One of the best ways to improve your kitchen and give your house a lift is with new countertops. It’s a job that can run from the minimally priced work-a-day top up the ladder to stylish focal point.

Here are 8 of the most popular countertops, along with pros and cons for each (and a very ballpark price scale):

- Quartz (engineered stone). These tops, which go by such names as Cambria and Silestone are great for busy kitchens. Their surfaces are nonporous and both stain and heat resistant. They are available in a wide variety of colors and, and this is my favorite part, they do not have to be sealed unlike stone.

Also – certain brands of engineered stone offer antimicrobial protection.  That said, you will get seams and the occasional edge chip. Look for engineered stone to run in the $45 - $90 sq/ft range, installed.

- Granite. The Queen mother of countertops, and in some people’s eyes, the absolute top of the line. Granite can withstand heavy use, will resist heat and scratches. Granite will also resist stains when properly sealed.

However, you must take the time to keep your granite countertops sealed. Also, color and grain can differ from samples, so to make sure you are getting what you order it is best to go to the stone yard and pick out your own slabs.

One new product in the granite category is engineered granite (goes by the name Trend Stone).  This is granite that comes sealed and is scratch and stain resistant.  In my opinion it is the best granite you can have installed.

Granite countertops will rock you in the $40 - $100 sq/ft range, installed.

- Laminate. Laminate countertops come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. They are generally easy to clean and their low price keeps them near the top of the sales charts.

However, laminates are easily scratched and as you are probably well aware, they can chip. Most also have visible seams, although new seam-free laminates are hitting the market.

Look for laminates to cover you for $10 - $30 sq/ft installed. If you are bound to do it yourself, laminates are your best bet.

- Stainless Steel. Want to feel like you are auditioning for Hell’s Kitchen? Then stainless steel is your option. They will repel stains and heat and won’t rust or discolor. You can also get them with a ‘built in’ sink for a seamless look.

However, if fingerprints drive you crazy, then this is a bad choice. Stainless will also dent and scratch. A matte or grain finish will help hide the blemishes.

Stainless will reflect the $70 - $120 sq/ft neighborhood, Chef Ramsey not included.

- Marble. This heat resistant stone is a traditional choice in medium traffic areas. I always think of marble as the sister that never got to be Queen (granite). It has all the same characteristics as granite, except isn’t as tough or as stain resistant.

Marble too will require a periodic sealing. Grrrrrrrrr.

Marble will roll by in the $40 - $100 sq/ft range, installed.

- Ceramic tile. Very heat resistant, ceramic tile is another choice for the do-it-yourselfer because of its ease of install. It comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns and prices.

Tile will however, chip easily and the grout will stain easily (although using colored grout, and a sealer may help). You won’t like tile if you are looking for something perfectly flat.

Tile will slide in to the $10 - $30 sq/ft range.

- Concrete. What? Concrete? Concrete is making an appearance in modern, hi-tech kitchens all over the place. It can be dyed, textured, shaped or customized in other ways – you can even put your hand print in it before it dries…

Before you go out and grab a bag of Quik-Crete keep reading. Concrete requires periodic sealing and believe it or not can be damaged by knives and rough objects. AND, if you don’t have a skilled craftsman doing the install guess what – it will crack as well.

Concrete pours in between $80 - $120 sq/ft installed.

- Butcher block. This is will give your kitchen a homey, country look. It is easy to install and repair, and is also good for cutting produce.

But guess what? Butcher block requires frequent cleaning and periodic sealing and refinishing to remove cuts, dings, and scratches.

The block will carve you up at the $40 - $65 sq/ft rate.

There you go.