Ever since the 1950s, one new idea after another has been developed for use on kitchen countertops. Slate, butcher block, porcelain and ceramic tiles, plastic laminates, Formica, Corian have all had popularity in the past.
Then in the late '80s, granite became No. 1 for countertop luxury — a popular choice for kitchen and bath remodels. Homeowners loved using “natural” stone, and granite also offered drama and color.
But since 2000, a manufactured newcomer has emerged — “quartz,” a manmade engineered “stone” used on countertops and even on walls of kitchens and bathrooms. It combines ground quartz with resins, polymers and pigments to form a solid product. The technique started in Italy, but many manufacturers now make their own brand of quartz. Cambria, Caesarstone, Pental, Silestone, and Zodiac are just a few of the names in the marketplace.
The big difference between quartz and granite involves maintenance, according to Summer Kath, executive vice president of business development and head of design for Cambria, a leading quartz manufacturer based in Minnesota.
“Granite can be a beautiful stone surface, but it can be stained and there is no warranty for granite as there is with quartz,” she said.
Granite is fairly durable, but its surface can develop pits or can be chipped. It requires regular polishing and sealing; many cleaning compounds must be avoided because they can mar granite’s surface.
At first, quartz countertops seemed like a pale imitation of granite, but over the years, patterns and colors of quartz have become more striking and exciting. Quartz is harder than granite and more durable. Quartz can also be used in slabs on kitchen walls and to line shower stalls.
Almost any cleaning product can be used on quartz, though it can be scratched by scouring powders. You can also burn marks into quartz by setting down hot pots or kettles on a counter.
When choosing among the many brands of quartz, Kath said, check the warranty as well as the quality of the color palette and designs. Many imported quartz brands use fillers in their quartz “recipe” that can result in poor performance, she said.
Which is more expensive? Granite or quartz? Online estimates are that granite countertops cost $40 to $50 a square foot installed, while quartz ranges from $50 to $75 per square foot installed.
Which is most popular? At Rosie on the House Remodeling, it’s been two or three years since a homeowner requested granite, according to Alexander Pajic, project manager for ROTH Remodeling. He noted that quartz is “resistant to impact; it’s easy to clean and it’s almost indestructible.”
However, a 2019 survey by the National Association of Home Builders came up with different results: 57 percent of home buyers said they want granite or natural stone countertops. Quartz was second, preferred by 21 percent. Other homeowners preferred either solid surfaces (12 percent) or laminates (8 percent).
And at Arizona Tile in Scottsdale, Teresita Rodriguez, in customer service, told us that she thinks quartz gained popularity because it often includes gray and white patterns that work well with the “shades of gray” used in contemporary design. “But as the interest in gray fades, granite will become most popular again.” She suggested that homeowners also consider quartzite, a natural stone, that doesn’t require the same care and attention as granite.
How about other counter alternatives?
Not interested in granite or quartz? Here are several other possibilities:
• Butcher block: Butcher block is a great surface for food preparation. Some cleaning with hot water and mild dish soap is necessary after working with food on a wood surface. Butcher block countertops can also benefit from applications of food-safe mineral oil.
• Marble: For someone who loves baking, marble is the ideal surface for rolling out pastries and working with dough. But you don’t want to use it for all counters because it’s prone to nicks and scratches and thus requires a lot of maintenance. However, those who love the look of natural stone claim that the scratches develop an attractive patina over time.
• Concrete: You can build an entire kitchen island countertop made out of concrete or even a dining table. This concrete is not anything like the kind on your driveway. For a countertop, contractors build a frame and pour concrete on top of the cabinet. Not all cabinets are strong enough though to hold up under a concrete top. Some skilled homeowners can handle a job like this on their own, but practice first by building the top for an outdoor barbecue before trying a concrete counter inside your house. Concrete can chip or develop hairline cracks.
• Soapstone: It resembles marble and needs regular oiling. But it resists stains and is easy to keep clean. It has a warm look that goes well in farm-style and more rustic kitchens.
• Stainless steel: It’s resistant to heat and stains but it can easily be dented and scratched. But it can go well with stainless steel appliances.
Can’t make a decision? Why not mix it up?
More and more homeowners decide to use two different types of surfaces in the same kitchen. For example, you might put one surface on most counters, but use a different surface on the island in the middle of the kitchen. Mixing materials is also a way to keep costs down by using use a more expensive countertop surface in one area and a less costly choice somewhere else.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 30 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 9 to 11 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.