How to Buy Granite Countertops
We believe in delivering the highest quality granite and quartz countertop products with excellent customer service. Please contact us to schedule a meeting to discuss the possibilities of your upcoming granite project, especially if you are in the Dallas or Fort Worth metroplex.
This article is intended to help the customer understand the myriad of issues when buying granite and natural stone surfacing. It is not exhaustive but you may find it exhausting reading because there are so many questions, choices and options. At Heritage Stonecraft we are committed to customer education and the philosophy of “no surprises.”
Granite countertops are becoming more and more popular as the price has been driven down by ample supply and increased availability. While there are lots of imitations, nothing can equal the beauty and luxury of granite, marble and natural stone, so it’s not surprising that customers want to know more about the product.
The stone industry has been around for thousands of years attaining greatness with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans but it is still a bit of a mystery to the average consumer. It should come as no surprise that the Mediterranean countries, and in particular Italy, have been in the forefront of stone quarrying and manufacturing. That is all changing today with the dramatic growth in stone activity in Brazil, India and China. Finished stone products are now produced in just about every country in the world.
So you’ve decided that granite countertops are on your list of must-haves and you know there are lots of things you don’t know. And you know that there are things you don’t even know you don’t know…… This article should go some way to helping you learn more about granite, find a supplier, ask them the tough questions, compare estimates and make final decisions.
Recognize that the most important decision you will make is the choice of fabricator – the company you are going to trust with a major chunk of your money. They range from state-of-the-art, professional fabricators with a history of quality, like Heritage Stonecraft, all the way down to smaller shops that outsource various aspects of their templating, fabrication or installation (and hence lose control of the quality sequence), or hire people without background checks, or operate out of their pickup truck. This is going to be a significant expense so check out your potential fabricator on Angies List and other sources, and visit their facility to understand the entire process.
This article and its subchapters may be freely duplicated or copied provided it is done so in whole and it contains the following complete reference and acknowledgement.
Any other paper or electronic duplication or other use is strictly forbidden.
What is Granite
True granite is an “igneous” rock formed when molten rock cools deep inside the earth. The size of the grains and crystals of the minerals that make up the rock are determined by the temperature, pressure and speed of cooling. Rock that cools rapidly is made up of small crystals and tends to be harder and stronger. Rock that cools slowly has larger more dramatic crystals but is often weaker. There is a lot of stone on the market today that is sold as granite but is, in fact, not true granite. Sedimentary rocks (rocks deposited as layers of sediments) consist of cemented grains of sand, shale and other minerals – slate is a good example. Limestone consists of the fossilized shells of sea creatures that lived millions of years ago. Metamorphic rocks are those which started as one kind of stone and changed under heat and pressure into another type of rock. Marble and Gneiss (“nice”) are examples. Many rocks that are called granites are in fact Gneiss or a kind of layered granite. None of this really matters so long as you can find the stone with the color, texture and strength that you need.
The key minerals in granite are quartz (very hard), feldspar, and softer minerals such as mica which add special reflectivity and drama. Even though it is very hard, granite can be scratched because of the presence of softer minerals, and it can be broken or chipped if highly stressed because of the weaknesses along grain boundaries. Similarly some minerals in natural stone can be attacked by acidic liquids – lemon juice, coke etc, some more so than others. Most granites are affected very little by common food acids.
Another fact often misunderstood by customers is that the glossy shine of natural stone isn’t caused by something coating the surface, it is the actual stone polished to a mirror finish using diamond polishing tools. Some minerals will take on a higher polish than others, so there is always some variability. Waxes and polishes just produce a water-resistant surface and add some reflectivity – like waxing your car. Some slabs are coated with a resin at the quarry and processing factory before final polishing. This helps to strengthen weaker stones and fills some of the natural pits in the surface. The color of some “resined” slabs will age or change over time, typically darkening, and on rare occasions the resin will react with sealer applied after installation to produce a milky finish. This is a hot topic in the industry at the moment and some manufacturers do not provide full information about their manufacturing processes.
For some interesting pictures of stone quarrying and manufacturing operations in Brazil click here
Other Natural Stones
Limestone and Travertines are softer, more porous rocks used for centuries for building materials, flooring and monuments. Under millions of years of heat and pressure they turn into Marble which is much harder and less porous. All these rocks have high concentrations of Calcium which makes them more susceptible to attack by acids. These are rarely used for countertops but commonly used for floors and backsplashes.
Sandstone is simply sand, which under heat and pressure, bonds togther into a rock. It is very porous. It can be hard or very soft, reisits acid attack and is sometimes used as a building material. This is very rarely used for countertops.
Slate is similar to sandstone but the particles that make up the rock are considerably smaller. It can be very dense and less porous and ranges from soft to hard. Slate if often used for floors and backsplashes
Soapstone is primarily made of the same mineral as “talc”. Again, under heat and pressure, it forms a dense, non-porous, chemically inert and heat tolerant rock often used in chemistry labs and wood stoves. Being soft, it can be scratched quite easily and smoothed with sandpaper. This can be quite expensive but used for countertops quite often for historic renovations or for special feature areas in kitchens, bars and fireplaces.
What is Quartz?
This is a source of confusion for many customers, designers, Architects and builders. The word quartz describes the type of mineral that dominates the composition of the countertop material. Quartz is an extremely hard, common, and naturally occurring mineral and is a major component in granite.
Man Made or Engineered Quartz
This is what most people think of when they hear the word quartz. Depending on the manufacturer, and how they specify composition, their products are 80 (by volume) to 95 percent (by weight) quartz, which is sourced by grinding up natural quartz rock. This material, with varying particle size, is then mixed with resins/bonding agents and cast into slabs. Sizes of the slabs vary from 120″ x 55″ to 132″ x 66″ depending on the manufacturer, with thicknesses of 1 cm, 2cm, and 3 cm.
These materials must be cut and polished under a stream of water to cool the surface and prevent melting or burning of the resins.
The products are very similar to granite. They are very hard and difficult to scratch, almost as heat tolerant as natural stone, usually have a slightly less-shiny surface, are non-porous and don’t require sealing. The biggest difference is their color uniformity and selection for more contemporary design schemes.
About 1/3 to 1/2 of our projects use Engineered Quartz products and, as certified fabricators, our showroom features hundreds of colors from 15 manufacturers.
Quartzite is the name for the naturally occurring rock that has an extremely high level of quartz minerals. It tends to be quite rare and expensive and used in high-end homes and restaurants and hotel reception areas. It can be translucent and back-lit for a very dramatic look.
A New World of Materials
Scientists and Engineers are keeping busy inventing new materials for countertops, flooring and even cladding the outside of buildings.
Sintered Materials – are made of various raw materials including ceramics, metal oxides and other minerals and molded into slabs and heat-treated for form a very hard, non-porous, chemically inert slab of material that can be used in many different applications. These can be quite expensive and because of their hardness and internal stresses (due to the heat treatment process) they have to be handled, cut and polished in very specific ways with very specialized blades and equipment. Some product names include Dekton, Porcelanosa, Lapitec etc.
Glass Slabs – Similar to some of the sintered materials, there are some products which resemble colored glass slabs. These require some of the same specialized equipment and tooling as sintered materials.
Recycled Materials – Recycled glass countertops have made a small in-road into the countertop business. Names include Vetrazzo and Eco. Even though the raw materials ought to be quite inexpensive, they are still a boutique products and prices can be twice as high as granite. Depending on the matrix agent which bonds the glass particles together, they can be quite porous or stain resistant. Those with a cement based matrix may require frequent sealing. There is a very small segment of the market which is producing recycled paper countertops. We haven’t become involved with this product yet as our “wet” fabrication system may not be compatible.
How do you choose a natural stone?
The key selection criteria is one of personal taste. There is a vast array of colors and visual textures available, including stone with “movement” – large scale variations in color and pattern. The popularity of colors shifts with the times. Reliable favorites which seem to defy trends are black, dark green, browns, subtle reds, silvers and yellow/golds. Blue is becoming popular (and expensive) as are stones with more movement. (Note that stones with lots of veins are quite dramatic but sometimes more fragile and subject to breakage). When choosing a granite, ask about its physical properties, hardness, strength, abrasion resistance etc. Any reputable supplier should be familiar with the stone’s properties and refer to ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) ratings, if available.
The various countries of origin all give their stones their own names. Importers will often re-name their slabs, then fabricators, installers and retail outlets will often do the same. This not only makes it very confusing for the purchaser but also makes it difficult to shop and compare prices, especially when you go to get a second quote and ask for the color “Princess Silver” and no-one else has heard of it. (I just made that name up by the way) Fortunately the internet can de-mystify the “name-game” with a bit of dogged persistence and a reputable supplier can also help. Some of the larger chain stores are the worst culprits here – trying to hide their 30% to 50% markup of fabricators prices by pretending that they have unique stones….. tsk tsk.
Visit our own color selection table here to find possible granite names and colors.
A lot of manufacturers of man-made countertop materials and natural stone imitations have try to mislead the public about the slight porosity of natural stone leading to problems with bacteria buildup. Shame on them – Granite is one of the most cleanable countertop materials available – over 1000 times more cleanable than plastic laminate. Some manufacturers are also engaged in a shameless scare campaign against naturally occurring radiation from natural stone. The EPA have confirmed that levels are extremely low and below any standards required by them. Naturally occurring radiation is emitted from all substances including your concrete foundation, most drywall boards and bananas! You’ll get a larger dose of harmful radiation from flying in an airplane than spending a lifetime sitting on your granite countertop. The Colorado School of Mines published a study which said you would receive a lower dose of radiation over your lifetime if you lived in a sealed house made of granite slabs! Not recommended however, for other reasons.
A few interior designers and architects are recommending “honed” or flat finishes on granite – Absolute Black Honed is sometimes suggested these days. I personally think it is a less-than-optimum choice for the average kitchen. It will show fingerprints, scrapes and un-wiped spills much more readily than a polished finish and after a few years of wiping around a sink area the stone will take on a polish in some areas making it appear blotchy. Some installers and customers apply a sealer, which can just makes things worse, especially on black granite. It is a pretty stone when brand new but some customers later regret the choice. Other colors are now becoming available in honed finishes as well as other textured finishes – flamed, leather, antiqued, satin, washed etc.
And what about marble and limestone? – these can be great choices for bathrooms and vanities but we often discourage their use in a kitchen where they can be more easily scratched, stained and attacked by acidic liquids. For those customers that are comfortable with their countertops attaining a patina over time, we have installed many marble countertops, and they are spectacular.
And soapstone? – a great material that has a long history in American kitchens and is quite beautiful but not cheap. It needs to be regularly treated with mineral oil to give the stone a more even appearance. This also changes its natural gray/green/blue color to dark gray/black. Some soapstones have dramatic veining, other do not. Remember that soapstone is quite soft and can be scratched easily (it is compressed talc after all!) but scratches can be removed with sandpaper. We sometimes carry soapstone in inventory so you can always see and compare it to granite slabs.
So How Do You Find A Competent Supplier?
This is not easy because the industry, though very old, is still very fragmented and un-standardized. Much of the time, an importer of slabs operates independently from a fabricator and even an installer. There are also a lot of companies out there selling granite that are no more than referral services – they simply find a customer and refer them to a fabricator for a piece of the pie. If you dig deeper and ask to see their fabrication facility it will soon become evident that they are merely a shell company and will direct you to a fabrication subcontractor and some of those might subcontract the installation. It is impossible to provide appropriate quality control when multiple parties are involved in the countertops alone. Heritage Stonecraft is your one-stop shop for all your needs. By the way – you should never have to pay for an estimate or make any commitments before an estimate – only companies with something to hide will require this.
Heritage Stonecraft uses the latest laser technology to make templates of your kitchen. In most cases that means we don’t have to remove your old countertops to make accurate templates. Our customers are usually without a kitchen for only 2-3 days. One day to remove the old countertops and install the granite; one day for reconnections of sink and cooktop; and one day for backsplash installation. Our laser templates also feed digital data directly to our computer driven CNC machinery.
What about the Chain Stores?
Then there are the chain stores (Lowes/Home Depot), who, like builders, remodelers, cabinet shops and design shops, also subcontract the work out. With a little bit of leg work you will come across a single all-in-one supplier that does everything from importing to installation as well as direct marketing. As you are here on our website you have already done the right thing. Heritage Stonecraft is a company that provides expert fabrication and installation with a warranty. This is your best bet for low prices, quality and service, as there are no middle-men, each extracting a margin. Also, you know exactly who you are dealing with and who is accountable from start to finish. Typically our total prices are 25% to 35% lower than the big box stores, although their $/square foot price and clever adverting hides this quite well.
This fragmentation of the industry accounts for the huge variation in granite countertop pricing, so shop and compare. Read our expose on dirty little secrets here. Builders, remodelers etc. do provide a very valuable service if you don’t want the hassle of coordinating different contractors and trades, but if you want the best prices on granite countertops, and the ability to look the real provider of services in the eye, then go straight to the source – the full service fabricator/installer, with highly reputable associates for other services and trades.
But where do you start? Word of mouth is often the best source. The internet is rapidly becoming the source for the best leads and provides the opportunity to “pre-shop” easily and conveniently. One of the problems with the internet is making sure you restrict your research to local suppliers. It’s not a lot of good to find the perfect supplier if they operate in Atlanta! Of course regional magazines can also be a good source of leads, but, make sure you visit potential suppliers and look at their operation and check their references and even their suppliers . I can’t stress this enough. Some suppliers literally operate out of a garage and build countertops in your driveway but you can’t tell that from the glossy ad in the paper or the nice website they put together.
Please research online reviews of Heritage Stonecraft by Angies List, BBB, Google Places or other review websites. This independent feedback from our customers is unmatched with consistent “A”s and positive comments. We also post our own Testimonials on this website. These are taken from post-project written comments from hundreds of customers. Additional reviews are freely available in our showroom, in a large 3-ring binder which also contains the customers name and contact information, should you wish to follow up in person. We are also one of the few natural stone providers in the nation that offers a warranty.
Buying based on Lowest Price?
At Heritage Stonecraft we’re often asked if we will price-match every competitor. While we believe we beat the prices of the vast majority of fabricators we do not try to compete purely on price with the “driveway” fabricator. Value is the optimum combination of Price (we’re competitive!), Quality (we’re top notch!) and Service (we’re unbeatable!), and so we target best overall Value to the customer. We do offer to match competing quotes from reputable companies if we see a detailed and comprehensive quote.
We do it right, the first time, on time
Is Do It Yourself Possible or Even a Good Idea?
It can be done if you have some reasonable carpentry-type skills and you can order ready made countertops off the internet. But beware – granite is very heavy (a typical full slab weighs over 1000 lbs) and shipping costs can add up quickly. You’ll also need a lot of help to install this heavy material and unless it is handled very carefully it can crack and break, particularly around sink and cook-top cut-outs. You’ll also need some specialized supplies and tools and diamond blades and polishing discs get expensive very, very fast!
Then there’s the problem of making accurate measurements. All professional installers will make templates of your actual kitchen or bathroom rather than rely on simple measurements. Heritage Stonecraft uses a digital laser-based system. That’s because very few homes, walls and cabinets are actually square or straight, especially if it is more than a couple of years old. There’s also the issue of ensuring your cabinets are completely level and straight to make sure the granite won’t bend and crack. Professional fabricators also embed strengthening rods into most granite at cut-out locations to strengthen the countertop and minimize the risk of breakage during transportation and installation. Plus you have to address seams, or joins, in the granite. This takes a lot of care if you want a professional job. And…. the tools to work with granite are very costly. A simple diamond core bit (to drill a faucet hole) can cost more than $100!!
So – it can be done, but find someone to at least give you good advice and even assistance. Don’t rely only on the advice of the company wanting to sell you a pre-fabricated countertop over the internet! They will tell you it is easy.
A new innovation in the marketplace is for granite suppliers to import pre-finished countertops from overseas, but is only usually effective for large scale commercial work and always produces imperfect results.
How to make sure there are no surprises
First of all make sure you understand what quality of stone you are getting. It is an unregulated industry so suppliers can make up words defining their quality but here’s a useful guide: First Quality contains no material defects, has quite consistent color and granularity between pieces and consistent physical properties. Second Quality will contain small visible defects or inconsistencies, some color variation and potential inconsistent physical properties. Commercial Grade will contain significant visible surface defects which may have been filled or repaired, significant inconsistencies in granularity and color and will be the weakest of all in terms of physical properties.
The problem with these definitions is that they mean different things with different stones! All Travertine will contain voids whereas Black Galaxy should almost have a mirror finish. Most customers will not be happy with anything but First Quality, so even if the terms are somewhat confusing, have the conversation with your fabricator to see if they understand the issues or just use the words without comprehending the nuances. Many raw slabs of “First Quality” granite will contain some minor defects and the experienced fabricator will cut the countertops to eliminate the flaws. Remember, though, that stone is a natural product and not as uniform as man-made products. Within any slab there are likely to be color shifts and changes in granularity. These aren’t defects, they are part of the unique character and beauty of every piece of natural stone. For years Waterford Crystal informed it’s buyers that differences in glass thickness and even bubbles in the glass were part of the product’s unique character and part of the hand-made allure. In the case of stone, variations are the signature of the hand of mother nature or “birthmarks”.
Most stones also contain natural fissures, which is a polite way of saying “cracks that haven’t separated”. In many cases this isn’t a problem if the stone is properly installed. So long as its reflection doesn’t displace and doesn’t change over time it isn’t usually a problem.
So what qualifies as defects or bad parts of a slab? Displaced cracks and filled areas are obvious faults unless the stone is one where that is normal and present on every slab quarried. Dark Emperador marble is notorious for containing “mud-veins” and cracks and breakage during manufacturing is common. Most slabs of this material have to be repaired in some fashion. But what about color variations and veins? Well, it all depends on you, the customer and what you like. One customer may regard a vein as a defect while another may regard it as the highlight feature of the slab.
When we receive slabs at Heritage Stonecraft we always do a quality inspection and if we see color variations and veins in stones which do not normally have them (Tropic Brown, or Black Galaxy for example) we call the customer to have them take a second look at the slab to make sure it is what they want before we start cutting the slab. Ask your fabricator if they do this. If not, you may be in for a surprise – one persons treasure is another’s trash. A handy way to tell if the stone you are interested in is more fragile than most, is to look at the back. Fragile stones will often come from the factory with a fiberglass reinforcement applied to the back. This is not a problem in and of itself but you need to be aware that such a stone is more prone to cracking during transportation and installation and may be more likely to need repair.
Then there is granite thickness. For many years fabricators have used two centimeter (2 cm or 3/4 inch) granite and then glue-laminate the edge to give it a thicker appearance. This granite also usually requires special cabinet reinforcement to support the granite according to Marble Institute Standards – typically a layer of plywood. Also the laminated edge will contain a visible seam and depending on the skill of the fabricator, this can be quite unattractive. Even a “perfect” seam is visible because the seam cuts a straight line through the grains in the stone and the human eye can pick up these linear features. More fabricators are turning to 3 cm granite (about 1 ¼ inch thick) and this is all we work with at Heritage Stonecraft for residential kitchens. This provides for a more harmonious appearance, is very heavy and much stronger than 2 cm so it does not require any plywood support. 3 cm stone can also overhang a cabinet up to 10″ without added support compared with 6″ for 2 cm stone.
Almost all kitchens will require some seams. (Here are some examples of ours) Can the supplier tell you where they are going to be? The last thing you want is a seam where you didn’t expect one. Professional fabricators will be able to tell you this when they template your cabinets. Sometimes, if your job is comprised of multiple subcontractors, all doing a piece of the actual work, they can’t give you this important information. At Heritage Stonecraft we do everything we can to reasonably minimize the number of seams, and for slabs with a lot of veining and variation, we invite customers to participate in the layout process. There are always alternative ways to locate seams so challenge your fabricator to be sure you are getting what you want. Very specific requests on cutting the slab to emphasize features or create very large pieces which require more labor to fabricate and install may come at an extra cost. Such special requests do create more waste for the fabricator and increased fabrication and edge polishing time. Most edge polishing machines can only polish straight edges. Counters with curves, bump-outs for sink or cooktop cabinets, single piece counters with multiple angles etc, all require more hand work and increased waste. Very special shapes may require the use of expensive CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines (like our Park Industries “Titan” machine) costing over a quarter million dollars, or the very skillful work of a qualified fabricator with many years of experience. Anyhow, the cheapest quote may also contain the most seams so make sure you understand the options.
You must ask about how the fabricator is going to re-enforce the granite around cut-outs for sinks and cooktops. For all but the strongest of stones this is a necessity. At Heritage Stonecraft we use fiberglass rods and slow-cure, high strength, epoxy which we let cure overnight. Our research has shown this to be more effective than steel and does not rust, which can lead to future cracking problems if steel not completely encased in epoxy. The “driveway” fabricator will not use anything at all or use cheap, mild steel threaded rods and a fast-cure polyester resin.
Then there is the subject of guarantees. Does the supplier offer a transferable warranty against defects in materials or installation? This is by no means uniform, and most don’t, so ask. Finally, make sure you understand their schedule. How long will you have to wait for templating and how long after that before your countertop is installed? This timeframe can vary from several days to months depending on the whether the granite is in inventory, the number of contractors involved and the manufacturing processes used by the fabricator. At Heritage Stonecraft we lock-in an installation date when we book your templating date – and we stick to our schedules! What you want is a fabricator in high demand with an acceptable turnaround. See if they will show you their schedule so you can see how busy (in-demand) they are. A fabricator may be able to offer a super-rapid installation because they are having trouble finding work and maybe there’s a reason for that! As is the theme of this article – question, question, question….
Click here to read our expos
How Do I Make Sense of Quotes and Advertising Promotions?
Don’t rely on the old headline “per square foot” price. This is used by the less scrupulous companies to bait and switch. This often leaves out basic and essential costs to actually fabricate and install your countertop. Make sure you understand how many square feet you are going to get billed for – will it be the actual square feet of your finished countertop or will it be the area of the slabs of granite used, including waste and defects? Or maybe something in between. Beware – there are several companies in the DFW area which are engaging in a deceptive practice of offering a low “per square foot” price and them overestimating the quantity required by up to 20%, calling it a waste factor or similar. get the total quote, understand all the components and ensure there are no loose ends.
Granite & Marble Pricing Basics
Sometimes small jobs will be charged at a higher per-square-foot price because a fabricator will be stuck with over half a slab of stone with no certainty they can re-use it on another job, so ask about minimum quantities that go along with pricing structures. Believe it or not, different granite fabricators can come up with quite different estimates of square feet of countertop, particularly when angle and curve cuts are involved. We know of at least three companies in the DFW area that add between 5% and 20% to the actual calculated square footage. We won’t name them here, but come by and we’ll show you. Sometimes special colors are charged at a higher rate because fabricators can’t re-use the left-over material for another customer. How much are they charging for polishing the edges? Some will provide a simple edge design for free and others will charge extra for any edge. At Heritage Stonecraft we offer 7 edges for free. Some of these might cost over $900 from the big-box stores. Don’t forget that 2 cm granite may contain separate charges for the laminated edge and plywood sub-decking, if they are done properly to Marble Institute Standards..
Then there are cut-outs, sinks, cook-tops, faucet holes, electric outlets, and backsplashes. Some charge for every cut-out, some provide them for free. Under-mount sinks are very beautiful and they are more expensive to produce. I encourage all my customers to use them because it provides the focal point for anyone looking at your kitchen. Not doing an under-mount sink with a granite countertop is a bit like buying a new car painted with just primer. OK, a bit of an exaggeration but you get my point. Back to prices – are there extra charges for delivery, installation, demolition and removal of your old countertops or initial sealing and polishing of your countertop? Some even charge for estimates, templating and basic mileage as a way to squeeze a few more dollars from the customer, so they can hide it and offer a low $/square foot price. Will they smooth the underneath edge of the stone or will it feel rough? Unless you are armed with all this detail it’s very difficult to understand and compare your estimates and ensure that there are no hidden costs that will appear after the job is done.
Heritage Stonecraft has partnered with reputable companies to take care of all plumbing/electrical, tiling and cabinetry needs. With other companies you will have to hire and schedule your own plumbers and electricians to do your disconnects and re-connects, before and after the granite installation, unless, of course you have absorbed all the DIY tips and tricks from HGTV shows and feel comfortable doing this yourself. Granite installers are not trained or licensed to do this and if they do offer to reconnect your appliances, plumbing and drain lines beware – will they stand behind their work if your house floods or has an electrical malfunction, or worse?
Price & Quality
And, finally, why is one granite more expensive than another? Are higher priced granites stronger? – No! Are they higher “quality”? – No! It’s good ol’ Economics 101 and supply versus demand. More attractive stones are in higher demand and if they come from a distant land in small quantities the price will be higher. Some of the toughest stones are also quite cheap and some of the most expensive can be very fragile. Also note that all natural stone contains small “pits” to varying degrees. These are simply small voids between grain boundaries and some of the most expensive stones can be full of them. However, some cheap granite companies offer “commercial” grade grade which have many pits and inclusions in stones which would not normally appear in first quality slabs
How do you care for your new natural stone countertops?
First of all, granite is an extremely durable surface and easy to care for. Sealing shouldn’t take more than about 20 minutes about once per year.
Be sure to get your suppliers advice on caring for your new granite and marble countertops as they should be cleaned regularly with a pH neutral cleaner, sealed with a penetrating or impregnating sealant about once a year (in most cases) and polished regularly to keep it beautiful. On the other hand, beware of salesman pushing stone sealer or lifetime products with guarantees! Most of these are “regular” sealer with a guarantee to come back and re-treat it if it is ever stained. They never come with a guarantee to prevent staining. Some stones are extremely dense and impermeable and do not need a sealer – Black Galaxy is an example. Sealer will only build up on the surface and cause clouding, requiring eventual stripping with harsh solvents. If a granite countertop becomes cloudy in appearance it’s a reasonable bet that it is due to buildup of “something” on the surface.
I also recommend using a granite countertop polish, as needed, to really keep the granite looking stunning. It is a lot like a car wax – apply, let haze and buff off. It also makes spills bead-up on the surface, providing an additional layer of protection.
Although granite is very hard and most of the minerals are harder than steel, it can be scratched. If that happens it is usually best to cover up the scratch with a stone “darkener”. Scratches can be polished out but that involves actually removing some of the stone and this can create a very slight “dish” in the stone which will show up in reflections. Polished stone is as flat as a mirror and changes in the surface will show up as distortions and these are often more noticeable than minor scratches. At the moment there is no truly effective scratch filler on the market, but I hope someone makes a breakthrough soon.
Granite was once a molten rock and it can handle a LOT of heat – much more than engineered stone and other countertop materials. Go ahead and put your hot pans directly on the stone but try to keep them several inches away from cutouts (cooktops etc). I still encourage customers to be careful with pots and pans however, mainly because they can cause scratches it they are dragged across the surface and there is a piece of grit underneath. Also some metals will leave a black or gray mark on the stone. If you need to remove something like this, or something which has glued itself to the stone, don’t be afraid to use a single sided razor blade or steel wool to polish the surface of a granite. Don’t do this with limestones or marbles, however, they will scratch more easily. Heritage Stonecraft carries a line of cleaners and sealers that we use in our production line and sealing the stone is a FREE part of every installation we do.
BUT – don’t let any of this scare you. I know many people that simple wipe down their granite countertops with a mild soap solution and take care not to let any of it build up on the surface, and their granite looks as good 10 years later as the day it was installed.
Why do you need to think about backsplashes?
In virtually all cases the installation of new countertops will require you to choose a new backsplash. If you are making the sensible choice of 3 centimeter (1 1/4 inches) thick granite, it is thicker than most existing countertops which use plastic laminate over 3/4 inch particle board, or engineered acrylic plastic material (such as Corian) which is only 1/2 inch thick. Both of these older counters have laminated edges to give a thicker appearance, but this is usually only at the front edge. In rare cases where a customer wants to retain a tile backsplash with special meaning (hand painted by their grandmother?) the only option is to cut the tile about 1/2 inch up from the existing countertop (if laminate) and hope that the granite/tile interface will fit fairly tightly after the required shimming and leveling of the granite is performed. Another less desirable option is to butt the granite to the tile and cover the inevitable gaps (walls that aren’t straight etc) with some form of tile “quarter-round” that matches or picks up the color tones of the old tile and new granite.
The real solution is a new backsplash – either granite or another tile (ceramic, natural stone or glass). Most customers should look at this as an opportunity to be more creative with their backsplash. There is an amazing array of tile options on the market today and an infinite number of designs. Consider mixing tile shapes, sizes and orientations and look at creating borders and special designs behind cook-tops to add additional flair and elegance. Tile can be a DIY project but Heritage Stonecraft offers tile installation services and can supply your natural stone or ceramic tile at significantly discounted prices, once you decide what color and size you need from samples in our showroom. Heritage Stonecraft also provides basic design and color coordination services in our showroom.
Of course, as a granite and quartz supplier, Heritage Stonecraft is happy to provide full and partial slab stone backsplashes. These can look very bold, exciting and unifying. Very few people choose a full granite backsplash because of the expense. Slab backsplashes can add 50% or more to the cost of countertops because it adds up to quite a few square feet. Then there is the cost of cutting all those holes for electrical outlets and switches. If you go with a full granite backsplash you should remember that they will have to be fabricated and installed after the countertops to ensure a good fit.
The Timeline – How long will all this take and in what sequence?
For a Countertop Project – Here is the “normal” sequence of events:
||Call to schedule a free in home consultation & estimate.
||Get the estimate and start shopping for a granite or quartz color at our showroom.
||Finalize choices (countertop material, sinks, faucet, cooktop etc) and schedule a templating date and reserve an installation date (Typically 2-3 weeks out). Also make sure that your faucet choice goes with your sink choice and consider the layout for the holes that may need to be drilled in the granite.
||Templates are made (remember to clear off your existing countertops). A Laser is used by Heritage Stonecraft to produce CAD drawings to feed to our state-of-the-art CNC machines.
||The material is purchased by the fabricator if selected from a local slab wholesaler
||For slabs with movement, customers attend a layout meeting at our showroom and view their slabs with the templates overlain on a big-screen display to agree the cutting plan and appeareance of any seams.
||Slabs are cut to size, edged and polished.
||On installation day the old counters are removed, new ones installed and the sink is mounted. Sealer is applied.
||For undermount sinks the plumber should connect the faucets and drains on the next day (giving time for the adhesives to fully cure).
||The backsplash is installed and grouted. One week later it is sealed
||The party is scheduled to show off your new (400 million year old) natural stone or totally modern quartz countertops.
The critical path for most jobs involves choosing a color and locking in an installation date. As soon as you are ready to go ahead with the project, even if you haven’t fully settled on a color choice, call to set the schedule. Depending on the time of year we, at Heritage Stonecraft , have a two to three week lead time – i.e. when you decide to go ahead our first available installation dates will be two to three weeks out. Unlike many other fabricators, we will be able to set your installation date at the very beginning of your project and stick to it.
There are always special considerations which can mix up the normal scheduling sequence so be sure to discuss them with us during the estimating process.
Other Stuff to Know and Consider
We have seen an incredible number of bad cabinet installations, where installers have not paid enough attention to making the cabinets level. The age of the house and issues with level of the floor are not reasons for an out-of-level cabinet installation. So….
VERY IMPORTANT – If you are having new cabinets installed make sure that the cabinet installers know you are using stone countertops and specify that your cabinets need to be within 1/8″ of level, and make sure they use a large (six foot or longer) level to check the installation. Make sure they pay extra attention to spans across gaps (dishwashers, ranges, farmhouse sinks etc). If the cabinets are not level there will be a large amount of shimming required to get the countertops level. This will create large unsightly gaps between the cabinets and granite that will have to be trimmed out by a carpenter. And, more importantly, it just won’t look right…….
Most dishwashers are screwed to the bottom of old wood/laminate or tile-on-wood countertops. It’s difficult (to say the least) to put screws into granite or quartz, so some other attachment method is needed. There are three popular solutions:
1) is to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of the granite and to the cabinets on either side of the dishwasher and drive the same (maybe shorter) screws into it. With this solution you will be able to see the piece of wood so it will need to be painted/stained to match the rest of your cabinets.
2) small metal discs can be glued to the underside of the granite and the dishwasher can be attached to these with short screws. This works quite well but not as well as option 3.
3) a more elegant solution is to use a “side-mount kit” which allows the dishwasher to be attached to the cabinets on either side of the opening. Check with your dishwasher manufacturer to see if these are available. On newer models this is standard. In either case the dishwasher may have to be raised or lowered on its adjustable legs, to fit the opening. Also check with a plumber or your local city building codes to see if you need to add/retain your air-gap. This is the mysterious, and not very attractive, piece of plumbing mounted on your countertop/sink next to your faucet. While most manufacturers of newer dishwashers do not require this item, there still might be a few old city building codes which do.
Finally check your floor. New tile and/or wood flooring is sometimes laid in such a manner that it is impossible to get the old dishwasher out (or the new one in) without removing the countertops. Once the granite is installed this is a bad situation. The only cure for this is to shim up the entire countertop. This will add some costs to the project and require painting/staining after the counters are in.
A lot of homes have bar top areas which rest upon 4″ stud walls. Old bar countertops are usually supported on plywood which is screwed into the wall. With stone you don’t really want the plywood left in place because you will be able to see the rough edge of the plywood. Granite also weighs many times more than wood, Corian and even tile (up to 20 pounds per square foot), so it’s important that it is supported properly. Two favorite solutions to this challenge are:
1) using substantial, structural brackets or corbels of metal or wood. These work well but you can see them easily and they will hit your knees if you are sitting at the bar on a stool; or
2) At Heritage Stonecraft we can fabricate steel bar “straps”. These are made from 1/4 inch thick solid steel plate, 3 inches wide and approximately 14 inches long (depending on the bar top width). A shallow, 1/4 inch deep slot is routed into the top of the wall and the strap is attached to the wall with 3 inch screws. The stone is then adhered with 100% silicone to the wall and the straps and left for a couple days to really cure. This method results in an almost invisible support and protects your knees. We also paint them gray to blend in with the underside of the stone. The entire underside of the granite and the support straps can also be painted to hide them even more.
Most bathroom vanity cabinets are only 21 inches deep (front to back) compared to kitchen cabinets which are 24 inches deep. This means that there is only limited room for vanity sinks and you need to make sure the sink you choose will fit into a standard 21 inch cabinet (For example, a Kohler K2211 sink will not fit in a 21″ cabinet and leave room for faucet holes). Also some faucets will be very cramped considering the thickness of a granite backsplash, particularly the drain stopper/lever.
It’s a very good idea to have these selections done as early as possible and discussed with your fabricator to prevent delays and surprises as your countertops are built. Also there is rapidly growing trend towards “vessel” sinks or bowls which sit elevated above the countertop. These also need to be selected early and all the faucets and fittings chosen before fabrication begins. The central drain hole needed for a vessel sink will depend on the sink and the drain pipe-work.
Your fabricator may have to charge extra if additional field cutting and finishing is needed because you delayed your choices. There will most certainly be extra costs if your fabricator has to return to the job because you didn’t provide sufficient information and the drain hole is the wrong size for the pipe fittings.
Almost all cooktops have very specific and non-standard cutout dimensions. A 30″ Jenn-Air cutout may be completely different from a 30″ GE. Again (at the risk of sounding monotonous) make this choice early . There will be additional costs if the fabricator has to return to the job-site to change the size of the opening. Plus cutting the opening inside the home will create an enormous amount of dust that no amount of plastic sheeting can completely control. So – buy the cooktop early and give all the installation instructions and specifications to the fabricator when they come to template your countertops. Remember, it is difficult (no – impossible) to un-cut a hole……..
The sink you choose is the one you will have to live with for quite a while, because all sink cutout dimensions are very unique. Some customers might think about saving some money and going with a drop-in sink, thinking that they will be able to upgrade to an undermount later. Virtually all drop-in sinks have a larger cutout than an undermount – so it is impossible to make the hole smaller later! You can sometimes go from an undermount to a drop-in but not the other way around. But who really wants a drop-in sink when an undermount shows off the countertop so beautifully.
There are some new fancy faucets on the market which require more room to operate. If you have a backsplash immediately behind your sink you need to check that your faucet will operate properly without banging your knuckles or hitting the backsplash.
Now You Are Ready to Make Your Final Choice
There are some other factors you might want to consider: Visit the fabrication facility you are thinking of employing and look at its condition. I can’t stress this enough. How will you know who you are dealing with and who is cutting up your expensive materials unless you take the time to inspect their facilities. Are they messy, dirty, unorganized, or just plain unprofessional. What kind of equipment and tools are they using? Quality cuts and finished edges require top quality tools and machinery. Do they care about the health and safety of their employees and therefore customers? Do they require their employees to wear protective eyewear and breathing equipment? Do they do all of their work “wet” to minimize dust and produce a mirror finish? And then there is the environment – do they re-circulate water used in fabrication or do they discharge waste water into the street or municipal sewer.
Heritage Stonecraft takes stewardship of it employees, the community and the environment very seriously. We screen all employees to ensure they are legally able to work in the US and check criminal backgrounds. All major machinery is less than 7 years old, state of the art, and made in the USA. All cutting and polishing of stone is done under a water stream to virtually eliminate dust and hazards for employees. All employees must comply with our documented safety and risk management program and are protected by a workers compensation insurance policy. Our employees are offered a heavily subsidized medical benefit program. All water in our facility is 100% recycled and no processing fluids enter the storm or sewer system. Our templates are digital/laser based, reducing waste produced by wooden or plastic templates. We have cutting-edge electrical power control technology to regulate/reduce power consumption during peak loads and purchase only electric power generated from renewable sources.
Finally natural stone provides one of the lowest life-of-product environmental impacts,because it is a) natural; b) long lived; and c) recyclable. All potential customers are welcomed to tour our facility.
If you keep all these things in mind, you will end up with a beautiful kitchen or bathroom countertop, one that will last as long as your home, and feel good about your choice.
I hope you found this article informative. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for improvements, please write to me at the e-mail address below. Happy hunting.
This article may be freely duplicated or copied provided it is done so in whole and it contains the following complete reference and acknowledgement. Any other paper or electronic duplication or other use is strictly forbidden.
Copyright © 2011
Terry J. Obeney
President, Heritage Stonecraft LLC
Some Common Questions about us
Q: How is Heritage Stonecraft granite less expensive than other granite and am I sacrificing quality?
A: Heritage Stonecraft is committed to providing granite at lower quartile prices with top quartile quality. We do this by integrating all aspects of the granite business, from importing granite directly to installing the finished product. We eliminate the middle-men, whether they be the retailer, contract fabricator or subcontract installer. Every person you see working on your countertops is a Heritage Stonecraft employee dedicated to providing outstanding quality at affordable prices. We also focus on continual improvement in all aspects of our operations to become more efficient and cost effective at what we do.
Q: I’ve seen some ads for special pricing as low as $29 per square foot. You seem more expensive?
A: Please read our helpful article about buying granite countertops higher up on this page, and our expose on pricing. Yes, there are some “driveway” fabricators using thinner 2 centimeter granite who can offer apparently lower prices but check them out carefully and fully understand what you might be getting and what is “missing” from their advertised prices. Remember that cheapest does not equal best value. You only get what you pay for.
Q: Is Heritage Stonecraft granite right for me?
A: Absolutely. Heritage Stonecraft is committed to customer service and building a lasting reputation. Please research online reviews of Heritage Stonecraft by Angies List, BBB, Google Places or other review websites. The feedback from our customers is unmatched with consistent “A”s and positive comments. We also post our own Testimonials on this website. These are taken from post-project written comments from hundreds of customers. Additional reviews are publicly available in our showroom, in a large 3-ring binder which also contains the customers name and contact information, should you wish to follow up in person. We are also one of the few natural stone providers in the nation that offers a warranty. We want to work to satisfy every customer need. We are also dedicated to customer education as the granite business, though very old, is still very fragmented and mysterious. Most granite providers like to keep it that way so they can maintain artificially high prices. We strive to make the process of selecting granite totally transparent with no surprises.
Q: Are there other colors available?
A: We offer any color stone if it exists in our inventory or in the inventory of any importer in the DFW area – about 500 colors in total. Our color options on this web site are just a sampling of available colors, carefully selected to encompass the most popular choices which represent excellent value. We maintain an inventory of some of these colors in our own warehouse so that any project – large or small, residential or commercial – can be fulfilled quickly.
Q: Can you re-connect my electrical and plumbing connections?
A: We have partnered with a reputable and licensed company for the past 14 years to complete these tasks for you and we handle all of the coordination. We are not licensed electricians or plumbers. Therefore, our employees cannot make electrical or plumbing re-connections.
Q: Will my granite countertop have visible seams?
A: Most granite installations will require at least one or more joints called seams. During layout and design, we will try to minimize the number of seams required. Additionally, our care in manufacture ensures that edges fit together very tightly to help lessen the appearance of visible seams. Companies that advertise very low-per-square-foot prices usually are selling “blanks” or pre-fabricated countertops. With these, you are usually charged by the whole piece not what you actually use. There will also be more seams because blanks are not make in “L” shapes for example. For granite with large patterns/veins, we invite the customer to participate in the layout process so they can make choices on how the slabs are cut and positioned in the project.
Q: Can you do my tile backsplash or floor tile work?
A: We have partnered with a reputable and licensed company for the past 14 years to complete these tasks for you and we handle all of the coordination. In our showroom we offer ceramic, porcelain and glass tile, for backsplashes and floors including wood-plank style porcelain tile.
Q: Can you give me an estimate if I e-mail or FAX a sketch?
A: Certainly. Please make all the measurements as accurate as possible and allow for an 1.5 inch overhang on all the cabinets. Mark special areas (curves etc), indicate your preferred edge(s), colors, and details of your sink (undermount or drop-in). Also indicate whether we will need to remove your old countertop and backsplash. While estimates done this way can be quite close to the final numbers we cannot finalize the costs until we visit your project and discuss all the aspects of your job as part of our free in-home consultation.
Remember what your parents taught you…..
You only get what you pay for, or, from the other viewpoint, you don’t get what you don’t pay for. Settling for cheapest will not give the best value. The best value comes from a combination of Quality, Service, Price, and Confidence based on a record of performance with independent reviews.
Fair and Clear Pricing Policy
First of all, don’t get sucked-in by a low price-per-square-foot advertisement.
Heritage Stonecraft is committed to simple, clear and detailed cost estimates, which we explain in person. We do not use any bait-and-switch tactics or leave any probable costs undisclosed. We also offer to price-match but only for reputable and competent companies provided we see a complete and detailed proposal.
We offer top-ranked quality, service and reputation with prices lower than most.
Price per square foot
We often get phone calls simply asking for unit prices for our products. If all you are doing is trying to set up a budget, that may be adequate. However, we know that less scrupulous companies advertise an artificially low $/sq ft price to get people hooked, and all the “add-on’s” only get revealed after the customer has invested a lot of time and energy.
Such tactics include:
- Extra charges for estimates, templates or fuel “surcharges”;
- over-estimation of square feet (double counting corners in “L” shaped pieces);
- additional charges for several basic edge polishing options;
- charges for cooktop cutouts and faucets holes;
- charges for sealing the stone;
- charges for smoothing the underside of the front edge;
- charges for adding reinforcement or “rods” to cutout locations;
- surcharges for “L” shaped pieces;
- charges for firm installation dates……………. etc etc.
Also, many base their square footage on the size of the slabs used, not the square footage of your kitchen or bath.
The bottom line – only a complete and itemized estimate for your particular kitchen or project can be used for genuine cost comparisons.
Stone & Fabrication Quality
Heritage Stonecraft uses only “first quality” stone and quartz slabs in 3 cm thickness (1 1/4″) where available.
Others sometimes base their advertised prices on 2 cm (3/4″) granite, “commercial grade”, or pre-manufactured chinese”blanks” – which normally increase the number and placement of seams and result in larger color variations between pieces.
All our large machinery is “made-in-the-USA”. The edge polish and cutout accuracy is the best that can be attained with CNC machines and line polishers that cost over $300,000 each. Many smaller companies perform most of the work using hand tools and even cut the stone inside the home.
Our templates are made using the latest laser technology and feed their digital data directly to our Water Jet/Saw CNC machine. The old-fashioned method of wood or paper templates is still used by most other companies.
All fabrication and installation is done according to industry standards. Several times a year we are asked to review and provide expert opinion on sub-standard installations done by others which are improper including:
- seams over dishwashers
- no subtop with 2 cm granite counters
- no reinforcement at cutouts
- use of the wrong adhesives with undermount sinks
- failure to use mechanical support for undermount sinks
- inadequate support for large high-bars
- excessive and unsupported overhangs
- diagonal corner seams
- poorly polished edges (probably dry-polished versus wet polished)
- lippage at seams and inadequately bonded seams
- etc etc
Cheap bidders do not use industry standards and have to cut corners to meet a cheap price. Many don’t actually know that standards exist.
Layout and Cutting Options
Heritage Stonecraft works with the customer to minimize the number of seams. For granite with large patterns/veins, we invite the customer to participate in the layout process in the comfortable surrounding of our conference room, using the latest digital technology, so they can make choices on how the slabs are cut and positioned in the project.
For many other companies you don’t even get to see the slabs before they are cut, and have no say on how the pieces are cut and the number and position of seams. Estimates from some competing companies disclose this critical issue. Others do not mention the matter.
Warranty – What Warranty?
Heritage Stonecraft is extremely unusual in offering a 5 year warranty with our natural stone installations. Engineered Quartz usually comes with longer warranties. On over 10,000 completed projects (since we started business in 2003) we have had only 2 warranty calls. Both were addressed immediately although one was as a result of foundation movement and repair which, strictly speaking, wasn’t covered.
Heritage Stonecraft does not use subcontractors for any aspect of the granite or quartz fabrication or installation. All employees are thoroughly background-checked before employment and all are US citizens or legal residents. All are offered a heavily subsidized medical insurance benefit and paid fair wages and overtime in accordance with State and Federal regulations.
Most other fabricators do not perform background checks and turn a blind eye to the legal status of their employees. Many cheap fabricators “enjoy” a lower cost of labor by paying illegal immigrants a lower wage with no overtime.
We carry $2,000,000 liability coverage and all our employees are protected by Workers Compensation Insurance. Many other fabricators do not carry any insurance.
We are also authorized by all major engineered quartz and recycled glass manufacturers who have inspected and approved our fabrication facility and processes.
I invite all potential customers to come and visit our exceptional fabrication facility and showroom.