Engineered Stone Countertops
Engineered, or manufactured, stone is a composite of natural material pieces--usually quartz--bound with resin, pigments, and other types of filler. It is then heated to produce a hard and durable slab. Some man-made products are comprised of soft stone such as marble. These, however, require a sealant and need higher maintenance. Quartz, unlike natural slabs of marble or granite, is mined in aggregate form. The crystals are first pulverized and mixed with larger quartz pieces; then binders and coloration are added. The result is a strong surface that is not pitted, has no fissures, and does not exhibit the natural and unpredictable variations of natural stone.
Benefits of Using Engineered Stone Countertops
Engineered stone costs roughly the equivalent of granite, but is somewhat easier to handle. There are several reasons to choose engineered stone for kitchen countertops. The variety in color and design is vast. It can imitate natural granite or marble or can be manufactured to meet a range of color choices, from pastels to brights to deep rich blacks and reds. Color and patterning are uniform making it a good choice if future kitchen expansion is planned. The surface is nonporous, a fact that makes it a superior option for food preparation safety and cleanup. There is never a need for polishing.
Drawbacks and Installation of Engineered Stone Countertops
The only drawbacks are susceptibility to heat damage and scarring from any utensil that is harder than the binder. Always use trivets when setting out warm dishes and never use cutting utensils directly on the surface. Overall, engineered stone weighs much more than granite. It is suggested that a professional handle installation.
Varieties of Engineered Stone Countertops
Regardless of brand, the process of making engineered stone is the same. All products are comprised generally of 93% quartz and 7% binder and filler. Slabs are available in a range of sizes or can be manufactured in sections with minimal seam visibility. The pieces can be cut to any shape--rectangular, curved, and oval, for instance. Some manufacturers include an antibacterial agent in the composition process. Other fillers include glass or mirror chips, and even mother of pearl. The size of quartz crystals used will also enhance depth and clarity. Countertop edging can be designed into each piece; these include inlay, rounded, bullnose, ogee, waterfall, and square. The surface area can be shiny (polished) or matte (honed). The latter requires some additional maintenance as the smoothing process also leaves the slab susceptible to staining. Most manufacturers offer comparable pricing. The choice is only limited to regional availability.