If you've been following any of the latest trends in home design you know that natural stone countertops are the most talked about product on the market. And the most popular material amongst these products is granite counters: they're elegant, durable, and let's face it, pretty darn expensive. All these traits add to its appeal and it can often immediately double the value of a kitchen or bathroom. But not only does it have a chic reputation, granite counters also have a lot of other practical benefits. They're durable, stain-resistant, and heat-resistant, which means if properly sealed and treated, they'll never scratch, crack, or peel. However, there is a price to pay for such convenience and beauty, so where does this cost come from and, more importantly, how can it be avoided?
Granite Counter Construction
Of course, like all natural stone countertops, granite is constructed by Mother Nature. This not only gives it a one-of-a-kind look, it also guarantees its strength. Therefore, many granite countertops run somewhere between $50-$150 a square foot, not including installation. However, these high prices don't actually pay for the material alone, but instead its chain of construction. Think about the path it has to take: from the quarry to the dealer, from the fabricator to the installer, from its production to its transportation to its final formation. All these handlers have their own skills and they set their own fees to ensure the stone's quality as it's processed: as it changes hands, the slab will never be harmed or broken, which is a feat in itself. Therefore, granite countertops accrue value depending upon their weight, thickness, complexity, and how far it's being transported.
Selecting from the Ranks
Since nature forms these products, granite countertops come in all shapes, sizes, and designs, all of which determines their cost. If it's rare, comes from an exotic country, has complex movement in its veining (if the patterns and swirls are extremely interesting and distinct), and fits today's fashion, it'll be considered a premium product which will have a premium price tag to match. But there're also more budget-friendly options. "Lower quality" products are still high in value and can actually be more durable than premium fare; they're simply less thick and have a standard design. They may have a few pits and blemishes, and if they're very thin they may have to be adhered to special supports before installation, but these thrifty alternatives won't reduce their value. In the end, they still look and act like granite counters, which is all that really matters in terms of any remodel.
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Cost Cutting Installation
Once you've selected the most economical material, you now have to consider the second most important decision: the installation. The main reason natural stone is so expensive is because it comes in solid slabs, which means that installers have to cut, design, and shape a single piece of rock. And though it's crucial to get professionals for this customized work (a do-it-yourself slip-up would be an expensive error), the labor involved in this project isn't easy, nor is it cheap. So a good way to cut some costs is to have it installed in pieces. Though seams may make it feel less elegant, it's cheaper to have the slab cut into 12" inch squares and installed like grouted tile. Not only does this assure less waste, these individual tiles can be replaced down the road if damage does occur (be sure to keep extra squares around in order to match the material when a repair is required).
Upkeep Equals Profit
The more you can keep a product pristine, the more value it will accumulate. So though you may have taken certain shortcuts in terms of selection and installation, it's still important to take very good care of your new installation.
First, since they're often porous, you'll want to regularly reseal the surface in order to repel water and oil based stains.
Second, if you have a softer, higher-grade product, be careful to avoid scratches or chips and have them filled in immediately if they do occur.
Third, it's always a good idea to keep it bright and polished: it helps protect it, hides any imperfections, removes any dull haziness, and gives it a high gloss, which only adds to its appreciation.