Granite countertops have become very popular in the last decade or so, and in 2012, 75% of new homes in the US boasted this natural stone to jazz up kitchen countertops and bathroom vanities. There are very good reasons why granite countertops have become an investment piece for a lifetime rather than just a worktable. Here are some facts you should know about granite countertops.

What is granite?

Granite is a rock. If you happen to be in California, or near Monterey, there is a good chance that some of the rocks you see are granite. They could also be granodiorite. You will know it is granite because you can see the grains of crystallized magma. The word granite comes from the Latin granum which means (you guessed it) “grain.” Some call it fire rock, probably because it is an igneous rock, which forms from the cooling of molten lava under the surface of the Earth. Granite is lighter colored than granodorite, though, because it is made up mostly of quartz and potassium feldspars, with small amounts of mica and other minerals. Typical granite colors are white, gray, red and pink, with those distinctive dark veins formed by darker minerals.

How common is it?

Granite is actually quite common, which is why we use it for kitchen countertops, buildings facades, tiles, pavements, stairs, and gravestones. You have to dig it up, though. Granite is extracted from areas where there are known deposits of good quality stone. It is classified as a “dimension stone.” This means it is cut from a 40,000 block into manageable slabs with a specific thickness, length, and width. Most quarries that yield the most beautiful granite in the US are in Idaho, Georgia, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and New Hampshire.

Why does it cost more?

Granite is plentiful, but getting at it can take months. The process is quite complicated, and each quarry poses unique challenges to the quarry concessionaire. The biggest problem is shifting literally mountains of dirt to get access to the stone blocks. It may even require the building of roads or tunnels. After that, it takes an experienced quarry manager to extract the stone properly, based on the veining and color of the stone deposit. If the extraction goes bad, it can ruin months of hard work and result in huge losses for the quarry owner. If done correctly, the extracted stone is a thing of beauty that can last a lifetime. This is the reason why it is more expensive than other countertop materials. However, because it s so low-maintenance, you actually come out ahead in the end.

Why bother?

Aside from the beauty of natural stone, granite is remarkably durable. It does not scratch or stain easily, bears up under heavy weights, and weathers very well. It can also be brought to a high polish for ornamental applications for both interior and exterior use.
Granite is especially popular as kitchen countertop material because it imparts a distinctive look to any kitchen. Being natural stone, no two granite slabs are identical, even if they come from the same block. They are just like snowflakes. When you have it in your kitchen, you can truly say you have a unique piece of natural, functional art.

Why are there pits and fissures?

Most natural stone surfaces have some pitting and fissures. Pits are tiny holes, while fissures are vey thin lines that appear on the surface of the slab. This is perfectly natural and part and parcel of the beauty of the stone. Some slabs may have more noticeable pits and fissures, but this does not detract from its functionality or durability. During processing, a clear epoxy resin fills up the pits and fissures to give the stone a smooth and even surface. You can still see them, but they will not cause any inconvenience.

Why choose granite countertops over synthetic countertops?

The short answer is granite countertops are beautiful and durable. No man-made material can equal it. Some people claim that it is the second hardest mineral on Earth, outclassed only by diamonds. This is an exaggeration, as granite typically tips the scale at 6 or 7 in the Mohs scale, depending on its composition. However, even at a hardness rating of 6, it is right next to steel, which is quite impressive.
Because it is so unique, it adds a significant value to the home, and not only in an esthetic sense. Many homebuyers find granite countertops attractive, which is a big advantage if you are planning to sell your house in the future.

Is it for life?

Granite countertops can be for a lifetime, and most sellers will extend a limited warranty for anywhere between 10 and 50 years. However, granite is not indestructible. It can stain, scratch, chip, or break if you really set your mind to it. It is not proof against a sledgehammer, for instance, especially if you strike the overhang. A sharp knife is not enough to scratch it while cutting vegetables, but you can gauge a hole in it if you use a pointed metal instrument.
Granite is a heavy, dense rock, but it still has pores. Granite countertop makers apply a protective coat over the surface to keep the stone from absorbing coffee stains or other liquids, but this layer wears off over time. Regular re-application of a good-quality sealant will keep it looking like new, though.
The best way to protect your investment is keep your granite countertop clean, and exercise reasonable care when using it. Avoid using strong detergents to keep the protective layer intact longer, and place heat-pads when you put a hot pan or pot on it. Clean up all spills as soon as possible, especially if it is acidic such as lemon juice.
Granite countertops that last for a lifetime is definitely possible. Aside from durability, it imparts a classic and elegant look that will continue to look good even decades from now, whatever the current trends will be. Investing in good quality granite countertops is one of the smartest decisions you will make as a homeowner.