Porcelain Slab vs. Sintered Stone vs. Ceramic Tile

The newest kids in the countertop department are Sintered Stone and Porcelain Slabs.

We dug around a little on these products to find what we could find about what they are made of, how they are made , how they differed, and any advantages or disadvantage of the products.

Here's what we found:

All the hype about how the materials are a technological breakthrough using advanced manufacturing processes and natural materials is all pretty much just marketing hype, especially when it comes to sintered stone.

What it they are is large format ceramic tile. The "natural" materials used to make the products are the same "natural" materials used to make tile: kaolin clay, ball clay, quartz, feldspar and silica (along with whatever additives the manufacturer thinks will make a better tile).

The "technologically advanced" process turns out to be the old dust-press or dry-press method of forming tile in a press -- just on a larger scale. Absolutely nothing new here.

The larger format does have its advantages, however. Tile up to 5' wide and 12' long can be cut to fit a countertop exactly without seams or grout lines. Grout is what everyone seems to dislike about tiled countertops. Personally, I have had a tile countertop with urethane grout for 14 years, and it still looks brand new. Urethane grout does not stain, nor does glazed tile.

Both materials come in slab form up to 3/4" thick that can be cut, drilled and installed like natural stone or engineered quartz tops. They also come in sheets as thin as 1/8" (3mm) to be installed as a veneer on a substrate (plywood, Kerdi slab, etc.). Sheets (also called "thin slabs" are installed just like tile with a thinset mortar.

The disadvantage is the price. The material is expensive and the labor to install it also expensive. Figure about $100.00+ per square foot. However, as more manufacturers jump into making the material, and installers get more familiar and more comfortable with it, the price should drop. You can buy good quality countertop-rated ceramic tile for under $3.00 s/f and have it installed for under $30 s/f, urethane grout and all, or about 1/3rd the cost of a large format thin slab or sintered stone.

Once it is installed it should be very low maintenance, just like glazed tile. Cleanup with mild soap and water (we use Windex®). You can put hot pans on it without worry, and it is very unlikely to chip or break. But, if you do drop the 14" iron skillet and chip it, there is no good repair. Figure on replacing the whole thing, unlike ordinary tile in which just the chipped tile is replaced with one of the extras you stored in the basement. (You did stash a few in the basement, right?)

We're disappointed. We thought someone had figured out has to make a solid rock slab out of stone rubble. Not so. It's just ceramic tile. Sintered clay rather than sintered stone. Oh, well! For countertops, sintered clay is plenty good enough.

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