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Quartz Engineered Stone Countertop Surfaces
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Engineered quartz countertop kitchen surface emerged as the favorite in a comparison test, published in the April 2002 Good Housekeeping. After testing the impact of hot skillets, sharp knives, and spills from wine and tomato sauce, the study reported that the engineered quartz kept its brand-new shiny surface while other products?natural stones, butcher blocks, traditional solids, and laminates?were scorched, cut, and stained to a varying degree. The runner-up?granite?resisted damage better than marble.

The manufacturing process of engineered stone started about 45 years ago in the research facilities of Breton Stone, according to Steve Chambless, co-owner of the local Silestone fabrication and distribution facility in Lewisville.

?It?s all Breton Stone?they got the process down pretty good about 30 years ago, but really perfected it about 20 years ago,? Chambless said. Brenton Stone then sold franchises and product manufacturing equipment (which cost from $25 to $35 million-dollars). About 15 years ago, Coesntino, a 120 year-old-marble and granite-company in Spain began manufacturing the stone, and today Coesntino still supplies white marble and granite as well as the engineered quartz product called Silestone.

Chambless sold natural granite and Corion (a traditional solid countertop surface made by Dupont) before he found Silestone and decided to team up with Doug Greenlee five years ago to open a fabrication/distribution facility that is now the fifth largest distributor in the US. These facilities are called fabricating distributors because they take the slab guts that are manufactured in Spain, and fabricate them and distribute them to places such as Office Depot, Expo Design Center, builders, carpenters, customers, and they install directly. Since Silestone opened in Lewisville, it has grown about 75% each year, and will move to a larger new facility built north of Lewisville for an anticipated 2? times output increase by the end of the year.

About two years ago, Dupont began manufacturing engineered quartz out of Canada. The Dupont product is called Zodiac, which sells for $75-$100 per square foot compared to Silestone at $45-$75 per square foot, according to the Good Housekeeping. Despite the difference in price, both products are produced by the same formula franchised from Brenton Stone.

?The only thing that changes is the quality of raw goods or colors of raw goods, Chambless said. ?The percentage of quartz to pigments, resins, binders, has to stay the same, and it does. The hardness of the material is the same. The look of the material is what changes with the percentage of color on a gradient that is put in?not the type. It is still quartz.?

Zodiac, in fact, costs more than any other surface product, according to the Good Housekeeping report. For instance, natural granite and marble cost $55-$95 per square foot, and traditional solids (Corion, Surell, Avonite) were $35-$85 per square foot. Lots cheaper were the solid oak or maple at $26-$30 per square foot and laminates (Nervamar and Formica) at $5-$30 per square foot.

But the laminate surfaces burned, scratched, and stained easily, according to the Good Housekeeping test results, and the abrasions cannot be repaired because the decorative surface is a very thin coat of material laminated to wood under high pressure. Traditional solid surface provides a thicker layer of a plastic-like material that behaves like wood, according to Chambless. Therefore, scratches, scorched spots, and stains can be sanded off the surface. Traditional solids have been on the market for a long time; the first was Corion by Dupont. Not as prevalent are wood block counter tops that look beautiful when new, but deteriorate after use. Natural stone actually forms a hard durable surface.

?The earth takes a long, long time over a period of millions of years to make granite?pressurizes it into its natural form, where (very small) air pockets are left inside,? Chambless said. Consequently, natural granite is a porous product that does requires some form of sealant for use as a countertop.

?It?s a continual process,? Chambless said. ?Depending on the sealer (there are many different types of sealers?most of them silicone based), homeowners have to seal the surface between one and three years.? This process involves buying the sealer, coating the top of the granite, letting the counter dry, and then wiping off the residue.

Engineered quartz surfaces do not require sealing because of the resins in the raw ingredients, which make it impenetrable, and the manufacturing process. Resins, binder, and pigments make up 7% of the product along with 93% purified quartz. Manufacturing quartz begins with the raw white quartz or clear quartz cut out of the mountains. First, the quartz is purified, ground up, and mixed with large quartz particulates?some dime size, some smaller and made into a slab. Through a process of vibration and vacuuming out all air inside the slab, (called vibrocompaction) a 4 and ? inch slab of engineered quarts can be vibrocompacted down to a ? inch slab. After the slab is heated to 180 degrees centigrade, it is polished to a high shine by drums with small diamond bits that act like sandpaper?a process, by the way, that is the same for polishing a granite slab.

In fact, Silestone behaves very much like real granite.

?It feels the same; it?s cool to the touch; it works the same way,? Chambless said. ?It has the same drawbacks that granite does, except for the color match problem, the vein problem, and the porosity problem that granite has.? Actually, the only construction problem that both granite and engineered quartz have is the inability to melt two sides together into a seamless product, such as can be formed by the solid surfaces like Corion, Gibralter, Avonite.

?We have color match epoxy that we put in to bind the two pieces together, keep them fluid,? Chambless said. ?It matches the rest of the stone. But you can still see it?

?Our product is a wonderful product,? Chambless said. ?I?m not going to say it?s better than granite. It?s better for some customers. And granite is better for others.?

?The granite market is always going to be there mainly because it is a natural product?doesn?t have the word engineered or man-made next to it. Plus, there are so many different colors of granite. Some people are just going to like the colors of granite. So, those are the two selling points for granite. Silestone?s selling points are that we can make our color more uniform, and Silestone is completely nonporous. So, there is no bacterial growth. One more thing, Silestone is just as hard as granite and four times more flexible so it?s not as likely to break or crack.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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