5 Sustainable Countertops That Are Better Than Granite

by Guest Blogger on October 22, 2013 · 14 comments

By Rachel Hulan, ASID, CID

5 Sustainable Countertops That Are Better Than Granite

There is a funny myth out there that granite countertops are the crown jewel; the very best possible thing you could have in a kitchen.  They are considered a sign of quality, even a major selling point for houses on the market.  “New kitchen and bath, with GRANITE countertops!” boast the flyers and advertisements.

Whenever I see that – and I see it a lot – I just have to shake my head, because I know that granite countertops are really not all that great.  Not only does quarrying the stone cause irreparable environmental damage, the stone itself isn’t all that sanitary once it is installed, due to the numerous micro-fractures across the surface; a favorite place for bacteria to build up.  Also, in order to lessen the number of micro-fractures, and prevent staining to the surface of the stone, it is recommended that granite be sealed every year or two, but honestly, who remembers to do that?  Add to all that the higher than healthful levels of radon emitted from several types of granite available in the marketplace, and you have a countertop material that is a lot less appealing than those realtor ads make it sound.

So, what’s a frustrated, countertop shopper to do?  Why not take a look at these five great, environmentally-sound alternatives:

1. Quartz                                

If you love the look of granite, but want to avoid the pitfalls I mentioned above, quartz countertops are the way to go.  Made from abundant quartz aggregate – along with binders and pigments – quartz countertops can mimic the beautiful look of stone, but with a virtually impermeable surface that requires no sealing.  Even the lightest of colors won’t show stains under normal use.  Manufacturers to check out include Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, and Okite.

solid

2. Wood                       

Once the standard for countertops in kitchens around the world, wood is experiencing a comeback thanks to its aesthetic appeal and renewable nature.  Wood countertops are also more economical than most other options.  Although wood mars more easily than most other surfaces, many people enjoy the look wood countertops acquire over years of use, and maintenance is as easy as a light oiling (with food grade oil), and the occasional sanding out of stains.  Inexpensive versions made of beech can be purchased from Ikea, or, for a bit higher end look, Proteak’s FSC certified teak countertops are hard to beat.

wood

3. Recycled glass                      

For sparkle and shine, it would be hard to beat recycled glass.  Most glass countertops on the market are a form of terrazzo.  Terrazo is an age-old method of creating hard surfaces by combining aggregate, such as marble chips, with concrete.  The resulting material is poured into place and smoothed out using grinders and polishers. Companies such as VetrazzoEco by Cosentino, and Icestone have taken this method and replaced the stone aggregate with recycled glass chips, creating lovely, eye-catching surfaces.

recycled glass

 4. Steel

When it comes to durability, ease of cleaning, and sleek styling, steel countertops are tops.  Evocative of the professional chef’s kitchen, steel gives a crisp, modern look to a kitchen.  Although durable enough to last for hundreds, if not thousands of years, your cabinets (and you!) aren’t likely to be around nearly as long, so the fact that stainless steel is also recyclable is an added bonus.

steel

5. Concrete

Whether poured in place, or slab, lightweight concrete makes a lovely, versatile countertop surface.  With the addition of pigment, surface detailing and various types of aggregate, this material can be endlessly customized.  Perhaps one of the biggest advantages is the ability to create integral sinks, which provide a seamless surface transition.  There are many artisans who specialize in creating and installing concrete countertops, as well as some larger companies such as Sonoma Stone.

concrete

Have you used one of these granite alternatives in your home?  What has your experience been? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo Credits: Quartz (Cambria countertop), Recycled glass (Vetrazzo), Steel (Boston Design & Manufacturing), Wood (Proteak), Concrete (Sonoma Stone)

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Joyce October 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm

What about soapstone?

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Rachel Hulan November 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Hi Joyce. Soapstone has pluses and minuses, so it really depends on what you are looking for in a countertop. On the plus side, soapstone is almost completely non-porous, which means it resists stains well. It is also less brittle than granite or marble, so chipping isn’t as big an issue.

On the minus side, it is still a stone that requires quarrying, which means there is environmental damage done when it is extracted. Because it contains talc (which gives it that soapy feel to the touch), it is softer than granite and can develop scratches and dents over time. It also needs regular oiling to keep the surface from getting a blotchy appearance.

I hope that answers your question!

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Granite countertops birmingham al November 4, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Excellent article and I do agree with every single piece of information here.

Rachel’s answer is perfect!

Great job Rachel.

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Leigh Terry November 4, 2013 at 10:52 pm

I agree. Granite countertops may look attrative and durable but there are other types that are equally as tough and adorable. I, however, like the one that can last for a long time and needs little maintenance. Perhaps steel is perfect for my needs.

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Ashley May 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I wish laminate never fell out of favor. People pretend they care about durability, but in reality, in 10 or so years they grow tired of their kitchen and want something more current. At least with laminate countertops, you don’t have to feel half as bad about ruining the planet every time you feel like updating your living space.

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Joss July 21, 2014 at 6:01 am

We have quartz- we already have radon issues living on a shale acre (circa 1872 house) so no granite for us. Plus, granite is not sustainable. I cringe at all the home shows with young kids demanding granite. We put quartz on our island and loved it so much that we used the same product thru out kitchen and baths- I have smacked glass, stainless, etc while loading the dishwasher and cooking and no chipping or cracking. I have spilled natural food colorings all over it by mistake and no staining. We are going on year 3 and I love it!

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Ron & Lisa Beres July 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

Hi Joss~
Thanks for dropping by and sharing your feedback on quartz! We, in fact, were just as you described when we purchased our first home and chose granite. But, when you know better – you do better! I love hearing such practical feedback about quartz b/c it is also so aesthetically beautiful.

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m January 12, 2015 at 8:47 pm

I manage a unit with concrete counter tops, and the are horrible. Not good for any rental. Seal does not last long, any citrus cuts through the stain that was used on the counter tops leaving a horrible mess. Last thing I’d ever have in my home or rental would be concrete counter tops.

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Shawna April 11, 2015 at 3:13 pm

The radiation that comes from granite is so low, it isn’t something anyone should worry about. The radiation coming from smoke detectors is a higher concern than granite, although neither are really worth losing sleep over.

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Shawna April 11, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Also, quartz is a natural stone that is quarried but it is considered manufactured because it is broken down and combined with a resin and pigments. This effectively makes the porosity level excellent for defending against stains.

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Patricia February 18, 2016 at 7:11 am

I can tell you that my quartz in the bathroom stained red when a little paint got on it without my noticing. And quartz is crushed granite with resins so I fail to see the postive environmental impact. And I do seal my granite – and nothing else is more durable.

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Paul Gallagher July 5, 2016 at 5:55 am

I have to disagree with this article entirely.

Granite does have to be sealed once a year.. big deal… and the radon exposure has been disproved over an over again to be any factor of concern.

QUARTZ is a bunch of stones adhered together with plastic. this plastic can be discolored by chemicals and UV rays, it can scratch and chip just like any natural stone. Its made to look like granite countertops but its a manufactured material and will never have that one of a kind mystic about it. stainless will scratch an look like an industrial kitchen in no time.

WOOD???? you want to talk about bacteria issues as well as not being able to handle day to day use… Recylcled GLASS.. this is put together with plastic.. glass also scratches.. go with quartz over glass if you want plastic countertops. I had “Rock Maple wood countertops” on my island.. lasted 6 months before I had to replace the entire island because of dents and scratches… with something that could support a larger granite countertop.. which i should have dome in the first place.

CONCRETE.. this is not a very durable surface and will not handle scratches and etching from some chemicals. All of the products have come a long ways and all have certain looks that can look great but the question is for how long and with how much care and maintenance?

Granite is by far the most durable surface that comes in 1000’s of colors and styles to suit your needs. This is why granite remains at the top of the food chain.

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Eric October 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I recently found your site and am already a fan! I supply items such as glass etching cream and stencils to crafters and wanted to see if you would test some of my products for free in exchange for feedback. Any interest? I will ship the supplies to you all for free with cream and stencils. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear from you! Eric

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