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Oct 14, 2013

So You Want New Kitchen Countertops


If you’re like many of our customers at Counter Intelligence you are ready to replace your old laminate or acrylic countertop.  Perhaps this is in conjunction with a totally new kitchen or maybe just a countertop upgrade.  And like most people, this is probably your first experience with a project of this nature.  I hope the following information will assist you with the process and help you make the right decisions for your tastes and application.

CHOICES

Granite, Marble, and Engineered (Man-Made) Quartz Countertops are the 3 most widely used products for kitchen countertop applications.  Each has Pros & Cons and choosing the right material for you is critical to a smooth process and lasting enjoyment of your new investment.  Your kitchen is probably the heart and soul of your home.  Choose and spend wisely.  The time and money you invest up front will assure value and enjoyment for years to come.

GRANITE By far the most popular choice, granite is created over a Billion years of heat and pressure.  This natural stone is unmatched for combining beauty, depth of color and ease of care and maintenance.  But it has some drawbacks.  Having been created by nature, granite is not a “consistent” material.  As blocks of stone are blasted from a mountain there will be changes in color, veining and movement within the pattern of the stone.  For this reason, samples can be misleading.  The Santa Cecilia granite that was quarried and processed yesterday may have striking differences to the sample you like so much and is probably several years old. AVOID DISASTER! Hand select the slabs that will be used for your kitchen. Please do not overlook this advice.

Here are some other characteristics of granite:

  • Granite is porous.  Liquids can penetrate the stone and if neglected, could leave a stain.  This is rare but it can happen.  We treat all natural stone with Intelliguard, our proprietary impregnator.  Intelliguard goes beyond Stone Sealers and bonds chemically in the pores of the stone.  We offer a 15 year warranty against staining and this is free of charge for all of our granite installations.
  • Granite has pits and fissures.  Again, blame Mother Nature.  If you were a billion years old you might have a few imperfections yourself.  But make-up is applied during processing.  Resin is injected into the stone to fill in these voids and when polished to a “Diamond 10 Finish” millions of years of aging blend away leaving a beautiful surface.  Of course you can pull out the “microscope” and find faults in almost any slab of granite.  If these “imperfections” bother you, granite is not the right choice for your kitchen.
  • Granite runs mild to wild.  Some colors have very static patterns of movement and are easy to layout and fabricate.  Other stones have lots of veining, motion and color variations.  While striking and real attention getters, these stones require more time, effort and material to produce a proper installation.  Again, if you gravitate toward “perfection” you may want to consider something other than granite.
  • Selecting Granite Be prepared to travel and invest some time in the selection process.  We stock many colors of granite at our Silver Spring, Springfield and Seaford, DE locations.  But there are literally thousands of natural stones produced by our planet and you may want more options.  We partner with 6 other Stone Yards where you can go to select your stone.  We can provide you with an estimate for your project that will correspond with the individual inventory at each of these locations.  However, there will be some higher priced stones that won’t be on our list.  Those stones require custom pricing and will likely be expensive.  Also be prepared that the salesperson at the stone yard may not be able to answer all your questions accurately.  They know stone, but not fabrication and installation.  Here’s a tip:  ask all the questions you want at the stone yard, but wait for our answer before assuming you have the final word. 
  • When things go wrong.  Yes, unfortunately mistakes happen.  The good news is we own our mistakes and will make things right.  The bad news is, you will be inconvenienced to some degree.  This is a fact of all types of construction and granite introduces additional variables in getting to the finish line.  Because of its unique characteristics, remaking a piece of splash or replacing a section of countertop becomes more challenging with granite.  If there is enough material left over from the slabs you selected, we can use that as an easy backup plan.  If we have to obtain more material it needs to come from the same “Lot” and be a reasonable match in color, veining and motion.  Having fabricated and installed hundreds of thousands of countertops, we have refined our process to eliminate as many unexpected variables as possible.  When our Dealers, Contractors and Homeowners work with us within the framework of this process we experience very few errors and remakes.
  • Perfect in its Imperfection.  By now you probably think I’m trying to talk you out of granite for your kitchen.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  My wife and I have beautiful Juparana Delicatus Granite in our kitchen and it’s wonderful!  Granite is a great choice and is purchased by more of our customers than any other material.  Take your time, enjoy the process and find the stone you like best.  It’s hard to go wrong with granite.

MARBLE

God did not make granite white in color. For that, you need Marble. And for my money, there is nothing as beautiful, calming and inviting as White Marble Countertops for a kitchen.  But if you live in the USA, everyone has told you to run fast and far from Marble.  Most people only fear and lack understanding of our Government, the IRS and Wall Street more than Marble.  Yes, it is porous and will scratch, stain and etch while granite generally will not.  So why even consider marble in your kitchen?  Frank Lloyd Wright said it best:

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes. If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”

If you also appreciate beautiful things but need some help overcoming your fears of Mable, Counter Intelligence can help.  We have installed a lot of Marble for those not faint of heart and have had surprisingly few issues.  That, in large part, is due to the customer understanding Marble, having proper expectations about the stone and following a routine of care and maintenance that avoids problems.  And the challenges are: Scratching, Staining and Etching.

At Counter Intelligence we do two things to provide an extra buffer of protection for White Marble:

  1. Acid Wash the slabs.  So wait. Acidic liquids cause Marble to etch.  Why wash the slabs in acid to begin with?  First of all, the acid is applied in a diluted strength and left on the stone for a pre-determined amount of time based on individual testing.  The acid wash removes the polish from the slabs and lightly etches the entire surface.  After rinsing, the surface is sanded to a Velvet Finish leaving a uniform and honed look to the stone.  Because the polish is removed and the stone uniformly etched, future interaction with acidic liquids like lemons, mustard, ketchup and red wine will be far less likely to leave any visual traces of etching.  And because the polish is removed, light scratches can be sanded out of the stone without leaving any signs of the repair.  Pretty cool stuff.

The Italians have been doing this for a long time.  They just had a more entertaining way to do it.  I’ve read that after installing Marble in their kitchen, the proud homeowner would invite all their friends over for a party.  While enjoying some red wine, everyone would smash red tomatoes all over the Marble tops.  The acid in the tomatoes would lightly etch and stain the surface and after rinsing, their Marble was ready for use.  No worries.  Use and enjoy.  At Counter Intelligence, we charge a fee for our Acid Wash treatment.  If you want to save a few dollars, buy some red wine and tomatoes and have a DYI party with your friends!

  1. 2.     Marble Sealer.  Before installation, your countertop will be sealed with a special sealer designed specifically for Marble.  We have had great success with this product and it offers a tremendous amount of protection against staining.  It has a low VOC rating and can easily be re-applied for additional layers of future protection.

Our Acid Wash process and Sealer do not change Marble into some it’s not.  Could you still scratch, stain or etch the surface?  Yes, but these protections will make day-to-day care, use and maintenance much easier than installing untreated polished White Marble in your kitchen.  Italy’s mountains are made of White Marble and they have been using Marble for centuries.  They learned a long time ago that the Beauty of the Marble is more important than the qualities we consider to be “issues”.  This points to the real difference between Granite and Marble….Culture.

Most scratches and stains can be removed from White Marble.  Acid Washing will greatly minimize effects of etching.  But if a scratch or stain would keep you up at night regretting your decision, Marble is not the right choice.  After all, you could always take a trip to Italy and enjoy their Marble.  It’s everywhere over there!

QUARTZ refers to Man-Made Engineered Quartz Surfacing products.  Do not confuse this with a Quartzite which is a natural stone possessing higher quartz content than granite and is usually very beautiful and very expensive.  The major manufacturers of Quartz Countertops are Silestone, Caesarstone, Cambria and Zodiac but the popularity of these products has spurred other manufacturers into the fray as well.  Why choose one of these over granite or marble?

  1. Ease of Care and Maintenance If you want a product you can install and forget about, an Engineered Quartz Countertop is for you.  Granite is composed of 20% to 50% quartz content.  Quartz is the four hardest mineral in the world behind Diamond, Sapphire and Topaz and quartz is what makes granite “hard as a rock”.  On the other hand, engineered quartz surfaces contain 97% quartz content.  That’s 2 to 4 times more quartz than granite.  Additionally, all air molecules are “squeezed” out of Quartz countertops during processing, so they are completely non-porous.  No sealing, very difficult to scratch and no fear of etching make this material worry free.
  2. Consistency Quartz countertops are very consistent in color and pattern from slab to slab.  Samples look like slabs and eliminate the need to hand select stone.  The slabs used for your job will look like the sample you viewed in a showroom.  Having said that, perfect still does not exist.  Different dye lots of the same color stone will yield slightly different shades of color.  Your fabricator (hopefully Counter Intelligence) is responsible to ensure slabs color match if more than 1 slab is required for your job.  Problems with color matching are rare but they can occur.  If you need “exact”, hand selecting your slabs is a good idea.
  3. Color Options are available with Quartz surfaces that are difficult or impossible to find in nature.  This is especially true for solid color countertops.  Manufacturers offer a wide variety of solid colors as well as multicolored slabs that mimic the appearance of natural stone.  Cambria is especially effective at producing “Granite-like Colors” but they often have long lead times on colors that are backordered.  Check for availability before falling in love.  (A good idea in life as well!)

READY, SELECT, GO!

So you’ve selected you material, color and slabs.  What’s next?

  1. MEASURE One of our highly trained Measure Techs will come to your home and digitally measure your countertops.  Be there for the measure…you’ll be glad as it is an interesting and informative process.  Here’s a checklist for the measure:
  • Countertops completely cleared off if we are just replacing your existing countertops.  For new cabinetry, all cabinets must be installed and securely in place.  Cabinets must be level (we check that) but we can shim when necessary up to ½ inch.  Cabinets more than ½ inch out of level must be reset before measure.
  • Know: your sink make and model (preferably on site at measure), faucet, edge profile, appliances on site, (if not on site what make and model) and do you want your countertop to overhang the inside edge of your sink or be cut back to “Reveal” a portion of the sink edging.
  • Backsplash: How high?  4” is pretty standard if you are using stone for your backsplash.  If you are replacing a laminate top you should go 5” high on your backsplash.  Laminate tops are 1.5 inches thick.  Stone 1.18 inches thick.  Your new countertop will be thinner than the old one and a higher backsplash will cover any paint or wallpaper line left when the old tops are removed.
  1. Final Quote:  Once we measure precisely and know all details of your job we provide a Final Quote.  This is the critical phase of our process and we need everything in writing and approved so that we all know what’s expected.  A detailed drawing will be provided for review along with specifications on all parts of your job.  The drawing will clearly show dimensions, seam locations, radius corners, etc.  Once reviewed and approved we move into fabrication.
  2. Installation Once we receive your approved Final, we need 48 hours to fabricate your countertops.  We will arrive at a predetermined time (Mon-Fri) to install your new tops.  If previously arranged, we will remove and haul away your old countertops, install the new tops and even hook up your plumbing, cooktop, electric or gas stove.  We have a licensed Master Plumber and Electrician on staff to handle as many other disconnect or reconnects you require.
  3. Lastly allow the adhesives used to attach your sink to cure for 24 hours and you’re ready to enjoy your new countertops and kitchen.


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