Using Granite Countertops in the Bathroom

A Classic Choice That Improves Home Value

Modern Bathroom
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Slab granite countertops are extremely popular for kitchens, but they can be an equally good choice for bathrooms. Granite counters perform well in the bathroom due to their beauty, solidity, and water-shedding properties. As long as granite is well-maintained, it can be expected to return decades of high performance in the bathroom.

When it comes time to sell your home, the presence of natural stone countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms will appeal to prospective buyers, and you are likely to recoup most of their cost through higher resale value.

Granite vs. Marble vs. Engineered Stone

It is possible to use almost any type of natural stone for bathroom countertops, but the most common choices are granite or marble slabs. In recent years, the use of these has been slowly replaced by engineered stone countertops, also known as quartz.

Both natural granite and marble countertops are cut into slabs from large blocks of stone extracted from quarries around the world. Fabrication of these countertops is done largely the same way. The blocks are sliced into slabs that are then cut into requested sizes, with cutouts made for sink openings by fabricators. When you buy a marble or granite countertop, it is often sold in a preset size to match popular vanity and sink dimensions. Or, you can order one custom-made to the size and shape you want.

As countertop surfaces, marble and granite have similar performance properties, though they are different types of stone. Granite is an igneous rock produced as liquid volcanic magma slowly hardens into stone. While colors vary, granite has an overall speckled, grainy appearance. Marble, on the other hand, is a metamorphic rock that is produced when sedimentary stone such as limestone undergoes thousands of years of heat and pressure to produce a very hard stone that features characteristic sweeping waves and curls of color. Each marble countertop will be entirely unique, while granite countertops cut from the same quarry will typically have a relatively uniform appearance.

In terms of performance for countertops, both marble and granite are hard, smooth, and durable surfaces. Granite tends to be a harder stone that resists chips better than marble, but this is less meaningful in the bathroom than in the kitchen, where the countertop can be subjected to banging pots and pans. Both marble and granite are fairly porous stones that need to be periodically sealed to resist staining. Granite tends to be slightly less expensive than marble.

A relatively new entry into the stone countertop arena is engineered stone, often marketed as quartz countertops. These countertops are manufactured from pulverized stone of various types blended with resins and pressed into slabs for use as kitchen or bathroom countertop materials. When compared to marble or granite, engineered stone performs just as well, offers nearly the same real estate value, and can be slightly less expensive than granite.

Since water is so prevalent in bathrooms, engineered stone tends to work better than natural slab granite for countertops. The various resins and additives in engineered stone mean that it resists water without the need for additional sealing. Engineered stone's appearance is controlled in the factory, which means that every slab of engineered stone material should be similar in appearance.

Now available in hundreds of styles from manufacturers such as Cambria, Silestone, and Caesarstone, quartz countertops appear to consumers who like the idea of a product made from leftover stone rubble rather than natural stone extracted from industrial quarries that disrupt natural landscapes. Engineered stone also has some performance benefits, as it is quite waterproof and does not require sealing.

The only real drawback of quartz countertops is that they will not have the unique look of marble or granite. Quartz countertops are mass-produced, so your countertop style and color will undoubtedly be found in some other homeowner's bathroom, too.

Advantages of Granite Countertops in the Bathroom

Natural stone of all types is generally considered a premium, upscale building material, and a bathroom featuring a granite slab countertop will instantly say "luxury."

Unique Appearance

A main virtue of any natural stone countertop is that it will look unique, with no two countertops looking exactly the same. Because granite is a natural material, it has a variegated surface appearance that will vary somewhat from slab to slab. Most granite has a speckled, grainy appearance without the wavy, curving pattern found in marble. But the size of the grains and the color of the granite can vary considerably, even between slabs taken from the same quarry. You may have to shop around, for example, if you want a bathroom countertop that matches a granite kitchen countertop that was previously installed.

Adds Real Estate Value

Natural stone countertops always lend an air of luxury to a home, and this generally translates to added real estate value when it comes time to market and sell your home. If done along with other well-chosen home improvements, you may recoup nearly all the cost of granite countertops when it comes time to sell your home.

Superb Durability

It's likely that all the other fixtures and features of your bathroom will wear out long before your granite countertop does. Granite countertops can often outlive the homeowner. This longevity is a good reason why you should be very careful when you choose your granite countertop, as you're likely to live with it for a very long time. Granite is a considerably harder stone than marble, which makes it more resistant to nicks and scratches than most other natural stone.

Disadvantages of Granite Countertops in the Bathroom

While they normally improve the look and function of any bathroom, granite does have some drawbacks when used as a countertop material in the bathroom.

Granite Requires Sealing

Most people, when they think of granite, believe that it is the ideal surface material in terms of durability. After all, what could be stronger than rock hewn from the ground? Granite indeed does a fairly good job of resisting staining—but only to a certain point. Because natural granite is porous, it does require frequent re-sealing. Makeup, hair dye, shoe polish and other substances can leave hard-to-remove stains on a granite countertop if it is not sealed every year or two.

Granite Countertops Are Expensive

Granite countertops are among the more expensive countertop materials, slightly less expensive than marble but usually more expensive than engineered stone. Installed, custom granite countertops can run $80 to $140 per square foot. Mass-produced granite countertops sized to match standard vanity and sink cutout sizes can be somewhat less expensive. For example, at big box home improvement centers, granite countertops in stock 37 x 22-inch sizes with sinks basins already attached can be purchased for $350 to $600. (Engineered stone countertops in similar sizes are typically $300 to $400).

One way to save money on natural stone is to install the countertop using large tiles or modular slabs. While large, continuous slabs tend to be more highly valued among homebuyers, these smaller slabs help you save tremendous sums of money over professional installation.

DIY Installation Can Be Difficult

Fabricating your own bathroom countertop from slab granite is virtually impossible. For anything other than prefabricated vanity tops, you'll be forced to work with a countertop contractor to cut, shape, and install the countertop.

With stock granite countertops prefabricated to match popular vanity sizes, it's certainly possible to install the countertop yourself, but you need to be aware of the weight issues. Working with at least one helper is strongly advised. A 1 1/4-inch thick granite countertop will weigh about 19 pounds per square foot—well over 100 pounds for a 22 x 37-inch vanity top. A large 6-foot granite countertop for double sinks can weigh in excess of 200 pounds, which makes for a difficult DIY installation. And it's relatively easy to crack or break a granite slab countertop if you're not careful.

The Granite Tile Option

It's also possible to create a granite countertop using granite tiles, which are installed and perform in much the same way as ceramic tile. Be aware, though, that granite tiles can be quite difficult to cut. You will need to buy or purchase a motorized wet saw to cut granite tiles if you're doing your own installation.

One thing to note about purchasing granite tiles for the bathroom is that natural stone does not receive strength and COF (coefficient of friction) ratings as manufactured ceramic or porcelain tiles. Natural granite varies in strength from slab to slab. That is why you will typically find thicker granite tiles than you do with ceramic tiles—usually 3/8-inch thick or more.

Both granite and ceramic tile have seams and use grout to fill those seams. Wider or thinner grout with ceramic tiles can emphasize or de-emphasize the appearance of the tile. With granite, you want to emphasize the beauty of the stone, not the lines. So that is why grout lines are very thin—1/8 inch—and the color of the grout often attempts to mimic the color of the granite.

It's also possible to install granite tiles without using thin-set mortar adhesive or grout at all. Simply lay the tile close together after spreading clear silicone caulk on a plywood base. When finished, apply sealer across the entire surface (you may need to apply several coats to fill all cracks).

In terms of real estate value, keep in mind that countertops made of granite tiles do not have the same appeal as slab countertops. Tiled countertops are usually recognized as DIY installations, and they may be disappointing to prospective homebuyers looking for top-end luxury.

Is a Granite Bathroom Countertop Right for You?

If you want a luxurious bathroom countertop and feel confident you can happily live with your selection for a good number of years, granite can be an excellent choice, especially for master bathrooms and guest baths. Granite is a less suitable choice for family baths used by children, or if you are a homeowner who expects to remodel the bathrooms frequently. These are expensive, extremely durable countertops that should be chosen with long service in mind.

Before selecting a natural granite countertop for your bathroom, it's a good idea to give serious consideration to an engineered stone (quartz) countertop, which offers some additional advantages at a slightly lower cost.

Article Sources
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  1. Granite vs. Marble Countertops. Countertop Guides.