Quartz Kitchen Countertops Fairfax VA
Falls Church, VA
Quartz Kitchen Countertops
Step into your local home improvement store to select a new kitchen countertop and you'll find a surprisingly long list of options. There are tried-and-true countertop materials — like laminates, wood and stainless steel — as well as popular alternatives — granite, marble, ceramic tile, solid surface and even concrete
Over the past several years, another option has been added to that ever-expanding list — quartz.
Marketed under such brand names as Cambria, CaesarStone, Formica Stone, Silestone and Zodiaq, and available from both domestic and international manufacturers, quartz countertops have gained popularity quickly since their introduction. Perhaps quartz's deep sparkle and diamond-like luster appeal to homeowners, or maybe it's the fact that quartz is durable, stain- and scratch-resistant, and easy to clean and maintain. Whatever the reason, quartz countertops are showing up in more and more homes.
Working With Quartz
Quartz is the most common mineral on earth and one of the hardest. Only diamond, topaz and sapphire are harder. According to Jim Wielinga, product manager for Formica Stone, quartz "is actually harder than granite, because granite typically contains only about 25 to 30 percent quartz." Quartz countertops, on the other hand, are 93 percent quartz, he points out.
Although quartz is mined from the earth, like marble and granite, it isn't carved directly into slabs. Instead, it's molded into shape. Quartz forms in small, six-sided crystals that grow in clusters. A silica (SiO2), quartz is often found with sandstone and granite. Though it forms in a range of colorful varieties (impure or colored varieties include agate, flint and amethyst), the most common quartz crystals are white or colorless.
To create countertops, the crystals are ground to different sizes, called aggregates. The aggregates are combined with pigments and a small amount of either acrylic or polyester resin, which act as binders. The mixture is then molded using the Breton quartz-manufacturing process, which was developed and patented by Breton SpA, an Italian company.
The process incorporates heat, pressure (or a vacuum) and vibration compaction (vibro-compaction) to create the quartz slabs. "The mix, a thick paste, is poured into a form, which is then sealed," explains Tony Basilio Jr., a representative for DuPont Surfaces, the manufacturer of Zodiaq quartz countertops. "A vacuum is created, vibro-compaction takes place and oven heat finishes the cure."
The slabs are then cooled, sanded, polished, cut to size and finished with a variety of decorative edgings. The result is a hard, durable surface that shows the natural beauty of the stone. Because of the mixing process, the color is more consistent, even between batches, than any other natural stone.
Companies making quartz countertops prefer their products not be called "solid surface." DuPont originated that term in 1965 to describe Corian, which is a combination of an acrylic resin base (poly methylmethacrylate) and a mineral (alumina trihydrate). In Corian, about two-thirds of the countertop material is mineral; a very minor percentage is pigment for color.
Quartz countertop manufacturers also don't approve of the phrase "composite countertops" for their products. Cambria, Silestone and DuPont are willing to accept the term "engineered quartz," though since quartz makes up more than 90 percent of the final mix, they all consider the material to be simply a natural stone surface.
Quartz has several qualities that distinguish it from other countertop materials. For instance, because quartz is so hard, the countertops are scratch-resistant, though not scratch-proof. Still, you're less likely to mark them if a knife slips while you're slicing a tomato.
Quartz countertops are also nonporous, which makes them resistant to staining, so you have to worry less about marking them with wine, coffee, mustard and the like. They are also impervious to most chemicals, though puddling Drano on its surface is not a superb idea. Their nonporous nature makes them safer for use in the kitchen, since bacteria cannot penetrate the material.
Normal cooking temperatures don't faze quartz. Thermal shock can crack it, though, so hot pads or trivets are strongly recommended.
Strength in flexion (bending) is four times that of granite. This reduces some of the possible installation problems and increases durability.
Perhaps most important, clean-up is a breeze with the engineered quartzes. Most of the time, a swipe with a damp washcloth does it. For heavier grime, one of the milder household cleaners works well.
Because it is nonporous, engineered quartz does not need to be sealed. Concrete, for instance, needs fairly frequent sealing to prevent staining; granite and most other hard stone countertop materials also need periodic surface sealing, as does the grout between ceramic tiles. Wood butcher block has to be resealed at intervals of no more than three years.
Metals are superlatively durable, but copper needs almost daily polishing, while stainless steel needs care to prevent it from looking like a mass of smudge marks. And both can be very expensive.
As far as costs are concerned, high-pressure laminates, like those developed by Formica, Micarta and Wilsonart, are at the scale base. These are durable materials, within their limits (you shouldn't cut on them, set hot pots on them or use abrasive cleaners). They are available just about everywhere, in sheet or postformed shapes, and in a true rainbow of colors.
Generally, prices for quartz countertops are comparable to those for granite and other high-end countertop options. DuPont estimates the installed cost of Zodiaq quartz countertops at $50 to $90 per square foot, while Formica Stone natural quartz surfacing has an MSRP of $130 per linear foot installed, though costs vary depending on the pattern and the complexity of the installation.
Most countertops are 25 inches deep (though depths of up to 55 inches are available), so you get slightly more than 2 square feet at linear-foot prices. In all cases, special orders, special edge treatments and more complex installations add to the cost.
Making a Selection
Choosing between the various brands of quartz countertops can be tricky, since they all contain essentially the same materials and are made by essentially the same process. However, there are subtle differences between the brands. Here's a quick peek at the major players.
Cambria. Based in Le Sueur, Minn., Cambria is the only U.S.-based manufacturer of quartz countertops. The family-owned parent company, Davisco Foods, made its money in food products before turning its hand to manufacturing quartz countertops in 2001. Cambria offers a 10-year warranty on its countertops, which are available in 27 colors, all of which are named for British landmarks, cities and attractions. Even the name, Cambria, is Latin for Wales, the ancestral home of the company's founders. For more information: http://www.cambriausa.com .
CaesarStone. An Israeli company, CaesarStone was the first manufacturer to make countertops from quartz, starting in 1987, and ships its products worldwide. Slabs are fabricated with a wide range of rounded, slanted and beveled edges, and are available in more than 30 colors and 40 styles. A 10-year warranty is offered on material and workmanship. For more information: http://www.caesarstoneus.com .
Formica Stone . Introduced about a year ago, Formica's natural quartz material currently comes in two stock thicknesses (2 and 3 cm) and about a dozen colors, with the emphasis on natural, organic shades. The company uses a combined acrylic/polyester resin in the mixture and offers a 10-year warranty. For more information: http://www.formica.com .
Silestone . Although all quartz countertops are non-porous and therefore naturally resistant to bacteria like salmonella or ecoli, Silestone has one-upped the safety factor by offering its quartz countertops with built-in Microban, an EPA-approved bacterial-retardant product that inhibits growth of common bacteria, yeasts, molds and fungi on the surface. Produced in Spain by Cosentino, Silestone is available in more than 50 colors, with a 10-year warranty. According to a company spokesperson, Silestone sales have doubled each year since its introduction. For more information: www.silestoneusa.com .
Zodiaq . In 2000, more than 30 years after it originated the solid-surface countertop category with Corian, DuPont introduced Zodiaq, its entry into the quartz countertop marketplace. In fact, the two materials can easily be used together in an installation – Corian for the sink and Zodiaq for the counter, for example. Around 30 colors are available, many of which use densely faceted quartz particles to produce color depth and clarity. A 10-year warranty against defects is offered. For more information: www.zodiaq.com .
All of these manufacturers are continually adding to the colors of countertops they offer. Light colors still dominate, but there are plenty of intensely vibrant reds, greens, blues and blacks to balance that out and meet the needs of just about any homeowner.
Once you decide on a manufacturer and color, you need to locate an installer. Quartz countertops are heavy and, because of their cost, must be professionally installed to ensure proper handling and prevent damage. Carefully check the references of any installer you hire. Small mistakes make a lot of difference.
Generally, quartz is available in standard thicknesses of 3/4-inch and 1 1/8-inch, though other thicknesses are available. Because of its weight, it needs to be supported over wide spans, or there may be stress cracking. Extra support also is needed in corners and areas where joins are made, or they could crack. Due to these installation issues, companies such as DuPont, Cambria and Silestone sell only to installers who have completed installation training courses.
Today, your choice for kitchen countertops is wider than ever, and so is your chance of getting exactly what you want, getting it installed properly and having it last an exceptionally long time. Unlike the porcelain enamel countertops of our grandparents, our countertops don’t chip and rust, and come in much more than a single shade of white. It’s too soon for their durability to be truly legendary, but that’s bound to happen as time passes.