Rocky Top Countertops New London CT
West Hartford, CT
West Haven, CT
West Hartford, CT
North Haven, CT
West Haven, CT
For the past 15 years, solid-surface materials have been the buzz when it comes to countertops. Touted as the be-all-end-all of countertop material, these solid synthetic sheets, which are formed by mixing a mineral compound with polyester and acrylic resins, resist chips, dents and scratches, and are easily repaired. With performance like that, why would a homeowner even think about using something else in a kitchen? Many homeowners would argue solid-surface materials lack the one-of-a-kind beauty that only natural stone can offer. Others would say the perceived value of natural stone countertops is much higher than that of solid-surface countertops, even though the materials are similarly priced. Others still are attracted to natural stone because it's just that - a natural material. Each piece of stone is distinct, and as a result, it cannot be duplicated. So it makes sense that there isn't one set of standards that applies to choosing countertop material. However, a few general guidelines may help to select the stone that is right for your project.
There is a variety of natural stone to choose from, the most popular of course being granite. Marble, limestone, slate and quartz are also suitable countertop materials. Natural stone must undergo a lengthy fabricating process before it's kitchen-ready. First stone must be quarried from rock beds in many countries, including Italy, Spain, the United States, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Israel, Greece, India, Mexico, Germany, Taiwan and Turkey. Marble and granite, for example, are quarried in the form of huge blocks, which sometimes weigh up to 35 tons. The blocks are then typically cut into 3/4- or 1 1/4-inch slabs and are refined to a specified finish. Consumers can select from two countertop finishes. A polished finish appears shiny and often darkens the appearance of the stone.
Honed finishes, on the other hand, have a soft, matte look and appear more natural. A third finish, called flamed, yields a rough-textured surface typically used for granite floor tiles rather than countertops. The slabs are then crated and shipped to fabricators who finish each countertop based on the specifications of the consumer. Admittedly, appearance tops most consumers' lists of countertop criteria. Homeowners choose from a variety of colors, ranging from soft beiges and pinks, and classic black and whites, to rich corals, greens and multi-colors - no two of which are the same. While some might view this distinctiveness of natural stone as a positive, others might be hesitant about the material's lack of consistency. Consumers who fall into the latter category will be better off choosing a material other than natural stone for their countertops.
Hard and Heavy Choices As tempting as it might be to choose a countertop material for its appearance alone, there are other factors that must be considered.
The measure-of-hardness scale measures a stone's resistance to abrasion. This is often called the Moh Scale, after German mineralogist and originator Friedrich Moh - not as an acronym for measure of hardness. On the scale, one is the softest and 10 is the hardest. Most marbles rate a three. Because marble is soft and stains easily, it's not recommend for use throughout a kitchen. "Marble really isn't a good choice for countertops unless the homeowner is extremely careful," says Gary Distelhorst, executive vice president of the Marble Institute of America. However, its cool surface makes it the leading choice for countertops used to roll dough and make pastries. Sandstone, limestone and slate have varying places on the scale due to the variability of elements in their construction. These stones range from a three to four rating. As a softer material, limestone is susceptible to scratches and stains. Consumers who want the look of limestone with more scratch-resistance might consider Jerusalem Stone because it is a bit harder and a less porous material. Quartz-based granites rate a seven, making it the hardest natural stone available for countertops. Natural quartz is smooth and grayish blue like slate, but does not scratch as easily. It has the hardness of granite without the flecked effect. Consumers should also take a stone's weight into account. "Hardness is not the only factor in durability," says Vince Migliore, technical director of the Marble Institute of America. "The weight of the stone is a good measure of its density," Migliore says. "Normally heavier stone makes better countertops." The weights of natural stone per square foot vary not only from one material to another, but also from piece to piece, according to Migliore. Assuming a slab thickness of 1 inch, 1 square foot of marble ranges between 12 and 14 pounds, and granite must weigh at least 13.75 pounds. There are various categories of limestone and sandstone, which causes weights to range between 8 and 14 pounds. To give you an idea of how this translates to an entire countertop, a 1-inch-thick slab of granite 2 feet wide by 8 feet long would weigh about 220 pounds. Once these heavy slabs arrive at the fabricators, you should ask to see the pieces that have been selected for your countertops before they are finished to your specifications. Don't be surprised when the piece doesn't look exactly like the sample stone. Deviations in pattern and hue are typical, but it's wise to make sure you can live with these variations before the fabricator proceeds with the piece. Next, the fabricator will cut the stone slab to fit the dimensions of the countertop and will finish the piece with the desired edge. Depending on the type of stone, you can choose from several profiles, including bevel, bullnose, ogee and pencil edges. Once fabrication is completed, a certified stone contractor should install the countertop. An electronic directory of such installers is available at the Marble Institute of America's website, www.marble-institute.com.
Cost and Care Natural stone is a porous material and requires some maintenance. All stone countertops must be sealed with a penetrating stone sealer about every six months. Of the natural stone materials, granite absorbs the least amount of sealant. Marble, being more porous, requires more sealant. Clean up spills quickly, especially if they are acidic, which will etch the surfaces of all stone - even granite. To clean stone countertops, use a damp cloth with a mild detergent. Abrasives and bleach should be avoided. There are some considerations and disadvantages intrinsic to this natural material. Chopping and slicing foods directly on these countertops will dull knives rapidly, so a chopping surface should be used and perhaps designed as an integral component of the countertop. And be extra careful with your glassware, china, ceramics and other breakables, as they are likely to shatter more easily when dropped onto a stone countertop as opposed to a laminate or synthetic surface. Natural stone, which is considered a high-end material, is often too expensive for some kitchen-project budgets. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, homeowners can expect to pay between $70 and $100 per square foot for natural stone countertops. Of course, the price will vary depending on where you live, where the stone is coming from, how difficult the piece is to fabricate, and the type of finish it receives, Distelhorst says. And natural stone isn't a do-it-yourself project. "Sophisticated machinery is needed to cut, shape and polish stone," he says.
Concrete Alternatives Do-it-yourselfers who are interested in a natural material may want to consider concrete, which is gaining ground in countertop applications. June Mejias, showroom manager for Buddy Rhodes Studio Inc., a San Francisco-based manufacturer of the concrete product, advises ambitious homeowners to start small. "Try tiles first before attempting a countertop," she says. For homeowners who want to attempt their own countertops, Buddy Rhodes Studio offers a concrete mix. Cheng Design, a Berkley, Calif.-based design company known for its concrete forms, offers a NeoMix kit. It is designed to be used with high-quality bagged or sacked concrete, such as Quikrete 5000, and contains everything needed to pour, grind, polish and seal a countertop approximately 2 inches thick, 25 inches deep and 8 feet long. The company estimates the cost of this project at $600 to $750, which includes the kit, mold materials and equipment rental. For those who would rather leave fabricating to professionals, pre-cast concrete countertops are based on custom-made templates and ordered from fabricators. Fabricators can also ship oversized slabs to cut on site.
A pre-cast concrete countertop is made of cement, sand and binders, and is reinforced with expanded galvanized steel diamond mesh. The concrete is hand packed into custom-made molds, which are constructed from a melamine-type material that can handle moist concrete. When the concrete is dry, it is removed from the mold. Typically, the largest slab cast at Buddy Rhodes Studio is about 7 feet by 3 feet. Anything larger tends to crack and can be too heavy to work with, Mejias says. Like natural stone, a larger countertop will require seaming two or more pieces together. A 1.5-inch-thick countertop can cantilever 10 inches. Concrete comes in several finishes. A troweled finish gives a smooth, mostly monochromatic surface with obvious trowel marks and subtle variations of light and dark. With a ground finish, pigment-infused concrete is lightly sanded to expose the natural sand aggregate. A pressed finish works the surface with pigment-infused concrete, then a diamond-impregnated pad grinds across the slab to reveal marble-like veining. To find a qualified professional to install a concrete countertop, visit www.concretenetwork.com. Additionally, any contractor who deals with marble or granite will most likely be able to complete a concrete countertop installation. In terms of cost, concrete is considered a high-end material - right in line with granite and marble. The price per square foot ranges from $50 to $100, according to the NKBA. Countertops by Buddy Rhodes Studio start at $90 per square foot for a 1.5-inch thickness with eased edge. But again, the do-it-yourself factor of concrete can trim costs. Another advantage to concrete is the variety of colors available. Although most concrete fabricators have standard colors to select from, it is possible to create custom colors by matching things like paint chips, fabric swatches or tile. Of course, veining, color and texture will vary with each casting. Once concrete is cast, dried and shipped, extreme or abrupt changes in temperature or humidity may cause it to warp or curl.
It is recommended that once a concrete countertop is uncrated, it be laid flat, allowing it to acclimate to the jobsite's temperature. After installation, moisten the countertop evenly with a sponge and then cover to allow slabs and grout to dry evenly. Buddy Rhodes Studio recommends the counter be allowed to dry for two days. People often ask Mejias why they shouldn't use concrete in their kitchens. She's upfront with homeowners, telling them that the material requires some maintenance. If they are adverse to this, she advises they go with another material. Like natural stone, concrete is porous and must be sealed with a product like Trewax two to four times a year and waxed using a paste every three to four months. To reseal, clean the countertop with Trewax cleaner to remove wax, rub on the sealer with a soft cloth and after it dries, buff the sealer with a dry cloth. Finally, add a layer of paste wax. "The trick is to maintain the sealer," Mejias says. She cautions that wet sponges, terracotta pots and dish drainers left directly on concrete counters can darken the finish. Mejias also warns not to let spills sit, especially if they contain oils or acidic liquids, which may etch the surface of the countertop. After wiping a countertop, she recommends homeowners use a non-abrasive, bleach-free cleaner, like Simple Green. Occasionally concrete countertops may form hairline cracks. This won't affect the structural integrity of the piece, and it can be patched. Some feel that cracks and darkening on the surface give the piece a patina and add to its character. Keep in mind that concrete is not a static material and will change over time. If the maintenance of natural stone and concrete seems laborious, another option, engineered stone, may offer the best of both worlds. It has the look of stone countertops with the maintenance-free performance of solid surface. DuPont Zodiaq, made from engineered quartz, rates a seven on the Moh scale. It is available in a 52-by-120-inch sheet in 2- and 3-centimeter thickness. It looks and performs like granite, but doesn't require sealing and has consistency of pattern and color. Engineered stone is also sold under the brand names Silestone and Avanza, and its cost per square foot is comparable to natural stone. n Alicia Garceau is a freelance writer based in Chicago.