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Why Are Granite Countertops So Costly?

You’ve talked and talked about it. You’ve mulled and stressed and thought and considered it. But now, you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and actually move forward with your kitchen remodel.

Whew!

At last.

Now, the big question is: what kind of countertops? After all, the kitchen IS the heart of the home, and as people gather therein, you want to make a statement with those counters!

There are a myriad options, there’s hardwood, quartz, tile, stainless steel, glass, ceramic, and even solid surface.

Beautiful, light kitchen with granite countertops

Beautiful, light kitchen with granite countertops

Though you’ve considered the options, their plusses and minuses, and you’ve come to the conclusion that yes, they’re good options, there remains something at the back of your mind that keeps nagging you, and like the creepy echoing voice in Friday the 13th–you know, the one in the background that surfaced every now and then repeating “Jason. Jason. Jason.”–you too keep hearing a similar whispering voice (hopefully not as creepy), only it repeats “Granite. Granite. Granite.”

There’s just something about granite that “feels” right. After all, granite is the most popular counter material in the United States. It’s beauty, durability, and quality speak volumes.

So, you make a trip to a local fabricator and start the shopping and pricing game.

You’ve found the most beautiful slab possessing just the right color and design that’ll go perfectly in your new dream kitchen.

So the next most logical question you ask is, “How much?”

And then everything goes blank, tunnel vision sets in, and you drop to the ground in a heap.

It’s gonna cost HOW much?

Sticker shock at its worst!

Yes. Granite can set you back, and depending on a few factors, it may even set you back quite a bit more than you had ever anticipated.

So, let’s dive in and discuss the reasons why granite countertops can be so pricey.

Things to Consider That Can Affect the Price of Granite Countertops

Before the slab even arrives at your local fabricator, there are some things that can affect the price of granite.

  1. Granite is a natural stone found in the earth. Before the stone slabs arrive at your local fabricator, they need to be unearthed, or mined. This mining process is referred to as “quarrying.” This is the first important factor when thinking about natural stone production cost. Often, these granite quarries are located in remote areas that can be difficult to access. Some of these quarries may be located in other countries, which means that the granite stone has to be shipped here.
  2. The mechanical properties of granite may also influence its final price as well. What this means is that the stone block that is unearthed must be cut into slabs or tiles for flooring. The harder the granite, the more time it requires to cut and the more energy it consumes. And we’re talking about days that it takes to cut one block of granite, not mere minutes. So, very hard natural granite stones like Azul do Mar can be quite costly to cut. But then again, because these natural stones are so incredibly hard, they can be very long lasting — we’re talking decades and even centuries.
  3. The third factor that can affect the final price of granite is the availability of certain types. Deposits of certain natural stones are extremely limited and only allow for the extraction of a small quantity of material. The investment required for setting up the quarrying machines remain the same. Therefore, to reach a profit requires a higher price than the more common mass market natural stones.

Again, these are just three factors affecting the price BEFORE it even gets to your local fabricator, and these factors will add to the price, which will be passed on to you, the consumer.

Now let’s look at a few factors that’ll affect granite prices at the fabricator.

Contemporary kitchen with granite counters

Contemporary kitchen with granite counters

  1. Design and Color: Believe it or not, granite that possesses a certain color, or contains more “veins” in the stone, can increase its value and price. For example, a blue stone can be one of the more costly of the granites. And if the granite also has more veining in it, it will be more expensive. The pattern can also be a factor. Granite can come in solid, marbled, or speckled. Also, the finish: do you want it honed (matte) or glossy?
  2. Edging: Want a simple straight, bullnose, or knife edge on the final counter? Then it’s not going to add too much to the final price. But, if you want an ogee edge, which is considered a premium edge, it’s going to add a significant amount to the cost. Why? It comes down to the number of times that your fabricator will need to pass the slab through the edging machine. The more times he needs to pass it through, the more it adds to the price. For example, with a premium edge like an ogee, the fabrictor may need to pass the slab through the machine up to five times.
  3. Thickness: Granite is generally sold in 2cm (3/4 inch) or 3cm (1 1/4 inch) thick slabs. The 3cm slab is going to be a bit more in price just for the mere fact that it’s thicker and heavier.
  4. Labor: Just as in any construction type trade, the labor costs can add up quickly. As far as granite fabrication goes, labor costs can include cutting the slab, machining the edges, installation, and sealing the granite. Before committing to a fabricator, find out the costs of EVERYTHING beforehand, including materials and labor. That way there’ll be no surprises–and no fainting spells–down the road.
  5. Other: Most granite slabs fall within 7 to 9 feet in length. So, if your countertop is longer than 7 to 9 feet, your fabricator is going to have to cut the slab and lay the pieces next to each other. This will create a seam and will add to the cost. Also, are you going to want a matching backsplash? This adds to the labor and materials as well.

In a nutshell, the more complicated your design and kitchen layout the more expensive the final cost may be. Special designs may require equipment and care that increases final costs charged by your fabricator. Some colors and patterns are only available in imported stone, another cost to consider.

If going the slab route appears to be a bit outside your set budget, you might want to consider modular, also referred to as prefabricated (or prefab), granite. I discussed the differences between slab and prefab granite in an earlier article.

So, when all is said and done, what can I expect the price of a granite installation to be?

The cost of granite can range anywhere from $10 to $170 per square foot, just for the raw stone. Final fabrication and installation costs can vary between $40 and $100 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the stone (see next paragraph). Again, some of the elements that will reflect on the final price include the thickness of the slab, the type of edge you want (rounded, bullnose, straight, or a premium edge like ogee), whether or not a backsplash of the same material will be included, and the color and design found within the granite stone (blue being the most expensive).

Kitchen with granite countertops

Kitchen with granite countertops

So, though a slab of granite is usually priced starting at around $60 per square foot, prices rise quickly from that point on. For a “moderate” slab, you can expect to pay in the range of $60 to $150 per square foot; for a more “complex” slab, you’re looking in the $150 to $250 per square foot range.

And, please be cautious of companies who are offering to install slabs for less than $35-$40 per square foot. Like the saying goes, you get what you pay for and this price may not include any “extras” such as removing the existing counter, sealing, backsplashes, cutouts or edging.

Installation costs also vary widely and make up 20% to 50% of the total cost of the job, depending on:

  1. Whether you do it yourself or hire a contractor
  2. Type, experience and quality of the installer (independent, retail store, stone yard or specialty store)
  3. Cost to remove existing countertop
  4. Number of cutouts for sinks, outlets, etc.
  5. Choice of backsplash
  6. Difficulty/complexity (Number of corners, angles, bends, seams, etc. – the more, the pricier)
  7. Your location (areas with a higher cost of living, higher demand and/or lower installer competition will have higher overall costs)
  8. The amount transportation and handling required
  9. Whether or not you want an undermount sink (usually $100-$200 extra)

What can I as a consumer do to make sure I’m getting the best deal

Great question!

Kitchen sink with granite counters and matching backsplash

Kitchen sink with granite counters and matching backsplash

When searching for a professional fabricator to install your countertops, you definitely want someone who is trustworthy, transparent, experienced and easy to work with.

Here are a few tips that will help you find the right contractor:

  1. Start with friends and family members. Ask them to refer you to an installer if they have had countertops installed in the past and were satisfied with the work.
  2. Shop around. Shop around. Shop around. We can’t stress this enough. Get at least 3 different installers to bid on your project. This will not only provide you a range of prices from which to choose, but it will also help you figure out which prices are abnormally high or low. Make certain each bid includes an itemized list of the estimated materials, extras and labor required. Remember: cheaper is not always better, especially when your money is going toward an upscale kitchen feature such as a granite kitchen counter. Choose a mid-range bid submitted by a reputable contractor.
  3. If available, research each contractor online to find out their reputation and make certain to read customer reviews if there are any.
  4. Get customer references for a few previous (similar) jobs from each contractor and contact them directly for feedback. Also ask for pictures and examples of each contractor’s previous work from the and even visit their showroom. Questions to ask former customers may include: “Were you happy with the quality of work?” and “Was the project completed in a timely manner and within budget?” Also ask if there were any unexpected or “hidden” costs during the project or in the final cost.
  5. Be certain to ask lots of questions. Purchasing and installing countertops can get quite expensive, so it’s to fully understand all costs and the quality of the work that will be done. Also ask about their contractor licenses, insurance coverage, whether they will subcontract any work out. Also ask the contractor how long the project will take. Though installing counters can be expensive, remember that it is an investment in your home. Once the counters are installed, you will reap the benefits of the durability, beauty and efficiency of a granite counter for many years to come. Your kitchen will have countertops that are beautiful works of art, fully functional and easy to take care of.

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