Picking Out Your Countertops
Countertops are a very important part of any kitchen. The right counters can take a kitchen from mediocre to amazing. Benson Stone Company specializes in fabricating natural and engineered stone countertops. We also supply laminate tops like Formica and solid surface materials such as Corian, however, we don’t believe any of these materials can compare to the timeless beauty or durability of natural and engineered stone countertops. It is important to find the countertop material that will fit your specific needs. Consider your practical day to day needs but also factor in your decorating style and aesthetic requirements. Below is a list of the different natural and engineered stone options and their advantages and disadvantages.
By far the most popular option for countertops, granite is an incredibly beautiful and resilient natural stone. This material meets most everyone’s needs because of its durability and the large variety of style/color choices it provides. Granite quarries can be found all over the world and there are literally thousands of different types. One of the unique qualities of granite is that no two slabs are the same. Because of the way granite forms there are always variations in the “movement” or graining of slabs even when they come from the same quarry. This guarantees that every kitchen job is unique and “one-of-a-kind”.
- Heat Resistance: Granite is extremely resistant to heat and drastic temperature changes. It is perfectly acceptable to take dishes out of the oven or pots and pans off the stove and set them directly onto a granite countertop without fear of damaging the countertops.
- Variation: We believe that the variation in granite adds to its unique beauty. Although, the fact is that no two slabs are exactly alike. If a consistent, uniform look is desired, engineered stone may be a more appropriate choice. However, at Benson Stone, customers pick out their very own slab from our warehouse so that they know exactly how their finished countertops will look.
- Scratch Resistance: Granite is very hard and will never scratch or dent. With granite countertops the only reason to use a cutting board is to protect knives from dulling. Even a razor blade will not scratch the surface of a polished granite countertop.
- Acid Resistance: Granite is completely resistant to acidic foods and is not susceptible to etching. There is no need to worry about spilling orange juice, lemon juice or any other acidic food or drink on these countertops.
- Easy Cleaning: Granite is very easy to clean. All that is required is soapy water and rag to wipe it down.
- Maintenance: In our experience, not all granites require sealing. However, it is true that oily substances can sometimes soak into granite if allowed to puddle on the surface for an extended amount of time. To prevent anything from penetrating the surface of granite, an impregnating sealer can be easily applied once every few years. Granite sealers are applied with an easy wipe on-wipe off process that takes very little time.
- Seams: Because Granite is a natural product and cannot be melted together like Corian, there will be seams where the separate countertop pieces come together. However, experienced granite fabricators and installers are very skilled at making seams inconspicuous through placement and the gluing process.
Marble is incredibly beautiful and polishes much like granite but they are actually very different types of natural stone. Granite is a siliceous stone, which is composed of very hard and dense materials like silica and quartz, while Marble is a calcareous stone composed of softer calcium carbonate. Marble is breathtaking in appearance but is not meant for high traffic areas because it is susceptible to scratching and staining. Because of this, marble is more frequently used for accent tables, bathroom vanities, or desktops.
- Unsurpassed Beauty: Marble is the height of luxury and beauty with its elegant veining. There are very few stones that can surpass the timeless and impressive look of marble.
- Scratching: Because marble is a softer stone it is relatively susceptible to scratching. It can also be chipped if something heavy or metal is dropped on the top.
- Staining: Marble is more porous than granite and therefore the threat of staining from oil and other substances is greater. Because of this it is important to keep marble sealed and quickly wipe up any spills that might occur.
- Etching: Marble is also susceptible to “etching” due to contact with acid. This includes substances such as orange juice, lemon juice, tomato juice, wine, and vinegar to name a few. Spills of this sort should be wiped up immediately, to avoid altering the finish of the stone. If not cleaned immediately etching may occur, causing the polish to be dulled and the texture to be slightly rougher in the area of the spill.
Soapstone is another natural stone that makes for great kitchen countertops. It does not have as wide a variety of colors as granite but it is definitely a unique and beautiful stone. It is mostly comprised of shades of gray to black and occasionally beautiful white veining. Over the years soapstone countertops will darken and develop a beautiful patina. This process can be aided by periodically applying mineral oil to darken the stone and bring out the natural veining.
- Heat Resistance: Just like granite, soapstone has a very high thermal capacity and can withstand very high to very low temperatures. This is handy for taking dishes out of the oven or pots and pans off of the stovetop.
- Acid Resistance: There is no need to fear acid damage from substances like orange juice, lemon juice, or tomato with this stone. It is popularly used as table tops for chemistry classrooms for its neutralizing properties and resistance to bacterial growth.
- Hides Scratches: If a soapstone countertop does get scratched it is usually very well hidden in the veining and also with the aid of applying mineral oils. The accumulation of mild scratching over the years can also add to the patina and achieve a beautifully rustic look.
- Stain Resistant: Soapstone is very dense and resists stains and discolorations without the need to apply a sealer. If by chance it does look as if a stain has set in, it will only be on the very surface, and in most cases, it can be easily polished out.
- Seams: Because of its relatively consistent color and mild graining/movement seams in Soapstone countertops blend very well.
- Easy cleaning and maintenance: Just like granite, Soapstone only needs mild detergents for cleaning. It also does not require sealing because of its extreme density.
- Scratching: Because soapstone is a softer material it is prone to scratches. Usually scratches can be hidden through the application of mineral oil.
- Lack of variation: Although soapstone is very beautiful and dramatic there is not much variation in types or colors. Most soapstone ranges from light gray to black with some white or gray veining.
- Patina: Soapstone is very durable and will last for many years but will age or darken and develop a patina similar to brass. For some people the aging of soapstone is a big advantage because it adds to the rustic look. However, if the goal is to find a countertop that will never change, scratch, or darken then granite would be a better option.
Quartzite is a natural stone that forms when sandstone is exposed to heat, pressure, and time. The result is a very beautiful and durable stone that makes great countertops. A majority of quartzite is in the white to gray range, however, other colors do exist. In many cases there is beautiful veining, which can give the quartzite a marble look while being more durable. Although quartzite is more durable than marble, it still has marble and limestone properties. This means that certain areas of the stone may not be as resilient as others. The best way to know is to get a small representative sample and perform scratch, stain, and etching tests on the stone you are interested in.
- Heat Resistance: Like granite most quartzite is very heat resistant and can withstand hot pots and pans.
- Beauty: Because of its similarities to sandstone and marble, quartzite provides an elegant and luxurious feel with its incredible veining and beautiful color.
- Easy Cleaning: Quartzite is easily cleaned with simple detergents, warm water and a cloth.
- Unpredictability: Due to the way quartzite is formed it can be somewhat unpredictable. Because it is metamorphosed from sandstone, which is a softer and more porous stone, it may still retain certain characteristics of that stone. When sandstone changes into quartzite it becomes harder and less porous but certain areas of the stone, like veining or other characteristics, may or may not have metamorphosed to the extent of the rest of the stone. This means that these areas may be more susceptible to scratching, staining, or etching. Some quartzite may be just as strong and durable as granite throughout the entire slab but it is hard to know without actually testing the stone itself. Using an impregnating sealer is a good idea with quartzite because it will help shield any less resilient areas of the stone.
Engineered stone countertops are also referred to as quartz countertops. This is because they are mainly composed of quartz, which is a natural mineral. In the manufacturing process the quartz is crushed, combined with a resin that binds it together and is formed into a slab. These countertops are about 93% quartz and 7% resin, which means that these countertops are composed mainly of natural stone but the manufacturing process gives them a much more uniform look.
- Maintenance: Engineered stone requires relatively no maintenance.
- Scratch resistance: Although granite wins overall in this category, engineered quartz comes in a close second. They could be scratched if someone was trying to intentionally scratch them, however, normal use will not result in scratches.
- Stain resistance: Because of the resin and the manufacturing process it is nearly impossible to stain a quartz countertop.
- Variation: Since Engineered stone is man made, colors and textures are added during the manufacturing process. This means that quartz tops are available in unique and vibrant colors that are not found in natural stones.
- Heat resistance: Because of the resin that is used to hold the quartz particles together, engineered stone is only heat resistant up to 300 degrees. Because of this, heat pads or trivets are recommended to protect the finish. Taking something out of the oven and setting it directly onto engineered stone could discolor the resin and cause permanent damage.
- Uniformity: For some applications the even, consistent colors and graining found in engineered stone will be perfect. However, most engineered stone does not look like natural stone because it lacks variation.
Overall, any of these materials will make beautiful and functional surfaces, but it is important to consider your priorities to make the appropriate decision. The talented sales/design staff at Benson Stone is always available to answer questions and discuss options. Feel free to call or visit anytime. Visit our showroom and slab warehouse and explore the wonderful world of natural and engineered stone countertops.