Thursday, August 5, 2010

Q&A: A cheap way to renovate a kitchen: all about benchtops

Q. I want a new kitchen but everyone's saying it's cheaper just to get new benchtops. Are they right?

Well, there's much to think about. Replacing benchtops can be more affordable than replacing an entire room of cabinets, especially if you aren't changing appliances or plumbing. You can even get old benchtops resurfaced to look like new but that's another discussion altogether. When it comes to choosing materials, most of us like something flashy that will smarten up the look. All benchtop materials have pluses and minuses. Natural stone such as granite or marble can look fantastic but is expensive and requires sealing. The quality of stone can also vary depending on where it was quarried and how it is prepared. Engineered stone such as terrazzo or SmartStone can be similarly priced to natural stone but you can save money by buying thinner profiles and having it finished with a straight edge; bevelled or fancy edging costs more. Engineered stones are usually made from stone or glass chips mixed with a resin and don't require sealing. Remember that all stones can chip or crack if heavy or hot pots are placed on them, so they're not as bulletproof as people think. Engineered stone is especially prone to chipping around an under-bench sink. Stainless steel is expensive but is long-lasting and extremely durable (if you don't mind the fingerprints). Laminate is the hardiest and cheapest bench material and comes in many colours and profiles. It usually has a quicker turnaround time to custom-install than more expensive materials, too. Timber is one of the most overlooked benchtop materials but hardwood is durable and easy to sand back and reseal to update its appearance. Some timbers even have natural anti-fungal properties.

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