Tips and Resources
Marble Countertop Vs Granite Countertop
Marble Countertop has the most visual appealing surface and can be categorized as expressive material. Marble countertop has a wide range of colors, textures. Coupling with a right finishing, a marble countertop can fit in virtually every type of ambience. Marble countertop does have certain limitations owing to its porosity. There is no sure way of proofing marble countertops against staining from colored fluids, so it is not a good material for kitchen applications. However, marble countertop is the top choice in bathrooms. Nevertheless, the owner should always be prepared to maintain marble countertop periodically.
Granite countertop is created in nature and fashioned by modern technology, making an investment homeowners will never regret. With deep iridescent colors, granite countertops offer unique, one-of-a-kind beauty. Certainly, granite countertop will add character and warmth to kitchen, bath, and other areas of the home with a richness that can not be duplicated in synthetic materials. Granite countertop is second only to diamond in hardness. It is one of the best work surface. Granite countertop is extremely stain and heat resistant. Granite countertops have been widely used in commercial applications such as hotels and office buildings as well as residential home decorations in kitchens and in bathrooms.
Guide to Granite Countertop Installation
Granite countertops are very popular in recent years due to their beauty, durability and increased cost effectiveness of the material after China entered the global stone market. However, granite could also add significant expense to a kitchen remodeling project.
Still, the granite slab tends to be more expensive than the same size countertop fabricated in Formica or tile, but the labor for granite countertop installation is by far a big factor in added expense. Unless you can install a granite countertop yourself, you need to hire a professional granite contractor to do the installation for you. That can be costly.
Installing granite countertops
Unlike many other home improvement projects, you shouldn't attempt to install granite countertops yourself, unless you've already worked as a professional granite installer. For one thing, many of the fine details of granite installation are done at the job site, such as cutting the sink hole, faucet hole, and any dispensers you plan to add. Plus if you were to break the granite, you'd be out of luck.
Generally speaking, the large contractors usually have direct employees who perform the installation to their company's standards. Smaller companies might contract out the installation job without telling you until you have a problem.
While installing a granite counter top in general is not a do-it-yourself job, there are some measures you can take to reduce the amount of labor a granite countertop installer must do to complete the job.
Cost saving measures on granite countertop installation
Here are few simple guidelines that could help reduce the costs for having professionals install your granite countertops.
- Remove the old countertops, sink and the range tops by yourself. The demolition job is a task you could easily accomplish. Clean up the area. Make sure it is free of any unnecessary materials. Have all new fixtures at hand, like sinks and plumbing, so the installer can complete the job quickly.
- A representative from installation company usually will visit your site prior to the scheduled installation to take measurements and get an overview of what's being done. He takes precise measurements of your cabinets and devise working templates for the installation, location of the sink, plumbing, backslash etc. In some cases this is the time you will be asked what kind of edge finish you prefer, such as straight, ogee, beveled or bull nose. Make sure to have everything verified and confirmed during this initial trip to minimize potential confusions and delays during the installation. By the time installation day rolls around, you will have picked out your granite pattern, your slab, and other options. Depending on complexity, installation will take most of a day. The final step your granite countertop installers should do is applying an initial seal coat.
- If you are to purchase the countertop materials from a supplier other than the installer, ask for customized fabrication so shapes, dimensions, edge profiles and necessary cutouts are all made ready for the final installation.
Stone Sink and Bathtub Cleaning, Maintenance and Repair
How to take care of stone sinks and bathtubs is one of the most frequently asked questions in the stone industry. The answer to this broad question is not simple, as different stone materials in different finishes will have different porous features thus require different care and maintenance techniques. For example, as limestone is much more porous than granite, maintaining limestone and granite would be different. A deeply polished surface is less porous than a honed surface so cleaning and maintaining the honed surface is more difficult.
Due to the porous nature of stone, many foreign substances can stain the sinks and tubs if they are not properly protected. Apparently, the longer a stain remains on a stone, the deeper it penetrates and becomes more permanent. Therefore, it is imperative to remove stains as soon as they occur. It is recommended to wipe up spills immediately and do not allow surface deposits of water bi-products such as calcium, salt, lime or detergents to build up on your stone sink.
To clean your sink or tub, use a soft cloth, sponge or soapy nylon brush. Be sure to rinse the sink or tub well after cleaning and dry. Cleaning on a regular basis will help prevent the development of hard water deposits. If you develop persistent stains, try a non-abrasive cleaner such as dishwasher soap, Soft Scrub or a professional stone cleaner which can be purchased from a local hardware or tile store. Keep in mind, NEVER use any acidic tub and tile cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, ammonia, abrasive or soft paste cleaners, vinegar, alcohol, window cleaners or lemon juice. In addition, DO NOT use abrasive cleaning pads such as steel wool, metal brushes or scouring powders.
Marble sinks and tubs typically have shining and elegant finish. Most marble sinks and tubs are not sealed when they are produced. If you wish to make your maintenance job easier, we recommend sealing your sink or tub to protect it against staining or water absorption. There are two ways to seal a marble sink, simply wax or apply professional stone sealer. Both wax and stone sealer are available in home improvement stores. You may consult with sales representatives in the stores to get the best one for your sink or tub. If you do decide to seal your sink or tub, we would suggest applying the sealer at least once a year. Wax sealing is relatively weak, you may want to wax the sink or tub once every month if you choose to use wax instead of sealers.
If what you have is a soapstone sink or tub, you will need to treat this non-porous stone somehow differently. Soapstone is very dense and repels stains really well. To clean a soapstone stone, simply use a damp cloth or sponge with a mild cleanser. Beyond that, you may want to clean your sink occasionally with mineral oil. Soapstone fresh from the quarry is actually a cloudy blue-gray in color. The charcoal color that soapstone is known for comes when the stone is exposed to water, grease and oils. These liquids cause the stone to oxidize, which darkens the stone color and really brings out its natural beauty. The mineral oil actually expedites oxidation of the stone and a monthly treatment will keep oxidation uniform across the entire surface.
Granted, in the past few years, China has become an important exporting country for marble, granite and other natural stone products. It is little doubtful that China is capable of supplying high quality and low cost building and carving stones due to its low labor costs, rich natural stone resources and internationally recognized traditional workmanship.
There are many excellent marble granite fabricators and stone carvers in China. However, a large portion of stone products have been imported to the States by various exporters in China, although they claim "factory direct". Among these exporters, some are large firms, some are one-man business and some even do not exist at all.
With fast growing of international trade, more and more stone dealers, contractors and even homeowners have been ordering or trying to order stone products directly from sources located in China. Most people believe by doing so they would get much better deals comparing to buying from a vendor in the States. That might be right to certain extent. However, this could expose a buyer to great financial risks as the buyer has very few leverages on a transaction conducted between two countries. I have heard of many undesirable experiences and disastrous stories associated with ordering stone products directly from China.
As the first step, you will search for a number of stone suppliers in China through Internet. You don't know anything about them other than whatever they advertised themselves. Then you obtain a number of comparison quotes for the stone products you are in the market for and decide to deal with one of them. Then you sign a sales agreement with the supplier and wire transfer a deposit (typically 30-50%). After the deposit fund leaves your bank, the only things you can do are waiting for production to be completed in China and, praying for the order to be shipped on time and in conformity with what you specified. Finally, you have pay for the full balance before the shipment is delivered to your site.
The problem is right here - you will virtually lose control of the ordering process after sending the deposit oversea. The supplier that took your deposit may choose to proceed in the following three ways:
- They will produce and deliver your marble granite order as per the terms in the sales agreement. This would be an ideal result with a happy ending. You get what you need with great savings.
- They will produce and deliver your order in an inferiors way. This scenario happens quite often. For example, different marble granite and other natural stone materials have significantly different costs. Using the materials with lower costs will generate additional profits for them. When you receive the shipment and find out what you get is not what you wanted, what can you do? Basically nothing. They have your money. They may choose to do anything or nothing. Even if the discrepancy is discovered before the order is shipped, you will still find yourself in a difficult situation. You may ask them to redo the order, but the chance is rather slim. You may cancel the order and demand a refund of the deposit, haha, canceling order is okay; getting money back? good luck. Here is a real story. I know a buyer who paid over $2000 to buy a precious "jade vase". When the shipment arrived, she discovered the vase was made in regular "onyx", which has a value of less than $200. What a loss!
- They will grab your deposit, close bank account and disappear completely. They may change the business name and do the same trick again and again. But you will never be able to track them down. This group of "suppliers" are running scam business and have caused significant financial losses to American consumers.
Therefore, buyers should be extremely cautious when ordering marble granite and stone products directly from the suppliers in China. Here are some important tips.
- Always do some comprehensive researches on the background of potential suppliers in China. This may be difficult to do, but you must do. You may request trade references from their existing customers in America. You may also contact local chamber of commerce in the city where the supplier is located to validate their business nature and credit history.
- If you order is large enough, you may want to pay a visit to China before finalizing the order to meet the supplier(s) in person and to see their manufacturing facilities.
- Make sure to have all specifications included in the sales agreement, the more detailed the better. Also make sure to state "no substitute material allowed" in the agreement.
- Let me give you an example. Italian White Carrara is a well-known marble with high value. There is also a type of white marble quarried in China, namely Beijing Off-white marble or Hanbaiyu, that can have very similar color and textures to the Italian White Carrara. Many suppliers in China, especially carving stone vendors, often use Beijing off white marble to replace Italian White Carrara and argue that Beijing Off White Marble is also called "white Carrara" in English. The problem is that the cost of Hanbaiyu is only fraction of Italian White Carrara. How to avoid this type of trick? Easy, make sure to include "Italian" before "white carrara" and indicate "Chinese version of the material" will not be accepted.
Similar situations also exist in granite colors. For example, there are two versions of "Emerald Green" granite. One is quarried in China and the other has an European origin. They are quite different in terms of texture and price.
- Try to use "letter of credit" (L/C) as the form of payment. It is the fairest transaction methods for both seller and buyer. Both parties are financially protected if they are determined to fulfill respective obligations as set forth in the sales agreement.
- Stop and think again when you see a quote containing prices that are too low to believe. Most scam businesses tend to use extremely low prices to attract buyers or more accurately, the deposits.
- When comparing the quotes you received, make sure to compare apple to apple. Suppliers in China like to use some vague pricing or delivery terms in their quotes so they can impose hidden charges, i.e., increase your costs, later.
For example, you will be surely happy with total costs of $3000 for shipping a container from China to Buffalo, New York, including ocean and land freight, duty and port charges. But wait, there is a line in small letters, saying "shipping costs are estimate only". As the commonly used trade term is FOB, or Free On Board, you as a buyer are responsible for all logistics related expenses anyway; a supplier can quote anything to make their grand total appear competitive. How much truth in that $3000 estimate? Almost none. But I have seen this figure in many quotes sent out from suppliers in China. The average value of a container load of granite and marble is right around $30,000. The duty alone will be almost $1500. Therefore, when comparing the quotes, make sure to compare the costs of goods only, unless what they quoted is "CIF" (costs, insurance and freight, in contrary to FOB) "to-door" delivery.
- It is strongly recommended to place your order with an accredited marble granite stone importer in the States who is dealing with manufacturers in China directly. You may need to pay little bit more (5-15%) for your order, but this certainly will save you lots of hassles and mostly importantly, your financial risks will significantly reduced.
A Smart Investment during the Global Recession - Upscale Home Improvement
The recent economic crisis has caused great casualties in housing market as well as in the broader financial system, making the investment a tough task among average households in the United States. Mutual funds are on continuous devaluation; stock markets show great volatility; and business expansion is lacking directions. Indeed, investing for the future has become a beautiful dream of most middle class families.
However, there is a seemingly small but potentially valuable area where average households could put their cash in. This area is home improvement or remodeling. Particularly, it is predictable that an investment in up-scale home improvement now can potentially yield significant returns on asset value in the near future. Let's use natural stone, a type of traditionally luxury architectural materials, as an example to explain why.
Natural stone supplies in the United States have been heavily relied on importations. China, India, Italy, Brazil as well as numerous nations in the middle east are major exportation countries in global stone industry. Since the crisis began in 2008, market demands for such once considered prestige building materials in world's largest markets of the US and Europe have been shrinking in a staggering pace. This negative industrial situation nevertheless provides a great investment opportunity for the homeowners in the United States.
- Shrinkage in market demand has prompted fierce competition in manufacturing sectors and drove prices down significantly.
Such competition in stone industry is much worse than average as stone industry is the closest sector to the housing market. A large majority of stone factories in China are now operating in less than half of their full capacities. They have to compete intensely for very limited orders available in the market in order to survive. This type of unprecedented market competitions have driven the prices of stone products in almost every category down to a rock bottom level.
For examples, a deluxe hand carved marble fireplace would cost $5000 minimum when economy was booming. It was for privileged few to decorate their mansions. But you can buy it now for a price as low as $2500 delivered, which is not much more than a set of regular wood fireplace mantel surround. You can also get granite floor tiles for less than one dollar per square feet if you need fairly large quantity. These extremely low prices make remodeling homes with natural stones an excellent investment.
- China's exportation stimulus plan has further pushed overall prices of exporting goods lower.
Since the global recession started, Chinese has takes a series of stimulus actions in an attempt to stabilize export business. benefited sectors included building material and stone industry. The most important measure in the plan is vast preferential tax rebates on export transactions. The rebate rate for stone products rate been increased from 6% to 12% recently, providing stone manufacturers additional room to slash prices. Government compensations for exporters in China certainly will be conveyed to the market and benefit consumers in the United States. So it is a good time for American homeowners to take advantages of this type of indirect "Chinese government subsidizations".
- Factory's under-capacity operation enables them to improve quality control and cut production time.
When a factory have significantly less orders than their capacity, they don't have to rush production process. This is in fact a great advantage for consumers in term of workmanship and quality control. We have noticed, comparing to the situation in the great expansion period, the factories in China in general have to a large extent improved their production quality and accuracy.
There is another obvious advantage that the current weak demand can bring to the consumers, i.e., shorter lead time for producing your orders. In the past, it would typically take a factory 6 to 8 weeks to carve a marble fireplace, which can now be cut to 4 weeks in average.
- Weak economy and dismal job market have reduced labor costs in the building industry.
Reduced average labor cost in home improvement market is another advantage homeowners can take during this economic crisis. In addition to building materials, labor is another major part in the overall costs of a home remodeling project. Just like factories overseas are dying for orders, building contractors in the United States are starving for projects. You can always find quality bargains in this extraordinary time.
To summarize, now is a good opportunity for homeowners to invest in the upscale home improvement projects. Comparing to those good times, you can expect to spend a fraction of money to have quality jobs done. The broader economy will recover. There is no question about it. Like gold, marble, granite and other stones are naturally formed. Their values can always be preserved. Their quality will never deteriorate. If you have your home improvement done during this economic trough, the potential appreciation spaces will be amplified when the housing market starts expansion again.
Therefore, home improvement is a great investment idea during such a economic downturn.