What the Heck are Laminate Countertops Anyway?If you posed this question to three people, you would probably get three different answer back, but there would be a common strand: plastic.
After all, laminate countertops came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, when plastic everything was the vogue. Certainly, laminate must be a modern plastic substance that is environmentally evil. Right?
Wrong. 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 CountertopsYou 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:
- Melamine Resin - Transparent. Protects everything else below it.
- 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.
- Decorative Layer - This is the layer that has the color and design.
- 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 InstalledOne 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 routed off and edge treatments 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 CostThere 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 CountertopsLaminate 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 by plywood, whereas laminate's base is particleboard. Tile counters are comparable to laminate in cost.