Quartz Countertops: All the Basics of This Stone Substitute

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Quartz countertops, once unknown, have developed a reputation over the last 50 years as a high-end surface material.  But the process of gaining respect has been slow.  Even today, quartz counters compete with solid surface (i.e., Corian) and natural stone for space in kitchens and baths.

Bottom Line

A hard, manmade countertop material used mainly in kitchens and bathrooms.
An agglomerate of stone-like materials bound with resins and pressed into sheets.
Excels over natural stone because it needs no sealing.  Its resins are the sealant.
Few imperfections because its manufacture is controlled.
Marquee brand names include Caesarstone, Cambria, and Silestone. 
Closest rival is a material called solid surface, as both employ stone-like materials.
Not to be confused with laminate, a material mainly composed of wood.

Is It Really Made Of Quartz or What?

Even if you are not familiar with quartz as a name for this material, you may be familiar with its more prosaic name:  engineered stone counters.  

Quartz is a sexy word, as it implies luster, translucence, and hardness.  While quartz countertops do contain quartz, the term is more for marketing than anything else.  

In simple terms, quartz counters are 93% made up of stone-like materials and 7% of binders that are either plastic-like (polymeric) or cement-based.

Of those stone-like materials, quartz is only one of many substances.  According to countertop maker Breton, other materials include:

granite, marble and natural stone in general, coming from either crushed waste stone left over in quarries, or recycled industrial wastes, such as fragments of ceramic,silica, glass, mirrors, etc. 

These stone-like materials provide quartz counters with the hardness and lack of porosity needed for the heavy demands of cooking.

Some manufacturers also combine antibacterial substances.

Italian Lineage

The Italian company Breton patented the process of forming solid surfaces from quartz and resins.  All quartz counter brands emanate from this single company.  And this single company was started by one man, Marcello Toncelli.  His company's name, Brevetti Toncelli (roughly meaning Toncelli Patents), was condensed to Breton (Bre = Brevetti, Ton=Toncelli).

Numerous companies such as Cosentino (Silestone), DuPont, Cambria and others used Breton’s patent for their own type of quartz countertops. For example, DuPont's version of the quartz countertop is called Zodiaq. Silestone's quartz is simply Silestone (since this is their flagship product).

Benefits and Features

  • Great Looks:  For many buyers, the chief benefit of the quartz countertop is its natural luster.  Unlike laminate, quartz has a deep, almost three-dimensional appearance, much like natural stone.
  • Hardness:  Quartz is extremely hard and makes for a good work surface. It is largely composed of minerals (contrasted with solid surface counters which are about 33% inorganic binding resins and 66% organic minerals).  Laminate in no way rivals quartz in this area, because of laminate's wood base layer, which gives it a hollow feeling.
  • Few, If Any, Imperfections:  Slab granite is a natural product, ripped straight from the earth and sliced into sheets; it is expected that slab will have imperfections.  Installers have an easier time dealing with quartz than they do with granite because it is a predictable material and produces less waste product.  

Cost:  Rivals Slab Granite

Quartz counters are rarely a bargain, even compared to other high cost alternatives such as natural slab granite.

Expect prices to begin at $60 and $100 per square foot for good quality brands such as Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, or Dupont Zodiaq.

For a similar look but lower prices, try a different material--solid surface.

Appearance Is Engineered In

Because quartz countertops are engineered, almost any type of color can be brought out in the surface by means of pigmentation. Not only that, but other types of materials such as stone and glass can be incorporated into this quartz-resin slurry.

For anyone who wants a granite countertop, it is worth investigating quartz counters as an alternative.  Quartz has much of the chaotic appearance as does natural stone, without stone's unpredictability.