For love of granite

MWM Custom Countertops of Medford installed granite countertops for Linda and Mahlon Dixon of Cave Junction. The counters are 3-centimeter-thick Uba Tuba with an Ogee edge.Photos by Nancy Mcclain

Polished granite has been a popular addition to homes since it was first displayed in 1831 at London's Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations. The nearly diamond-hard stone has maintained a loyal following ever since.

Realtors swear by its popularity with potential buyers while homeowners who make their minds up to install granite, despite an impressive array of alternatives, are hard to sway, says Elvin Sinfield, assistant manager of No Frills Flooring in Medford.

"They see granite on these home-improvement shows, and they've decided before they ever come in that that's what they want," says Sinfield.

"We try and show people alternatives for granite, but usually their mind is set. We say, 'Well, it's $2,000.' If they haven't got that much, they usually go and find the additional money and come back and get it."

Even with a full slate of eco-friendly and man-made alternatives, granite ranks high with homeowners because it has a reputation for boosting resale value and adding instant value to any remodel.

Kitchen designer Heather Penner of Precision Countertops in Medford says advances in the machines that manufacture granite slabs and tiles have led to big improvements in granite products, and suppliers of granite are increasing in number.

"There are better quarries and better rock being found all the time. Brazil has come on strong — that's where we're getting a lot of granite from — and India and Africa. And the machine they use to cut it has come a long way," says Penner.

On the upside, granite is virtually fireproof and stain-resistant. "It shows no wear and tear if it's properly taken care of. It's heat-resistant, scratch-resistant and it's timeless," adds Penner.

While kitchen countertops used to be the primary application for granite, new modes of entertaining and fewer "sit-around-the-table" meals, says Penner, have expanded its uses. Many people are using granite for outdoor kitchens, along with bars and kitchen islands.

With price being a big factor when opting for granite, using the material on islands and other smaller surfaces can mean a smaller price tag. Homeowners set on using granite can also reduce their investment by choosing a thinner slab or, if they don't mind grout lines, buying granite tiles rather than slabs.

Granite can run upward of $75 per square foot in slab form. Granite tile will run $5 to $18 per square foot. Installation will cost in the range of $15 to $35 per square foot for tile, while slabs will cost from $30 to $39 per square foot to install, with added costs for edging and other design choices.

When it comes to color, granite is available in light, neutral and dark tones, with a virtually endless variety of patterns because each piece of stone is one of a kind, another selling point for customers, says Penner.

While granite comes with a long list of highly desirable attributes, it takes special care. Because of its weight, for instance, granite will require extensive support, often with steel. Because granite is brittle, it can crack, so having a knowledgeable installer is important. And though it is extremely durable, granite requires maintenance.

"Granite is a wonderful thing, but you have to seal it and reinforce it with steel and back it with plywood," notes Dan Masten, co-owner of MWM Custom Countertops in Medford.

In terms of maintenance, granite requires routine sealing. Some professionally available products last up to 15 years while do-it-yourself products must be done every one to three years, says Masten.

A popular alternative, quartz is worth a gander for homeowners who are set on natural stone. It's rated for commercial use, doesn't require sealant, is highly durable and comes with numerous color options. Though the cost is comparable to granite, quartz comes with a 10- or 15-year warranty, something you don't get with granite.

"They have a 93-percent quartz product with a binding agent that can be dyed, so you've got more options in color, too," adds Masten.

Synthetic granite and quartz look-alikes are available for about half the cost of average-quality granite or high-end quartz.

Ultimately, say Penner and Masten, it comes down to homeowner preference and budget.

"Granite is a beautiful product, and there are ways to get it for less, but it's going to cost more than the alternatives, and it's a going to be more hassle to deal with," says Masten.

"Just as we have people that it's granite or nothing, we have people who want quartz or nothing. People just make up their minds and decide that they want what they want."


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