Countertop Buying Guide

We believe knowing what to expect is an important part in building a good business relationship. At United Granite we are committed to customer education and the philosophy of “no surprises.”

This Guide is intended to help you understand the myriad of issues when buying natural and engineered stone surfacing. It is not exhaustive but you may find it exhausting reading because there are so many questions, choices and options.

Natural stone has been the premium building material of choice since the beginning of time. Quarried from rock beds formed over millions of years, natural stone used in residential and commercial settings comes from all parts of the world. Natural stone is quarried in the form of huge blocks, some weighing up to 20 tons.

These blocks are cut into slabs generally 3/4" or 1-1/4" thick and the desired finish is applied. The slabs are then carefully crafted and shipped to fabricators worldwide who process them into the final product.

Whether you’re building a new home or remodeling, natural stone offers you unparalleled beauty, permanence, and uniqueness–and adds true value to your home. Because stone is a natural, not manufactured, product, no two pieces are exactly alike, which means each finished countertop, wall, floor, mantle, or sill is distinctive. And, unlike synthetic imitations, natural stone can be three-dimensional and used as columns, statuary, balustrades, doorjambs, and even furniture pieces. When used in exterior applications, natural stone has also proven superior to manufactured or engineered products in withstanding the effects of nature.

Granite

Granite, quarried from the mountains of Brazil, floors, and other heavily used surfaces P the U.S., India, and dozens of other countries, is one of the most popular natural stones on the market. Available in a striking array of colors, granite’s durability and longevity make it ideal for kitchen countertops and other heavily used surfaces, including table tops and floors. While some synthetic surfaces scratch easily and melt under hot cookware, granite resists heat.

Granite offers an impenetrable surface from which bacteria can be easily cleaned and it is typically not affected by citric acid, coffee, tea, alcohol, or wine. It is also nearly impossible to scratch, and with proper cleaning, will not stain under normal use (ask your professional contractor about “impregnating” sealants available to further improve resistance to staining). A leading consumer magazine recently compared granite with engineered stone, ceramic tile, laminate, butcher block, and other manufactured surfaces. Granite received the highest overall performance rating as a kitchen countertop material.

Marble

Marble adds a sophisticated element to your home. floors, and fireplaces P Its wonderful appearance, superior engineering characteristics, and ease of maintenance make it a popular choice for countertops, floors, foyers,fireplaces, furniture, showers, thresholds, tub decks, vanities, walls, and windowsills. Another option for marble-loving homeowners is using serpentine for kitchen counters. Sometimes called the “green” marble, serpentine is not a true marble but offers a marble-like look. And, because it is magnesium-silicate based, it is not sensitive to citric acid and other kitchen spills. Marble should be cared for as you would a fine wood finish. Using coasters on table tops and cleaning up spills immediately will preserve marble’s natural beauty and elegance.

Limestone

Limestone is widely used as a building stone. Popular applications include countertops, flooring, interior and exterior wall cladding, and exterior paving.

Travertine

Travertine is a type of limestone and one of the most popular natural stones for interior and exterior wall cladding, interior floor and exterior paving, statuary, and curbing.

Soapstone

Soapstone is growing in popularity. Popular uses include kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, fireplace surrounds, stoves and stair treads.

Quartz countertops differ from granite and marble countertops in one significant way: quartz is an engineered product while the other two are solid stone. The composition of quartz countertops is about 93 percent quartz, a natural material found in abundance in the earth’s crust, and 7 percent binder and color.

The quartz is ground into small particles and then mixed with a polyester resin binder to hold it together and with pigment to give it richer color. Small particles of glass or reflective metallic flakes are added to some designs to achieve a unique look. The result is an attractive, extremely strong slab that is similar in appearance to marble.

In addition to lustrously polished finishes, quartz counter tops are available that duplicate the matte finish of limestone, the textured finish of granite or the gloss of highly polished stone. As an engineered product, they can be produced in far more options than natural stone countertops. When you go shopping for quartz countertops, you’ll find options to fit any design and the color scheme you’re planning.

Color and Appearance

Cambria

Cambria is a privately held Minnesota-based company that began as a dairy business in 1936. Having entered the quartz countertop industry in 2000, Cambria is a relative newcomer. Within one year, Cambria had opened a 150,000 square foot factory in Le Sueur, Minnesota, and within five years it had already tripled the size of that plant.

The only American company in the quartz surfaces business, Cambria offers the widest range of designs, colors, edges, and slab sizes.

Dennis Allen of Southern California's Allen Construction says that he prefers Cambria for several reasons: "Their patterns are the most natural looking, the majority of their selections fall under one price group, they offer jumbo sized slabs which can be economical for a large project, and the hand of their finish is the smoothest and best polished."

Cambria is unusual in that it cannot be purchased at big box home improvement stores. It can only be found at kitchen and bath dealers or purchased through builders, architects, and designers.

Caesarstone

Formed in 1987, Caesarstone calls itself "the original quartz surface manufacturer."

A publicly traded company headquartered in Israel, Caesarstone has a factory at the Kibbutz Sdot Yam and another in the Bar Lev Industrial Zone. Caesarstone was developed by the kibbutz as a way to replace its failing terrazzo tile industry.

Caesarstone is known for pushing the design envelope. Its Concetto Collection includes ten surfaces that incorporate semi-precious stones such as agate, dumortierite, tiger's eye, and even petrified wood. Its Motivo Collection offers deep embossing in crocodile skin and lace textures.

Silestone

Based in Almeria, Spain, Silestone is the flagship quartz brand of Italian company Cosentino.

If Caesarstone is known for its natural stone-like appearance, Silestone's distinguishing factor is its vibrant solid colors. It's Life!, Stellar, Mythology, and Zen series offer bold, bright oranges, greens, reds, and blues that are not found with other brands.

Silestone is not just limited to countertop and backsplash materials. Matching Silestone designs are available in sinks, vanities, and shower pans.

Of the three leading quartz brands, Silestone offers the most robust warranty: 25 years (limited), transferable to subsequent owners, and with no pro-rata limitations.

Granites and marbles are quarried throughout the world in a variety of colors and varying mineral compositions. In most cases, marbles and granites can be identified by visible particles at the surface of the stone. Marble will normally show "veins" or high concentrations. The minerals in granite will typically appear as small flecks distributed uniformly in the stone. Each type of stone is unique and will vary in color, texture and marking.

Sandstones vary widely in color due to different minerals and clays found in the stone.

Sandstone is light gray to yellow or red. A dark redesign brown sandstone, also called brownstone, has commonly been used in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

Bluestone is a dense, hard, fine-grained sandstone of greenish-gray or bluish-gray color and is quarried in the eastern United States.

Limestone is a widely-used building stone with colors typically light gray, tan or buff. A distinguishing characteristic of many limestones is the presence of fossils that are frequently visible in the stone surface.

Slate is dark green, black, gray, dark red or multi-colored. It is most commonly used as a flooring material and for roof tiles and is often distinguished by it's distinct cleft texture.

Choosing your granite color is the biggest decision you’ll have to make before you can have the stone fabricated and installed in your home. You’ll also have to discuss layout options, design elements such as a radius on your island, and decide on a backsplash size. One of the final decisions will be your “edge profile.” The edge profile is the shape your edge takes. In this post, I will give examples of standard and custom edges. I’ve divided the edges into several groups: Free or Basic Edges, Upgraded Edges, Laminated Edges, and Custom/ Novelty Edges.

Typically, the Straight Edge (also called an Eased Edge or Flat Edge) is the only edge that doesn’t require an upgrade. We also offer the Half Bullnose Edge (the inch sign is a typo on the diagram), the Half Inch Beveled Edge, and the 3/4 Inch Beveled Edge. All the standard edges are 3 cm thick. This is the standard size for granite slabs. Two cm is not safe for kitchen countertops, and any slabs thicker than 3 cm are much more expensive

The Half Inch Bevel is a subtle, angular edge. It’s a great way to get a heavy, modern look.

The 3/4 Inch Bevel has a slightly longer pitch (the top half of the bevel) than the Half Inch Bevel and a shorter rise (the bottom half). It’s a beautiful marriage between the strong, hard lines of a shorter bevel and the elegance of an ogee edge and is a great way to show off a beautiful stone. The long pitch also highlights a pattern with movement, as you can see in the above photo.

The Half Bullnose Edge adds curves to the room. Out of all the standard edges, this one most shows off the thickness and solidity of the granite.

¾ Bevel edge is a gorgeous edge with a 1 inch pitch. It takes the virtues of the 3/4 Inch Bevel and extends them.

The Ogee Edge is a classic look that evokes the ornate elegance of other eras. It can have a deeper, more dramatic curve or it can have a more subtle line.

Laminated Edges are confusingly named. They have nothing to do with laminate countertops. Instead, this term refers to the process of cementing a second layer of granite to the edge of the countertop. The countertop then looks 6 cm thick. This allows for innumerable combinations of edges and ornate detailing. Or, in the case of the Laminated Flat Edge (aka Laminated Eased Edge) a very dramatic, modern look.

Rock Edge or a Raw Edge. Our craftsmen chip away at the edge, then apply a coating to seal and soften the edge. This particular example also happens to be laminated for a dramatic look, but the rock edge can be done on 3 cm edges as well.

In any bathroom and kitchen overhaul, the faucets are the crown jewels. Available in a spectacular array of shapes and finishes, even modestly priced faucets present worlds of possibility. Add in the options for interactivity and water conservation, and today's bathroom and kitchen faucets offer homeowners every convenience.

Before choosing bathroom and kitchen faucets, you'll need to consider a few factors, such as whether you're using an existing sink or buying a new one, where are the faucet opening. You'll also need to consider which features you want, as well as how much faucet your budget will allow. Other considerations include the size of your bathroom and kitchen and what sort of faucets are typically found in similar homes in your area.

It can be said that the kitchen revolves around the sink. Prep work, cooking, and clean up all involve the sink in one way or another. Having a sink that best matches your needs and lifestyle is a critical factor in have a truly functional and efficient kitchen. Before choosing your perfect kitchen sink, first think about how you use the sink and then consider the various features and characteristics that your sink should have.

All about new sinks

Focus on the material. Our tests showed that the material is more important than the manufacturer. Similar materials performed similarly across brands, so we based our evaluations of sinks entirely on materials.

Count the holes. Most kitchen and bathroom sinks come with mounting holes drilled for faucets. If you're buying a new faucet for an existing sink or vice versa, you'll need to match the hardware to the number and spacing of the holes in the sink. You can install a baseplate to cover an extra hole in the sink or countertop, but don't try to drill additional holes in an existing sink or countertop.

Think about installation and repairs. Replacing a faucet and sink together is easier because the faucet can be mounted in the sink or counter before the sink is put in place. Most kitchen and bathroom faucets come with a lifetime warranty that covers leaks and stains. But if you have a problem, the manufacturer will give you just the replacement part. It will be up to you to install it.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel sinks are among the most popular on the market. According to leading sink manufacturer Franke, 70% of all sinks are made using stainless steel.Compared to other materials, stainless steel tends to be inexpensive, although designer brands like Kohler and Blanco can still easily cost upwards of $300. The versatility of stainless means that stainless steel sinks are available in a variety of installation types (undermount, top mount, etc).

Stainless steel is classified in terms of gauge. Lower gauge steel is heavier; higher gauge is lighter. Most sinks fall within the 15 to 24 gauge range, and the majority of residential sinks are usually between 18 and 22. In terms of inches, this means the steel sheeting used to make the sinks has a thickness that ranges from .048″ to .030″.

Conventional wisdom (and common sense) seems to indicate that a heavier gauge steel makes for a better sink, but this isn’t always true. Testing by Consumer Reports shows that the gauge had very little impact on the overall quality of the sink. However, a heavier gauge sink can be slightly more resistant to denting and is typically less noisy.Stainless steel tends to be a louder than other materials, although many sinks feature a spray coating or padding to help reduce the noise.

While overall very durable, stainless steel kitchen sinks can scratch more easily than other materials. Stainless sinks also tend to show water spots more clearly, and it can be difficult to keep them looking immaculately clean at all times. However, they offer excellent resistance to heat and stains.

Nickel, Copper and Brass

In addition to steel, it’s possible to get sinks made in various metals. Nickel, copper, and brass are all available for the kitchen as well as specialty sinks. Used for generations, metal sinks can be very beautiful, but correspondingly expensive. Nickel is harder and stronger than copper and a hammered nickel finish is gorgeous. Copper is particularly popular at the moment. Over time, it ages and gets a dark patina like an old penny. It requires no maintenance to speak of. A copper sink should be pure copper and copper should be welded, not soldered. A soldered sink will turn black at the joints as it ages.

Porcelain enamel over cast iron

Cast iron is one of the oldest materials used for kitchen sinks and is still very popular today. The bright, glossy enamel finish appeals to many homeowners and can easily last for decades Like the name implies, cast iron sinks are made by casting iron. Since bare iron is extremely prone to rusting, cast iron sinks receive a heavy porcelain enamel finish. If you were to strip the enamel off of a cast iron sink, it would have the same rough texture as a cast iron skillet.

The enamel finish used on cast iron sinks is extremely tough and does an excellent job resisting stains and scratches. It’s important to understand that the porcelain enamel finish used on cast iron sinks isn’t merely paint–it’s actually melted glass that has been fused to the bare iron.

Don’t let the “glass” part worry you–modern enamels are incredibly hard and are well suited to the daily wear and tear seen by the average kitchen sink.

The smooth, glassy finish on cast iron sinks is typically very easy to keep clean and is not as likely to show spotting from water. Porcelain enamels also have good resistance to light and fading.Cast iron does have some drawbacks. For one, it’s heavy. An average-sized iron sink can easily weigh 100 lbs or more, which is 2-3 times as much as most stainless steel sinks. This can make installation more difficult, especially in the case of undermount sinks that require additional supports to hold the sink in place under the counter.

Cast iron can be much more expensive than stainless steel, with most cast iron sinks starting out in the $300 range.

Additionally, the enameling of a cast iron sink can chip, and if the bare iron base is exposed it will quickly begin to rust. But, as mentioned above, modern porcelain enamel is strong (in many cases more so than metal) so this shouldn’t be a large factor in your decision-making process.

Modern cast iron sinks are available in a wide range of styles and colors, although you can expect to pay extra if you opt for a sink that doesn’t have a standard white enamel.

Engineered materials

When people talk about composite kitchen sinks, they’re usually talking about a granite or quartz composite.

Composite sinks are made by combining crushed granite or quartz with a resin filler. The mixture varies depending on the product and manufacturer, but it’s usually around 80% stone and 20% resin.This combination produces a material that has many of the same aesthetic qualities of real granite or quartz without the maintenance and durability issues associated with those types of sinks.

Both varieties of composite sinks are tough and highly resistant to stains and scratching, but as a general rule granite tends to hold up better than quartz. In fact, some manufacturers claim that granite composite sinks are the most durable and long-lasting sinks available.

Fireclay

Fireclay sinks are made by molding a ceramic clay into the shape of the sink and allowing it to dry at a high temperature for a period of up to 40 hours. Once the clay has dried, the porcelain enamel is applied and the sink is places in a tunnel kiln at an extremely high temperature (in some cases higher than 2000⁰F) for a period of around 20 hours.This has the effect of fusing the enamel to the clay while greatly increasing the strength of both. However, fireclay isn’t indestructible and the enamel can chip from the impact of a dropped pot or glass.

Fireclay can also be more prone to cracking than other materials, although proper installation and care minimize this risk.

Fireclay kitchen sinks fall on the expensive end of the spectrum. Small, single-bowl models start at around $400-$500, while larger models can cost $750 and up.

Although fireclay sinks come in a wide variety of styles and installations, the material is most commonly associated with farm sinks (also known as farmhouse or apron sinks). Many people choose fireclay farmhouse sinks for their traditional but timeless styling.

Mounting your new sink

1. Undermount

2. Drop-in

3. Apron-front

 

1. Undermount

An undermount sink is mounted underneath the counter. There is no lip or rim, which means that the edge of counter drops off directly into the sink basin.In addition to providing a clean, modern look, this feature makes for less work when cleaning because debris can be wiped straight into the sink. Unlike a top mount sink, undermount models don’t have grooves and crevices where food can accumulate.

While undermount kitchen sinks look great and are easier to keep clean, they have some distinct disadvantages over top mount sinks.

One of the biggest drawbacks is cost. Undermount models require more work to install because the sink must be glued to the underside of the counter. Stainless steel sinks are typically light enough to work with just glue, but heavier sinks (like cast iron or fireclay) need some sort of internal support system.

Most undermount sinks are not designed with space for faucets and attachments, so you’ll need to have holes cut into your counter top to install these components.

2. Drop-in

This style of kitchen sink is designed to be dropped into a hole in your counter top. Top mount kitchen sinks almost always have a rim or lip that hold the sink in place and creates a finished look.Top mount sinks–also known as drop-in sinks–are relatively easy and inexpensive to install. The lip of the sink reduces the need for an internal support system under the counter, making this type of sink a good choice for do-it-yourselfers or people on a budget.

However, top mount sinks don’t have the sleek, modern appearance of undermount sinks (see below) it’s easy for the area between the lip of the sink and the counter to accumulate scum and dirt.

3. Apron front

The defining characteristic of a farmhouse sink is a large forward-facing section that replaces a portion of the counter.Farmhouse kitchen sinks (also known as apron front sinks) are often the choice for people seeking a traditional or country-style design, although there are a number of stainless steel and composite models available that are designed with an eye towards the modern kitchen.

Farmhouse sinks are available in single and double basin varieties, although single bowl sinks are the most common.

While stylish, farm sinks tend to be on the pricey side and often require much more work to install than other sink types. In many cases, the counter must be designed specifically to accommodate the installation of a farmhouse sink.

So how do you find a competent fabricator?

Granite countertops purchases involve selecting the right fabricator, which is the most important decision of the whole process. According to the stone and industry survey, homeowners spend a major part of the granite countertops purchase process in selecting their granite slabs. Yes, without a question selecting the right granite is very important.

Choosing the right granite fabricator to install your countertops is even more important because, the right fabricator can help you choose the best granite, and explain the pros and cons of using different kinds of stones that are most suitable for your project.

Like a tailor that stitches a custom-made suit can make you look better by stitching a suit to your particular body style and contours after taking careful measurements, a custom stone fabricator can make your kitchen look wonderful by measuring and fabricating with high quality standards. Conversely, an inexperienced fabricator can ruin the looks of the best looking granite slabs you selected. By no means is this an exaggeration!

What questions should you ask?

If a fabricator can answer all of the following questions to your satisfaction, you will end up with a beautiful kitchen or bathroom countertop, one that will last as long as your home. (You may find the printable summary of this qualification questions at the end of this section.)

How long has the company been in the granite fabrication business? Do they have a physical location that you can visit?

If they are shy about showing their location, they are either not true fabricators and just middlemen getting a job done elsewhere to get a commission, or they fabricate in their backyard or garage with primitive tools and methods. If they do not have a physical location, where can you go to address your future concerns, should they arise? Obviously they cannot produce the quality work you desire.

United Granite LLC has been in business since 2005 in New Jersey,Maryland,Virginia and North Carolina. Our current address is 2436 S Miami Blvd. #200-7,Durham NC 27703The 11,000 square foot building is owned and operated solely by United Granite LLC.

Does the fabricator use modern stone cutting technology like measuring your countertops with digital equipment and CNC stone profiling machines to offer high quality standards?

Reputed granite fabricators throughout the United States are switching to digital stone cutting technology. United Granite is granite countertop fabrication company in North Carolina to use a combination of digital measuring and CNC fabrication. We invite you to come see how we work!

Do you offer slab viewing of stock material?

Check with your fabricator to see what materials they stock and what their slab viewing policies are. You can often get their best price if you chose from their stock material. You need to understand the timeframe of when you should view material and when you should select the material to be used on your product.

Does your company allow me to select which parts of the slab will be used on my project and where they will be used (i.e. template pairing / slab layout)?

Fabricators must balance the economical use of slab material with the final aesthetics of the product. There are often several ways to layout the countertops that require the same amount of material. Some customers prefer certain sections of the slab to be prominently shown on their projects, while others prefer to avoid those sections of stone or put in less conspicuous areas. After you select your material, you should discuss the need, if any, of your participation in the layout of your project.

Does the contractor perform both fabrication and installation?

Even though the skills required for these two activities are different, having the same company responsible from start to finish is critical to get a problem free installation.

What kind of fabrication equipment do they use?

Even the best human fabricator will have variations between finished results, whereas an automated machine will produce exactly the same result each and every time it is run. This is very important in stone fabrication, where a single wrong cut or a wavy edge profile can take away a lot from the beauty of your new countertops. At United Granite, we use the most advanced stone cutting and profiling machinery. Our state-of-the-art, laser guided and computerized equipment cuts and profiles the stones consistently with precision.

Will they provide a copy of your countertop’s layout for your records?

This is an important piece of paper work to hang on to. This will show you all of your countertop measurements ensuring that you have been properly charged. It will also help if you choose to go with a tile for a back splash or do any additions to your project at a later time. United Granite will proudly offer you a copy of your digital template upon signing your contract.

Are they competitive?

Don’t just rely on the old headline “per square foot price”. This often leaves out basic and essential costs to actually fabricate and install your countertop. There are some basics like edging, cut-outs for sinks, cook-tops, faucet holes and electrical outlets that will all affect your over all price. Each fabricator has different charges for these items, so it is best to look at the bottom line price versus just the square foot price.

Here at United Granite we import our slabs directly from quarries which results in reduction of costs and consequently enables us to be more competitive in prices for the benefit of our costumers. While we meet or beat any competitors written offer, we do not try to compete purely on price with the “driveway” fabricators. We offer the best overall Value for the customer by providing quality materials, outstanding customer service and expertise at a great price.

What kind of Certifications does the fabricator have?

Fabrication and installation certification programs ensure the technical competence of fabrication and installation professionals. They go beyond training by providing a tangible measurement of fabricator´s / installer´s knowledge of a process and/or product. Certification programs establish standards for fabricator/installer training and play an important role in developing a qualified workforce. United Granite is Authorized and Certified by Silestone,Cambria, Zodiaq and Caesarstone.

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