HANDY GEAR Product Spotlight
Building With Quartz
It’s not just for watches anymore
Thanks to modern processes, you can enjoy the timeless elegance — and extreme durability — of quartz throughout your home.
uartz is one of the most abundant substances on the planet. Used since the early 1970s to drive watches, quartz glitters like a diamond, resists extremes of heat and pressure and is harder than almost anything on Earth. Imagine incorporating that sparkle and extreme durability into a building materi- al that can be used on almost any hori- zontal or vertical surface. Natural quartz surfacing makes that vision a reality.
What is quartz surfacing?
Quartz surfaces have been around for decades, though the product has only recently gained popularity in the United States. Originally developed as BretonStone about 45 years ago, all quartz surfacing is manufactured in basically the same way — Breton sold the process to other manufacturers such as Cosentino, DuPont, Cambria and CaesarStone.
Used for countertops, vanities, shower surrounds and flooring, quartz combines the durability of stone with the maintenance-free properties of modern polymers. To unlock the secrets of this unique building material, we worked with Silestone by Cosentino, the largest manufacturer of natural quartz surfaces. And just as with raw quartz, we found that the usefulness of its modern cousin goes far beyond its visual appeal.
Quartz surfacing is made from raw quartz crystals. After being mined, the quartz is separated according to size and type, inspected for quality and stored. At the time of production, the quartz and a very small amount of resin and color pig- ment are mixed until thoroughly com- bined and then poured into a large tray with a paper liner. In those instances where two or more colors or types of aggregate are combined to make a color,
HANDY N OV E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 4
they are mixed separately with the resin and pigment and combined just before pouring into the mold.
Once the mold is filled, it is moved to the vibrocompaction area, where massive presses squeeze the material to roughly half its original thickness. At the same time, a vacuum is applied and the mold vibrated to evacuate the air. Curing is further accelerated by moving the mold with its compressed load into an oven, where it is baked at 100 degrees Celsius for almost half an hour. Then it enters a special chamber where is it air-cooled to room temperature. When it reaches ambient temperature, the product is fully cured and ready for calibration (thicknessing) and polishing.
Because of its unique manufactur- ing process, quartz surfacing possesses qualities not found in other natural, engineered or synthetic materials.
PHOTOS BY SCOTT JACOBSON AND COURTESY COSENTINO
After a process of vacuum forming and vibration, compacted slabs of ground quartz and resins are cured at a high temperature to create strong yet flexible sheets of engineered material.
Quartz surfaces are available in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Some styles offer small grains of quartz; oth- ers use large , highly reflective pieces to create interesting effects.
Its properties include:
Scratch-resistance — Only diamond,
sapphire and topaz can scratch quartz; kitchen knives can’t harm it.
Stain-resistance — Quartz surfaces are
nonporous and resistant to stains from spills such as coffee, wine, lemon juice and ink.
Strength — Compared with granite,
quartz surfaces have four times the abili- ty to flex without fracturing, making them less prone to cracking or chipping.
Ease of maintenance — Quartz sur-
faces do not need the regular sealing that most other stone surfaces require.
Heat and scorch-resistance — Unlike
solid surfaces and laminates, quartz surfaces can withstand limited exposure
to heat without burning or scorching.
Despite these advantages, quartz sur- facing does have limitations and may not be right for every installation. For exam- ple, quartz is heavy — it can weigh as much as 16 pounds a square foot — so extra bracing may be required to support the weight of the panels. When you place an order, an authorized dealer will verify whether the area where you plan to install the material will tolerate the load.
Quartz surfacing can also be expen- sive. For example, Silestone costs $35- $94 a square foot installed, and DuPont’s Zodiaq products can run as much as $100 a square foot. When compared with granite, which averages $55-$95 a square foot, solid surfaces (such as Corian and
Avonite), which cost $35-$85 a square foot, and laminate surfaces (such as Formica), which cost $5-$30 a square foot, engineered quartz can seem cost- prohibitive. But when you consider the benefits, the expense may become easier for you to justify.
Stone of many uses
Because of its hardness, strength and resistance to heat and staining, the most obvious use for quartz surfacing is for kitchen countertops. Slips of the chef’s knife won’t scratch the surface, hot pots won’t mar the finish, and the material will never need sealing or maintenance (except for regular cleaning with soap and water).
Quartz surfacing can’t be scratched by average kitchen knives, nor can it be stained by acidic substances such as lemon juice or coffee.
Silestone’s ready-to-install vanity tops bring quartz surfacing into the DIY realm.
Quartz surfacing can be used for wallcoverings, tabletops, shower sur- rounds or even flooring, as shown by this staircase.