you don’t need to seal them.
  2. Budget Friendly.  Compared to stone and other solid surface countertops, laminate wins in the price war. Starting as low as $15 per square foot, they are far more affordable than quartz, marble, or granite which are often $50 to $100 per square foot depending on the material. You do have to be careful of sharp objects, abrasive cleaners, or extremely high heat. Here is a brief and interesting read about how laminates are made.
  3. Stylish. Laminate countertops are looking so good! The new patterns complement dark and light, painted and wood cabinets, but do you notice how they’re installed?

    When ordering your laminate surface consider not including the laminate backsplash seen with many of the older versions (that little lip or apron that rides up on the wall).

    Instead opt for a countertop that stops at the edge of the horizontal plane and choose a pretty backsplash that meets the countertop at the bottom of the wall.
  4. New & Improved Patterns.  Laminate has come a long way! Patterns are even available to look like White Carrara marble. They’re also are available in bullnose and ogee edges for a more contemporary look.
  5. Magazine Worthy.  It’s not just high end solid stone or wood countertops that make it into magazines now. Stone lookalike laminates are candidates too!

Edge Options

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