The dinner party scene is all set. You worked hard to create the perfect menu and set a stunning table, all in a bid to showcase the expensive new painting hanging in the living room. Red wine is decanted and placed at strategic locations to lure guests in the right direction. The fireplace is lit, the track lighting is aimed at your prize artwork and the coffee table is loaded with Hors D'oeuvres. Everyone arrives, coasts through the living room and soon you find your 10 closest friends hanging out in…the kitchen. After your urging falls on deaf ears, you give up and transfer the wine and snacks to your island. The painting remains sadly ignored.
Don't feel bad. Ask anyone who's ever hosted a dinner, cocktail gathering or keg party -- the kitchen is where all the action is. Maybe kitchens make people feel comfortable -- the warmth of a stove, the smell of something delicious filling every corner. Maybe it's because the kitchen is where you spend a lot of time. No matter the reason, don't plan a party unless you're prepared to accept the reality that the kitchen may end up as the hub.
Another reason people herd to the kitchen is that it's often one of the nicest rooms in the house. People love their kitchens, and they're often one of the first rooms to undergo major changes after someone moves in. They're a good investment, but a kitchen renovation comes at a high initial cost. In 2006, the average kitchen remodel cost Americans more than $54,000 [source: CNN]. A middle-of-the-road renovation had a return of about 91 percent for every dollar spent. With that kind of payback, it's no wonder people sink money into their culinary headquarters.
There are a few ways to drastically change your kitchen, but maybe none have quite the impact of new countertops. Just in square footage alone, you'll see more of your countertops than anything else aside from your floor and walls. When it comes to deciding your look you have several materials to choose from. Some of the more popular choices include:
- Butcher block
- Stainless steel
Another alternative that's been around since the early 1990s has recently gained a lot of attention. It's a variety of engineered stone countertop made from quartz -- 93 percent quartz to be exact. Quartz is an abundant and inexpensive gemstone, and it makes an ideal countertop in many ways. Combine ground quartz with coloring pigment and a binding agent, and you have one of the most durable manufactured countertops on the market. And it's green, to boot.
Silestone and Zodiaq
It may sound like a professional wrestling tandom, but Silestone and Zodiaq are actually the two brand names of manufactured quartz countertops. Silestone has made the biggest splash in an attempt to make the name synonymous with quartz countertops, like Formica is for laminate tops. How? By investing in a Super Bowl commercial in 2005. It cost them two and half million bucks, but their products are now available in 3,500 stores. So it appears to have been money well spent.
Quartz countertops are made from a mixture of 93 percent pulverized quartz and what the Silestone manufacturer refers to as "enhancement material." This includes a resin binder that hardens with the quartz into a flawless countertop surface. Resin in this case is a highly viscous synthetic compound -- a fancy way of saying goopy, sticky stuff. Resin also occurs naturally in plants and trees. The result of the combination of the resin and quartz is a nonporous finished product unlike any other countertop surface.
One thing that drives customers to quartz countertops is the variety of colors that Silestone and Zodiaq manufacture. If a traditional deep gray is your thing, then easy enough. But if you want candy apple red or 1960s orange, then a smooth quartz countertop is the ticket. Silestone also has a "leather" textured surface that mimics animal hide.
The cost of quartz countertops is comparable to granite, another popular option these days. Silestone and Zodiaq both require that a certified professional install the countertops, so pricing is all-inclusive. Quartz costs between $42 and $66 per square foot, installed. The average kitchen has about 25 square feet (2.3 meters) of countertop space, so with a middle-of-the-road $50 variety you're looking at about $1,250 with installation. Once you've picked out your color, you can choose from many different shaped edges like crown molded and rounded. You don't have to go with a solid color either, there are marble and granite patterns at the higher end of the price spectrum to choose from.
Quartz counters are ideal in kitchens for reasons we'll discuss on the following page, but are also used as desktops, stairs, flooring and fireplace mantles. The material is easy to keep clean and very durable, so it's an attractive alternative to tile in bathrooms too.
What makes the quartz countertop so special?
We've learned what quartz countertops are made of, how much they cost and that they come in a plethora of colors and styles. But why go with quartz when granite costs the same and is a standard in the kitchen? One reason is that quartz is extremely durable with a scratch sand scorch resistant surface that ranks No. 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. This makes your quartz countertop very difficult to scratch or chip.
Another advantage is that it's nearly stain-proof as well. This is because it's a nonporous surface. Your coffee, cabernet and olive oil will sit on top of the surface instead of soaking in, ready for the sponge. Because it's nonporous it also doesn't need to be sealed or treated. Many kitchen surfaces like granite, marble and limestone need regular sealing. Quartz is ready to go right out of the gate, making it maintenance-free.
Its nonporous nature also makes it more difficult for bacteria, mold and mildew to grow, which makes it an ideal choice for the kitchen and bath. The clean factor doesn't just stop there. Silestone also has something called Microban built into the surface of the countertop. Microban is a trademarked antimicrobial compound that's mixed into the quartz and resin goop, actually making it part of the structure. Microban helps to fight the buildup of tiny pathogenic microorganisms, like bacteria. It won't protect you from a food-borne illness and you still have to clean it, but it does provide an extra measure of protection and makes the surface easier to clean and keep it that way.
Besides the cleanliness, durability and lack of maintenance, there's one more good reason to go with a quartz countertop -- it's green. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas found in different levels all over the Earth. Many manufactured household materials, like granite countertops, emit small levels of radon. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that indoor pollution can be up to 100 times higher than outdoor pollution. Silestone quartz countertops have been tested and show little to no radon emission.
Because of the Microban and radon testing, Silestone has been certified by the National Sanitation Foundation and the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute as a low-emitting product, meaning that it's safe for indoor applications and ideal for use where food preparation takes place. It's so clean, safe and durable that it's been the countertop of choice for the last three HGTV Dream Homes. These are large, green-concept homes that the Home and Garden Television network gives away each year to one lucky viewer. Only the latest, top-of-the-line products go into the dream home. Check the Internet to find out where you can get some quartz countertop samples. You could be doing yourself and the environment a favor.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality." epa.gov, 2008. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html
- "Fact Sheet." silestoneusa.com, 2008. http://www.silestoneusa.com/aboutus/factsheet.cfm
- "No Matter Which Color You Choose, All Silestone Natural Quartz Is "Green" And Clean." Builder Magazine, February, 2008. http://www.silestoneusa.com/news/files/Builder%20Magazine%20%20Trade%20Winds%20Home.pdf
- "Quartz-Surfacing Versus Granite Countertops." Before & After Magazine, Summer, 2007. http://www.silestoneusa.com/news/files/BHG%20Before%20and%20After%20De%20Carlo%20combined.pdf
- Buggs, Shannon. "Leaders say Silestone is a rock-solid product." chron.com, May 19, 2006. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/chron10006/3866035.html
- Christie, Les. "Most profitable renovations." cnn.com, December 7, 2006. http://money.cnn.com/2006/12/06/real_estate/home_remodel_payoff_declines/index.htm
- Clement, Mark. "Silestone Quartz Surfaces." HGTVpro.com, 2008. http://www.hgtvpro.com/hpro/np_editorpicks/article/0,,HPRO_26596_5363264,00.html
- Murphy, Kate. "New Counters? Everything's on the Table." The New York Times, April 10, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/garden/10counters.html?_r=2&scp=9&sq=silestone&st=cse