Not layered, not laminated - but a surface material that is solid throughout
Uses: Kitchen/Laundry/Bath Countertops, Backsplashes, Shower Stalls/Walls/Floors, Tabletops, Desktops, Windowsills, Handrails
Solid Surfaces were born in 1967 when Dupont introduced Corian, a synthetic blend of natural minerals and high-performance acrylic, as a practical, inexpensive alternative to granite. The formula was modified in 1968 and has remained unchanged to this day.
Corian was first presented nationally as a commercial bath product at the National Association of Home Builders Show in 1971. Since then, it has become very popular for kitchen counter-tops, tub/shower surrounds, and architectural embellishments. A number of companies have since emerged with similar products.
Solid surface products are formed using two main components, a natural mineral, typically ATH (alumina tri-hydrate), serving as the filler, and an acrylic or polyester resin serving as a binder. ATH is a refined form of bauxite, a type of clay; it is resistant to damage by chemicals, oils, and water; it's stain resistant, fire retardant, translucent, and it resists impact damage, but it still remains machinable.
When a purely acrylic-based resin is used as a binder, the result is a thermoformable sheet that can be heated, bent into a new shape and cooled without any loss of performance. Polyester is used as a bonding agent, with a catalyst such as peroxide, when higher strength is needed.
The mixture is then combined with fillers and additives, and poured into open molds for curing. Castings may be cured in ovens or in open air, but the process is carefully monitored to prevent air bubbles from forming that would cause voids in the surface. Oftentimes this involves the molds being continuously vibrated while cooling.
Some brands use slightly different ratios of minerals to resin, but these differences are minor and do not affect the quality of the material. There are also minor differences in manufacturing techniques. For example, Corian® uses a chemical cure method while LG HI-MACS® uses what they describe as an advanced thermal cure method. LG HI-MACS® is produced in 9mm thickness material as well as 12mm and 6mm. Corian® is produced in 12mm and 6mm only.
Some manufacturers offer products with built-in anti-bacterial protection, designed to optimize levels of hygiene in healthcare environment.
Because solid surface is a mineral-filled material, there may be some slight color variation from sheet to sheet, and while these variations are usually only slight, manufacturers will not guarantee exact match to samples. Some suppliers will provide sequentially numbered sheets to be used in a single installation in order to ensure consistency in a project.
Manufacturers offer these products in several grade levels, which vary by the size of the mineral particles they contain. The higher the grade, the more they resemble granite, and the higher their price. Solid color styles are less granulated and do not resemble stone at all.
Solid surface tops are much lighter weight than granite or natural stone, with ½" material weighing only 4.4 lbs per sq. ft. They are warmer to the touch as well.
These products resist attack by acids, alkalis and water; they also will resist stains as well as the growth of bacteria, fungus, mold and mildew. However, stain-resistance is not absolute, especially in coordinating sinks, which may require frequent scrubbing to maintain their original color and finish.
Manufacturers' warranties generally range from 10-15 years, when properly installed by a licensed fabricator.
Fabrication and Finish
Solid surface products allow for much greater design flexibility than nearly any other material. Layouts that would be nearly impossible with most products are easily fabricated with solid surface.
Manufacturers' of solid surfaces take great care in controlling the quality of both the raw materials and the finished products. The manufacturer must certify fabricators. This requires classroom training and specialized tools not available to the average tradesman.
Fabrication costs can significantly affect the final price. Generally, the more complex the shape of the project and particularly the shape of the finished edges, the higher the price will be.
Solid surface material is supplied to the fabricator in sheets that are ½" thick, measuring 30" x 12.5' or 36" x 12.5'. When used for countertops, the sheets are installed on perimeter framing support built up to 1 ½", and glued with small amounts of silicone sealant. The material must be reinforced with single-thickness wood or tubular steel cross-members every 18", but no substrate is used, and the cross-members need not match up with the sides of the cabinets.
All exposed edges are then layered with strips of surface material, while rear edges are built up with wood strips. A specially formulated adhesive is used for making joints, repairs, or custom edges.
Solid surface material has a sanded, matte surface when it is shipped from the factory. The fabricator applies the final finish that may range from matte to high gloss, depending on the customer's preference. Individual fabricators have their own brand preferences based on their experience and product workability.
All solid surface measurements are taken from outside dimensions, with no deductions for corners. A template is made to use as a pattern. For this reason, base cabinets must be permanently anchored in place before measurements can begin.
Corner joints are normally squared rather than mitered to minimize wasted material and reduce the cost of labor. These seams should be placed at least 3" away from any corner or cutout. All joints should be reinforced with a 4" wide strip of solid surface material and supported by framing to minimize the risk of stress cracks. All cutouts should have rounded edges.
Seams are inconspicuous, giving the appearance of a solid, continuous surface throughout. Unlike granite or natural stone, seams in solid surface should not be placed at sinks or cook-tops.
Backsplashes up to 8" high can be bonded to the countertop by using this adhesive. Solid surface may be customized by adding grooves and recesses for drainage or to allow for storage of items such as soap bars or frequently used tools. Unlimited design capabilities are possible, such as: inlays, routed drain boards, unique edge buildups, different colored borders, coved backsplashes.
Unlike plastic laminate, solid surfaces can have formed edges on all sides, which allows for natural designs with complementary edges, and unlike granite, their seams are virtually invisible.
Set on backsplashes in solid surface applications has a much lower risk factor than their laminate counterparts. Owing to the water resistant nature of the material itself, there is no threat of material damage.
Custom edges, such edging to match the detailing on the cabinetry, can also be done. Keep in mind though, that if the fabricator has to buy custom cutting bits, he will add their cost to the price.
The maximum overhang for solid surface countertop depends on the weight that will be placed on the overhang, but any extension beyond 10-12 inches requires additional support.
Sinks and Cook-tops
Solid Surface sinks and lavatories are sold in coordinating colors and are designed to be incorporated into the top as a continuous unit with no overhangs, rims, rough edges or obvious edge seams. These sinks are offered in matte or satin finishes only, and in a limited number of colors. But each manufacturer offers a different color selection, which increases the choices. (The most popular colors are white or off-white)
If desired, standard sinks (e.g. stainless steel) can be flush mounted on these surfaces or under mounted as they are in granite, but the vast majority of customers prefer the integrated look.
Due to their weight, an under-mounted cast iron sink cannot be anchored solely to the solid surface top, but must have a support frame built into the cabinet by a carpenter.
If a cook top is to be mounted in the solid surface, be sure that there is room inside the cabinet to hold the top and any pop-up vents that will be installed with it. Heat-conductive aluminum tape must be used for drop-in stoves and around heat sources to protect from thermal stress.
Keep in mind that the cabinet must always be wider than the sink or cook-top, i.e. a 30" sink will not fit in a 30" cabinet. How much larger the cabinet has to be, depends on the individual sink and the bracing method used for the cabinet. There must also be ample room available for the faucet of your choice and any other accessories you may select. Your designer will help you decide.
Any item that requires a cut in the counter, such as sinks and cook-tops, must be on the job site before a template can be made.
The fabricator may give the customer a piece of matching material, e.g. from a sink or cook-top cutout. This should be kept in a safe place in the event that it may ever be needed to repair a damaged top.
Care should be taken to purchase your counter-top from dealers that work with factory certified fabricators and installers only. Improper installation of kitchen countertops may void the manufacturer's warranties and can result in damage to other surfaces or areas of the kitchen, such as cabinets, drawers, sinks, and fixtures.
Proper conditioning of the solid surface sheets, as well as any other materials used in the assembly, is necessary to minimize shrinking or expansion. All components should be conditioned to 65-75 degrees F with relative humidity below 45% for 48 hours before installation.
When countertops are installed between walls, 1/8" spacing should be allowed for dimensional movement.
Preparing the site
On new construction, the base cabinets must be permanently anchored in place before a template can be made. On a remodel project, existing tops must be removed prior to measurement. Any sinks, faucets, cook-tops, or any other item that requires a cutout or a hole in the top must be on site and readily available at the time the template is made. The fabricator may need to take some items with him to complete the fabrication.
Please note that any delay in acquiring the accessories may also delay the installation.
Under normal circumstances, the installer will not be responsible for connecting of dishwashers, cook-tops, or plumbing.
Note: do not make any changes to the design or specifications with the fabricator when he's taking his measurements because those changes may affect other elements in the overall design or may result in unexpected cost increases. All changes should be arranged only through your kitchen designer.
Be sure to allow sufficient lead-time for the project to be completed. It will take 3 to 4 weeks to complete the installation after measurements are taken.
Solid surface products are produced in a great many colors, and each manufacturer offers a unique palette across a broad spectrum, giving the customer the opportunity to match nearly any color scheme. Colors range from solid to granular, with the more granular styles more closely resembling granite.
Some manufacturers who make both solid surface and laminates offer colors that are designed to coordinate with each other, allowing the customer to mix and match countertops to achieve greater economy.
Durable but not Indestructible
Unlike granite and natural stone, solid surfaces are homogeneous, with evenly distributed particles running throughout the thickness of the sheet, ensuring that the original color and texture remains consistent regardless of wear. Unlike natural stone, damaged sections are repairable.
Since their color goes all the way through, unlike laminates, minor scratches can usually just be rubbed out. If the scratches are too deep, a matching filler material is available that allows the homeowner to make nearly invisible repairs.
While it is possible to damage the surface, there is almost no damage that might be considered to be permanent, since the surface can be sanded and refinished.
For countertops with a gloss finish, it's best to contact the dealer or fabricator before attempting repairs.
- Solid surfaces require no sealer. But even though it is stain-resistant, some chemicals such as acetone, strong acids, chlorinated chemicals, or strong solvents such as paint remover can stain or damage the surface, with the extent of damage directly related to the duration of contact.
- Solid surface is not recommended where the countertop may be subjected to prolonged exposure to temperatures above 175 degrees. Extreme exposures and concurrent temperature contrasts will yellow the surface and could result in seam failure or surface cracks. Always run cold water when pouring boiling water into a solid surface sink.
- Do not place toasters, toaster ovens or electric fry pans directly over seams. The top will probably take the heat, but the seams could pop loose with excess heat. Hot pans and heat-producing appliances (frying pans, baking pans, electric skillets, crock-pots, coffee pots, etc.) must be placed on a trivet with legs.
- Do not use a solid surface top as a cutting board. The surface can be cut, and it will leave a white residue where the acrylic surface is broken. While the homeowner can usually sand these scratches out, in order to keep the repairs from showing unevenness in the finish, the entire top may have to be sanded. If the cuts are too deep, simple sanding cannot repair them and a professional service technician will have to be called in.
- Extended exposure to chemicals and solvents such as oven, metal, and drain cleaners can whiten, discolor or otherwise damage the surface, and can be difficult to remove.
A damp cloth and mild soap is usually all that is required to clean a solid surface countertop. Non-abrasive household cleaners such as Fantastik® and Formula 409® may also be used.
Surfaces with gloss and semi-gloss finishes may require more maintenance than matte or satin finishes, as will darker colors. Countertop Magic is good polish to use to enhance the shine.
Abrasive cleaners (such as Comet®, Soft Scrub®, Bon Ami®, etc.) should not be used on glossy surfaces except for removing tough stains, minor scratches and burns.
If you've chosen a matte finish, you can use an abrasive cleaner like Ajax® or Comet® and buff with a Scotch-Brite® pad using a circular motion. The same technique can be used for cigarette burns, minor cuts and scratches. If this is unsuccessful, hand sanding with 400 grit sandpaper will usually work. If that fails, a heavier grit paper with an electric sander would be the next step (not recommended for homeowners).
Troublesome spills and stains, like food dye, tea and fruit drinks can be removed with full strength bleach followed by a general cleaner flushed with water. Be sure and not let the bleach remain on the surface for more than five minutes.
- Scorch Marks
If a lit cigarette should come in contact with your countertop, a nicotine stain or a scorch mark can occur. Simply use an abrasive cleaner or buff in a circular motion with a Scotch Brite pad to remove.
- Cuts / Scratches
For superficial scratches, simply wet a #7448 Scotch Brite pad and rub in a circular motion, then clean with soap and water and let dry. If you want to add additional shine to your countertop, apply a non-wax polish cleaner to a dry surface and wipe clean.
If the cuts are deep and simple sanding cannot repair them, a professional service technician will have to be called in.