Guide to buying Natural Stone (Marble, Granite, Limestone, and Travertine) for Counter Tops, Floors and Walls

Why do they vary?

Natural Stone slabs vary in size. The size of each slab is dependent on how easy it is to cut large blocks of stone out of the earth. Granite slabs are an incredibly dense and hard and because of this, slabs of granite are going to be the largest of the natural stone options. You can expect them to be from 120 to 132 inches long by 55 to 65 inches wide. It is important to know what size limits there are before specifying it for an area (kitchen counter top, vanity top, fireplace surround, fireplace hearth, outdoor bbq, shower wall).

Marble Quarry. Look at the different sizes. Notice the Cat Crane. Reference Fox Marble

Which stones come in smaller sizes?

Marble, soapstone, limestone, sandstone, and travertine slabs are smaller than granite slabs because the pieces are less dense.  In the industry, we say that the stone is softer, referencing the Mohs scale of mineral hardness (10 is the hardest material, Diamond; 7 is Quartz, which is found in Granite and Caesarstone; and 1 is the softest, Talc), an industrial method to categorize measure how hard natural stone is.

Yellow or beige marbles such as Crema Marfil, Bottocino, Daino Real tend to be softer than most white marbles such as Bianco Carrera or Calacatta. However, larger slabs of white marble are starting to come onto the market due to market demand.

Are natural stones all the same?

No: Granite is a generic word in the industry for all natural stone countertops except for Soapstone, Quartz, Marble, Limestone, and Slate. Granite by itself is a specific type of rock. In reality, many natural stone distributors keep it simple by labelling everything as granite because it is just easier for the consumer. In reality, the labelled slab could be any type of stone.

Cost of Natural Stone:

Natural stone such Granite marble used to be very expensive. In the mid-1990s, the market was flooded with stone coming from Brazil. In the early 2000s, China started inundating the market with stones from China.

Natural Stone Cost Based on Country of Origin: $$$$ (Highest Price) to $ (Least Expensive)

  • ($$$$) Italy, Iran via Italy
  • ($$$$ to $$) Brazil
  • ($$$) USA
  • ($$$ to $$) African Countries (Egypt, Namibia, South Africa)
  • ($$ to $) India
  • ($) Turkey, Egypt, Taiwan, Vietnam, China

Natural Stone:

Picture of Natural stone manufacturing process and supply chain.

Why do people pick natural stone products? If you want to create a unique look within your home, natural stone is nature’s art. No two pieces look the same. This is the main reason people love it. Once the material is quarried and the mine is closed, you cannot buy that material again.

What is Granite?                                                                                              

Granite is a metamorphic stone that contains quartz, mica, silica. It was formed by volcanic activity.

Common Uses:

Interior:

  • Floors
  • Countertops
  • Shower surrounds/ walls
  • Fireplaces
  • Columns

Exterior uses:

  • Cladding – Cladding is like putting a large piece of veneer on the walls of an outside building. Think about schools and public buildings.
  • Countertops
  • Columns
  • Walls
  • Cobblestone

Are all granite slabs sold at stores really granite? NO.

The word granite is used as general term for all stones that are not marble, quartzite, limestone, travertine or sandstone unless specifically stated at the store. If you want the real name, you will need to find a geologist or do a search online. The industry does this because it does not want to confuse the consumer. In this post, I will use the use the industry terms use for granite even though not all the stones I am talking about are granite.

Why do modern buyers like Granite?

Granite is used primarily as a material on countertops, walls, fireplaces, and floors. It is versatile in colors and patterns. Clients of mine who like granite do not like engineered products such as Cambria, Silestone or Caesarstone, stating that those products do not look natural. If you like the natural look, then granite is what you want. Light colored granites and blacks have been always been popular. You can also get stones with different textures such as brushed finishes, leathered or honed. Granite can be found in many public places such as coffee shops, bar countertops and bar hotels. The natural variation is what really attracts people to the material. Large unique pieces are used as pieces of art in hotel lobbies or cladding on the wall of a building. Some of the most popular colors are Absolute Black, Cambria Black or Costa Esmeralda, India Typhoon Green.

IMG_2153
Absolute Black Counter Tops. Black and White is a classic and modern.

Historical use of Granite?

Obelisk of Luxor in Istanbul
Obelisk of Luxor in Istanbul

Historically, it has been used in many large public buildings such as libraries, the San Francisco City Hall and the Obelisk from Luxor in Istandbul in Paris. It is a building material that is readily available and durable from the elements. Just think about how durable a mountain is. It is weatherproof and resistant to everything unless the material is extracted by machines or destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Granite is one of the world’s best building materials.

Durability:

Any class of stone sold at stores labelled as granite is very durable. Scratch resistant for sure. If anything happens to the surface, most of the time you can repair it, unlike engineered quartz. You really have to hammer and cut it with a diamond saw before it breaks. It is durable because the material is very hard and dense. And granite will last a long time, and by that, I mean your stone counters will likely last longer than you will as long as it is cared for and maintained properly.

Maintenance:

Granites will need to be sealed to prevent or minimize fluid absorption and reactions to liquids that are acidic (lemon juice, vinegar) or basic (bleach, eggs). Many of my clients are confused by the concept of sealing, assuming that is means the material is shiny or has a luster. Sealing has nothing to do with the shine. The shine of the stone is related only to how the manufacturer polished the stone. The better the polish, the nicer the stone looks.

The sealers my installer likes to use:

All of these sealers are water-based sealers. Oil based sealers used to be the industry standard. While they were better, they were also much more toxic. They are now banned in California. Not to worry, the new water based sealers are less toxic and just as good. I do not recommend them to people who have any form of chemical sensitivity since the chemical smells can be strong and some people are very sensitive.  I recommend products that do not require sealing such as stainless steel or engineered quartz. The biggest myth is sealing requires professional help. It does not; it is simple as wiping fluid on a surface.

Published by

Michael Mok

Hi, I am Michael and this is my Interior Design and Home Remodeling Blog. I started this for my friends who started calling on a daily basis to ask me about tips on everything from Interior Design to Hiring Contractors.

2 thoughts on “Guide to buying Natural Stone (Marble, Granite, Limestone, and Travertine) for Counter Tops, Floors and Walls”

  1. Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed!
    Very useful info particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such info a lot.
    I was seeking this certain information for a long time. Thank
    you and best of luck.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s