Countertop granite is a natural material that is quarried into slabs. Each slab contains up to 50% of the mineral quartz (yes, we said "quartz"). The remaining composition consists of various quantities of the minerals feldspar, mica, amphibole, trace minerals, and trace elements.
The non-quartz minerals in granite are responsible for its many thousands of colors, textures, and veining. The primary color categories for granite include beige, black, blue, brown, burgundy, gray, green, red, yellow, and white.
Color and textural variations are classified by "grades" or "levels." A grade of 1 means that you are dealing with a granite that has the simplest and most repeatable coloration and texture. Higher grades indicate more unique colors and textures. Grades 1 and 2 are typically used in home kitchens and bathrooms. It's important to note that as the level or grade increases so does the price per square foot.
The composition of engineered quartz countertops is most often described by the weight percentage of its constituents (e.g., 93% "aggregated" “ground-up” quartz and 7% polymers, resins and pigment). However, because quartz aggregate is heavy and must completely mix and bind with a large volume of lightweight polymers, this can be a bit misleading. By volume, the mixture is more like 66% quartz and 34% polymer/resin/pigment. The point here is that although both products are similar in weight as final products, lightweight polymers are critical to the makeup of engineered quartz.
The minor amount of pigments in engineered quartz play a key role in their appearance. Various pigment combinations enable quartz to approximate the textures and colorations of many versions of grade 1 and 2 granites. Engineered quartz would only come in a whitish color if pigments were not used.
To manufacture engineered quartz, the mixture of aggregate quartz, polyester resins, and pigment is pressed into forms (as slabs or blocks) within a vibro-compression vacuum molding machine (a low temperature process). After 3-7 days, the resins have sufficiently bound together with the quartz aggregate particles to form a workable form of engineered quartz.
Pricing for grade 1 and 2 granite is typically between $30.00 and $50.00 per square foot installed. Homeowners generally prefer this grade because it's most affordable and matches most kitchen and/or bathroom designs and color schemes better than higher grades of granite. Interestingly, engineered quartz countertops are intentionally made to look like many varieties of grade 1 and 2 granite. However, they typically cost $10.00-$30.00 more per square foot installed.
As for higher grades of granites, since the textural veining and colors are more interesting and unique, you should expect to pay $60.00 (and up) per square foot installed. So, read-on, learn more, and select wisely.
The video below shows two different granite countertop samples heated to 450 degrees F for one hour (granite melts around 2300 degrees F). After both are removed from the oven, water is poured over them (which explosively boils) without inducing thermal shock cracking. Next, the host attempts to locally heat each sample using a propane torch. In both cases, the samples are completely unaffected - showing no signs of surface color change or thermal shock cracking. This is typical of all forms of granite.
In comparison, engineered quartz countertops cannot handle the rapid temperature changes that granite can. Pots, pans and other objects that are between 200 and 300 degrees F should never be placed directly onto an engineered quartz countertop without a heat barrier underneath. Otherwise, its surface could be permanently damaged. With granite, this is not a concern.
Since engineered quartz requires a large volume of polymers to bind the quartz aggregate together (see composition and manufacturing sections above), the impact of direct flame exposure on this material is important to understand. Unfortunately, most quartz countertop manufacturers fail to disclose flame resistance information. Since we sell both products, we decided to show you a video (below) comparing the flame resistance of quartz and granite countertop materials. As is evident, quartz supports combustion over time while granite does not.
Many dedicated suppliers of quartz countertops argue that engineered quartz is a "green material" with a low carbon footprint while granite is not. They use some convoluted marketing arguments to come to this conclusion, so we thought it was worth a brief discussion.
First off, granite is a completely natural material quarried from the earth while engineered quartz is mixture of aggregated quartz particles and binding polymers that is "made" in specialized vacuum molding machines. From this point alone, one could argue that granite is the obvious winner. In any event, since one would never discard engineered quartz or granite without negatively impacting the environment, we think that this entire argument should be left at, "both are excellent durable countertop materials."
When installing lighter or brighter colored quartz countertops, seams can be more visible than with granite. In addition, because engineered quartz contains a large quantity of polymers and resins, it has a tendency to twist because the polymer binder continues to cure over time. Thus, it's important to make sure that a quartz counter is firmly affixed to the counter base and that all seams are located strategically away from areas of stress. You can't always avoid seams, but you can minimize seam issues by optimizing their location and then installing the counter carefully.
The large volume of polymers in engineered quartz makes its surfaces non-porous. This is a desirable attribute because it makes bacteria growth less likely. Quarried granite is slightly porous based on the density and composition of the granite. To compensate for this, it's standard practice to add a surface sealer to granite once it has been installed in your home. Once applied (which is a simple “wipe on and let dry” process), granite also becomes non-porous. Thus, both materials have minimal porosity once installed.
Note: With today's sealants, granite counters only need to be resealed every 10-15 years. Using a sealant that dries "hard" is best. Hard sealants last the longest and protect the best.
Both engineered quartz and granite are extremely hard materials that excel as durable countertops. Engineered quartz has a Moh's scale of hardness value of 7. Granite comes in at a 6. Since utensil steel has a hardness value of 5, there's no difference in scratch resistance between either quartz or granite countertops.
As long as you use rounded or "radiused" edges on countertops (versus sharp 90° edges), then chipping of a quartz or granite countertop is highly unlikely. If a chip does occur though, both can be repaired in most cases.
Strong chemicals like dyes, bleaches, and many solvents can permanently discolor engineered quartz. This is because its high polymer content makes it reactive to more materials. For example, you should never clean quartz using bleach, oil soaps, or topical liquids. Such chemicals will degrade its surface finish and can result in permanent surface damage. This is not much of a concern with granite.
Although UV inhibitors are added to engineered quartz during the manufacturing process, the polymers in this material will still degrade with continued exposure to ultraviolet light. This results in color fading, potential warping, and strength reduction. As a result, engineered quartz counters are not recommended for outdoor use. Granite countertops, however, are excellent for both indoor and outdoor use.
Good question. If you prefer very light or unusual colors, then you'll probably like some varieties of engineered quartz. Many ultra-modern contemporary kitchen designs tend to work well with some of the more unique colors available with engineered quartz. However, if you prefer the many natural colors and textures of granite then quartz probably won't be your ideal pick. Granite will also save you a good deal of money when comparing similar colors and textures.
In the end, the choice is yours. If you want to see what might be best for you, then why not try out our kitchen design tool for choosing granite or quartz countertops? You can vary cabinet, flooring and backsplash designs in order to pick your own countertop!
On average, granite and quartz countertops will add between two to three times the installed cost to your home’s value. Since kitchens and bathrooms are the most important rooms for increasing home value, choosing the best durable countertops for these areas is always a wise decision. If taken care of properly, both granite and quartz countertops will likely last well over 20 years.