Hard Surface Countertops: Which One is Right for Your Project
Granite is no stranger to the residential construction world; however, prior to the 19th century and even as far back as in Ancient Egyptian times it was used mainly in the construction of buildings and palaces for kings and emperors. Granite finally took hold in the residential and commercial markets as countertop material and skyrocketed in popularity for kitchen countertops by the late 1980s, just a mere 30 years ago. Granite is currently still one of the staple hard surface products on the market. In comparison, the technology and manufacturing processes to convert quartz into countertops was developed and refined in the early 1960s. It took another 30 years to have quartz gain a foothold in the public perception as a viable countertop surface. Today quartz is one of the most recognized and requested hard surface products available to consumers.
We hear many misconceptions from clients about these two very different natural stones. Many people are not aware of the positives and negatives of these products as well as how they tend to fit their lifestyle. We thought we’d pass along some quick highlights – both pros and cons – about these stone giants of the hard surface countertop world as well as another similar product that is in the same market: concrete.
Beautiful designs in enormous slabs cut straight from the Earth beneath us, spectacular granite deposits are found throughout the world. In fact, certain designs and patterns can only be obtained in granite mined from certain spots on the globe. In comparison to quartz, granite may tend to be the more economical option for your budget, depending upon the color. Before you have granite fabricated and installed many granite dealers encourage the client to view the slab(s) being used for their project thus allowing the client to ensure the material has the exact characteristics they are looking for in a countertop material. If true uniqueness, one-of-a-kind veining, and individual designs amongst each slab is something that is of interest, then granite is the material for you. However, granite is not without its weaknesses. Granite can be porous (non-food safe), demands gentle care (only certain cleaners), requires regular maintenance (frequent re-sealing), can actually “shed” or seep grit daily for an undetermined length of time, requires fast clean-up from contact with acidic foods (i.e. citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, tomatoes, also vinegar and red wine), can have natural fissures deep in the top that can come to the surface over the years (visible cracks), and does generally lack the strength of quartz. The price of granite is dictated by the design (color pattern) and quality of cut (so broad range of price) and unless a consumer does their research and asks the right questions of the granite supplier the client does not know if you’re getting the first cut from the quarry (best quality) or the last (poorest quality). The true quality of the exact piece of stone that you are receiving can be somewhat of a mystery and can be a shell game of quality with not so reputable dealers of granite. “Buyer beware and educated” is the theme of the client looking to receive a great value in a granite project.
The term “engineered” is used many times in describing this countertop material, but don’t let that term have you think that quartz is not authentic because quartz is indeed a natural material from the Earth. Extracted directly from granite slabs, this dense and non-porous stone is the hardest part of a granite slab. Typically a granite slab contains 40-60% quartz! White and naturally milky in color, pigments are added during the manufacturing process to achieve the desired designs, and the pulverized stone is then pressed and heated into man-made slabs (hence “engineered”). In the example of quartz being manufactured and marketed by Cambria, the resulting slabs are 93% pure stone quartz. Quartz countertops give the consumer all the positives of a granite look with three added bonuses: 1) it’s completely food safe; 2) it’s one of the lowest maintenance stone tops on the market (does not require re-sealing); and 3) quartz has a strength to the material that far exceeds granite, which can be beneficial in situations with overhangs or potentially a shifting structural foundation that is completely unknown to the homeowner. This currently in-demand material does come at a premium cost in comparison to granite. Due to the labor of extraction and manufacturing process into slabs, quartz will be a jump in price of roughly 10% compared to granite. The designs can be minimalistic and clean or mimic the look of granite and marble, but each slab is made to be extremely consistent with the next slab coming off the line to limit variation within the same color or design. Quartz would be the top choice for the individual who wants their countertops to look for years exactly like the day they were first installed without the maintenance or concerns of granite.
Concrete countertops also are not new to the industry; however, trends in recent years of contemporary designs, dull/matte finishes, and “minimalistic”, clean looks have brought this material to the forefront of many design discussions. When discussing the possibility of concrete a homeowner has to realize that this product is not a natural Earth stone. Concrete is a formula of materials which are mixed on site and set due to a chemical reaction. If you’re looking for a countertop that will give an aged, “patina” look over time/use and perhaps for more decorative purposes, then concrete can be appealing. Concrete is definitely not scratch resistant in any way, and it is extremely porous. Having a good seal is crucial, and even with a good seal certain foods (like red wine, vinegar, oils) may still stain the top very quickly if they’re not cleaned up immediately. Due to the porous nature of concrete, it is imperative that the sealer used will hold up to daily wear and tear and last for years to come. The sealer might just be the weakest link in the chain when it comes to concrete durability so consumers are encouraged to do their research and ask detailed questions about long-term performance when interviewing a concrete fabricator. Concrete does shrink and crack as it dries so be prepared for this natural occurrence, but more importantly concrete has to have time to properly “cure”. Concrete cures at a rate of only 1/32” per day, therefore it takes approximately 30 days for a 1-inch thick top to cure properly. Additional thickness only adds to that cure time. Again, “Buyer beware and educated!” Be sure to review samples from your prospective concrete countertop provider to ensure that you are well aware of how the top can look when it’s complete, as there will be wide variation from one fabrication to another. A well-poured concrete top is a significant investment so if your heart is set on this material do your homework to ensure that the top that is created for you is exactly what you were anticipating, not only when is it new but also as the top is subjected to constant usage and starts to show the wear and tear that comes with daily usage in a food preparation environment.
In the end, it’s a matter of personal taste, household lifestyle, and also the budget of each individual homeowner that will determine which hard surface material will be selected. They all have their strengths and weaknesses so it is up to the homeowner to do their research and ask good questions of the suppliers that they are interviewing for their business. We hope this information will contribute to your knowledge base on these products and will help you in your decision, and don’t forget that Featherstone can service any of your new countertop or countertop replacement needs!