WHICH MAKES THE BEST COUNTERTOP SURFACE?
The short answer is neither… and both. Confused yet?
Before delving into this topic further, a quick disclaimer. Ultimately, all matters regarding material type, fabrication, installation, care and maintenance should be discussed with your fabricator. There are widely varying opinions amongst professionals in this field, which have been formed over many years of experience working with different countertop materials. Your fabricator is your expert regarding the finished product being installed.
Now, let’s get to it, shall we?
GRANITE – “Granite” is a label used in the commercial stone industry to classify a variety of stones that effectively have the same or similar properties as that of geologically defined granite. It is an oversimplification but adequate for the purposes of countertop shopping.
• Granite should not (under normal use) stain, scratch, etch or burn. So basically, that means you really don’t have to worry about your kitchen countertops, unless you routinely use a sledgehammer to cook.
• Granite is composed of several key minerals, all of which contribute to its hardness and aesthetics – most commonly quartz, feldspar, and a handful of darker minerals such as mica and biotite. The primary minerals found in granite are some of the hardest found in nature, therefore the granite composed of these minerals makes it one of the most durable countertop choices.
• If you run your hands across granite you might feel some texture on the surface of the stone – you can thank the softer minerals such as biotite & mica for that. They cause this slight texture, which is commonly referred to in the stone industry as “pitting” but minerals like mica are also responsible for the sparkle in granite. Who doesn’t love a little bling? Nearly all granites have some degree of these softer minerals so feel around on the slabs when you are shopping so you don’t get surprised when it becomes your countertop!
• All of the minerals that make granite durable, also give it a “chunkier” appearance. GRANITE WILL ALWAYS HAVE DISTINGUISHABLE MINERAL CLUSTERS. THERE IS NO GRANITE THAT LOOKS LIKE MARBLE. Let me repeat, THERE IS NO GRANITE THAT LOOKS LIKE MARBLE.
• Stone that is geologically classified as “Quartzite” will often be commercially marketed as granite because the properties mimic that of granite.
MARBLE – “Marble” is a term used to describe stones that are primarily composed of calcite, dolomite and/or serpentine. Marble was the original hard surface material, before the technology was developed to efficiently mine, process and fabricate harder quartz-based materials. It may be perfectly suitable for your project but it is crucial to have appropriate expectations.
• Marble will gradually weather and develop a patina over time. No, it doesn’t get “ruined” – it becomes a different type of beautiful. The aging of marble varies greatly dependent upon use, exposure, and specific composition.
• The minerals in marble are generally softer than those found in granite, meaning it is easier to scratch. A common practice when using marble as a countertop surface is to hone the material. Honing takes the surface from a shiny to dull finish, which makes minor wear on the material less obvious.
• Calcareous stones, such as marble, will etch if exposed to acidic solutions with a pH less than 7. This includes many common foods and beverages. Again, honing the surface is a common practice in the industry to mask etching that will occur during the life of the marble.
• Staining will occur in more porous materials such as marble, however it is not nearly as easy as is commonly believed. A good practice is to try to get your hands on a small scrap piece (you won’t need much) and experiment with it yourself! Use and perception vary greatly from one person to the next – if your “normal” use does not result in what you feel like are “unsightly” discolorations, this may not be as much of a concern.
• Some marbles are harder than others, making them less prone to scratching. Often these will be marketed as “Quartzite” to distinguish them from softer marbles. This should not be confused with the geologically defined “Quartzite” which will more commonly be marketed as granite. Whew! You guys get all that?
Most importantly, a homeowner considering marble needs to understand and embrace the fact that a countertop surface made of marble is impossible to keep in pristine condition. If that isn’t your shtick, then neither is marble.