The Scoop on Large-Format Porcelain Slabs

The Scoop on Large-Format Porcelain Slabs

The large-format porcelain slab market continues to gain popularity due to advances in technology, which are increasing their functional benefits, beauty, and broad application possibilities. You may have questions about this material. How big are large-format porcelain slabs? How much do they cost? Where can large-format porcelain slabs be installed? What are the design possibilities? Let’s take a closer look.

Large-Format Porcelain Slab Essentials

Large-format porcelain slabs, formerly known as gauged porcelain tile panels, are huge pieces of tile that are only 6-12mm in thickness and measure about 10′ x 5′ in size. Porcelain surfaces are low maintenance, stain resistant, and do not need to be sealed. Even though large-format porcelain slabs look remarkably like natural stone, the average price range, $5 – $18 per square foot, is less than most stone.

What You Need to Know About Through-Body Veining

Veining, or the beautifully organic lines that meander across and through natural stone, is a popular natural stone slab feature. Porcelain, unlike natural stone, is man-made. With most large-format porcelain slabs, the veining is printed on the surface. The problem is that when fabricators and installers cut the slabs, the unsightly, unfinished insides of the porcelain are revealed. If you were to ask a knowledgable fabricator or installer about this problem, they would tell you that it impacts the entire installation process, from sinks and edges to corners and seams. Another problem is that this material, if damaged, can be very difficult or even impossible to repair and restore. Fortunately, new technologies have produced porcelain with veining that is not just on the surface, but throughout the body of the material. This new development expands design possibilities, simplifies the installation process, and facilitates possibilities for repair and restoration. Unfortunately, porcelain with through-body veining is not yet widely available.

Design and Applications Possibilities

Unlike natural stone, where there can be variation in neighboring slabs, large-format porcelain slabs can be truly identical. When two pieces are placed next to each other in a design scheme called bookmatching, they form a symmetrical, mirror-like pattern that resembles an open book. Four slabs can be aligned in an X pattern called quadmatching or a diamond pattern called diamond matching.

Large-format porcelain slabs have fewer grout lines, making them ideal for food prep and especially appropriate for applications in wet areas, such as shower walls, bathroom vanities, walls surrounding baths or hot tubs, kitchen countertops, backsplashes, water features, seat walls, and more. The application possibilities for large-format porcelain slabs are nearly endless, including floors, walls, bar tops, table tops, and fireplace surrounds. Porcelain holds its own against the elements, making it ideal for outdoor kitchens and other exterior applications. As previously mentioned, new technologies open up previously impossible design opportunities. For example, through-body veining allows for more edge and sink options. Lightweight gauged materials and improvements in mortar technology mean large-format porcelain slabs can be used for building facades.

The Importance of Hiring Skilled Fabricators and Installers

Did you know that if an installer is off by just 3/8 of an inch that your entire slab could crack? The importance of working with highly skilled professionals cannot be understated.

In some ways, large-format porcelain slabs are easier to install than thick natural stone slabs. They are lightweight and easier to transport and handle, despite their size. Lippage (unevenly placed tiles) and misalignment are less likely to occur with thinner slabs. However, installation of this material requires incredible planning and precision. As surface materials advance in technology, so do the tools and methods used to install them.

We always use the most appropriate specialized equipment and the best installation techniques required for a safe and successful installation.

What Is the Hardest Stone Countertop Material?

What Is the Hardest Stone Countertop Material?

What is the hardest stone countertop material? This is a common question clients who are investing in countertops ask, because harder stones require less maintenance than softer stones. Read on to find out how stone hardness is measured, which stones are the hardest, and how to avoid damage that can happen regardless of hardness.

Mohs Scale

The simplest way to know the hardness of a countertop material is to reference the Mohs Scale, a scale of measurement that classifies mineral hardness and scratch resistance. This scale, which is rated from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, determines what mineral is hard enough to cut or scratch softer materials. The ten minerals in the scale, from softest to hardest, are: talc, gypsum, calcite, fluorite, apatite, feldspar, quartz, topaz, corundum and diamond.

Hardness of Stone Countertop Materials

The hardness of a stone countertop can vary from one slab to the next, depending on its mineral content. For example, a slab of marble with high calcite content might be a 3 on the Mohs Scale, but another slab of marble cut from a different quarry with a lower calcite content might be a 5. Here are some common stone countertops and their typical hardnesses:

  • Soapstone, which is softer than marble, ranges from 1 to 2. Although it scratches easily, scratches can easily be sanded out.
  • Slate, a stone used as tabletops in chemistry labs, is from 2.5 to 4.
  • Marble, one of the softest yet most popular countertop materials, ranges from 3 to 5.
  • Limestone also ranges from 3 to 5.
  • Travertine is a popular natural stone used for floors, showers, fireplace surrounds and backsplashes. If travertine is used as a countertop material, the naturally occurring holes in the stone must be filled, finished smooth, and properly maintained for sanitary reasons. Travertine has a hardness of 4 to 5.
  • Quartz is an engineered stone often confused with quartzite, a natural stone. It is slightly softer than quartzite with a hardness of 7.
  • Quartzite ranges from 7 to 8.
  • Granite, composed mostly of quartz and feldspar, ranges from 6 to 8 in hardness and scratch resistance. Cutting boards are recommended for granite countertops, not to protect the stone, but to protect the knives!

How to Avoid Damage That Can Happen Regardless of Hardness

Countertops tend to get a lot of use and are exposed to potentially damaging substances. A common misconception is that if a stone is very hard, it is difficult or impossible to damage. Even the hardest stone countertop materials are not impervious to damage. Here are some tips to prevent stone countertop damage.

Prevent Stains

Porous natural stone may need to be sealed. Most natural stone has tiny holes that can absorb staining agents found in food, beverages, and other substances. Properly sealed countertops inhibit staining by keeping spills on the surface long enough for you to clean them up before they seep into the stone and turn into stains.

There is a simple test you can do to determine whether your countertops need to be sealed. Choose the most-used area of your countertop to do this test. Pour a small amount of water on the surface. Allow it to dwell for a few minutes before wiping it away. Is there a dark spot left behind? This demonstrates that your stone is absorbing liquid and should be sealed.

Any stone that needs to be sealed will also need to be re-sealed occasionally. Although it is possible to seal your own stone, we highly recommend having a professional stone restoration contractor perform this service to ensure proper coverage and avoid mistakes that can diminish the appearance of your stone.

Never Sit or Stand on Stone Countertops

Even highly supported stone countertops can crack or break due to unevenly distributed weight on weak points in the stone, such as a small crack or fissure. This is especially true of the sink area, one of the weakest points in your stone slab.

Use Stone-Safe Cleaning Products

For routine cleaning, always use a stone-safe, pH-neutral cleaner specifically formulated for use on natural stone. Acidic or abrasive cleaners can damage even the hardest stone. Other cleaners, such as dish soap, may not necessarily damage your stone, but they can leave behind a buildup that can make your stone look dull or discolored.

Protect Against UV Damage

Stones that contain organic components, such as marble, limestone, and travertine, can fade in the sun. Quartz intended for indoor use, as well as granite that has been treated with dyes or resins can fade with UV exposure. If possible, do not install countertops in areas that get full sun for a long time each day; otherwise, pull shades down during peak sunlight hours.

Avoid Scratches, Chips, and Other Damage

Use coasters under cups and glasses and put soaps and other products on trays. Use trivets under hot pots and pans, and never drag cookware across the countertop surface. Be careful with heavy objects, such as cast iron cookware. If a heavy object is dropped on stone, it can cause a chip or crack.

For more tips and resources to help you care for your new countertops, download our free Stone and Tile Care Guide and use our Stain Management App.

Man-Made Quartz vs Natural Stone Countertops

Man-Made Quartz vs Natural Stone Countertops

If you have been considering stone countertops, there are many high quality materials on the market today that will improve the value of your home. This article will help you familiarize yourself with the differences between man-made quartz stone and natural stone before making a decision. As you plan a kitchen or bathroom renovation or new construction, it’s important to remember that your countertops and vanity tops will be the surfaces in the room that are both most prominent and most utilized. You’ll want to choose your material wisely, for aesthetic reasons and for intended use.

Quartz

Quartz is an engineered stone made of crushed or powdered quartz crystals, pigments, and a binding material, such as resin. Quartz is sometimes confused with quartzite, which is a popular natural stone. Slabs of quartz are made to look very much like marble, granite, or other types of natural stone, but because they are manufactured using very specific processes, one slab can look exactly like another.

Over the past few decades, engineered stone products, also known as quartz surfaces, such as Cambria, LG Viatera, Vicostone, and countless others have skyrocketed in popularity. This comes as no surprise, since quartz offers many practical advantages over natural stone, including resistance to scratches, chips, cracks, and etch damage.

Natural Stone

One would imagine that with all the advantages quartz affords, people might choose it over natural stone every time. But this is not the case. Natural stone has many advantages over quartz. For homeowners who want a unique material, each slab of natural stone, like fingerprints and snowflakes, is truly one of a kind.

Marble, granite, soapstone, and other popular countertop materials are easier to repair than quartz, because they do not contain colored resins. Your professional stone restoration technician can fill in natural stone chips and cracks, remove stains, hone and polish away etches, scratches, and dullness, and completely refinish and renew your surfaces with greater ease and at less expense than quartz.

Sealers

Quartz is nonporous, which means it is inherently resistant to bacteria and viruses, does not stain easily, and does not require sealer. However, there are certain substances that can stain quartz, including paint removers, oil-based soaps and products, permanent dyes and markers, and certain chemicals, such as bleach and degreasers.

Some types of natural stone will not require sealer. Highly polished stone may not even take an impregnating sealer. But, if sealing is recommended, know that sealing represents an inexpensive, preventative measure against stain damage, because it buys you time to wipe up spills before they become stains. Other sealing options for natural stone include color enhancing sealers that enhance the natural colors already present within a stone or sealers for certain types of stone, such as slate or flagstone, that achieve a variety of finishes, from soft matte to a glossy or wet look.

Sustainability

When it comes to sustainability, one could make an argument for or against both quartz and natural stone. Quartz is very abundant, so it does not need to be shipped as far as natural stone. However, the production process for natural stone produces less carbon emissions than that of quartz.

Prices

Prices on quartz and natural stone tops for kitchens and baths vary widely, depending on many factors, from the type of material and finish to the design and edge selections. Quartz is a very dense, uniform material, making it conducive to elaborate designs and edges. Both quartz and natural stone are more expensive than laminate or other budget-friendly materials, but the perks of using a high quality material can far outweigh the cost. If your budget is limited, consider purchasing quartz or natural stone but opting for simpler design and edge selections.

Your countertops and vanity tops should be aesthetically pleasing and ideal for intended use. Whether you choose quartz or natural stone, these are both high quality materials that will improve the value of your home.


This article is one of a series of articles written and published on behalf of SurpHaces PRO Partners.

Glossary of Natural Stone Finishes

Let’s Talk About Natural Stone Finishes

Natural stone comes finished in many ways. It doesn’t start that way from the quarry and it doesn’t always have to stay the way it is after it is installed.

The appearance of all natural stone is rough when it is first quarried. The surface is then altered to any number of finishes. (The name of the finish often explains how the finish is produced.) When selecting stone, understanding your options will help you to choose the best finish for the look you are going for and for your intended use.

Fabricators and stone suppliers almost always purchase stone that is already finished, so when you purchase new stone for an installation, the finish you see is the finish you get. Most of the time.

Professional stone refinishing can often alter the finish of stone using various methods, even after it is installed.

With this in mind, the following glossary of finishes will help you understand natural stone finishes, which ones are best for various purposes, and what options you have to change certain finishes.

Your Finish Options

Following is an overview of the most popular finishes, how they are achieved, and where they are most appropriate.

Polished

Natural stone with a polished finish has a glossy, mirror-like quality that showcases the colors, veining, and other unique characteristics of natural stone. If your highest concern is that the stone has an elegant appearance, a polished finish is a good choice. A polish can be achieved by using a specialized abrasive technique. Diamond-infused pads mounted on a machine rub against the stone, similar to sandpaper on wood. Industry professionals describe this process as honing and polishing. Progressively finer grit pads are used until a highly reflective polish is achieved. Polished finishes may not be slip resistant and are most appropriate where a slip and fall hazard is not a concern.

Honed, Satin, or Matte

Natural stone with a honed finish is softer and velvetier in appearance than a polished finish. The words honed, satin, matte and other descriptive terms are used interchangeably to describe a finish that is not as reflective as a highly polished finish. A honed finish can be created using the same specialized abrasive technique as that of polished stone, except that the level of desired polish is achieved sooner, with less polishing. Honed finishes are often requested where slip resistance is desired, however, a honed finish is not a guarantee that the surface will be slip resistant. Some stones are slippery even when honed.

Brushed / Antiqued

If a textured look but a smooth touch is desired, a brushed finish, also known as an antiqued finish, may be a perfect option. This type of finish is achieved using wire wheels and brushes that create thousands of microscopic scratches. The end result is a natural stone finish that looks like it has beautifully and uniformly aged over centuries of time and use. A brushed finish is an excellent choice in a setting where slip resistance and ease of maintenance is desired. Most brushed finishes will be a little more difficult to clean than honed or polished finishes.

Textured / Hammered / Tooled

Unlike smooth honed and polished finishes, textured finishes, also known as hammered or tooled finishes, have varying degrees of roughness, depending on the methods used to fashion the texture. For example, a flame heats the surface of granite to create a flamed finish. With a sandblasted finish, abrasive media is sprayed under high pressure across the surface of the stone. A tool that looks like a meat tenderizing hammer is pounded on stone to create the pockets and ridges of a bush hammered finish. With a cleft finish, the stone is simply split, and the naturally uneven break is the finish. Textured finishes hide imperfections and camouflage minor surface damage like scratches and etching, so they are ideal for areas with excessive traffic. Textured finishes are not ideal for countertops or surfaces that need to be cleaned often, because the uneven surface will snag sponges and cleaning cloths. These finished are most appropriate for exterior stone installations such as sidewalks and pool decks.

Custom

A combination of finishes may be used on a single stone surface to achieve a custom finish. For example, a logo or pattern can be sandblasted onto polished stone by protecting certain polished areas and sandblasting other areas. A similar process might involve applying acid to stone that contains calcium carbonate, causing chemical reactions that will roughen the surface of the stone. A custom finish is a great option for creating a focal point or showcasing a natural stone feature.

Impregnators, Enhancers, and Topical Coatings

There are a variety of sealers, coatings, and enhancers available that can also alter the look of stone. Be sure to consult with your PRO as using them may not always be useful or beneficial, and in some cases will result in problems.

Impregnating Sealers

Contrary to popular belief, impregnating sealers do not give stone a shine or change the texture or appearance of stone in any way, except if an impregnating sealer also happens to be an enhancer. Impregnating sealers are designed solely to fill the pores in stone to inhibit spills from staining.

Enhancers

The colors inherent in some natural stones can be heightened and intensified with enhancers. If you desire stone with a wet look (think how the color of jeans darkens when wet), enhancers will achieve this while also offering different levels of shine. Most enhancers do not inhibit staining unless the enhancer is also an impregnating sealer. Enhancers are often considered permanent, because once they are applied, they are extremely difficult to remove, but enhancers do tend to fade or are slowly removed over time with cleaning.

Topical Coatings

Unlike impregnating sealers that penetrate beneath the surface of the stone and don’t affect the look of the stone at all, sealers that stay on the surface of stone are referred to as topical coatings. Although these coatings protect stone against stains, etching, scratches, and other surface damage, they can be problematic. In general, coatings themselves can be damaged, turn yellow, and attract dirt and contaminants. Many topical sealers on floors look great at first, but once the appearance of the coating diminishes, it must be completely stripped and reapplied. Another consideration is that stone on floors needs to breathe. Coatings can trap moisture, resulting in damage to the stone itself, such as cracking, flaking, and spalling. In some situations a topical coating might be suitable, but you will want to consult with your stone restoration PRO to be sure.

Stone Restoration Technicians Can Change Finishes

When all is said and done, if you are not happy with the finish of existing stone floors, countertops and other surfaces, let’s discuss it. We can evaluate your stone and may be able to alter the appearance more to your liking. We routinely refinish shiny, polished stone surfaces to a honed (matte or satin) finish and vice versa, apply decorative textures, enhance colors, and apply specialty treatments.

Pros and Cons of Prefab Countertops

If you are selecting a surface for your kitchen countertops, you may be considering going with prefabricated rather than custom cut slabs in order to save money. It’s important to understand that your investment decision involves more than just price. There are many factors to consider, from material selection and quality to design options and other considerations. Here are the pros and cons of prefabricated countertops.

Material Selection

Each type of countertop material has its own unique qualities. The most appropriate material selection will depend on your particular needs. Suppose you rarely cook or entertain, and you are more concerned about how the stone looks than how it holds up to use. You could get away with choosing a highly polished marble. If you are looking for a way to add value to your home for potential resale, granite is a widely popular choice.

PRO Prefabricated countertops are available in a variety of colors and textures.
CON Manufacturers of prefabricated countertops may not offer the countertop material you prefer, and your material selection may be more limited than if you were to select a slab.

Material Quality

Low quality materials may be cheaper, but as the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Take Chinese quartz, for example. It is more likely to have discolorations from resin pooling on the surface than quartz sourced elsewhere. Problems with other types of countertop materials occur, depending on region, methods of quarrying and transport, and other factors.
PRO Prefabricated countertops responsibly sourced from reputable suppliers and manufacturers can be of the same level of quality as countertops custom cut by a fabricator.
CON Prefabricated countertops may have dye lot variation from one countertop to another. If you are buying more than one countertop, you might see a slight difference in color.

Shape, Size, and Edge Options

Kitchens come in all shapes, sizes, and designs, and so do countertops. Choosing countertops that perfectly suit this very important space in your home is one of the most important home design decisions one can make.
PRO If you happen to find prefabricated countertops that meet your specifications and satisfy your design expectations, you may save a few bucks with this option.
CON Prefabricated countertops have zero flexibility when it comes to dimensions and edge options. What you see is what you get. In addition, seam placement may be problematic with prefabricated countertops.

Cost Considerations

The two major factors that determine the price of having new kitchen countertops installed are the cost of the materials and the amount of time the job will take from start to finish, which translates to labor cost.
PRO Because prefabricated countertops are standard sizes that are ready to install, prefabricated pieces generally are about half the cost of slabs, which require more preparation prior to placement.
CON If your prefabricated tops do not come with holes for the sink, faucets, cooktop, or other features or if the dimensions of your kitchen cabinets do not exactly match those of prefabricated countertops, you will need to hire a stone fabricator to customize your tops. This basically defeats the purpose of buying prefabricated tops. You would be better off with a custom cut slab.

If you decide to purchase prefabricated countertops, be sure to ask your contractor to include all labor expenses with your quote. With prefabricated countertops you may not save as much money or get the quality workmanship that you expect.

Slab Selection and So-Called Imperfections

Natural stone countertop selection requires a bit of due diligence by consumers, from preliminary research and measurements to selection and the final slab inspection. When it comes to slab inspection, the most important thing to remember is that what you see is what you get. Here’s what you need to know before you make a final decision on a slab purchase.

Naturally Occurring Stone Features

Sometimes during slab inspection, clients find what appears to be small imperfections, such as fissures or spots. These naturally occurring stone features have no effect on the structural integrity of the slab.

Fissures, which are similar in appearance to a crack, are a result of geological or environmental forces, crystallization of minerals, and other conditions, whereas cracks are a result of man-made stresses, such as transport from the quarry to the fabricator or from fabricator to a residence or commercial facility.

Spots on a slab, like shade variation, veining, and other natural characteristics, are a common feature of natural stone. Naturally occurring spots are not stains, which are a result of something spilled on stone.

If the slab you intend to purchase has one of these stone features, you have a few options. You can embrace the fact that your countertop material is a completely unique product of nature and appreciate its perfectly imperfect appearance, you can select a different slab, or you can consult with your fabricator on other options.

Your Countertop Layout

Depending on the layout of the countertop design, fabricators may be able to cut slabs for inconspicuous placement of a portion of the slab. Because your countertop will need space cut out for the sink and faucets, it may be possible to avoid it altogether so that the spot or fissure ends up in the scrap material. If you have an area you want to avoid, ask for a layout to determine whether this is an option for you.

Once you find a slab you love, inspect it carefully to be sure it is the most appropriate choice for your countertops.

Stone Fabrication. Stone Restoration. What’s the Difference?

If you are considering natural stone as a material for your kitchen or bath plans, whether new home construction or a renovation project, you will need to know the difference between a stone fabricator and a stone restoration contractor, and you will need to enlist the services of both. Here are the details.

Why the Confusion?

In the stone industry, from quarry to countertop, different types of companies practice different specialties. Some companies are concerned only with supply, others with design and installation, and others with repair and maintenance. Some companies may focus solely on commercial properties while others specialize in residential properties, and some may service both. Although stone fabricators usually do not do repair and restoration work and restoration contractors usually do not do new installation, there are occasionally some companies that do cross over work from one specialty to the other.

Stone Fabrication

Most people know that when it comes to natural stone countertops, fabricators offer a wide variety of options for countertop edges, backsplashes, decorative trim, and more. What many people don’t know is that fabricators rarely do anything with the face of the stone. Occasionally fabricators repair minor flaws in a slab face or provide a custom finish if they are properly equipped to do so, but for the most part, fabricators specialize in cutting and shaping natural stone.

Highly skilled technicians make a rectangle slab of stone conform to your creative vision, matching the specifications of each element in your kitchen design, from cabinets, sinks, and cooktops to faucets and other features. Fabricators finish edges so that they have a clean, elegant appearance that matches with the surface finish. Once stone is installed, a fabricator may wipe down countertops to remove dust or construction debris or apply a sealer, but any other work involving the face of already-installed stone, for example, changing the finish from honed to polished or vice versa, will require the services of a professional stone restoration contractor. Basically, homeowners can expect the appearance of the face of the slab to remain unchanged from the slab selection phase to when they see it as the newly installed top.

Stone Restoration

Natural stone restoration contractors help maintain the like-new appearance of already-installed natural stone, such as countertops and vanity tops, as well as walls, tub surrounds, fireplace surrounds, hardscape, and other stone surfaces. Their services may involve repair, restoration, or maintenance.

Over the course of time, countertops will eventually show signs of wear. Acidic substances in food and drinks may cause etching, heavy use may result in fine scratches and dullness, or a dropped heavy object may cause a chip or crack. Most of the time, an experienced stone restoration contractor can resolve stone problems, repairing damage and honing and polishing to restore the finish. Stone restoration contractors may also provide maintenance services, such as regularly scheduled visits to clean, buff, and seal stone.

With proper care, a stone restoration contractor can help your natural stone last a long time. When stone replacement services are required, whether it is because of a remodeling decision or out of necessity due to irreparable damage or failure, then it will be time to consult with a stone fabricator again.


This article is one of a series of articles written and published on behalf of SurpHaces PRO Partners.