Comparisons

Engineered Marble / Engineered Granite vs. Other Materials:

There is a tremendous amount of propaganda out there regarding how different bathroom / utility room countertop products are “ the best.” Honestly, there is no such thing. Every person has different needs for a countertop in their bathroom or utility room. I have been in the countertop manufacturing and installation business for nearly 25 years. I have seen every product under the sun come, go and some come back again. Iwill run down some of the common product categories and what you can expect from them. I will do this honestly and from a manufacturer / homeowner point of view, not as a salesperson trying to convince you to buy a certain product.

This product is made by local companies (like ours) or regional companies that ship to the big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowes. I will discuss our product (manufactured in OKC in our little old factory). Engineered Marble and Engineered Granite are made from mineral fillers (either crushed calcium carbonate or crushed minerals to simulate a granite appearance) and liquid plastics used as binding agents. The products have a permanent clear coat that is chemically bonded on the surface. This “clear coat“ is about 7 pieces of paper thick, super resistant to staining and can be cleaned with any household cleaner with no worries. All of our products are manufactured with a “satin finish”. Over the years, I have made product with a dull finish, high gloss finish and a satin finish. I have found the dull finish to be harder to clean and not very appealing when on a darker color. The high gloss finish is easiest to clean, but shows everything. Water, dirt, makeup and every little surface scratch that comes up after years. The satin finish is a great compromise between a matte and high gloss finish. Does not show scratches, water spots much at all, but is also very easy to clean with any non – abrasive cleaner.

Fast Fact: You can clean EM and EG with ammonia, bleach, etc. without harming the product. We highly suggest Dow Foaming Bathroom Cleaner. I have tried literally every cleaner and this one has always done the best job without leaving any residue. EM and EG countertops are available with three styles of integral sinks (no caulk lines or undermount sink setbacks to collect filth and muck) and many 1 1/2” thick edge treatments. We offer a large array of colors in a solid color, veined appearance, granite appearance or the new ICE colors which are translucent and super cool. Unlike every other product mentioned before ours, we can manufacture shower floors, shower panels, bathtubs (soaker and whirlpool), window sills, tub surrounds and countertops out of our material. We can manufacture these products in the same colors. For example, you could have a bathtub and the wall cladding around it be the same color. No tile grout, no cleaning hassles.We can make custom shower floors up to 84 “ x 120. We can even make them handicap accesible if needed.

So, why is our product less than many of the products available for countertops? There are a few reasons. First, we manufacture everything right here in OKC. No foreign suppliers that go to distributors that go to other distributors that then go to a fabricator and then go to you. Second, we custom make our material to size. This keeps our scrap rate well below 5% for most products and as low as 2% for things like shower panels. We waste very little. Third, we have very low turnover. Though we pay our guys high wages with great benefits, we also keep our manufacturing costs lower as our guys have years of experience in our system. This keeps overall costs down. To be honest, our raw material costs vs. a product like granite are actually much higher. But, since we are efficient and waste very little, we are able to bring in a finished cost that is below a product like granite. Our product is not cheap at all, we are just better at it than the granite guys.

Fast Fact: If EM or EG is somehow damaged (a chip or scratch done by another trade or just by dropping something heavy and pointy on it), we can repair it. All repairs are done by our employees and scheduled by our office. There is not much we can’t fix. We manufacture and deliver our own whirlpool bathtubs. They are built like battleships, look great, are super easy to take care off and do not need framing like a flimsy plastic tub.

Fast Fact: Unlike plastic tubs purchased from plumbers or plumbing suppliers, we warranty and service our own tubs. You will never need to call a third party if you have any issue with one of our tubs. They are damn good, but if something does go wrong with one of them, just give us a call. In short, EM and EG are great, all around products that can be used to replace cheap wood window sills that will crack and discolor, replace a tile shower that will eventually leak and be a pain to keep clean, replace an old soaker tub for a new whirlpool tub or just to update a home with easy to care for bathroom countertops. No product is perfect, but we think that EM has the best combination of performance, cost, turn around time and color selection of any product out there. If there was a better product, I would be manufacturing and selling it right now. 😉

We don’t see too many of these anymore in bathrooms. Tile looks great the day you move in. After that, you will curse the day you decided to put tile on your bathroom countertops. The grout will soak up anything that has any dye or pigment in it. The tile will usually always look great. The grount will look a hundred years old in a couple of years. To top it off, I have seen tile counters used in conjunction with a wood trim for a front edge. The lacquer on the wood trim will peel and discolor in the first year. Think about what your wood window sills look like after a couple of years. Now throw water on them every day and you have the wood edge of a tile countertop.

There is a lot of propaganda going back and forth between the granite fabricating community and pretty much all other countertop products. Here are the facts:

Granite, for the most part, comes from India, China and Brazil. It is mined by men, women and children who generally earn around .25 – .35 cents per hour. In India, a portion of the labor force used to mine granite are indentured servants. If you do not know what an indentured servant is, google it. You will freak. In China, a large portion of folks who mine granite are political prisoners and criminals that are “ loaned out “ to companies by the Chinese government for dirt cheap wages. In Brazil, the quest for granite is one of the large contributors to the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest (after raising of cattle and cutting of lumber ). They dump the raw sewage from the cutting of granite right back in the Amazon or the tributaries that feed it. In short, when you think of the way granite is mined and the folks who mine it, think of American manufacturing circa 1890. Low wages, high mortality / injury rates, non – existent environmental regulations and yes, indentured servitude (you have to go back to the Pilgrims for that kind of stuff).

Once the granite is mined and cut into slabs, it is loaded into cargo containers and sent to the U.S. It is then sent to regional distributors who will then send it to local distributors. Your fabricator will then purchase the slab and turn it into a countertop for your home.
Fast Fact: Much of the granite mined and shipped to the U.S. is deemed “unsafe “ for Chinese housing. The Chinese have never come out and said exactly what it is that they deem “unsafe.” Considering the low price the Chinese tend to put on life, this alone would steer me clear of granite. Granite has a very high waste factor due to the size of the slabs. Fabricators average 15%-25% waste per slab.

Then we get into the weight of granite. Most granite being installed is 3 c.m. Granite due to it’s “massive look. This material averages 16 pounds per S.F. and will require 3–4 men per install due to the weight of the countertops.

Fast Fact: Granite that comes “pre–sealed” is most likely also dyed to make the slab colors appear more uniform. Within a few months around your sink and the front edge of the counter you tend to lean on, the granite will be a a few shades different color. Learn to live with it as there is nothing you can do to fix this. Granite must be “sealed” to prevent stains on a regular basis. The sealers available at the home centers are generally water – based and pretty weak. Get used to doing this monthly on your bathroom countertops. The dyes in soap, candles and makeup make the stuff that gets on a kitchen countertop look easy to clean. Integral sinks are not available in granite. You will either choose a drop–in or undermounted sink.

Fast Fact: Every sink you see as “included with the bathroom counter” from a fabricator is a cheap piece of vitreous China that is made in China and bought by the pallet. They average $10.00-$15.00 per sink. If you chip the sink, which is very, very easy, good luck finding a repair for under $100.00. The sinks are permanently bonded to the bottom of the granite if you get an undermount sink. They are never, ever coming off. Granite will come in a high gloss finish that you will come to despise over the years. It shows every streak, smear and drop of water. Just leaving water, especially if you have hard water, on a granite countertop will eventually cause discoloration if you do not anal – retentively keep up with sealing and resealing the counterop. Granite is very hard and very hard to scratch. If it does happen to get scratched ( tile installers are the worst culprits for scratching granite countertops ), learn to live with it, there is no repair. If you do get a stain on a granite countertop, learn to live with it, it is not repairable. If your granite begins to have small bits of the surface popping out, learn to live with it. The only way to “ fix “ this is to fill it with an epoxy that is pretty noticable.

Fast Fact: Of all the products we have mentioned in this section, granite is the second cheapest (natural marble / terrazzo being the cheapest). The material cost is lower than even plastic laminate. How can this be? When you are buying a product that is usually subsidized by the government (India, China or Brazil), mined by poor folks for super low wages, has no real environmental regulations and has little or no quality control (it is a hunk of rock), you can sell the stuff dirt cheap, even if it comes from overseas. So, why do some builders use it for bathroom countertops? Because the perceived value to many potential home buyers is high. This is a carry – over from the 1980’s and 1990’s when the cost of granite was high.The folks that tend to continue to perpetuate the “ granite is a high end product that you must have for a home are real estate agents. In general, real estate agents have no idea how different countertop products perform. What they do know is the public still thinks granite is a high end product and thus the characterize it as such. Granite was mostly a local product at the time that was shipped in small quantities to the U.S. for homes and commercial jobs that were very high end. This was before the Chinese dropped the bottom out of the market in 1999–2000 by flooding it with their government subsidized material that was sold at less than cost (seriously). At that point, the Brazilians and the Indians had no choice but to also drop their prices and have the governments help subsidize the industry.

Fast Fact: Granite is the only countertop product that is less expensive today than it was twenty years ago. This is due to lower cost of material from China, India and Brazil and the explosion of small granite fabricators in the last ten years. When I started in this industry in 1991, there were perhaps four of five granite fabricators in the OKC metro area. Once the cost of the material was nearly cut in half, many folks who worked for the shops went out and started their own small shops. Then folks who worked for those shops went out and started their own shops. We now have in the neighborhood of 30 granite fabrication shops of various size, skill and capital in the area. The only thing they all tend to have in common is price. When each opens a new shop, they tend to sell on price and price alone. Many of the shops are so under capitalized that messing up one or two jobs in a month will put them under and put you out of luck. We have had three shops open up in a five block radius of our factory in the last two years. Two of the three have gone under.

In the big scheme of things, Granite is a better product for a bathroom countertop than natural marble and concrete. It is inferior to solid surface, quartz surfacing, properly installed plastic laminate, glass and stainless steel. The other product lines are too new for a really accurate comparison. If you are considering granite, just consider where it comes from, who mines it and if the company you are thinking of using has enough capital to stand behind the job if something goes wrong. From a homeowner’s perspective, the high gloss finish of granite will be enough to make a person have granite countertops once and never again. A real P.I.T.A. to keep clean in a master bath, much less a guest bath or kid’s bath.

Perhaps the earliest fabricated countertop known to man. This majority of natural marble comes from India, China and Brazil ( not Italy folks ). It is considered a dirt cheap product overseas and is rarely used on anything but flooring. Natural Marble has fissures throughout it that make it very easy to crack. Once it is mined by some poor bastard making .35 cents an hour, it is cut into slabs. Once the slabs are cut, a fiberglass matte is glued to the back of each slab to help prevent it from cracking ( it is pretty hit or miss if it will actually work ). The slabs are shipped to a distributor who then ships them via cargo container to the U.S. The U.S. Distributor than send them to a regional distributor. That regional distibutor will then ship them to a local distributor or directly to a fabricator depending on the area of the country and population density. The fabricator will then cut them into your countertops. Marble and Terrazzo are terrible choice for bathroom countertops. The product can be stained by nearly anything with a colored dye in it. You can use the sealers sold in stores, but they are only effective for a short period of time and must be reapplied regularly. Imagine, if you are a woman, getting makeup on a whitish piece of marble. High dye concentration plus porous countertop = permanent stain. The only chance you have to remove a stain on natural marble is a poltice ( google it and gasp in fear ). If you are an industry insider, you giggle every time you go into a home and see that a person has chosen natural marble countertops for a bathroom. A truly bad product that is sold with such a huge markup that it boogles my mind how anyone still uses this product.

Made from everything from paper to glass shards to bits of car tire. This is a fairly new product category. In the last ten years, I have been solicited by over ten of these types of manufacturers to either make it under license in my factory or buy it in ready made sheets. With few exceptions, the products are still far from being where they need to be as far as consistent quality and price point.I feel that in the next ten years, we should really see a couple of companies find a way to do this type of product right. Once that happens, look out!

 I have never seen a concrete countertop that I have liked. Concrete is a naturally porous product that will absorb a stain quicker than you can wipe it up. Concrete must be reinforced with rebar or it will split / crack very rapidly. The product must be coated with a clear or pigmented material to prevent it from staining. Often, these coatings flakeoff or bubble up in high traffic areas or on edges. Trying to bond a plastic based material ( the clear sealer ) to a hunk of concrete is dicey at best. Quality control on concrete is my biggest gripe. Depending on the skill level of the guy pouring your countertop, you could have a plethora of issues in the years to come.

Good old Formica. Still the toughest stuff out there. Hard to stain, hard to scratch, resistant to most nasty cleaners, great color selection to chose from. Manufactured in high tech factories ( owned by large corporations ) with great quality control. Made only from the best materials and employing folks who make a living wage. Downside, you must use a drop – in / self rimming sink with this material. If even a small area of the caulk around the sink is compromised, water will get into the wood substrate the plastic laminate is glued to. Once this happens, the wood will swell and the countertop is pretty much ruined. Any seam on the top or edge of the laminate countertop can also have this happen. Backsplash are a pain as you must be careful not to use too much cleaner on them or you can get the liquid in the seams causing the wood underneath to swell. Plastic laminate cannot be repaired if you find a way to scratch, chip or crack it.

Corian, LG Hi – Macs, etc. Great all – around product for bathrooms. Great color selection, integral sinks available ( in white and biscuit usually ), nifty edge details to choose from. Resistant to stains, resistant to heat and repairable if damaged. The biggest drawback of solid surface is the way it gets to market and the cost. Solid surface is made in sheets that look a bit like sheets of plywood. It is made in high – tech factories ( owned by large corporations ) that use only the best materials and employ folks who make a living wage, not slave labor from the third world.. It is then shipped to a distributor from the manufacturer. It is then sold to a home builder by the fabricator. The fabricator will then cut the material to custom sizes for your home. This process usually involves a waste factor of 15% – 20% for most bathroom jobs. This is a very high waste factor for any manufacturer, much less one with a material averages $ 15.00 S.F. before it is ever cut into by your fabricator.

Silestone, Caeserstone and other like products. Quartz is a bit of an odd product. Made in high tech factories by folks earning a living wage. High quality control is a must for this product. Essentially made with a lot of sand ( which is mostly quartz ), chunks of other materials ( glass, mirror, colored pieces for effect ) and a resin that binds it all together. Good stain resistance, good scratch resistance, good heat resistance, good product consistency in color. The material is neither a high gloss nor a satin finish. Due to the resins, sand filler and chunks of colored material vary from a matte finish to a satin finish to a high gloss finish. Integral bowls are not an option. Biggest knock on quartz is the way it gets to market and cost. Manufacturer ( usually a large corporation ) makes the material in sheets / slabs either 2 c.m. Or 3 c.m. thickness. Material is sent to a local distributor who then sells it to your fabricator. As with solid surface, the material has a high waste factor ( usually 15% – 20% ). Also, this material is very hard and takes extra time to cut, especially if the fabricator is using dated fabrication methods ( which most do ). Material cost is usually $ 15.00 – $ 20.00 per S.F. Finally, let’s talk installation labor. Most folks prefer 3 c.m.thick material. It makes the counters look more “ massive and also removes any seams that would be needed if you glued the edge together using two pieces of 2 c.m. material. The drawback is the weight. This material will average 16 pounds per S.F. Most jobs will need 3 – 4 men to move this massively heavy piece of countertops around. All of these labor costs are passed on to you.

We rarely see this material used in bathrooms, but it does pop up occasionally. Very expensive to manufacture, fabricate and install. Very few qualified vendors around and most are swamped with commercial work ( like restaurant prep counters ). Not many drawbacks except cleaning. Just imagine your stainless steel refrigerator used as a bathroom vanity.

Once again, we rarely see this material used in bathrooms, but it does pop up occasionally. Expensive to manufacture and install. Must be made to the exact size out of the factory as you cannot cut tempered glass. I would not wish trying to keep up with cleaning a glass bathroom countertop on my worst enemy.

made from everything from paper to glass shards to bits of car tire. This is a fairly new product category. In the last ten years, I have been solicited by over ten of these types of manufacturers to either make it under license in my factory or buy it in ready made sheets. With few exceptions, the products are still far from being where they need to be as far as consistent quality and price point.I feel that in the next ten years, we should really see a couple of companies find a way to do this type of product right. Once that happens, look out!

Some companies are beginning to sell countertops made of bamboo. In theory, this could be a great product. In practice, it is not. Bamboo is basically a weed, so it is fast growing and renewable. Unfortunately, the majority of bamboo countertops are made in China ( where all the bamboo grows ). The quality control is brutal, many times the glues used to bond the bamboo together has funky chemicals in it, like formeldyhyde. Considering the folks who manufacture the sheets of bamboo countertops make an average of .25 cents per hour, you should expect the lowest common denominator on this product. The sheets of material are then shipped via cargo container to a United States distributor. Then those sheets are sent to a regional distributor. They are then sent to a fabricator who turns them into your countertops. At this time, I cannot suggest this material due to the sketchy nature of the manufacture of the product. In the next ten years we should see an American based company begin to manufacture this product. Once that happens, this could be a excellent countertop product.