What is the Least Invasive Countertop Material? Granite? Quartz?

In today’s Eco-conscious world, many may wonder where their beautiful countertop comes from, and how invasive the procedure is to extract it from the Earth.  Then the question arises: what is the least invasive product out there, is it granite or is it quartz?  My answer to that would be quartz.

When you mine granite, you can’t make that area of the Earth look like what it started out looking like. It is now a giant hole in the ground which eventually gets filled in with water and becomes a lake.  That’s about the most you can do because it’s very invasive. Granite mining changes the look of that environment forever.

Granite is mined by explosives; they blow off these giant blocks from the side of the mountain, take it back to the quarries, cut it into slabs, polish and seal it.  Once they are sealed they are shipped to granite yards such as Solid Surfaces Unlimited, and then they make countertops out of them.

A  Granite Quarry in Vermont

Quartz surfaces on the other hand are comprised of 93 % quartz, and 7% resin.  Natural quartz is a pure mineral that comes in chunks. I can’t go out and mine a slab of quartz because it doesn’t exist in nature that way.  There is really nothing holding it together. It’s going to be less invasive than a mining procedure, because it is found on the surface of the Earth. They can target quartz veins, extract the quartz, fill it back in, and leave it looking essentially the same as they found it.  Big crystals are then ground down into smaller crystals. The cool thing with quartz is that since its base is silica, it holds that prismatic shape.  So when you grind it down, it doesn’t get rounded off or smooth out, it retains its prismatic shape which reflects light.

Natural Quartz Crystal

Quartz is also the most abundant mineral on Earth.  If you are walking along the beach, chances are that’s quartz sand.

What  happens with the quartz? It is brought in from wherever, put into these supersacks, grated, washed, and separated according to size. Imagine a giant mixing bowl. We throw in the pigments, the quartz stone, the colorants, and it starts to mix up the mixture.  Then the material is poured onto a rubber mold.  The loose mix starts off as twice the thickness as the final product.  So if I am ending up with a 3cm thick countertop, they throw onto the rubber mold 6 cm worth of material.

Remember this is 93 % quartz and only 7% resin.  In the food industry, anything over 90% is considered pure.  The slab press converts it into slabs by shaking it, compressing it, and vaccuming the air out of it.  So all the voids are filled in.

Comparing porousness: when the plates of the Earth are moving together and moving this material around at very high temperatures, air is also being trapped within.  So by the time it reaches the surface and we are carving it out of the mountain, there is air in there.  That is why we talk about granite being porous.  In this manufactured world, we can pull that air out.  This makes quartz 3 times harder than granite.  So, here we have man duplicating nature.

Transcribed from a presentation by Ursula Schneider of Solid Surfaces Unlimited: Leader of Surfaces Materials in Sterling Heights, MI.