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Finding a Beautiful Granite Alternative

While granite has certainly received its share of attention in recent years, homeowners who want the beauty of granite are too often thwarted by the cost factor as well as maintenance involved.

Aside from being expensive, according to some information from the Food and Drug Administration and countertop gurus, granite is somewhat porous. If not properly sealed and maintained, some say it can harbor bacteria. And if not regularly cleaned and polished, it will lose its luster more quickly than other natural products.

With the beauty of granite an obvious draw, granite alternatives make every effort to look like the real deal with the added bonuses of manufacturer warranties, improved color options and lower price tags.

Gaining plenty of ground with contractors and homeowners, "solid surface" materials are a popular granite alternative, encompassing a range of non-porous, scratch-resistant slab and tiles such as Corian and Cambria.

Solid-surface products are usually made of 93 percent quartz and 7 percent glass and plastic "binders," which Bennett Stone and Tile owner Vicki Anders says are equally as beautiful as granite. "And as far as performance it outperforms natural granite, hands down," she says.

While early renditions of solid surface counters, like Formica and laminate, gave plastic products a bad name, higher quality lines, like Cambria, are a different story altogether.

"We have a table display of Cambria and most people walk in and think it is granite," says Anders. "The upside is it's more heat, scratch and strain-resistant than granite ever thought about being. It's [resistant] not "proof." Nothing in the world is, but it definitely outperforms natural stone and it comes with a 10-year-warranty."

Cost-wise, solid surface starts around $30 per square foot. "Considerably less than most of the granites out there," says Mark Goodman, president of the Central Point-based Another Great Kitchen, and ranges as high as $85 per square foot, comparable to average quality granite.

While solid surface is largely a plastic, engineered stone is a more natural-based alternative. Derived from crumbs of rock found in certain quarries and combined with 7 percent plastic and binders like those used in solid surface, it has the same heat resistant and non-scratch properties as natural stone, Goodman says.

One drawback is that seams are more evident in engineered stone than solid surface materials and might not be, in some brands, as scratch-proof as others.

Cost wise, engineered stone is a bit pricier than solid surface products due to the increased content of natural material. Plan to spend $80 to $125 per square foot for engineered stone.

Finally, though often viewed as an industry stepchild and left for driveways and sidewalks, concrete has made a name in the industry as a beautiful and versatile option for countertops. Decorative concrete can be colored, shaped, polished and manipulated to mirror granite, marble or any range of natural material, even bamboo or a layer of river rocks.

Cost wise, concrete rivals that of granite due to the labor intensity involved in creating a surface. While other products run more typical of standard tile or countertop installation, concrete can cost 50 to 100 percent more. Additional downsides to concrete are, much like granite, requirements for polishing and resealing at regular intervals to prevent bacteria buildup or loss of sheen. An advantage, however, is concrete's lack of plastics and adhesives makes it more environmentally friendly.

Whichever option seems most appealing, Alders says most consumers would be hard pressed, upon visual inspection, to tell granite slab and tile from that of engineered stone, concrete or otherwise.

"There are just some really nice products out there," she says. "It's just a matter of personal taste and finding that look you want for your home."

Finding a Beautiful Granite Alternative