How Natural Stone Compares to Engineered Stone
You will inevitably come across both of these materials in your research for stone surface materials. Stone countertops, worktops, and vanity tops are all constructed using both materials. The availability of each is high. And, there is a nice selection from which to choose in both types of material. Yet, these materials are different and each type has its own characteristics. Let’s explore the topic natural stone vs. engineered stone and see how these materials compare with one another.
Defining Each Type of Stone
Before we begin delving into the actual comparison, we need to identify (or define) what we mean by each term. This will help to clarify the comparison. Why do we need to do this? Because in the stone fabrication industry, there are materials that get described using terminology that can cause confusion and make it more difficult to identify which type of material is being spoken about.
For the purposes of this post, we will define “natural stone” as “rock that is carved from the Earth and sliced into slabs, worked and fabricated by a professional, and made into a surface”. So, in this article when we say natural stone, it a stone that was formed by natural processes and not a manufacturing process. Fabricators and other pros might have shaped, smoothed, and polished it, but the original stone was cut out of the ground somewhere on the planet.
In contrast to natural stone, we will use the term “engineered stone” to mean “any stone-like material that contains a degree of minerals commonly found in natural stone but that was created through a process controlled by engineers of some sort”. Because of the fact that engineers often times use natural minerals as ingredients for hard surfaces, some of the resulting surfaces are referred to as “stone”. To distinguish slabs cut out of mountains from slabs that are made in a manufacturing facility. For the remainder of this post, when we say engineered stone we are essentially talking about “engineered quartz”.
Characteristics of Natural Stone
One of the traits of natural stone is that it is porous. Nearly all natural stone is porous. We say “nearly” because there are natural stone types that are so compact that liquids cannot penetrate the pores of the material. One example of this is soapstone. But, for the sake of this discussion, natural stone is in essence, porous. This is the first characteristic of natural stone.
Porosity allows for liquids to be absorbed by the stone. This can discolor it and leave stains. Because of this, natural stone is often times sealed during processing or fabrication. Some may view the porosity of natural stone as a negative characteristic. However, as we will see later, it can be a benefit.
Natural Stone is Unique
Another trait of natural stone is that it is unique. When we say “unique”, we mean to express that each stone is different from every other stone. That means that even two slabs cut form the same mountain will have variations that make them different. The density, color variation, and even the texture can vary from one stone to the next. This means that a natural stone surface will be one-of-a-kind.
Durability of Natural Stone
Natural stone is also durable. Each stone will have its own weaknesses, but natural stone is durable and is effective when used for home, commercial, and other surfaces. In fact, buildings are constructed of natural stone. Whether it is marble, granite, limestone, or some other variant, natural stone is a durable building material.
Engineered Stone’s Properties
As we stated above, engineered materials are sometimes referred to as “stone” because of the mineral content in those materials. Quartz surfaces contain crushed quartz held together by a “binder”. This binder is often times a resin that makes up 90% or more of the weight of the slab or sheet. Another engineered material is what is referred to as “sintered stone”. This material is made by putting a mixture of powdered substances through a pressure and heat treatment that transforms these minerals into another material. This “sintering” process has been used for many other materials, however it also is used now to form slabs of surface materials used for countertops and other surfaces.
Engineered for Durability
Like there natural counterparts, engineered “stone” materials are hard and this makes them durable for household use. Countertops, wall panels, and even floors are made from engineered materials.
While they are available in an array of colors though, because they must be produced, the variations in color, texture, and pattern are somewhat limited compared with natural stone.
Porosity of Engineered Materials
When it comes to porosity, engineered stone and sintered stone are both non-porous and therefore do not require sealer applications. Does their non-porous nature make them better than natural stone? Not necessarily. Porosity is desirable in many cases. On example is a pool deck. A non-porous material used for this would not allow water to be absorbed. Water standing on a pool deck makes the surface slippery to one degree or another. Natural stone though absorbs the water so there is no standing water on the surface, making the deck less slippery.