When homeowners choose countertops, they consider many factors such as color, texture, heft, and general appearance. Considerations of longevity, maintenance requirements, and cost inevitably crop up as well.
When considering solid heft, three of the popular materials happen to be granite, quartz, and concrete. We will consider their respective attributes below.
Each of the materials has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, the choice between them depends on what you are looking for specifically.
Before considering their properties, let’s understand the basic materials we are discussing.
Quartz is an engineered stone. Typically, 90-93% of it is made from natural stone, but the rest can be from crushed stone and/or strengthened with polyresin. Quartz can be produced to certain specifications including color and appearance.
Granite is a natural stone, whose slabs are hewed in quarries and shaped into countertops. Materials included within granite will include quartz and feldspar. Since it’s a natural stone, every slab of granite is different.
Concrete is a material mixed and cast from cement, it's all around us in the form of building material. The good thing about concrete is that it is poured – which means that it can be cast in shapes and colors that normal stones may or may not be able to achieve. Many varieties of concrete mixes are available on the market, some of which are suitable for countertops.
Let’s now look at some comparisons across the three materials.
Either the first or the last, consideration when buying an expensive countertop is the cost. The table below shows ranges for each type of material.
|Avg. Cost per Square Feet
|Avg. Cost for a 30 Square Foot Slab
The costs shown above can vary between +/- 20% based on localized costs, including labor, taxes and the like.
In a broader range, the higher-end prices for granite countertops can go as high as $175 depending on the quality and finish. The higher-end prices for quartz tend to stay below $150.
The texture and range of colors vary with the type of material.
|Appearance and Color
|Since quartz is made from natural stone, ground in other stone chips but also polymers and resins, it tends to be consistent in appearance and texture with less appearance of seams. Also, pigments to be mixed in are chosen so the color is uniform. What you order is what you will get. Standard colors include shades of white, gray, gold, brown, tan, and black.
|Granite is natural stone – as such, both the color and the texture will tend to vary from slab to slab. One of the problems with granite countertops is that the specimen you see in the store while ordering may not match either the texture or the color of what gets installed at home eventually. Granite has a wider range of colors, including shades of white, gray, beige, brown, and black like quartz, but additionally burgundy, red, green, yellow, and even blue.
|Concrete can be as smooth or rough in texture as you want to make it and there is an almost infinite range of colors and appearances.
There are variations within the above parameters, but the general principles hold for each.
|Strength, Durability, and Maintenance
|Requires the least amount of maintenance and is most durable when sealed – the resins mixed in make quartz strong and scratch-resistant.
|Strong and scratch-resistant, but requires more maintenance, and is more prone to chipping, breaking, and stains than quartz due to the porosity of granite and the seams. It tends to be more durable than concrete in these regards. Small chips in granite can be repaired with epoxy.
|Concrete is even more porous than granite and needs to be resealed more frequently. It has the tendency to develop small cracks (which can be repaired) and also bacteria/mold. Waxing on a monthly basis will extend the life of a concrete countertop.
Granite and Quartz are both heavy materials. Plus, you would need to be adept at creating slabs and/or sculpting. The chances of an accident or a poor finish are way too much to risk when dealing with such expensive stones – be they natural or engineered. So, it is best to get a professional installation done.
While DIY concrete countertops are likely not going to come out as well finished as one installed by a pro, it is theoretically possible to pour the concrete and get a countertop made that can pass muster. DIY mixes such as Quickreet 5000, or Cheng Concrete Mix (see below), can be used as a suitable medium for countertops:
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The following video shows a DIY method to make concrete countertops.
The table below captures the possibility of each material showing visible seams.
|Being engineered, quartz does not have seams.
|Granite is porous and has seams.
|Concrete countertops are smooth and do not have seams except at large interfaces, which are close to invisible.
The more porous a material is, or prone to crack or pick up stains or discolor on the surface, the better the seal on top must be. The frequency of resealing is also driven by this characteristic.
Among the three materials, quartz is the most stain-resistant, least porous, and devoid of seams due to the way the material is created. As such, it stays for the longest time without resealing.
Both granite and concrete are porous and need more frequent care, including the necessity to reseal and wax. Otherwise, not only will stains (etchings) and discolorations tend to appear, mold and bacterial growth are possible beneath the surface.
Granite should be resealed every six months to one year.
Concrete needs to be resealed every six months to one year also, sometimes less. It should also be waxed every month to maintain the surface. Some professionals think that sealing concrete every 1 to 3 years is sufficient however I think the more you seal your countertops the better off you are in terms of stain resistance and build-up of mold and other bacteria.
The stain resistance of each surface is directly related to the porousness of the material and how the seal is holding up.
|Quartz is the most stain resistance material, being the least porous. Most common everyday spills are easily handled, though paint removers, nail polish remover, bleach, oily soaps, permanent markers, and materials containing trichloroethane or methylene chloride are big no-no’s.
|Granite is also stain-resistant, but non pH balanced substances (organic, oils, paint-based, rust, etc.) can seep in past the sealant, sit in the pores and cause not only stains but mildew and bacteria.
|Concrete is the most vulnerable material in terms of stains due to its porous nature. Not only can it stain and develop mildew/bacteria, but concrete also tends to get stains or patinas over time, which require frequent resealing and waxing to maintain the surface.
The heat resistance of a countertop depends both on the material and whether it is sealed. In general, granite and concrete are both more heat resistant than quartz if the seal is equal.
A sealed granite countertop will be more heat resistant than a sealed concrete countertop.
In all cases, however, exposing the countertop to direct heat continuously is not a good idea. Trivets and other protections should be used.
Concrete has increasingly gained popularity for outdoor use, followed by granite and trailed at a distance by quartz.
|Cost per Square Feet
|Not a good material for outdoor use. Quartz is not very heat resistant and its colors tend to fade in sunlight.
|The best material for outdoor use, being heat resistant, strong, durable, and stain-resistant. Granite holds colors well in outdoor settings.
|Though concrete may be less heat resistant than granite, its overall flexibility of design, strength and relative ease of maintenance (needs to be maintained more often, but does not appear as off-color as certain stones) has made it the most preferred material for outdoor countertops.
The table below shows ranges for each type of material.
|Manufactured from mostly natural resources – some, but not significant, energy expended. Not quarried. Resins mixed in. No radon emissions.
|Made from natural resources but quarried. No radon emissions.
|Manufacturing consumes a lot of energy and cement production creates major pollution. However, the use of fly ash and glass, which would otherwise add to pollution, is a plus with certain types of concrete.
Given some of the answers above, the typical homeowner who is not predisposed towards one material over the others may have some common questions:
This is a question that can only be answered subjectively to a certain extent. Granite is a natural stone and concrete is a man-made mixture. As such, the appearance of granite will always be more majestic.
However, there are limits to ranges of colors, edge patterns, and inlays that can be done on granite. Concrete, on the other hand, can be textured, colored, and finished with an almost unlimited number of options.
They can both be used outdoors.
Granite is definitely costlier than concrete and must be installed by pros. If you like a wide range of colors and textures, do not care about the natural stone appearance, and wish to stay on a budget, concrete is a good option – but granite is a premium stone.
Maintenance on granite is easier compared to concrete. Though both are porous materials, sealed granite tops will be more resistant to stains, discolorations, mold, and mildew, especially when sealed properly. Though granite could chip, those could be repaired easily with epoxy.
Concrete will need more regular care. It tends to stain and develop mold and mildew faster. If the surface is sealed and waxed, that will hold for longer – but it still remains porous. Resealing on an annual basis may be necessary along with waxing every month. Concrete also tends to develop a sheen or patina.
Granite thus requires less attention than concrete.
The table below shows the pros and cons of each type of material. Some of the characteristics (e.g. heat resistance and maintenance) are graded among the three options.
|Heat resistant – but least among the three Does not need heavy sealing Low maintenance – least among three Stain Resistant – most among three No seams More flexible than granite – uniform color and texture Appearance tends to degrade with age Environmental impact limited Adds to home resale value
|Not good for outdoor use More expensive on the average Not suitable for self-installation Color fades in direct sunlight Slabs tend to be heavier and narrower
|Heat resistant – most among three Stain-resistant when well-sealed Natural stone appearance/texture Wider range of colors Best stone for outdoor use Color holds in heat and sunlight Least environmental impact Appearance tends to degrade with age Adds to home resale value
|Porous and needs care, including reseal More maintenance reqd. than quartz Relatively more brittle Costly on the average May develop mold and bacteria Not suitable for self-installation Varied color and texture of natural stone
|Heat resistant, unless sealed/waxed Needs heavy sealing No seams Widest range of colors and textures among the three – most flexible among 3 Good for outdoor use Wide range of patterns of edges, inlays, etc. can be put in Appearance is maintained with age (provided some maintenance is done)
|Least costly Porous and needs resealing and regular waxing – most maintenance among 3 Prone to picking up stains/patina Tendency to develop mildew/mold Can be poured and installed DIY Most environmental impact among 3 Does not do much for home resale value
The choice of countertop material can depend on the color, texture, heft you prefer, the uses you subject it to and even the types of edges that work. Finally, there is the cost.
Consider the discussion above and the final list of pros and cons to decide on what works for you. There are great selections under each type.