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Dear Jim: We are remodeling our kitchen. When cooking, it always seems to be warmer than the rest of the house, uncomfortably so in the summer. Would installing a high-mass solid surface countertop help this at all? -- Paul G.

Dear Paul: A kitchen is the highest energy-usage room in a home. Most of this energy is just wasted in the winter and causes overheating in the summer. A gas range, with all the burners on is equivalent to running a small furnace.

Your idea of adding thermal mass in the various components in your kitchen makes a lot of sense, both for improved comfort and lower utility bills year-round. As the heat is being produced while you cook, it is slowly absorbed by the thermal mass instead of overheating the room air.

Mostly for aesthetic reasons, high-mass, solid surface countertops (slate, colored concrete, granite, tile, marble, etc.) are becoming increasingly popular for modern kitchens. With skyrocketing gas prices and the recent electricity shortages, energy efficiency should also be a consideration.

Natural slate is one of the most attractive and durable high-mass (over 20 pounds per square foot) countertop materials available. Slate is non-absorbing, so it will not stain and requires very little maintenance. Most countertop slate has a beautiful honed matte finish with an eased (rounded) edge.

Colored concrete is becoming very popular and will offer the equivalent thermal mass and maintenance-free durability of slate. Concrete can easily be cast into any unique countertop shape. It is typically about 1.5 inches thick and is finished with either a troweled or a veined surface texture.

Granite has always been a popular choice for upscale countertops. It is not as heavy as the concrete or slate, but still has adequate thermal mass for efficiency and comfort. Granite is available in a variety of colors and patterns. It is a porous material and it must be sealed periodically.

Ceramic tile is an excellent countertop material because of its durability and decorative patterns. If the tiles are set in a heavy mortar base, its natural heat transfer properties can be effective. Ones with a color glaze look brilliant, but scratches are less apparent on natural unglazed tiles.

Engineered stone is another option and is often more reasonably priced. It looks and feels like real marble or granite, but it is actually composed of 93 percent quartz aggregate bonded together with resins. This creates a material that is often more durable with a more uniform surface appearance.

Other less massive, but attractive countertops includes solid wood (maple or oak), various durable laminates, solid resins and stainless steel.

Write for (instantly download -- Update Bulletin No. 419 -- buyer's guide of 13 attractive, high-mass countertop manufacturers listing materials descriptions, colors, features and a countertop material/pricing selector chart. Please include $3 and a business-sized, self-addressed stamped envelope.

James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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