Thinking about Quartz countertops for your kitchen? Do your homework before you jump on the bandwagon. While Quartz has been the de facto countertop standard since last year, the tides have quickly turned as a tsunami of industry issues snowballed to cripple the quartz market.
When China whiffs a lucrative industry that is burdened only by its labor costs, it strikes hard and fast. As they did with quartz. The resourceful country saw a demand and they started making quartz cheaper and faster and at a larger scale than other mid to low level entrants and quickly took a $25-30 per square foot material and made it $10-15 per square foot. Demand spiked as major brands were knocked off beautifully by their Asian peers. Prices fell, quartz demand surged and they woke the (arrogantly resting on their laurels) Giant.
Questionable manufacturing and ingredients
With commoditization and price pressure comes the need to cut costs. Many manufacturers use questionable fillers in their quartz slabs, including some ingredients that would not hold up to the elements and were of inferior quality. Further, to avoid the tariffs, some manufacturers were swapping crushed glass for the quartz, which was a short-lived workaround as that quickly became part of the anti-dumping and countervailing suit.
Despite an already ongoing trade war between the US and China, incurring duties of 10%, then 25%, the quartz industry did not anticipate a further whack at the hands of US-based Cambria. The Minnesota-based manufacturer got fed up with the price pressure and filed for anti-dumping and countervailing duties due to unfair subsidies and below market prices of Chinese quartz in the US market. The Commerce Department agreed and thumped Chinese quartz companies with duties in excess of 400% in many cases. Chinese quartz was all but eliminated from the US Market (after some creative loopholes navigated by some companies, that allowed imports to surge during one period before slowing to a trickle.)
Get up to speed on the tariff wars:
Consumers are finicky. Long heralded as the “it” material for its stonelike appearance and cold, glossy feel, consumers are looking for warmer, more colorful materials. While quartz manufacturers have added new color lines, finishes, and aggregate to meet this customer demand, it’s beginning to feel less trendy in appearance and more like your grandma raided the sale section at Forever 21.
Learn more about 2020 design trends here:
Better performing materials
And this brings us to our last reason: there are simply more innovative, durable, and aesthetically relevant materials on the market. Take Lapitec sintered stone, a low-silica surfacing material made from 100% minerals. Lapitec is available in 18 colors and 19 textures, including absolute black and absolute white (which is free of silica). Lapitec is extremely durable and is heat and frost-resistant. Then there’s Durat - an entirely customizable colorful solid surface made with up to 28% recycled acrylic. PaperStone is a durable, warm to the touch, silica-free surfacing material made with recycled paper and a proprietary non-toxic phenolic resin that’s made in the U.S.A.. New IceStone no longer requires sealing and is a good aesthetic alternative to the chunkier quartz on the market.
Awareness of Respirable Silica
Quartz is roughly 90-93% crystalline silica content. When quartz is quarried, cut, or polished for countertops, the crystalline silica creates airborne dust which becomes respirable, hence, respirable silica. Those tiny airborne particles can enter your lungs, creating scar tissue and can cause a number of diseases, including COPD, silicosis and lung cancer. The weakened lung tissue is susceptible to other diseases like tuberculosis. While many engineered stone fabricators are following (and have been following) recently enacted OSHA regulations around the wet cutting of quartz or engineered stone that are meant to protect the workers, those who failed to meet these standards in the past are getting sick. This isn’t going to affect the health of your family and home -- but many consumers are now seeking products that protect the health of the planet and the people producing their countertop.
Learn more about silicosis:
Without mentioning the plethora of other innovative surfaces in the game, it’s clear that the hold quartz has over the Jones households is not as strong as it used to be. Many quartz manufacturers are getting savvy and working to ensure sound practices, transparency, and variability in aesthetics. But consumers are smart. They will research the features they want in their countertop but will also look for products that speak to their values. If you are choosing a quartz countertop, be sure to research the brands and find a manufacturer that you can trust.
Looking for more quartz alternatives? Check out this handy infographic: http://www.caragreen.com/blog/entry/the-ultimate-quartz-alternatives-product-guide