Hello, readers! Welcome back to the Stonehouse Countertops’ blog. We’re happy to have you here! In this blog, we discuss the maintenance and care of various custom countertop materials, as well as aspects of design and installation. Our goal is to provide you—whether homeowner or business owner—with the information you need to choose the right countertops for you. Our last articles about the installation process from start to finish and the top ten reasons to choose custom countertops are waiting for you! Make sure you check those out after you’re finished reading about the key differences between natural and manmade stone. 

Manmade stone goes by a bevy of names, which might make your search for reputable countertop manufacturers difficult. We’re here to simplify things. Manmade stone is also referred to as engineered stone, manufactured stone, and agglomerate or agglomerated stone. For this article, we’ll stick with engineered stone (as this is the term you’re most likely to come across online). Today, we’ll detail how engineered stone is formed in comparison to natural stone and which option is better suited for your needs. Keep reading for everything you need to know before purchasing the perfect custom stone countertops for your space!

How Natural Stone is Formed

Natural stone is, as the name suggests, naturally occurring. Most often, stones are solid masses which have formed underneath the crust of the earth. Minerals present when the earth first formed are transformed by intense pressure and heat into solid crystals. These solid crystals, over millions of years and the expansion of the earth’s crust, rise up through magma to the surface. Once closer to the earth’s surface, these crystals are harvested by humans using quarries—deep holes dug into the earth to mine precious stones.

The appearance of natural stones is dependent on the types of minerals present during formation, its chemical composition, and the manner in which the stone formed. This can lead to near-endless combinations of colors, textures, and patterns. The most common types of natural stone are granite, marble, quartzite and soapstone.. 

How Manufactured Stone is Formed

Engineered stone is a composite material. Like concrete, it’s made by combining a mixture of crushed stone and an adhesive. In this case, the most common adhesives are polymer resin and cement mix. Examples of engineered stone are quartz, polymer concrete, engineered marble. (Did you know quartz was manmade? The natural alternative is called quartzite. Quartzite is formed when sandstone is exposed to continuous heat and pressure. It is considered an extremely high-end material.) While engineered marble is a favorite for flooring and tiling, quartz is a favorite for kitchen countertops, especially as an alternative to granite. 

In terms of weight, engineered stone is between 90-93% stone aggregate. This stone aggregate is a mixture of natural stone crushed down into a fine powder and other materials (e.g., glass, shell, metal, mirror, etc.). The other 10-7% of engineered stone is resin. This resin will either be epoxy or polyester-based. UV absorbers, stabilizers, and hydrogen peroxide are added to aid in curing at this point. 

In a large, vacuum-tight press, the aggregate is compressed and heated. The vibration of the press allows the aggregate to settle and compress evenly, resulting in an isotropic, nonporous slab.

After the slab is formed, it’s cut and assembled in much the same way as a natural stone slab, using a water jet or a diamond blade. The most common thicknesses of engineered slabs are 12 mm, 20 mm, and 30 mm; although, conceivably, you have any thickness manufactured.

Other manmade materials, such as porcelain, concrete, recycled glass, and laminate, are not technically included under the engineered stone umbrella. 

The Benefits of Engineered Stone

Engineered stone is nonporous. This means engineered stone is not susceptible to staining, even without sealing. A glass of spilled wine or stray coffee mug ring won’t ruin your countertops with engineered stone. As well, engineered stone is more flexible than regular stone. This is because of the polyester resin binding agents present in the aggregate mixture. This flexibility won’t last forever and will begin to lessen as the stone ages. However, at least to begin with, the added flexibility will prevent cracking in the slab due to flexural pressure. Afterward, when the stone has lost its flexibility, it tends to be harder than most natural stones. Not to worry, though. Remember the formation process of engineered stone? The uniform structure of the slab means there are no hidden cracks or flaws. You can rest assured a rift won’t suddenly appear in your slab one day. 

Because engineered stone slabs are manufactured the same way, using the same ingredients, you can expect continuity between each slab. This lack of variation in color and pattern means whichever style you choose, that’s the style you’ll receive. This removes the stress of worrying if a supplier will have enough inventory left in stock to meet your needs. As well, engineered stone tends to have more reliable delivery times than natural stone. 

Engineered stone is less wasteful than natural stone, given there are no scraps to be disposed of after the slabs are cut down to the specifications of your space. 

The Negatives of Engineered Stone

Polyester resin, which constitutes a portion of most engineered stone, is not UV-stable. With extended exposure to sunlight, engineered stone will begin to discolor and develop breakdowns in the resin binder. For these reasons, engineered stone cannot be used in outdoor environments. This rules out engineered stone for your patio kitchen. 

Engineered stone isn’t the most heat-resistant option on the market. The stone should be fine with temperatures beneath three hundred degrees Fahrenheit, but placing hot pots or pans on the surface is a huge no-no. Direct application of high temperatures can easily damage the stone’s surface, unlike natural stones (such as granite, marble, and limestone). 

During the cutting process, breathing in the dust from engineered stone can result in silicosis. Silicosis is an occupational form of lung disease and involves the development of nodular lesions on the upper lobes of the lungs. The condition is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin). With the proper safety equipment, the chances of developing silicosis is low. However, it’s something to consider in your choice. 

The Benefits of Natural Stone

Each slab of natural stone, harvested from the earth, is a work of art. You’ll never find two identical pieces. For artistically-inclined individuals and those whose design style leans less toward matching, this is an intrinsic positive to choosing natural stone. 

As we mentioned previously, engineered stone is susceptible to UV damage and cannot be used in outdoor spaces. Meanwhile, natural stones have been exposed to the harshest conditions inside of the earth and are equipped to withstand more than a touch of sunlight. 

The Negatives of Natural Stone

Alternatively, for those who are not artistically-inclined and whose design style does lean toward matching, natural stone can present a bit of a problem. You will, quite plainly, never find two pieces which look exactly the same. You might even struggle to find two pieces which match in color and striation, depending on the type of stone you choose. This can result in higher prices and longer wait times for the color and pattern of stone you originally intended for your space. For example, quartzite comes in white and gray, with striation from veins of iron oxide present in the original formation. This makes the selection of quartzite limited. Meanwhile, there are various colors and striation patterns available for quartz. 

Porous natural stones, like granite, require regular sealing to prevent staining. This maintenance can become tiresome for select homeowners. 

Because slabs are not sized to the specifications of your kitchen, there can be an excessive amount of waste produced during the cutting process. 

Natural stone and engineered stone aren’t all that different at the end of the day. Both tend to run at about the same price, after factoring in the cost of quarrying and manufacturing and transportation. Both quartz and granite are scratch-resistant and highly durable. Both manmade and natural stone require maintenance to prolong their original state. The difference between natural and manmade stone is much like the difference between diamonds and cubic zirconia. Only those with a trained eye can tell the difference. To the rest of us, they’re both simply sparkly. 

We hope we’ve clarified the major differences between these two types of stone. Equipped with information, you’re now able to make the choice best suited to you and your needs. We here at Stonehouse Countertops are willing and able to work with you to your specifications. We offer a wide range of different materials and always have someone on hand to answer your questions! Don’t hesitate to reach out for consultation or for help forming a plan. We want to ensure your vision becomes a reality! Check back into our blog for more information on custom countertops and material maintenance. Until next time!