Granite vs. Engineered Quartz for Your Kitchen Countertop

by | Jul 31, 2019 | Educate

Kitchens are often called the heart of the home. So much action takes place in and around the kitchen, from meal preparation and cooking to dining and entertaining. So, when homeowners plan to renovate their kitchen, they want to create a special and unique design that reflects their lifestyle and is also a good investment. Today, there are more countertop materials than ever to choose from and it can be a bit overwhelming deciding where to start. Natural stone is quite often the top contender, with granite and marble being the most popular and preferred choices. Quartz is also often among the narrowed down material choices for consumers. Natural stone and engineered quartz can be somewhat similar in terms of aesthetics and function. These issues are good starting points for the design. However, thought should also be given to the material’s durability, maintenance, sustainability, and cost over the life of the material and kitchen. Let’s take a comparative look at some of these issues before making a decision.

Composition of the Material

Natural stone has been used for many years as a countertop material and has often lasted long beyond the lifespan of the home. Granite is one of the hardest and strongest types of stone available, which makes it a great choice for a countertop. Marble is another preferred choice for countertops because of its beautiful veining and coloration. Marble has been used since ancient times and is still held in the highest regard and is the preference for many of the world’s greatest works of art and architecture. Granite and marble are natural stones that are quarried, cut into slabs, polished, and fabricated into countertops.

Quartz is an engineered product that may contain a large percentage of natural mineral quartz but also include other products. These are not slabs of quarried stone, but an agglomerate of stone-like materials such as stone waste or byproducts that are ground up, bound with resins and formed into slabs for countertops and other products. Manufacturers often say that the typical ratio of quartz materials is 93% mineral quartz and 7% binders that are a plastic polymer or cement-based. In reality, the ratio is calculated by weight, so the finished product may actually consist of 30-40% resin.

Aesthetics

Granite is available in a wide color range and there are many size and finish options to choose from. Every slab of granite is slightly different in color and pattern, making each countertop unique, so the possibilities are virtually endless. Marble offers the most elegant and often dramatic coloring, veining, and tones. Marble also occurs in a very wide range of colors. Marble formed from the purest limestones is white in color, while minerals present in the stone can create a green, pink, gray, or black appearance. The range of color, veining, pattern, and texture are advantages that granite and marble have over engineered quartz.

Engineered quartz is more uniform in appearance because it is a manmade product. There are many colors and unique patterns available; however, many do not look like granite or marble at all. While natural stone ages gracefully and patinas naturally, engineered quartz stays the same.

Durability and Maintenance

Granite can stand up to the most difficult situations and uses, easily handling hot pots and pans or sharp knives. Granite requires little maintenance, although there are different opinions regarding its care. Granite is porous, which is why most fabricators recommend additional protection from staining. Sealing the stone with a penetrating sealer is a common option. Still another option is to allow the stone to breathe with no sealer applied at all. The stains will naturally vanish inside of the deep pores over time.

Granite was incorporated into these kitchens to create two very different designs. The kitchen on the left continued the use of the granite on the backsplash, making for a cohesive design and a statement piece. The kitchen on the right has a mix of materials, which can help reduce the cost of the project.

Know ahead of time that marble does require some maintenance, especially if keeping a high polish is a priority. Marble is porous and can stain, but sealing can reduce these effects. Choosing a honed finish can provide you with the beauty and make etches less visible. If etching does occur, it can be removed with a marble polishing powder and water. Cleaning is quite simple; a mild soap and hot water are often recommended.


This white marble kitchen countertop speaks of timeless elegance.

The resins in engineered quartz do make it a very durable product. Engineered quartz countertops are less porous than granite and marble and do not require sealing. However, it is not as resistant to heat as natural stone. The same resin that makes engineered quartz somewhat low maintenance is what also increases its risk of damage and discoloration from heat and light. Engineered quartz can chip and it is more difficult to repair than natural stone because of the resin. A professional is needed to match the chip and make the repair. However, the repair cannot be polished enough to have it blend in with the rest of the countertop because of the resin. Engineered quartz can also begin to fade or turn yellow within weeks of exposure to direct sunlight due to the pigments not mixing well with UV rays. This does not happen to natural stone, which is why you will see thousands of stone slabs out in a stone yard in direct sunlight.


Quartz top burn mark.

Environmental Issues

It is very important to consider how your choice of material will impact the environment. Both natural stone and mineral quartz are readily available and abundant materials. However, neither is considered to be a renewable resource. Care must be taken in selecting the proper material for the project so that materials, energy and other resources are not wasted.  The biggest difference between natural stone and engineered quartz is that natural stone is 100% natural and does not require the manufacturing of other materials in order to qualify it as stone. Quartz is a combination of materials, some natural and others that need to be manufactured, which is more energy and resource intensive.

The natural stone industry has been implementing environmental standards, practices, and policies for many years. These activities have resulted in findings that demonstrate natural stone is a material of low embodied energy and there are a few environmental impacts from the quarrying, processing, and fabrication steps. A green standard for natural stone was developed in order to help the industry define environmental impacts and make positive changes to reduce or eliminate them altogether. This standard, known as ANSI/NSC 373, is also helpful to architects, designers, and consumers alike, who are able to make informed decisions and compare and select stones more easily across environmental criteria. The stones that carry the ANSI/NSC 373 label validate that they are quarried and/or fabricated in a sustainable manner, contributing to improving the ecology, human health, and social responsibilities through stewardship of the land and resources. To choose from this palette of materials, see the Natural Stone Council’s website at: https://naturalstonecouncil.org/sustainability.

Quarry management and reduction in packaging materials are among the many sustainability practices in place within the natural stone industry.

Engineered quartz requires more energy and resources to produce since the minerals are crushed and non-organic resins are added to essentially glue the crushed minerals together.The polyester resins used in engineered quartz are not natural but are made up of chemicals and dyes. Many of these are petroleum byproducts and often contain a filler called alumina trihydrate, which is made from bauxite ore and is mined, often under toxic conditions in developing countries1. There are serious concerns about the ecological damage to these mining sites and the petroleum use in both the mining and fabrication processes2, 3. The pigments used to make colored quartz countertops have their own associated health hazards. There is some work being done by quartz manufacturers to better understand and reduce these impacts. However, there is not a consistent approach to the effort across the quartz industry as a whole. Products achieve environmental standards or a green certification on a product-by-product basis. So you will need to request an MSDS (material safety data sheet) from the quartz manufacturer to know what is in the product exactly. They are obligated by law to publish these sheets.

Conclusion

Remember to take all of the issues mentioned above into consideration before making a decision. Your countertop should be a personal reflection of your taste and lifestyle. You also want it to be an investment that performs beautifully and is easy to maintain and care for over its lifetime. Be sure to ask a lot of questions during the decision making process to get the answers you seek so you can be assured that your decision will bring you joy and peace of mind. All of these factors combined are among the reasons that natural stone continues to be the countertop material of choice for homeowners.

The tones of the marble countertops and backsplash blend beautifully with the wood flooring to create a warm and comfortable space.

Additional Resources

Granite Life Cycle Inventory
Marble Fact Sheet
Natural Stone Council
Natural Stone Institute
 

Endnotes

  1. Green Home Guide
  2. Bauxite in Malaysia: The environmental cost of mining
  3. Environmental Impact of extraction of aluminum from bauxite

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is quartz natural stone? engineered quartz staining