Sintered Stone, Porcelain or Compact Surface?
Demystifying the Confusion in the Next Generation of Surfacing
Ms. Jones’ countertop is sintered stone now. That’s right–not quartz, not natural stone. Sintered stone is the category name for the next generation of surfacing, the answer to “What do you have that is better than quartz?”
How did we get here? Glad you asked!
Over the last several years, mineral based surfaces that are formed under heat, pressure, vibration and/or vacuum have entered the market and worked to carve out their niche as the superior material to commoditized quartz surfaces. As quartz gained popularity and became the dominant surface material, it also became apparent that it has its limitations.
There are several reasons the market needs an alternative to quartz. For starters, the slabs are loaded with crystalline silica. The dangers of this substance and the resulting lawsuits are a story we have been following for several years now. Additionally, China flooded the market with cheap products, then Turkey and Vietnam followed suit, and now India is jumping into the mix. Tariffs are penalizing the countries that are subsidizing costs to allow cheap products to supplant domestic (and imported) quartz slabs. Demand shifts from country to country every 12-24 months, like a game of quartz whack-a-mole.
These challenges, common for a category to face once it becomes a commodity, created an opening for a new product category. Another surface had to rise to take the place of quartz countertops. This category can go by several names.
Here is how it played out from our perspective:
Several alternatives emerged in the form of mineral based surfaces, combined into stone-like material with heat and pressure. Cosentino’s Dekton was one of the first to debut as an ultra compact surface. Breton-backed Lapitec Sintered Stone arrived with its moniker early on. Neolith seemed to emerge without a category designation at first, but moved toward “sintered surface” and ultimately settled into the Lapitec camp of “sintered stone.” Laminam referred to their products as “ceramic surfaces.” Crossville, Florim, SapienStone, and DalTile were all touting “large format porcelains.”
All of these variations are appropriate for their respective brands, but the industry wants an agreed-upon overarching category. Granite, soapstone, marble, quartzite are grouped under the “Natural Stone” category. Engineered surfaces, engineered stone, and quartz surfaces all collectively became known as “Quartz.” So too must kiln fired, mineral-based surfaces suffer their fate and land in one category.
There is an argument over what makes the most sense for the category. Lapitec, smartly, defined the sintered stone category as being “formed under heat, pressure, vibration and vacuum” by establishing Product Category Rules (PCR) as part of their EPD process. Since they have the patent on this process, they can technically say that they are the only true sintered stone.
The other brands could have got together and said “What do we want to refer to ourselves as?” – knowing sintered stone should be off the table – but they didn’t. Instead, they all marched along with their chosen category, trying to blaze the trail and own the definition.
Ultra-compact was a good idea, until the fabricators started cutting it and then it just meant “really *&$%# hard.” Ceramics may apply well by definition, but the conjured image of a glossy bowl or Demi Moore throwing pottery does not do the durability of the surfaces justice. Since “sinter” means “to heat” and “stone” is a generic term, the noun “sintered stone” can apply to any of these materials and makes sense as an overarching term.
So we landed on sintered stone and sintered stone landed in Ms. Jones’ kitchen. Whatever its moniker, it has emerged as the next generation of countertop that is healthier and more durable than quartz.