Granite, a natural material, harvested from the earth, for centuries has been used in architecture the world over, has recently (within the past 20 years) become a preferred, almost coveted surface in kitchens, bathrooms, beverage centers, even laundry rooms. What is it about this piece of stone, that is so enticing, and is it all its cracked up to be?
Let me start with a small disclaimer, I do not work directly with granite, I am not a fabricator, I am a designer, So my knowledge comes from research and discussions. I do not declare myself an expert in any way, I simply have spoken with experts and read a lot about countertop selections and I would like to share that knowledge with you. Being a designer I get quizzed about countertop selections quite often, so I thought starting this countertop discussion series would be a great way to share all I have learned. I also warn you, you might learn more than you want to know, I tend to “geek out” a little bit when discussing anything relating to kitchens and bathrooms. So you have been warned 🙂
What is granite anyways? Yes, its a natural material, but where did it come from? Well, granite is an igneous rock formed by a molten flowing mass beneath the earths surface, like lava, and as it cooled down it became very dense and hard. I have read from numerous sources that granite is second in hardness only to diamonds. Because granite is composed of various minerals such as quartz, silica, mica obsidian and feldspar its hardness can vary. Based on Moh’s scale of mineral hardness, 1 to 10 with diamonds being a 10, most granites fall within the range of seven or eight. Granite is extremely strong, but don’t get tricked into thinking its unbreakable. If used regularly, a granite countertop will likely earn one or two very small chips in its lifetime. Strong blows, such as that from a heavy metal pan, can cause it to chip. However, a well-maintained countertop may last 50 years without a single scratch. Although granite is durable, it is not scratch proof. Also, while there are a lot of people who chose granite because it can be considered a status symbol, and others chose it because its all they know, there are others who fall in love with its unique characteristics, and one of those characteristics are the large flowing veins some granites contain. Unfortunately that characteristic can make the granite weaker than say a slab with no veins. You really should never stand on your granite countertops, like climb up on them to see whats in that top shelf of the wall cabinet. 🙂
They used to just polish granite, which looks really nice and ads an element of luxury and really makes the stone more vibrant and can bring out the natural crystals in the stone. However now there are a lot more options for the finishes of granite. At our showroom we have a leather finish on one of our absolute black pieces of granite that is very unique and gives the granite a more textured look and feel. Honed is another popular alternative to polishing granite, especially if soap stone is a look you like but don’t want the maintenance of soapstone, there are some very black granites that can be honed giving your countertop a more matte finish making it look more like a black or charcoal soapstone.
Granite is a porous material. While a percentage of granite is so dense it does not even absorb the sealer, sometimes there are some stones that need a little more attention. Although all granite should be sealed and usually your fabricator will take care of that for you. But you should talk to your fabricator to see how long the sealer will last and when or if you should reseal your granite countertops. There is a simple test you can perform yourself to see if your tops need resealed though. Spill some water on your granite for about 1 minute or so and then wipe off the water. If the water left a dark spot on your stone you could use an application of sealer.
There is a myth about hot pans on granite I would like to dispel. A lot of people say they want granite so they can set hot things on their granite. Now while a hot pan will not burn the surface there is something called thermal shock you should look out for. Thermal shock happens when you have something cold and put something hot on it. Like if you have a cold glass and pour hot liquid in your glass it can break the glass. Thermal shock occurs more often in ceramics, however in VERY rare cases it can happen in stone countertops, and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to risk it. So please, always use a hot pad.
Granite comes from all over the world: India, Egypt, Spain, Brazil, Norway and Africa to name a few. Canada and America also produce some very lovely granite as well. The origin of the stone has an impact on the cost of the stone because of transportation and labor. Interestingly Red and blue granites tend to be priced higher than other colors because they are more rare. Because granite comes from all over the world and has so many mineral or crystal combinations, so many different colors, veining, and variations. The uniqueness of your more exotic slabs of granite is what appeals so many people to this natural material.
Because of the uniqueness that some granites posses, I recommend very strongly to always pick your granite countertops in person. You should not look at internet pictures or brochures to figure out what granite to put in your kitchen. While pinterest and houzz can give you ideas, the final selection should be done in person. Some granites are pretty easy to pick off of a small sample, like uba tuba or absolute black or black pearl, not a lot change in your more economically priced stones, however, there are alot of stones than can vary based on dates, weather, location, not all Alaskan white will look the same, and if your a particular person, its best to go to your fabricators granite yard and look at your slabs in person. Its also nice because then you can point to imperfections and say i really don’t like that, is it possible not to put that in my countertop or I love that vein, is it possible to have that in the island… stuff like that.
Lastly, the Radon issue that everyone is talking about. According to many, many websites and the Natural Stone Institute The Radon found in and around your home is more significant than the Radon found in the granite countertops. The bananas and potatoes in your pantry can actually have more Radon than your granite countertops. Click on the link above to read what else the Natural Stone Institute has to say about granite and Radon.
So to sum up. Granite is a beautiful surface for your kitchen, it comes in many different colors, textures, and variations. It is durable but not indestructible. Granite is porous, but there are some really good sealers out there. Cost wise depending on what your looking for it can be very affordable, however be careful not to fall in love with some exotic rare piece of granite, because that could end very differently. 🙂