Granite, Marble, Soapstone Countertops - Buyers Guide
Choosing a Stone
How do you choose a stone?
The key selection criteria is one of personal taste. There is a vast array of colors and visual textures available, including stone with “movement” – large scale variations in color and pattern. The popularity of colors shifts with the times. Reliable favorites which seem to defy trends are black, dark green, browns, subtle reds, silvers and yellow/golds. Blue is becoming popular (and expensive) as are stones with more movement. (Note that stones with lots of veins are quite dramatic but usually more fragile and subject to breakage). When choosing a granite, ask about its physical properties, hardness, strength, abrasion resistance etc. Any reputable supplier should be familiar with the stone's properties and refer to ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) ratings, if available.
The various countries of origin all give their stones their own names. Importers will often re-name their slabs, then fabricators, installers and retail outlets will often do the same. This not only makes it very confusing for the purchaser but also makes it difficult to shop and compare prices, especially when you go to get a second quote and ask for the color “Princess Silver” and no-one else has heard of it. (I just made that name up by the way) Fortunately the internet can de-mystify the “name-game” with a bit of dogged persistence and a reputable supplier can also help. Some of the larger chain stores are the worst culprits here - trying to hide their 30% to 50% markup of fabricators prices by pretending that they have unique stones..... tsk tsk.
A lot of manufacturers of man-made countertop materials and natural stone imitations have try to mislead the public about the slight porosity of natural stone leading to problems with bacteria buildup. Shame on them - Granite is one of the most cleanable countertop materials available - over 1000 times more cleanable than plastic laminate. Some manufacturers are also engaged in a shameless scare campaign against naturally occurring radiation from natural stone. The EPA have confirmed that levels are extremely low and below any standards required by them. Naturally occurring radiation is emitted from all substances including your concrete foundation, most drywall boards and bananas! You'll get a larger dose of harmful radiation from flying in an airplane than spending a lifetime sitting on your granite countertop. The Colorado School of Mines published a study which said you would receive a lower dose of radiation over your lifetime if you lived in a sealed house made of granite slabs! Not recommended however, for other reasons.
A few interior designers and architects are recommending "honed" or flat finishes on granite - Absolute Black Honed is sometimes suggested these days. I personally think it is a less-than-optimum choice for the average kitchen. It will show fingerprints, scrapes and un-wiped spills much more readily than a polished finish and after a few years of wiping around a sink area the stone will take on a polish in some areas making it appear blotchy. Some installers and customers apply a sealer, which can just makes things worse, especially on black granite. It is a pretty stone when brand new but some customers later regret the choice. Other colors are now becoming available in honed finishes as well as other textured finishes - flamed, leather, antiqued, satin, washed etc.
And what about marble and limestone? - these can be great choices for bathrooms and vanities but I would discourage their use in a kitchen where they can be more easily scratched, stained and attacked by acidic liquids.
And soapstone? - a great material that has a long history in American kitchens and is quite beautiful but not cheap. It needs to be regularly treated with mineral oil to give the stone a more even appearance. This also changes its natural gray/green/blue color to dark gray/black. Some soapstones have dramatic veining, other do not. Remember that soapstone is quite soft and can be scratched easily (it is compressed talc after all!) but scratches can be removed with sandpaper. We carry soapstone in inventory so you can always see and compare it to granite slabs.