Natural Stone vs. Engineered Stone
Trying to locate information about stone types on the world-wide-web can be both rewarding and frustrating. Why? Because there are so many conflicting opinions about various topics. Have you found yourself confused by all the stone-related information you can sift through on the Internet? It happens! One such source of confusion is found in the way that companies refer to specific materials. In this article we will make an effort to clarify some of the details, not with marketing terms, but with logic, and then we will discuss some key points about stone-types and why the terminology is less important than understanding each material you consider.
Should I Know the Difference Between Natural & Engineered Stone?
That is a great question! It is a good thing to consider because the definitions that get used on the Internet may not be what many perceive them to be. Additionally, the terms themselves seem to be self explanatory. Because of these factors, some shoppers (and perhaps even new fabricators) end up with a material that is very different from what they thought it was at the time of purchase. Some may say, "If I am happy with the product, why does it matter what term is used?"
Understanding the differences between various stone types brings benefits for anyone that handles or works with it. Whether you are a fabricator or a homeowner, knowing composition and the strengths and potential weaknesses of a particular material is essential. How so?
Benefits of Fabricators Knowing the Difference
If you are fabricating a material, it helps tremendously to know what the material is composed of because it affects the way you process it. Does the material have a temperature at which it changes in some way? For example, will it discolor or weaken if it is exposed to high temperatures? The more a fabricator knows about a material, the better job he or she can do in working with it. However fabrication professionals are not the only ones that need to be informed when it comes to surface materials including natural and engineered stone. Home owners benefit too.
Knowing the Difference Helps Home Owners
Even after the fabrication phase, knowing the composition of a material has benefits. For the home owner that uses the surface daily, this information is key. For example, is there a mineral in the material of which the surface is made that will react with specific liquids that are common in a household? It pays to be aware of things like this because it can have an impact on how the surface looks after it gets even years of use.
It is important to realize that a material's strengths and weaknesses do not depend on what term is used to describe the material. Rather, it depends wholly on the properties of the material; as we have just mentioned. With this in mind, let's take a look at how we define the terms "natural stone" and "engineered stone"
What Is Engineered Stone?
For the purpose of clarity, we define the term engineered stone to be "any material that has stone-like properties that was formed or made using a process controlled by engineers". Another way to define it would be: "A material that is the result of combining stone components with other components and/or engineering processes".
This way of defining the term engineered stone includes many different materials. And we need to be clear here: other websites and professionals may not use this definition for engineered stone. However, our reason for using this definition is: to help clarify your need to know as much about material you are considering as possible. What though about natural stone?
What Is Natural Stone?
This is the term that many materials get put into even though, by our definition, they would be deemed an "engineered" stone. Our definition of "natural stone" is any stone that's formation occurs wholly by natural processes. That is not to say that engineers do not process the material. Certainly, any stone must be quarried and cut. And some natural stone is altered or enhanced by engineers. For example, Travertine is a very porous natural stone. Often times, raw travertine has "pits" or "voids" in it's surface that gets filled in by a process. We would not consider travertine to be an engineered stone simply because it has had holes filled with another material. Again, these details are the reasons why it can be difficult to simply choose a material based on whether it is engineered or natural. The real benefit comes when you get to understand any material you consider using.
Both Engineered Stone & Natural Stone Have Advantages
As we stated earlier, the "term" is not what determines how you must work the material (as a fabricator) or which cleaners work on it (as a home owner). Because of this, each of these stone types have pros and cons. And even within a class, two different materials might require different care or fabrication techniques. Let's consider a couple of examples.
First, let's look at what might be considered "engineered stone" by our definition. We'll compare one aspect of "Quartz" and "Sintered Stone"; namely heat resistance. Both of these materials are engineered through a process. Both contain natural minerals. However, because of the way they are engineered, they have different heat tolerance. Sintered stone can withstand a higher temperature than the quartz. This can make a difference when it comes to how the material is fabricated and cared for. For example, during fabrication, quartz must be polished with a specific dry polishing pad or in a wet environment. This is because the intense heat that is generated during the polishing process can "burn" quartz.
Second, natural stones have differing properties too. Not all natural stone can be cared for the same. For this example, we will compare quartzite and marble. Both of these are natural stone. In fact, they even look very similar. Yet, they are different in their hardness. True quartzite is extremely hard and marble is considered to be "soft". However, since these stones look so much alike, sometimes marble is mislabeled and sold as quartzite. This can cause very significant issues because these stones must be cared for differently. Marble contains calcite and quartzite does not. Calcite is dissolved when it comes into contact with acids that are common in homes. Things like lemon, vinegar, and even wine are acidic. Since quartzite has no calcite in it and marble does, they must be treated and maintained differently.
Differences Go Further Than Natural vs. Engineered
The point is clear. Whether you choose a natural or an engineered stone there are going to be differences within the class that will require more information. Additionally, There are similarities between materials in different classes. For example, both granite (natural stone) and Neolith (sintered stone) are both considered to be "hard".
Natural and Engineered Stone Colors
What about the color selection? Is there a clear winner in this area? Well, simply put, both classes of stone offer a wide variety of colors. Engineered stone continues to improve in the area of imitating the look of various natural stone types; especially in the area of popular natural stone colors.
In closing, when you are looking at a stone that you are considering, either to fabricate or to purchase, be sure you know, not just whether it is a natural or engineered stone, but also the specific properties of the material. This will go much further and help you more in the long run. After all, its not the material's classification that determines whether you have the proper stone, its whether it appeals to you, is durable, and coordinates with your design.