Natural or Engineered Stone Benchtops – What’s the Difference?
Whether you’re building a new home or doing a renovation, deciding on the material for your benchtops and countertops can be tricky. There’s a wealth of different options, from natural stones like granite and marble, to engineered stone, laminates, concrete, timber and more.
Understanding the differences between each material is essential to making an informed decision and finding the benchtop material that is right for you.
If you have your heart set on a stone benchtop, it can help to narrow down the options by deciding between natural stone and engineered stone. Each has a range of pros and cons that will affect the cost, maintenance and what you can expect over a lifetime of use.
So, let’s have a look at the difference between natural stone and engineered stone benchtops.
As the name suggests, natural stone occurs naturally and is subject to minimal processing before arriving in your home. Some common natural stones used for benches and countertops include marble, granite and limestone. Natural stone can be a statement piece on its own, as well as a practical and durable addition to any kitchen. However, different stones come with different pros and cons.
The main benefit of natural stone is the aesthetics. Materials like marble and granite are available in a huge range of naturally occurring colours and patterns, often unique to the area they were quarried in. Because they occur naturally, each type of stone features unique natural patterning with a depth and beauty that is hard for processed materials to achieve.
Natural stone is also incredibly tough and durable. You can expect to get a lifetime’s use out of a quality natural stone benchtop or counter top.
Natural stones tend to be porous, which makes them susceptible to stains from common household materials like coffee, red wine and oils. To avoid this, the stone needs to be regularly sealed to protect against damage.
Some natural stones can be damaged by common household acids (like vinegar and lemon juice) as well as common chemical cleaners.
While granite is extremely tough, other natural stones, like marble, are more susceptible to scratching, etching and chipping. Over time, everyday wear and tear can lead to a patina building up on marble surfaces. While some people find this attractive, adding depth and character to the surface, for others this may be viewed as a disadvantage.
If stained or scratched, natural stone can be very difficult and expensive to fix and if cracked it may not be possible to effectively repair it.
Some natural stones can also be extremely heavy, granite in particular. If you’re renovating a kitchen, this may mean you need to add additional support structures before replacing the old counter tops. And this can add additional costs onto the work.
Finally, premium materials, like fine marble, carry a premium price tag. That means that top quality natural stone can be among the most expensive benchtop materials.
Engineered stone materials, like Caesarstone, are generally made from around 90% to 95% crushed quartz mixed with an adhesive polymer resin. The result is a slab that is stronger, more consistent and easier to work with than natural stone materials.
Engineered stone slabs are incredibly strong and will outperform even the toughest stone, including granite. Engineered surfaces are less susceptible to cracking, scratching and etching than natural stone and are stain resistant (although not stain proof). Since engineered stone is non-porous, it doesn’t require annual sealing like natural stone (although some manufacturers still recommend sealing to protect against staining).
Engineered stone is available in a wide range of colours and styles and tends to have more uniform and consistent patterning than natural stone.
Engineered stone won’t have the depth or unique patterning of natural stone. For people looking for a natural look, this is the major downside. Some engineered stone products aren’t UV stable and can fade and become brittle when exposed to direct sunlight for a long period of time, which means they may not be suitable for outside use.
Because engineered stone slabs are manufactured to specific sizes, you may need to join multiple slabs together to get your desired size and shape. This means visible grout joins between slabs, which can be unappealing.
Engineered stone is also not as heat resistant as natural stone, so it can be damaged by open flames and may not be suitable as a splashback behind a gas cooktop.
It’s important to have a good understanding of the various pros and cons of each different material to ensure you make an informed decision and get the right material for your needs.