Quartz countertops are the new worry-free alternative to high-maintenance granite. They are stronger than granite, require no resealing, are highly resistant to scratches and stains, and come in a huge variety of colors.
Quartz countertops can be fabricated with custom profiles including bevels, straight edges, and ogees.
A Gift of Nature Quartz is found in great abundance in the earth—it is second only to water as the most common mineral-based form on our planet. It is naturally hard and scratch resistant. Quartz even ranks a 7.0 on Moh's Hardness Scale, which is used to measure the scratch-resistance of a material. Only diamonds, ranking 10, topaz, and sapphire are harder than quartz.
Quartz counters are really rock with an attitude—they are manufactured with nearly 100 percent quartz. In contrast, granite may contain only 50 percent quartz. The other minerals found in granite leave it soft, porous, and vulnerable to scratches and stains. “Our countertops are 93 percent quartz and 7 percent pigments and resins,” explains John Buenneke, Brand Manager for Cambia quartz countertops. Industry-wide, all quartz countertops are made with 93 percent quartz or they cannot claim the hardness, durability, or impermeability of a true quartz surface. The prescribed mixture results in a product that is non-porous, exceedingly durable, and more than twice as strong as granite.
Manufacturing Quartz Countertops The quartz countertop industry is unique in that each company uses the same patented process to manufacture their countertops. Patented by Breton, an Italian company, the process is used on each company's production lines to produce countertops that are 93 percent quartz. “The process is like taking raw sugar and turning it into sugar cubes,” says Gina Covell, Public Relations Manager for Cosentino USA.
In the case of quartz countertops, the raw quartz crystals used range in size from coarse grains to the size of rock salt. Once ground and selected, the crystals are combined with bonding agents and color, then heated and vibro-compacted to form an impenetrable surface. “We put the raw quartz, pigments, and resins into molds and simultaneously compress it, suck the air out of, and vibrate it,” explains Buenneke.
The resulting slabs are a quartz matrix that won't develop fissures or cracks. A quartz surface is solid and remains impervious to water, moisture, or bacteria. Cambria is even certified by the National Sanitation Foundation International for use in commercial kitchens. Cosentino USA has gone a step further by introducing Microban into their Silestone countertops. “We have a partnership with Microban,” says Covell. “Although bacteria cannot penetrate the quartz, it can form on the surface if left there. The Microban in our countertops will prevent the growth of bacteria even on the counter's surface.”
The engineering and finishing phases of quartz-counter manufacturing are virtually the same throughout the industry, which means companies like Cambria, DuPont, and Cosentino can all offer warranties for up to ten years on their products. Also, since these countertops are engineered using a controlled process, quality-control measures exist for quartz that are not possible for natural granite countertops.
The appearance of the quartz counters varies depending on the size and mix of the granules. Smaller, finer crystals give a more uniform appearance, while larger ones provide a more mottled look.
Color and Appearance Adding pigments to raw quartz in the production process creates colors to suit nearly any kitchen scheme. Cambria boasts 27 different colors, while Cosentino's Silestone line of quartz countertops come in 48 different color options. “One of our series of countertops has mirror and glass chips in it,” says Covell. “It adds an attractive sparkling quality.” Although the true look of high-end granite still eludes the quartz-countertop industry, the number of options available and the consistency and uniformity in any given slab make up for any shortcomings.
“Natural granite takes millions of years to form,” says Buenneke, “we're just not going to get an exact match with quartz.” The nature of the production process, however, does assure dealers that any sample slab on display will be identical in color and texture to the delivered product. The “consistent variability” or mottling in color and texture throughout a quartz countertop helps hide the visible seams that often plague granite countertop installations, according to Buenneke. Each slab looks the same, unlike natural rock that is variable by nature.
Quartz slabs are finished using polishing wheels of varying sizes to bring a high-gloss sheen to the surface or, in Silestone's case the option to purchase a soft, leathered patina. Since they are solid, the color and natural mottling from the quartz crystals runs throughout the material. Slabs are fabricated into countertops with edge profiles that range from simple bevels to bullnose and ogee.
Installation Quartz countertops weigh quite a bit more than granite because it is manufactured to be so dense and strong. It also takes a practiced professional to fabricate and install them, which is why Silestone and Cambria both train and certify their installers. Quartz is also easier to cut, handle, and fabricate without damaging than granite. “It's like the difference between cutting a croissant and cutting through a piece of fudge,” says Buenneke. Trained installers can count on fewer broken slabs and less waste than in a typical granite installation.
Cambria and other manufacturers supply their fabricators using a one-price policy. This means their various lines and profiles are all priced the same as they leave the manufacturing plant regardless of the color, style, or edging. Customers can expect to pay $45 to $95 per square foot, fully installed for a custom profile quartz countertop, depending on the pricing from the fabricator and installer.