Granite is the countertop material of choice. It defines elegance in a kitchen. As technology has improved and the use of natural stone has become more widespread, the price has come down and many stock species are now comparable in pricing with other countertop choices. The lasting beauty and durability of granite contributes to the value of even the most modest kitchen.
Pros: holds up to heat; comes in a range of almost 3,000 species; is permanent and substantial, lasting a lifetime. New sealers professionally installed render granite almost maintenance-free; 2nd highest hardness rating after diamonds; adds value to a home.
Cons: requires annual maintenance; absorbs stains if not sealed properly. Knives can become dull if you cut on it. Can crack if stressed or improperly installed.
Quartzite can be of exceptional strength, density, and hardness. The strength, abrasion resistance, and weathering durability of this rock type expand its application possibilities to include most any of the common uses for natural, dimension stone.
Pros: rich, deep color; smooth feel; somewhat stain resistant.
Cons: requires sealing, may absorb stains if not sealed properly.
LIMESTONE & TRAVERTINE
Limestone & Travertine are sedimentary stones composed primarily of calcite and aragonite. They are great materials for bathrooms and fireplace surrounds because of the creamy, rich look it provides. A key characteristic of these stones is their softness. They perform well as a bathroom countertop but are not recommended for kitchen countertops. Unlike granite it can be scratched with many objects including knives.
Pros: the great variety of colors, patterns, and veining allow for a wide spectrum of design options. Limestone and travertine provide a soft look and feel and both are available in many different finishes. These stones are quarried in a wide range of tile and slab sizes and priced lower than many other natural stones.
Cons: wine, fruit juice, lemons, and vinegar will all react with limestone and travertine counters and can etch the surface. Cleaning a limestone or travertine countertop requires non-acidic, ammonia-free cleaners.
Like most natural stone, marble comes in a wide range of prices. Often it is used on an island or inset at a baking center to add a luxurious, traditional look. Marble may require more maintenance as it can easily stain and scratch, so consider it for areas with light to medium traffic. New sealers retard staining, and honed and brushed finishes help hide scratches.
Pros: waterproof; heatproof; classic beauty. Small nicks and scratches can be polished out.
Cons: porous, acidics can etch surface easily unless professionally sealed; may need resealing periodically as per manufacturer. Can chip and scratch easily depending on finish.
Soapstone is a good solution for homeowners and designers wanting to get away from the ubiquitous, shiny granites. It is heat resistant, so you can set hot pots directly on the surface. It provides a warm, soft feel and pairs well with other natural stones including granite and marble.
Pros: as the densest natural stone countertop material, it will not harbor bacteria and will not stain. It is nonporous and does not require chemical sealers or special cleaners.
Cons: very soft, will easily scratch and is prone to chipping. Soapstone requires frequent applications of mineral oil to maintain dark, rich patina.
Quartz Surfacing, also known as engineered stone, is a blend of quartz chips, resins, and pigments. It's an ideal material for high-traffic applications. It comes in many vibrant colors that mimic granite and marble as well as shades not naturally occuring in nature. It is non-porous, resists scratches and is easy to maintain.
Pros: can be expensive, typically is as costly as mid-priced granite. Non-porous, resistant to stain and acid; easy care and does not require sealing.
Cons: not as heat resistant as natural stones; some patterns can appear unnaturally uniform, although manufacturers are trying for a more random look closer to natural stone. Not suitable for exterior applications or high UV areas.