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Choosing a new countertop can be a tricky process. There are many materials to choose from. Each material has its own process, advantages, and disadvantages. Some homeowners may value function over beauty, and some may be looking for the perfect material to match the desired aesthetic.
Natural countertop materials, like granite and quartz, have three different grades – low (level 1), mid (level 2), and high (level 3+). A slab’s grade is determined by thickness, colors, the country it originated from, and the number of materials it contains.
Often called “commercial grade”, low-grade materials are usually a thinner cut and simple design. It can also require plywood backing for added support. Low-grade prices can range from $40 to $60 per square foot. Although it’s the lowest grade, it still looks great. It is a cost-effective option for homeowners looking for a simple design.
Mid-grade materials are cut thicker, usually around ¾ inches. The designs are more unique than low-grade. Level two materials are typically quarried in India or Brazil. Mid-grade can cost from $50 to $70 per square foot on average.
The finest quality is graded level three and up. Grades, in most cases, go up to five, but some companies may go up to seven. High-grade materials may have rare designs or come from rare sources. For its high quality, homeowners can expect to pay between $60 and $100 per square foot. [Rock Doctor, 2018]
When people think about countertops the first thing they might think of is granite. Granite is an extremely hard material that is made from compressed molten rocks. It is incredibly durable and heat resistant. Granite consists of mineral crystals that interlock and make each piece unique. There are different types of crystals in granite-like quartz, feldspar, and mica. Granite is produced by drilling and blasting large blocks of rock found in quarries. The chiseled granite is then cut into slabs using milling machines. After this, the process of turning the raw granite into countertops begins. [Winter, nd]
Granite is available precut or custom made. The design and shape of the counters will determine the cut of granite needed. Most of the cutting is already done at the quarry. However, if the kitchen design features unusual shapes, the granite will need to be cut at the job site. Because of how hard granite is, a diamond cutting saw is required. Cutting dry granite can create dust. To reduce the mess, installers uses saws with vacuum attachments.
Granite is also heat and scratch-resistant. Installing granite countertops requires skill and a great deal of labor. [Winter, nd]
Quartz is a hard, natural material that is formed by rock eroding over time and leaving it behind. Quartz is so common that most white sand beaches are made out of quartz (International Granite & Stone, n.d.). Raw quartz, however, can’t be used alone as a building material. It needs to bound using resins or similar binders (International Granite & Stone, n.d.). Pigment may also be added for color since quartz is a naturally clear material. Natural stones or colored glass can also be used to add color. All the different materials are mixed together then poured into molds. The quartz molds are baked at an extremely high temperature. To create the finished product, the polish is applied to the surface. [International Granite & Stone, n.d.]
When this process is complete, you are left with a hard, non-porous surface. Quartz countertops are easy to clean and resist moisture and bacteria. Unlike other countertop materials, quartz doesn’t need to be sealed. A great thing about quartz countertops is the wide variety of styles and colors. It’s easy to find a style of quartz that will fit your remodel.
There are a few brands that specialize in manufactured quartz countertops:
(Silestone in ETERNAL Bianco Calacatta, n.d.)
Silestone products are made from natural quartz and other hard materials. A polyester resin binds the materials together. Silestone looks similar to granite and marble, but quartz crystals give it more sparkle. Created with kitchens and bathrooms in mind, Silestone is non-porous and stain-resistant. It can handle everyday messes from coffee to makeup. [Silestoneusa.com, nd]
(Caesarstone in Atlantic Salt, n.d.)
Caesarstone is created used up to 90% natural quartz mixed with color pigments. It is held together using a polymer bonding agent. Caesarstone surfaces are durable, non-porous, and scratch, stain, and heat resistant. It offers many color profiles and five different finish types – natural, polished, concrete, rough, and honed. [caesarstoneus.com, nd]
(Cambria in Risegate, n.d.)
Cambria is made with around 95% natural quartz and bonded with a polymer resin. Every panel is sealed making it anti-microbial and practically maintenance-free. Cambria is durable and made to last. It is non-porous, nonabsorbent, and scratch and stain-resistant. It offers a wide selection of about 126 colors. [Cambriausa.com, nd]
Concrete is a mixture of sand, water, and cement. Sometimes stone or gravel may be added. The components harden and create a strong, sturdy surface. Concrete countertops are created by adding an underlying surface, like concrete board. A mold is then made by adding forms to the sides of the board. The concrete is then poured into the mold. Once the concrete hardens, the forms are removed and the edges are sanded down and smoothed out. [Tollefsen, 2018]
Concrete countertops are great if you want an industrial feel in your home. Concrete is popular in modern homes and adds a unique, rugged look. They can be simple and cost-effective. However, it should be noted that concrete is very porous. This means it can stain very easily. To reduce the risk of staining, concrete countertops need to be sealed properly.
Marble is another naturally occurring material that can be used for countertops. Marble is made from old minerals, like calcite. When calcite is put under extreme pressure and heat, it crystalizes. This new crystalized substance is marble. Similar to granite, marble also features particles of other minerals, like quartz and mica. While marble may give off a more uniform look than granite, it is very porous and reactive. Marble that is not sealed can degrade over time due to contact with acids or exposure to moisture. [Tollefsen, 2018]
Due to the excessive maintenance needed to take care of marble, it may not be a great choice for families with young children. If messes are not cleaned immediately, the countertops can be permanently damaged. Marble can create a luxurious and sophisticated atmosphere. While marble may be a high maintenance material, the work may be worth it to some.
With many options available, choosing a new countertop can be a tricky task. It’s important to note your lifestyle and style preferences before making a decision. If you have a family prone to making messes, some materials may not be right for your home. Knowing the science behind each material can make the decision of finding the best material with the most value to your home and family a little easier.