A common question for people shopping for granite countertops is “Are there different grades of granite”
This is understandable because you will find a wide range of prices while shopping for granite. Most people equate the price of something with the quality, the more it costs the better it is, but granite countertops do not follow that pattern. Let’s take a look at what drives the cost of your countertop as well as some tips to help you find the best quality for your budget.
There are two factors that are going to determine the cost of a particular granite slab. Quality and level. Some fabricators will use “grade” to explain these, but as surprising as it may be, there is no standard for grading granite slabs.
We will first take a look at some characteristics that determine granite quality and then later we will explain the different levels and why that affects cost. Once done, you will have all the knowledge you need to determine the best value for your countertops, and if you like, come up with your own granite grading standard.
Thickness of Granite
The most common thickness for granite countertops is 3CM, three centimeters or 1 1/4 inch. 3CM is the standard for custom cut countertops and provides the highest strength and durability of all the countertop options.
2CM, two centimeters or 3/4 inch slabs can sometimes be found but are not recommended for granite countertops. 2CM granite would require plywood support on top of the cabinets, which would also require a laminated edge to hide the plywood. If you are looking for a thinner profile countertop you may want to consider quartz. 2CM quartz can span up to 24 inches without support.
Imperfections in Granite
Imperfections are a natural part of granite. They give granite that natural color and character that is a prized part of the stone’s appeal. But major flaws in the stone slab can be a problem. Any quality fabricator is able to identify these problem areas and either work around them or discard that slab for one that better fits the job. Make sure your fabricator allows you to choose the actual slabs that will go into your project and look for problem areas when selecting your granite.
Cracks and Fissures – Fissures are a natural part of granite and look like colorful small lines. They generally form around the boundary of differing minerals and give the stone character. Cracks on the other hand are a problem. Even a small hairline crack can expand over time and eventually make the whole slab more prone to breaking. You can feel a crack with your hand or fingernail. Take a small rounded pebble and tap around the area. Depending on the severity of the crack you will hear a more hollow sound as you tap nearer the crack.
Pitting and Dullness – When any natural stone is polished, some pitting and small dull areas are common. They are part of the stones natural structure and there may always be tiny spaces in the deposits of mineral crystals that make each slab unique. Their presence in no way impairs the stone’s durability but can impact the visual appeal for some people. If you look at the entire slab and notice only one area that seems dull, chances are the polishing process was not done correctly. Compare this slab to others of the same color to see any difference. Rubbing a microfiber towel over the slab can help find rough areas that need more polishing
Some granite countertops that have softer minerals in their makeup will polish to different degrees of shininess. If you absolutely love the color but it is a stone that does not polish well overall, you may want to consider getting it as a honed instead of polished finish. Honed, also called matte or buffed, finish creates a very smooth surface without any gloss or reflection.
Granite levels are not a reflection on the quality of the granite but more the origin and rareness of the stone. In general a granite’s level can be thought of in terms of it’s cost to bring the stone to your area and therefore what it’s price to you ends up being. Some fabricators will use the terms grade and level interchangeably, but level is the standard and is really just the pricing structure that a particular seller uses. In fact, the same color of granite can be sold as different levels by different fabricators depending on what they pay to acquire it. Confusing, I know, but we will make this more clear as we explain.
Origins of Granite
Quarrying granite for countertops is a labor intensive endeavor. The granite has to be cut into large blocks. Explosives can not be used because they would damage the stone. The large blocks of granite are then further cut down into slabs, usually at the quarry, by giant gang saws. A gang saw has dozens of equally spaced parallel blades. The blocks are loaded into the saw and the entire block is cut into multiple slabs simultaneously, a process that may require 40 to 50 hours.
Granite slabs are usually about 9 x 6 feet in size. Each slab is then polished on one side, bundled together with slabs from the same block, loaded into containers, and shipped out to distributors. The slabs are bundled together to ensure that buyers can acquire multiple slabs that are similarly colored and patterned.
In the United States, granite is mainly quarried in New England (New Hampshire is known as the Granite State), Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Georgia, but there are granite quarries located in thirty-four states. However, as far as building materials, most of this granite is used for exteriors and floors due to the predominance of grays, pinks, and whites. Today, most of granite used for countertops in United States come from Brazil, India, Italy, Norway and China.
Rarity of Granite
The most common colors of granite are white, pink, yellow, grey, and black, primarily because of its composition. Quartz is milky white, feldspar is white, potassium feldspar is pink, biotite is black or brown, muscovite is yellow, and amphibole is green. They come in different combinations and depending on their quantities and the rate of their formation, these minerals determine the color of the granite itself. For example, granite with large quantities of potassium feldspar will look pink, while large quantities of amphiboles make it look green.
In the case of some rare granite colors, the quarries are in remote locations and may have very limited quantity of that color combination. At that point the laws of supply and demand go into effect. Since that color is not as widely available as others, the cost will increase as long as that color remains a popular choice.
Granite Levels Summary
But what does all this have to do with a granite’s level? If you take into consideration the labor costs of where the stone is quarried, how rare and limited some granite colors are, and then the cost to ship the stones to their destination, that all goes into the price paid to the importers. Given the price a fabricator has to pay for a slab, those different price points become the price level they offer to their customers. You can really just think of level as the price and it has nothing to do with the grade or quality of the stone. Levels start at one, the lowest price and easiest to obtain, and can go as high as eight or nine for some exotic granite colors.