There is no dispute that natural stone—especially granite—has been the countertop material of choice in elegant, upscale homes for several years now. However, even granite—the most durable, scratch-and heat-resistant natural stone option—has several characteristics and risks to consider. Naturally porous, it can be stained from oils, acids, wine, soda, and some cleaning products, especially if not periodically sealed. It also contains tiny pits and natural fissures that may appear to be cracks. Although these are not structural defects, granite could crack from thermoshock if a hot item is placed on a natural fissure, and heat could expose the crack and open it up. Slabs cannot be repaired if broken and since it is a natural product, it does not come with a warranty.
Engineered stone, also called quartz surfacing because it is made by combining 93 percent crushed natural quartz with resins and pigments, has been developed to create a material resembling natural stone, but is much harder, more durable, and easier to care for than any other countertop material. Engineered stone counters are available in an ever-growing number of colors, patterns and even textures. They are becoming increasingly popular for high-end applications because they offer the benefits of granite’s durability with the attributes of nonporous solid surfacing into one product.
Basics of Engineered Stone/Quartz Surfacing
Engineered stone is usually polished to a high gloss shine and installed in solid slabs like granite, but the colors and patterns are more consistent. The combination of quartz and resins make it nonporous, resistant to heat, scratching, stains, chemicals, molds, and bacteria with no need for sealing. It is also more flexible, stronger, and easier to work with than natural granite, enabling manufacturers to offer warranties on their products.
Advantages of Engineered Stone
- Strength and Durability: It is harder and heavier than granite, and because it is more flexible, it is somewhat easier to handle and install. It will not chip or fracture during everyday use as granite can.
- Maintenance Free: The extremely hard, non-porous surface retains its high-polished luster and never needs sealing. It is easily cleaned with warm, pH neutral soapy water.
- Consistent Appearance: Most patterns resemble natural stone, but with a consistent pattern and color, so that, unlike granite, your countertop will look very much like the sample you chose.
- Scratch Resistant: Since only diamonds, rubies, sapphires and topaz are harder than quartz, it resists scratches from such objects as stainless steel knives, ceramic pots, and mugs, which can scratch solid surfacing. However, the use of cutting boards is recommended because cutting on quartz will dull knives.
- Heat and Burn Resistant: Engineered stone counters are resistant to heat from hot plates of up to 350 degrees, though the use of trivets or hot pads is recommended.
- Food Safe: Because nothing can penetrate the nonporous material, it resists growth of mold, mildew and bacteria and will not stain from oil, acids, wine, soda, and most common household cleaners.
- Wide Color/Pattern Selection: Manufacturers continue to expand the colors, patterns and textures available, ranging from those that resemble natural stone to bright variations of orange, red, blue, green, and yellow. Some manufacturers offer products in a matte or “honed” finish, so it’s a good idea to compare several different brands to find the color that works best for you.
- Manufacturer’s Warranty: Manufacturers typically offer a 10-year warranty.
Drawbacks to Engineered Stone
- Uniform Appearance: Engineered stone counters lack the natural color and pattern variations, “beauty marks” and flowing veins, known as “movement” of the stone, which makes each natural granite slab unique and more attractive to many.
- Visible Seams: Because it is installed in solid slabs, there will be visible seams along the front edges and in the deck of the countertop, as will natural stone. However, the seams are often less noticeable than those in granite and darker colors also tend to minimize their appearance.
Engineered stone is an expensive countertop that must be professionally installed. Prices tend to run between $100 to $150 a linear foot and vary according to brand, color, and pattern. Homeowners should consult with a countertop professional to learn more about this material and if it’s right for their kitchen before investing in the material.
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