Granite Countertops: Pros and Cons

Are Granite Countertops Right for You?

Kitchen granite countertop

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Granite one of the most popular premium materials for countertops in a kitchen or bathroom, although this natural stone is losing some ground to manmade composite and engineered stone (quartz) countertops. But trends aside, genuine granite countertops, made from slabs cut from stone blocks quarried directly from the earth, give a natural appeal to a kitchen that can't be matched by any synthetic material. Granite performs quite well as a countertop. It resists heat and scratches and has good resistance to stains, but it must be sealed regularly.

Pros
  • Durable

  • Adds to home value

  • Unique appearance

  • Easy to clean

  • Resists scratching

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Not DIY friendly

  • Repairs are difficult

  • Requires periodic sealing

Recognizing Granite

It can sometimes be hard to distinguish granite from other natural stones, or from the increasingly realistic types of manmade engineered stone. Granite is an igneous rock, meaning that it originates from volcanic magma that emerges from the earth to cool and harden. This makes it categorically different than marble, which is a metamorphic rock that forms when layers of sedimentary rock are subjected to millions of years of pressure and heat.

In composition, granite is made mostly of quartz and feldspar, with small amounts of mica and other minerals. The color of the granite depends on what minerals are included, and it can range from almost pure black to pure white, with pinks, reds, greens, and even blues possible. Usually, there are many small black grains of amphibole visible in the stone, blended within the colored minerals. Most granites do not have the subtle veining found in marble, and close inspection will show that the crystals in granite are quite visible, unlike marble.

Distinguishing granite from the better manmade engineered stone is increasingly difficult as those products have improved in quality, but if you closely inspect a granite countertop, you will be able to see that the crystals are uneven in size and randomly arranged. This is not found in engineered stone, which has a uniformity of appearance throughout the material.

Types of Granite Countertops

The granite used in countertops comes in several forms.

  • Granite slabs are the classic countertop, usually a solid piece of quarried stone, often without any seams. This is the most expensive form of granite, and it is almost always installed by professionals, as the slabs are simply too heavy and expensive for DIYers to tackle.
  • Modular granite is a cheaper form of granite featuring large segments that are laid side-by-side to form a countertop. A countertop made with modular granite will have seams, though fewer seams than found with tiles. Modular granite is relatively easy for a DIYer to install.
  • Granite tiles are similar to the granite tiles used in flooring. They are installed much the same as ceramic or porcelain tiles, and have some of the same drawbacks when used for countertops—there are grout seams that can be hard to maintain. But slabs, this is a DIY-friendly product.

Granite Countertop Cost

Costs for granite countertops vary greatly, depending on the type of granite used and on labor costs in your area. Costs for granite countertops have actually fallen, thanks to the increasing popularity of manmade engineered stone.

Granite slab countertops cost from $40 to $60 per square foot, according to national statistics. While the granite itself costs considerably less than this, there is simply no cost-saving DIY option, making slab granite one of the more expensive of all countertop materials.

Modular granite typically costs $25 to $40 per square foot, making it a good option for people who want the look of granite while saving money by doing the work themselves. These countertops are fabricated in segments as kits, based on your measurements. But be aware that modular granite does not lend the same real estate value as solid slab countertops.

Granite tiles usually cost $5 to $15 per square foot. This makes it the most cost-effective choice, but granite tile countertops are decidedly inferior to slabs and may be viewed negatively by the real estate market.

Maintenance and Repair

Granite is a very hard substance and thus is very resistant to scratching. That is fortunate, because repairs are very hard, if not impossible, to accomplish. Cracks, fissures, and chips can sometimes be repaired using an epoxy or resin kit chosen to match the color and pattern of the granite, but these repairs are usually evident in the surface. Professional fabricators often do this work better than DIYers can accomplish, but repairs can be costly.

While granite performs better than marble on a countertop, it is still a somewhat porous stone that needs to be sealed in order to protect it from staining. Most granite countertops are sealed before they are installed, and they need to be periodically resealed to keep the surface impervious to stains.

Design

Granite countertops are appropriate for almost any home style, from informal farmhouse to French mansion. They always add an element of luxury, but also lend natural appeal as a product of the earth. There are some home design professionals who believe that natural stone has become somewhat cliche, replaced by synthetic engineered stone or eco-friendly composites as the most trendy countertop material. But overall, granite is a fairly timeless choice as a countertop material; in most homes, it will add real estate value.

Granite is available in a surprisingly wide range of colors. Various shades of gray, pink, and red are most common, but you can find blue and green granites, as well as nearly pure whites and blacks.

Granite Countertop Installation

Solid slab countertops are very difficult to work with, which is why they are virtually always handled by professional crews—usually employees or contractors of the firm that fabricates the countertop from a raw slab. A consultant usually visits your home to take measurements, and the countertop is then fabricated at a shop, including any cutouts for sinks and other fixtures that are required. The consumer is usually involved in picking the slab—from small samples, slabs on display at the retailer, or by picking and arranging shipping of the slab from a national supplier. After fabrication, the installation crew then delivers the countertop and installs it, a process that usually takes only an hour or two.

Modular granite and granite tiles can be installed by DIYers—and usually are, since professional installation would wipe out the cost savings.

Top Brands of Granite Countertops

Granite countertops are often fabricated and sold by local firms, since it is not very cost-effective to ship very heavy countertops long distances. These local firms buy thin polished slabs from domestic distributors, who import raw slabs from places like Brazil, Italy, India, or China. There is also some plain granite that is quarried domestically, in Vermont, Virginia, and other states, though this stone is most often used for construction purposes, not fine interior surfaces.

Some of the more prominent national sources of granite slabs and granite countertop products include:

  • Marble Warehouse, located in Van Nuys, CA, sells both raw granite slabs and granite tiles in a wider range of colors and patterns than what is offered by most fabricators. Consumers generally buy the slab and arrange for shipping to a local contractor, who fabricates and installs the countertop.
  • Granite Countertops is a national network of stone countertop fabricators, serving to connect you to local professionals offering start-to-finish service.
  • Bedrock Creations is a supplier of prefabricated modular granite countertops, purchased mostly by DIYers.
  • Keystone Granite and Tile is one of the better national retailers, offering a wide selection of granite slab countertops, along with local installation services.

In addition, just about all major ceramic tile suppliers also sell granite tiles; some also sell modular countertops.

Granite vs. Engineered Stone (Quartz) Countertops

If you want the performance of granite but need more design options, consider countertops made from engineered stone. Engineered stone is made from pulverized natural stone, usually quartz as well as other types of stone, mixed with resins and pressed into sheets which are then cut into various shapes for use as building materials. The most common brands for engineered stone include Cambria, Silestone, and Caesarstone.

Synthetic stone is available in an almost unlimited range of colors and grain patterns. It makes for a very premium countertop that adds considerable value to your home. While it was initially created as a less-expensive alternative to natural stone, engineered stone is now more expensive than granite in many cases.

The advantage of synthetic stone is that it is a uniform product that is readily available and offers more design options than granite. Many consumers also prefer synthetic stone for environmental reasons—it is made from leftover stone byproducts and doesn't require quarrying, which can disfigure a landscape. Costs of synthetic stone can range from about $50 per square foot to as much as $175 per square foot, depending on the type. Nationally, materials-plus-installation costs average about $125 per square foot for engineered stone countertops.

Are Granite Countertops Right for You?

If you want a premium countertop material and can be relatively careful about maintaining them and avoiding spills that can stain, then granite countertops are a very good option. Granite is a premium building material that adds timeless value to any home. They are also less expensive than some of the trendier options, such as engineered stone and composite countertops.