|Stone countertops are considered by most to be the highest end,
however, in recent years, prices have come down so much that stone countertops now start
at about 5% less than brand name solid surface ones. Stone countertops, are similar to solid
surface in that they can have an undermount sink (but not a seamless one), fancy
edge designs and are generally only sold with template and installation.
They differ, in that stone countertops are hard and cold to the touch,
plus they are heat and scratch resistant. In general, you can place hot pans and cut
food directly on a stone countertops without damaging it. However, stone can crack, so
you should never hammer meat (or anything else for that matter) on one. Indeed, anything
that is heavy that falls onto the stone top can chip it (say you keep a pot in a wall cabinet
and it slips while you are getting it). Once chipped or cracked, stone cannot be fixed,
the best you can do is fill in the crack with epoxy to prevent someone from getting cut
on the crack (which can be sharp). Stone countertops are typically 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches
thick. Stone countertops come in two varieties, natural and man-made.
Natural stone refers to granite and marble slabs that are extracted from quarries and
cut to fit over your cabinets. These countertops are made by mother nature and can
vary significantly from one side of the countertop to the other.
Also, they can have air pockets and other imperfections in them. In most cases, it's
the imperfections that add to the beauty of granite and marble and give it it's
uniqueness--No two slabs are identical. When buying a natural stone countertop always
ask to see the slab, do not go by the sample that you see in the store.
Natural stone, however, is porous or filled
with lots of very small holes, and will stain if you do not seal it regularly. In general,
natural stone needs to be re-sealed at least once a year (more if you clean your
countertop often). Sealer can be purchased at any granite store, many hardware
stores or over the internet for under $25 per application. Many can be simply sprayed
on and then wiped off. Natural stone prices are influenced to a large extent on where
the slab comes from. Mexican and South American granite is cheaper than European.
Man-made stone refers to products made from Formica, Wilsonart, DuPont and others that take
natural stone (usually quartz), chop it up, add coloring agents and put the entire
mixture into a resin. The result is a countertop that looks and feels just like
natural stone (after all it's still 90% stone) but can be any color/pattern you want, will
have a very consistent pattern, does not need to be re-sealed and is very
resistant to heat, stains and mold. In short, it's just like natural stone, except
permanently sealed with no imperfections. Prices are typically based upon the color/pattern, with
the fancier designs costing more (even though it costs the manufacturer virtually
the same amount to make the different designs) and sell in the same range as natural