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Episode 18 – Things to Consider When Choosing Your Countertop

Discover how you can green your life by building a knowledge base of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. This is Build Green Live Green.


This episode will explore key factors to consider when choosing your countertop.  We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Kim Loftis of CaraGreen.

JESSICA: Hi this is Jessica.

KIM: And this is Kim.

JESSICA: We're here with Build Green Live Green. Today we're talking about choosing a countertop, whether it's for your home or if it's a, you know, transaction top for a desk or restaurant, office building, co-working space, whatever, but what are the factors you consider when you're making that choice for what material you're going to use for your countertop.

KIM: Yeah so, I think one of the first things that people consider is, what is your space that you're designing for, that you're choosing a countertop for. How often do you use it, what kind of functions are you doing there and kind of narrow the products down from that aspect first and foremost.

JESSICA: Yeah so, I would start with, let's talk about a kitchen, because that's the countertop that's probably the most common.

KIM: Universal, everybody understands that one.

JESSICA: Right. And so, I entertain a lot. So, I like to have a countertop that can be banged around on, I like to cook. So, I need something a little more durable and then you've got, you know, Sandy, who, you know, microwaves most of her food or boils it, so, you know, she may not be, you know, having people over every other weekend and having parties.

KIM: Chopping and spilling wine like you.

JESSICA: Right, exactly. Do you remember when we used to sell the concrete countertops and the lady kept complaining that it kept chipping and it was because she threw her wine bottles underneath the counter and she kept slamming the wine bottles into the side of the countertop and it just slowly chipped it away. Anyway, so don't chose concrete if you're an avid wine drinker who doesn't know how to throw bottles away. Maybe avid is not the word. Yeah so you got to think about how much you're going to use it and how you're going to use it. And then I would say the next big thing is probably, you know, aesthetics. What do you want that space to look like, and that's more your wheelhouse.

KIM: Yeah, so from a designer's background, I mean, aesthetics are really going to be driven by whoever your client base is and what they're looking for and I think that the durability piece is going to be driven by aesthetics a little bit as well. But there's a lot of new materials out there that have this matte finish, which is really popular right now. So, we're seeing a lot of trends around a matte finish, more neutral finish. We definitely see some trends, although it's not necessarily a big one in our product line, with the marble veining. We talked about that, kind of, over trend, I would say, in our podcast episode about the trade show that you went to. So, aesthetics is definitely going to play a large role in that. You know, do you want something neutral, do you want something colorful, do you want something that is going to have like some sort of aggregate in it. So, there's tons of options.

JESSICA: And all that depends on what you're doing around it. So, a lot of people make the countertop-cabinet decision together. I mean, I think the appliance has become less important with the tendency towards, you know, that brushed stainless that you see. But, you know, that it's the cabinet-countertop connection, which is really what determines the aesthetic and then obviously paint color and flooring come in as well.  But I would say cabinet, countertop and backsplash.

KIM: Yeah, I would say the first category that we talked about though is going to be the biggest reason that people are drawn one way or another because they're going to want to make sure that they fit into that durability category wherever they fall on that spectrum.

JESSICA: I don't know, I would wonder, I think, people design a kitchen maybe thinking aesthetics first and then, you know, but let's talk about your options and where durability would come in. So, laminate is your entry level.  It's cheap, you can get any color. It's, kind of, seen its day as far as countertops go. However, it is probably the most common surface out there, because it's used in so many, you know, it's such a high volume. But not necessarily what you would want in your home. Solid surface was kind of grandma's countertop, you know, it was that, you know, a lot of people still have solid surface, a lot of people still like solid surface. But the main countertop options today are granite, which we're starting to see weigh in a little bit, and quartz. So, quartz is the kind of go-to surface today and so those really are, you know, most of your options and then some of these new materials. So, when you talk about durability, granite and quartz, your kind of in the same area. So, I would contend that most people choosing a countertop today are looking at a solid surface, quartz, granite or one of these emerging materials, would you agree?

KIM: Yes, I would agree, and I would say that that is across residential and commercial. They're going to be the same as far as the way that those trends move.

JESSICA: So, and I would also contend that if you want color, like something vibrant for a countertop, solid surface or laminate are your options. Obviously solid surface is a lot more durable. So, you would look at a Durat, which is a recycled solid surface, but it comes in those nice vibrant colors. So, looking at a material like Durat for something like that. If you are looking at granite or quartz, you're largely relegated to marble or stone-like looks. There's a few brands that have some more unique looks, but I think a lot of people tend to stay in that white-gray range right now. So, performance-wise how would you compare granite and quartz?

KIM: To each other or to some of the other emerging materials? I mean quartz is definitely more widely used, because it's gotten such a reputation for price. So, I think a lot of people were choosing it because of that. But durability wise they're going to be fairly the same. I think some quartz is going to be a little less durable when it comes to being able to use it outside because of UV resistance and the resins can stain. So, natural stone is going to be slightly more durable than quartz.

JESSICA: So, granite, natural stones, there's a lot of unique natural stones, so, we try to separate you know granite from natural stone. But granite is something that is mined out of the ground in giant blocks and cut into slabs to make your countertop. Quartz is quartz that is mined in little chunks and usually ground down into a powder and then cast into these different patterns. So, quartz is a man-made stone and granite and marble are actually natural stones. Where quartz you can get to look like granite, look like marble, but it is a man-made stone with resin and quartz silica in it.

KIM: And I guess pigments and things like that as well.

JESSICA: Exactly. So, I would say that quartz, you know, from an aesthetic standpoint I think quartz wins out, because you can change the patterning, because you're working with a dust and you can put veinss and you know aggregate where you want it when you're making it yourself. Where granite you're kind of at mother nature's will. So, if there's a swirl in you know part of your countertop mother nature did that, where in a quartz top you know some guy in a factory did it.

KIM: Right, right and I would say one thing that we're seeing a lot, you know, obviously in our showroom because of what we do is you know people that want to avoid materials that are mined and these big blocks or powders like quartz and looking for something that has more of a either healthy profile or a sustainable profile that has recycled content or you know meet some of those other aesthetic goals like the matte countertops that I mentioned before, which would be like a PaperStone or Lapitec and the recycled content like a Durat or IceStone with the recycled glass or recycled plastics.

JESSICA: Right, so I mean I'd always think of like quartz and granite, I think of like if the earth were a human being it would be like removing our bones. That's really what it is. I mean they're you know formed over time, it's a finite amount of material and, you know, we're taking this stuff that was formed over millions of years and using it for our countertops. It's really a pretty nasty industry. When you look at the villages impacted by the mining, when you look at the cases of Black Lung because the dust that's put in the air through these mining practices, be it granite, be it quartz. So, if you're using one of those materials and you really just care about aesthetics, then I think, you know, aesthetics and cost, then you know granite and quartz, well there's a something in every price range for someone who wants granite or quartz. Just know that mother nature is dictating granite's aesthetics and, you know, a company is dictating the aesthetics of your quartz countertop.  So, let's evolve, right, and talk about what other things might people care about that would drive them to something else.

KIM: I think that from a durability standpoint we're also seeing people care more about the health aspect. So, you know, what is going to be healthy within their home or within their office space, hospital, school you know whatever your environment is, something that can possibly break down bacteria or reduce odor. Something that's non-porous that's not going to absorb any, you know, negative or bacterial type materials. Like, a lot of people don't really realize that granite is porous and then you can have some cleanability issues there. So, I think that that's a new trend that we're seeing.

JESSICA: So, you're seeing new materials emerge that are you know stronger and more durable than granite and quartz and I think you're referring to sintered stone and Lapitec in particular. So, you're seeing people want the next level of durability and performance and then I would contend that what we talked about earlier, the mining of these materials is social responsibility. There is a contingent of people out there and by nature, CaraGreen and most of the products that we carry, our ecosystem is those people. But there's a contingent out there that cares about the environment and the impact of materials on the planet and they want to be able to take the space that they spend the most time in and tell a good story. So, I have a PaperStone table. I talked about PaperStone. I talked about how it's a petroleum-free resin and recycled paper. Its paper turned into stone and I can tell that story and you can touch it and you can feel it and it's warm and it's workable and it really is a centerpiece for me to talk to people about what I do at CaraGreen and this is an actual example of it. And you know IceStone is another great example you know a nice stone countertop, you can point to that and say hey these are you know the six wine bottles that we drank at the party last night you know it's glass in a concrete slab. So, it's high recycled content, it's made in Brooklyn, New York. People like telling that story. Durat is another example where you've got a company that's actually looking at taking ocean plastic and putting it into a solid surface. They've got all these bright vibrant colors, but you've got a great story you can tell there too. So, I think there's two groups that I would consider, is you've got this eco-friendly group of products that are doing better things for the planet by repurposing what otherwise would be waste and then you've got products like Lapitec that are taking durability, taking performance and taking human health to the next level. So, I would put those all into the category of healthy building materials, but for a different reason. Lapitec is an evolution of quartz and taking hard surfacing to the next level while considering human health, where those others really, while they consider human health, they're also taking environmental health into their you know consideration of their manufacturer as well.

KIM: And I think that it's our job as you know representatives of these products to really get them out there and tell our listeners about them because we do have you know a base of people who are that eco-savvy consumer and they're conscious about the purchases that they make. But sometimes I think that people have like a stopping point. Maybe they reuse their grocery bags, but they don't really know how to continue that into the design of their home or their office or you know whatever it may be. So, we would love to hear any questions that anybody has about incorporating these into their space. But just knowing that they're an option and exploring them and knowing that some of the more traditional options are maybe not what you thought they were, I think is a good educational piece.

JESSICA: Yeah so I think you know given that you know our listeners are both you know kind of homeowners, but also architects and designers I think that it makes sense also to talk about surfacing or countertop transaction. Whatever surface you're specifying in a commercial setting as well. So, I can't walk into, it sounds like the beginning of a joke, Jessica walks into a bar, but every time I walk into a bar I feel the countertop. You know I'm trying to see what it's made out of and it tells me a lot about the business. Usually if it's a concrete slab I know it's going to be some sort of farm-to-table or you know done a little you can almost tell and then if it's that kind of marbled look I realized okay they're going for sort of maybe a high-end clientele and maybe not so organic and just a little bit different. But you know I sort of judge people by that. But I think architects and designers take these same considerations when they're choosing materials right.

KIM: And I think that they want to be judged by that. That's why the designer is choosing what they choose. Because the aesthetic is going to speak to whatever the you know design is or aesthetic is for the space.

JESSICA: Right and we have seen such a great reception for materials like Lappa tech as an evolution for not just countertops, but cladding, flooring everything you know they're kind of waiting for this next big thing. Please don't show me another piece of granite or quartz, I already have 20 suitcases in my design library that all looked exactly the same. But some of these more sustainable materials especially for architects and designers who are starting to you know adopt this social responsibility as part of their firm or their personal beliefs, you know it's across the board now they're coming out of school with this in mind. They have sustainability degrees. So, they're starting to care about this not just in their own life, but in their work life as well. So, choosing these materials that help tell that story, help validate what they're doing. So, using PaperStone Durat, TorZo is a great surface. It's bio-based infused with acrylic resin, tells a great story.

KIM: And one of our brand-new brands that we just brought on elementAl, it tells a wonderful story as well about recycling. It's made from recycled resin and recycled metal aggregate and they have beautiful colors, beautiful combinations and it can be backlit as well. So, there's some really great commercial spaces that we see using this. Not necessarily all in the restaurant space, which is what we've been talking about the hospitality as well, retail.

JESSICA: Tables, furnishings.

KIM: Yeah so there's a lot of great materials out there that really tell the story that people are looking to tell.

JESSICA: And so, elementAl, is you know, 87% recycled content coming out with a fully translucent line. Their products can you can find those at www.elemental-surfaces.com or you can follow them on Instagram at @elementalsurfaces. So, they've got a great story. Their tagline is “we've got moxie” and I really like that. You know commercially architects and designers are looking for you know more sustainable solutions like we mentioned. Even materials like Plyboo and Koskisen are great materials for surfacing applications. So, you know either the sustainability play where you've got this great story to tell or again going back to Lapitec, you know the evolution of hard surfacing. This is what's next in hard surfacing. So, you know I think they're open to hearing that and they're really looking for new things. How do you differentiate, what's your value add as an architect and designer? You don't want to see another marbled piece of quartz. I mean everybody's got it. So, you know they make choices a little bit differently. It's kind of like they are putting their fingerprint on the project when they do that and they're also trying to represent the wants and needs of the people in that space and what they think they're going to want. So, it's got to be an interesting balance. You as a designer know better than I that you know you're designing a space for this person and you have to pull your own preferences.

KIM: You've got to be responsible for it.

JESSICA: So, you got to pull your own preferences away from what they want to see.  They may not like what you like. So, balancing that, it’s got to be interesting. Fortunately, I think for all of this discussion we have most of these options on our website at caragreen.com and you know for the latest on new options for your countertop or anything else really in your home insulation, flooring, cladding we have all of those things on Instagram and you can follow us at @caragreenproducts or on Facebook, its CaraGreen and on LinkedIn, it's CaraGreen.

KIM: Well thanks for listening, let us know if you have any insight on selecting a countertop. Whether it's interior, exterior, residential, commercial we always look forward to hearing your questions and comments and thanks again for listening.

JESSICA: This is Jessica.

KIM: And this is Kim.

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