Wooden butcher block counters are in fashion, but wood is notorious for breeding bacteria.

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Silestone and Zodiaq

­It may sound like a professional wrestling tandom, but Silestone and Zodiaq are actually the two brand names of manufactured quartz countertops. Silestone has made the biggest splash in an attempt to make the name synonymous with quartz countertops, like Formica is for laminate tops. How? By investing in a Super Bowl commercial in 2005. It cost them two and half million bucks, but their products are now available in 3,500 stores. So it appears to have been money well spent.

Quartz countertops are made from a mixture of 93 percent pulverized quartz a­nd what the Silestone manufacturer refers to as "enhancement material." This includes a resin binder that hardens with the quartz into a flawless countertop surface. Resin in this case is a highly viscous synthetic compound -- a fancy way of saying goopy, sticky stuff. Resin also occurs naturally in plants and trees. The result of the combination of the resin and quartz is a nonporous finished product unlike any other countertop surface.

One thing that drives customers to quartz countertops is the variety of colors that Silestone and Zodiaq manufacture. If a traditional deep gray is your thing, then easy enough. But if you want candy apple red or 1960s orange, then a smooth quartz countertop is the ticket. Silestone also has a "leather" textured surface that mimics animal hide.

The cost of quartz countertops is comparable to granite, another popular option these days. Silestone and Zodiaq both require that a certified professional install the countertops, so pricing is all-inclusive. Quartz costs between $42 and $66 per square foot, installed. The average kitchen has about 25 square feet (2.3 meters) of countertop space, so with a middle-of-the-road $50 variety you're looking at about $1,250 with installation. Once you've picked out your color, you can choose from many different shaped edges like crown molded and rounded. You don't have to go with a solid color either, there are marble and granite patterns at the higher end of the price spectrum to choose from.

Quartz counters are ideal in kitchens for reasons we'll discuss on the following page, but are also used as desktops, stairs, flooring and fireplace mantles. The material is easy to keep clean and very durable, so it's an attractive alternative to tile in bathrooms too.