Episode 41 – What is up with quartz?


In this episode, we will discuss the latest on quartz. We are here today with Jessica McNaughton and Julia Antenucci of CaraGreen.


Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica.

Julia: And this is Julia.

Jessica: This is Build Green Live Green, the CaraGreen podcast covering some difficult industry issues that people don't like to talk about and some fun issues that everyone likes to talk about. So today we're going to be covering one of the more difficult industry issues that people don't like to talk about, but it's pretty topical and that is the shift away from quartz surfaces, quartz countertops towards other materials. We're starting to see this happening now, and you know quartz has been king for quite some time. So we just want to talk about some of the issues that are causing this push towards these other materials.

Julia: Yeah, so we like to joke that our industry is relatively uneventful, but the past year and a half, especially when it comes to quartz and surfacing has been kind of a whirlwind.

Jessica: Yeah. I don't think anyone saw this coming. I mean, maybe they did, but I think people just kind of thought it was going to fall by the wayside or nothing serious was going to happen. But you know, a lot of Chinese quartz started coming into the US market. Their imports increased by 1100% over a few years. And you know, it started to kind of show up on people's radars, most notably Cambria, who then filed a lawsuit; tariffs were assessed. So what we're seeing is these tariffs have had a big impact on Chinese quartz that can be important. And so people moved towards Indian and Turkish quartz. Then those also got tariffed. So what you started to see was some of these fabricators kind of stopped and took a pause, and fabricators and the people that cut these stone and court surfaces. Then they said, wait, these tariffs just keep happening and you know, what are our alternatives?

Julia: Yeah. And you see that with the manufacturers themselves now too. You see a lot of manufacturers diversifying their product lines and their offerings to not just quartz too, you know, sintered stones to porcelains in the like.

Jessica: Right, so we've seen a shift happening slowly. It started to speed up now because of the tariffs. So the quartz demand is shifting to porcelains, and I'm talking about not porcelain tile, but these large-format porcelain slabs. The ones from like infinity surfaces or centered stones like Lapitec or Dekton that are two centimeters or thicker really for a countertop surface. There are some of the thinner ones that are used, but those are usually on a substrate. So you know, we're starting to see quartz shift towards these other porcelains and sintered stone materials, so that has started to speed up. But what really has caused everyone to, again, pause and take note is the attention that has come of late towards respirable silica and the lung disease that is causing too many engineered stone workers.

So quartz is engineered stone, it's a manmade stone. And when you cut it, this respirable silica dust goes in the air and it effectively like goes in and it crystallizes your lungs so they can't expand, so it's bad. And if you dry cut, you see these guys in the driveway with a tile or a countertop on two sawhorses and they're cutting it, they don't have a mask on, that happens in the factories too where these countertops are being made. So if the fabricator is not enforcing policies, if OHSA hasn't come in and done an audit, you may be having people dry cutting or you just may have some of the guy who sweeps the floor not wearing a mask; all that dusk. It's airborne and then they get silicosis and it's a deadly lung disease and it's incurable and it's just now hitting the media.

Julia: I think it was in November, that NPR article when mainstream and Cambria got involved and they spoke to NPR, and it's an issue that everybody's talking about and even consumers. And it starting to have this shift with consumers and to be clear and silicosis has nothing to do with once it's installed in your kitchen. People are starting to care about the workers that are fabricating and installing the materials, and it's a larger responsibility now.

Jessica: Yeah, and I think this has become a huge deal in Australia. This has become like captured the headlines for quite some time over there, where they've been dealing with the issue and even Erin Brockovich got involved over there. And so being the most litigious society in the world here in the US, something like this is being latched onto as the next mesothelioma. Here's the problem. You've got these stone fabricators, maybe they're running a shop, maybe they do $1 million, maybe they do $5 million a year. Maybe they do $400,000 a year, who knows? But if you get one widow that comes in there and says, “Hey, my husband died 10 years ago and he had a lung disease” and they get part of this class action lawsuit, those fabricators could be in trouble. But what's more likely in what we're starting to see is the manufacturers are taking notes because they're the ones with deep pockets that these class action lawsuits are going to come after and say you didn't do enough to make sure the fabricators were protecting their employees. The net of it is all of this together, the tariffs plus the silicosis scare and the potential lawsuits that could come with it, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Quartz is a very scary field to be in right now and people are starting to move away from it. There are some people that are doubling down, don't get me wrong. There are people that are building factories in the US as we speak to manufacture quartz here, but the shift away from quartz, it's not going to be overnight.

Quartz isn't going to go to zero. It's going to continue to be one of the main surfacing materials that are used, but that shift has been escalated. It's sped up, right? People are starting to go to other materials like porcelains, like some of the sustainable options, right? People are saying, I want something that has no silica in it. While you can use paperstone, it doesn't have silica in it. Or you can use ice stone; it has amorphous silica which is non-respirable silica, so there are options out there. We have a whole category that we refer to as modern surfaces and there's actually, Instagram handle at Modern Surfaces where you can see some of these new materials. The centered stones and porcelains have much lower silica content. Some of them have zero silica, but the manufacturers, the big manufacturers, the Cosentino's and you know, the Lapitecs; those guys are focused on innovating and developing with the kind of this anti-silica mindset, which is showing that they care about their workers, they care about that countertop all the way to install.

Because even the guy that's in your house that's installing your countertop, if he has to polish something off or do a field cut, you know he's at risk. So again, as Julia said, there's no risk to you having a quartz countertop installed, but there was a risk to a lot of people along the way. So those issues have become prominent, they will continue.

Julia: Right, they're not going anywhere.

Jessica: I mean if you Google silicosis right now, it's scary what comes up.

Julia: Right, it's like a silicosis lawyer and you go to the website and you think you're on a mesothelioma page, but it's just, you know, these lawsuits are coming up and they want you to file these lawsuits now. It's not going anywhere.

Jessica: Right, so it's kind of– it's a good time I think for fabricators and designers and homeowners to be looking at alternatives that are out there. And there are some really good alternatives, as I mentioned. At modern surfaces, they have a good collection. We also covered several of these topics on our blog and on our podcast. But you know, it's an unpopular opinion with a lot of people. But we do believe the shift away from quartz has begun. We do believe it's been expedited by some of these issues like the tariffs, the threat of more tariffs and also specifically silicosis because litigation is the bane of a manufacturer's existence.

Julia: It's no joke.

Jessica: Anyway, take a look at some alternative materials out there. If you're going to use quartz, go to a reputable brand. We met with Cambria at the Kitchen and Bath Show and they were adamant about their practices and even, you know, DuPont for the longest time, I mean they made fabricators sign an agreement that said, “Hey, you know, I'm going to basically follow your procedures and protect my employees.” And I think the manufacturers are starting to acknowledge their responsibility and own the relationship with the fabricator and the health and wellbeing of the fabricator. But you know, kind of what's done is done and this is not going away as you said. So I do believe that quartz demand may have peaked, but the demand will still be there. There's plenty of room for everybody. As these lawsuits come up, there could be some consolidation within the industry as well.

Julia: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see what this next year holds for quartz.

Jessica: Yeah, and Caesarstone is a public company, so they are filings in such have reference to kind of the industry sentiment on the quartz industry. So if you're interested in, kind of seeing it from a manufacturer's standpoint, looking at Caesarstone's filings and their investor statements is a good place to start. So you can formulate your own opinion even though we like ours.

Julia: Yes we do.

Jessica: This is Jessica.

Julia: And this is Julia.

Jessica: And this is Build Green Live Green.


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