What Stone Fabricators Wish You Knew [For Their Good—and Yours]
What Stone Fabricators Wish You Knew About Countertops
The idea of installing new stone countertops is usually thrilling—and sometimes a bit scary—because you’ll be living with the decisions you make today for years to come.
No one expects consumers to be experts on stone fabrication or installation but the better educated you are, the better your odds for a smooth experience and a happily ever after. Here are a few things industry professionals wish their customers knew.
Know Your Stone
Just a generation or two ago, consumers were limited to just a handful of stone choices, both in terms of type and color. Now you need only walk into a stone yard to see an astonishing range of granite, quartzite, marble, onyx, and more. Choose wisely. Harder stones like granite are workhorses, perfect for high-traffic kitchens where durability counts. Softer stones like marble and limestone require more care to ensure lasting beauty and can be better choices for bathroom vanities. “I educate the end user on what to expect as far as wear, tear, and maintenance,” says Buddy Ontra, owner of Ontra Stone Concepts in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “There’s a trend toward white marble right now, for instance.” Marble has been prominently used in European homes for centuries and many love how it patinas with subtle etches from use. “It’s a living surface that tells the story of the family over the years,” Ontra says. But, he cautions, for someone who wants the surface to always look like the day it came out of the showroom or for a growing family who’s liable to subject the countertop to spills and splashes, “it may not be the right choice.”
Make it Your Own
It’s not enough to select the stone from the showroom. Fabricators recommend you visit their shop. It’s a fabricator’s job to cut and shape the slab to fit your exact cabinet dimensions. To do so, they make a template of your counters with cutouts for the sink, faucet, and cooktop. If seaming is needed, and most installations require at least one seam, you should collaborate with the fabricator on positioning based on aesthetics as well as technical and logical considerations. The same goes for the length of the overhang for island seating. What’s more, because stones have natural variations and sometimes movement, you should work with the fabricator in determining the best part of the slab to use in the most visible areas, such the island, and which part you may want to position in a less prominent section, perhaps because of natural pits or fissures. “Tastes vary from one consumer to the next,” says Ontra. “Maybe they like the odd inclusion. In any case, it allows them to be part of the process. This is their home. It’s where their kids do their homework, it’s where they relax after dinner with a bottle of wine. They’re going to be spending a lot of time there.”
Banish the Unknowns
Rare that it is, there are companies that fly under regulatory radar and use unskilled labor. Always hire a company accredited by MIA+BSI, which recognizes businesses that meet the industry’s highest standards for product knowledge, fabrication and installation. “Ask questions,” says Paul Menninger, owner of Capitol Granite in Midlothian, Virginia. “Find out whether the crews are insured and have workers’ comp coverage and whether the templaters or installers have been background-checked. Consumers who don’t ask put themselves at risk every time a less-than-reputable company brings individuals into the house who have not cleared a background check.”
Don’t Be Thrown
When budgeting your project, be aware of what goes into pricing so there are no surprises. No two slabs are alike, which is the beauty of natural stone and what distinguishes yours from the rest. But the cost of the slab is just one part of it. Prices rise the higher the grade and the more exotic the stone, but there are plenty of budget-friendly options, too. Labor accounts for 25-35% of countertop costs, according to some estimates. As a result, decorative edging profiles, thickness, certain finishes, more cutouts and backsplash heights are among the elements that affect fabrication pricing. In addition, some stones are simply more challenging to work and take more time to produce. When shopping around, Menninger says it’s important to understand exactly what goes into their quotation. Some companies “attract the customers with a very low price point and then a la carte everything that goes into the job, from the sink cutout to the edging. In the end, the customer ends up paying more.”
Prepare Your Home
On the day of installation, make sure there is a clear path to the front door along the driveway and walkways as well as easy access to the kitchen or work area. You may need to move the odd piece of furniture so installers don’t have to navigate the terrain carrying a thousand-pound payload. And, of course, keep small children and pets out of the work zone. Your old counters should be free and clear of any items including small appliances and especially items of value. Ontra learned his lesson early in his career. In helping a homeowner move antique crystal glasses out of a display rack in the kitchen during a job, a glass wiggled free and he watched helplessly as it shattered into pieces. It had been a family heirloom. He was mortified that in handling her personal belongings, something irreplaceable broke on his watch. It never happened again. Now his clients know exactly what to expect and what’s expected of them.