What's Your Surface Choice?
Ever since the 1950s, new ideas for surfacing kitchen countertops have kept hitting the marketplace. Butcher block, slate, porcelain and ceramic tiles, plastic laminates, Formica, Corian, have all had their day and many of those surfaces are still being installed.
In the late '80s, granite became the touchstone for countertop luxury – a popular choice for kitchen and bath remodels. Homeowners loved using "natural" stone, and granite also offered drama and color.
But since 2000, a manufactured newcomer has emerged -- "quartz," a man-made, engineered "stone" used on countertops and even on walls of kitchens and bathrooms. It combines ground quartz with resins, polymers and pigments to form a solid product. The technique started in Italy, but many manufacturers now make their own brand of quartz: Cambria, Caesarstone, Pental, Silestone, Zodiac and others.
What's the Difference?
The big difference between quartz and granite involves maintenance, according to Summer Kath, executive vice president of business development and head of design for Cambria, a leading quartz manufacturer based in Minnesota. "Granite can be a beautiful stone surface, but it can be stained and there is no warranty for granite as there is with quartz," she said.
Granite is fairly durable, but its surface can develop pits or can be chipped. It requires regular polishing and sealing; many cleaning compounds must be avoided because they can mar granite's surface.
At first, quartz countertops seemed like a pale imitation of granite, but over the years, patterns and colors of quartz have become more striking and exciting. Quartz is harder than granite and more durable. Quartz can also be used in slabs on kitchen walls and to line shower stalls.
Almost any cleaning product can be used on quartz though it can be scratched by scouring powders. You can also burn marks into quartz by setting down hot pots or kettles on a counter.
When choosing among the many brands of quartz, Kath said, check the warranty as well as the quality of the color palette and designs. Many imported quartz brands are imports that use fillers in their quartz "recipe" that can result in poor performance, she said.
Which is more expensive? Granite or quartz?
Online estimates tell us that granite countertops cost $40 to $50 a square foot installed, while quartz ranges from $50 to $75 per square foot installed.
Which is most popular?
At Rosie on the House Remodeling, it's been two or three years since a homeowner requested granite, according to Alexander Pajic, project manager for ROTH Remodeling. Most choose quartz instead. "It's easy to understand why, he said. "Quartz is resistant to impact; it's easy to clean and it's almost indestructible."
However, a 2019 survey of home buyers by the National Association of Home Builders came up with different results: 57 percent of buyers said they want granite or natural stone countertops. Quartz was second, preferred by 21 percent. Other homeowners were interested in either solid surfaces (12 percent) or laminates (8 percent).
At Arizona Tile in Scottsdale, Teresita Rodriguez, in customer service, told us that she thinks quartz gained popularity because it often includes gray and white patterns that work well with the "shades of gray" used in contemporary design. "But as the interest in gray fades, granite will become most popular again." She suggested that homeowners also consider quartzite, a natural stone, that doesn't require the same attention as granite.
What are some other counter alternatives?
More and more homeowners decide to use two different types of surfaces in the same kitchen. For example, you might put one surface on most counters, but use a different surface on the island in the middle of the kitchen.
Mixing materials is also a way to keep costs down by using a more expensive countertop surface in one area and a less costly choice somewhere else.
Not interested in granite or quartz? Here are pros and cons of several possibilities:
Butcher Block | Butcher block is a great surface for food preparation. Some cleaning with hot water and mild dish soap is necessary after working with food on a wood surface. Butcher block countertops can also benefit from applications of food-safe mineral oil. However, because butcher block is wood, they can show dings and stains easily.
Marble | For someone who loves baking, marble is the ideal surface for rolling out pastries and working with dough. But you don't want to use it for all counters because it's prone to nicks and scratches and thus requires a lot of maintenance. However, those who love the look of natural stone claim that the scratches develop an attractive patina over time.
Concrete | You can build an entire kitchen island countertop made out of concrete or even a dining table. This concrete is not anything like the kind on your driveway. For a countertop, Contractors build a frame and pour concrete on top of the cabinet. Not all cabinets are strong enough though to hold up under a concrete top. Some skilled homeowners can handle a job like this on their own, but practice first by building the top for an outdoor barbecue before trying a concrete counter inside your house. Concrete can chip or develop hairline cracks.
Soapstone | It resembles marble and needs regular oiling. But it resists stains and is easy to keep clean. It has a warm look that goes well in farm-style and more rustic kitchens.
Stainless steel | It's resistant to heat and stains but it can easily be dented and scratched. However, it can go well with stainless steel appliances.
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