You want to stay up with the trends in home design, and you’ve been hearing something about a new countertop product made from porcelain, and you’re not quite sure what to think. Neither were we, so we took the time to do a little research. It turns out that, in the future, porcelain countertops might be a great investment, but as of right now, Explore Granite & Quartz continues to recommend granite or quartz. Keep reading to learn more.
Porcelain is made from a mostly white ceramics clay that is very hard and can be extremely durable in some applications. Until recent decades, most sinks and bathtubs were coated with porcelain or ceramic, for an almost non-porous, stain-resistant, easy to maintain finish. In fact, the biggest drawback still remains chipping, but we’ll get into that.
Because it is a manufactured product, the available sizes of porcelain slabs are often sold as an advantage, and it’s true that it makes installation simpler, with fewer seams and cuts to cover those long cabinet runs. But this selling point is also a negative, and we’ll explain why in a minute.
As the countertop is formed, it’s possible for designs resembling marble and granite to be poured into the form along with the porcelain for results that are aesthetically impressive. In fact, we admit, some porcelain countertops are flat out gorgeous.
They can also be manufactured thin and light enough to be installed over existing countertops. But again, this is a mixed blessing as it can bring up challenges you’ll have to deal with later.
The Pros of Using Porcelain
Of course, porcelain sinks, tubs, showers, and tiles have been used for generations, and there is no getting around its superior stain resistance and ease of maintenance. Both of these are true in their use as a countertop material as well. In fact, if the drawbacks were not substantial, we’d be forced to consider coming over to the “pro” side of the porcelain debate.
Wide Range of Designs
As with any manufactured, or “faux” stone product, they are able to produce a wide variety of designs, and the consistency of pattern and color are hard to match in natural stone. This means, however, that your “unique” kitchen design is not truly one of a kind as it would be in granite.
There is one statistic being touted that we want to get out of the way upfront, a claim that porcelain is 30% harder than granite. While this is true for one product currently on the market, it is not the norm. It also depends on which stone you compare it with. Hardness is not the only consideration however, and we’ll deal with this in the cons. It has to be said that when it comes to scratching and etching from both wear and chemicals, porcelain does well. The lack of porosity makes it nearly bulletproof to stains. The hard, baked-on finish also prevents everyday scratches.
In comparison to any natural stone product, porcelain is lighter. It is easier to work with during installation, and depending on thickness, can be laid over some plywood backed countertops, such as laminate, or butcher block. If weight is a major concern in your installation, this is a big plus.
Ease of Installation
The larger slab size available means fewer cuts and seams. This combined with the lesser weight makes porcelain an easy-to-install product. It is not, however, friendly to DIY installation, for reasons we’ll discuss in the cons.
The Cons of Porcelain Countertops
If you read through the content on most porcelain countertop sales sites, you’ll find the same list of benefits. We admit, it is a durable, and beautiful product, but there are substantial challenges to using it that we believe makes natural stone and composite quartz products superior in home use.
If you’ve ever dropped a tool in a sink basin, toilet, or bathtub, you know that porcelain will chip, scratch, or crack from blunt force. This is partly due to the hardness of the surface. With natural stone products, chips are often easy to repair, or buff out. WIth porcelain most breakage will leave sharp jagged edges and require professional repair to successfully restore the surface.
Fragility During Installation
You will want to make sure that A: your installer has direct experience with porcelain and B: they have a replacement policy for broken slabs. The larger slabs and thinner material, along with the rigidity of porcelain make it fragile during installation, slabs often crack, or break entirely. It is difficult to cut, requiring special tools and considerable skill to get clean, chip-free seams. Seams can also be hard to finish.
Limited Edge Options
With solid natural stone or quartz composite countertops, the edge options are almost limitless. With porcelain, there are currently two: square, or mitered. If you prefer round over, or ogee cuts, you’ll want to investigate other products.
In most cases, porcelain is about the same or a little more than granite, and about the same as quartz. Since it hasn’t been used as a countertop that long, longevity is still to be determined. When the installation is factored in, many installers claim some savings, but our research showed the cost about the same, or a little greater for porcelain.
While we never recommend using return on investment as your primary measurement for any home improvement, it has been noted that porcelain countertops are considered too new and unproven to give them the benefit true granite or quartz countertops provide. In fact, resale values are measurably lower, all other factors being equal, in homes with porcelain countertops.
Many contractors are using the ability to lay over existing counters as a selling point. We note that some savings in demo may be possible, although demolition is not typically a major expense in kitchen renovation.
The concern, however, is based on laying over plywood countertops. Contractors we know have found that double layering counters, with plywood, MDF, or particleboard bases, can cause issues with moisture retention. Water is the most destructive force in any kitchen if improperly managed.
If you are laying porcelain over an existing countertop, please be certain your installers take precautions against moisture retention between the layers, which can lead to bacterial growth, mold, and mildew.
We love getting excited about new home improvement products and we want to LOVE porcelain for its versatility and style. But, we felt that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, so we will continue to offer quartz, granite, and marble from our exclusive wholesalers until such time as we become convinced that porcelain offers a superior value to our clients.