Monthly Archives: March 2009

Counter Clicks

Radon popped up again on the online radar this week, with a small-but-constant blip when Web surfers looked for granite-countertop topics.

The new source of interest came on March 14, when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published “Is That Granite in Your Home Emitting Radon?” The article by home-and-garden beat writer Kim Palmer centered on the possibility of a countertop producing dangerous levels of radon in a home, but also noted that it’s rare. (The articles subhed is, “Fears about granite surfaces are largely unfounded, experts say, but a test can quell homeowners’ worries.”)

The article also detailed the Minnesota Radon Project’s recent interest in the radon/countertop issue. The 27-year study of background and residential radon levels, operated through St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., began work in February to measure radon levels in homes with exotic or high-movement granite.

Others appearing in the article include William Llope, the Rice University professor who originally tested kitchen countertops for KHOU-TV’s report last year on the radon controversy, and is now continuing his investigation of granite; and Linda Kincaid, a Saratoga, Calif.-based industrial hygenist.

Kincaid’s writing about granite countertops earlier this year on the Green Building Elements Website drew a response from the New York public-relations firm hired by the Marble Institute of America; her articles noted problems in dealing with granite-shop owners over on-the-spot radon testing, although another of the Website pieces spotlighted California residences where installed granite wasn’t the problem in elevated radon levels.

The Star-Tribune also included Peter Martin, Cambria’s director of marketing, who didn’t believe the radon controversy is a positive for the quartz-surfaces manufacturer.

“Quite the opposite,” he said. “Most consumers don’t have all the information. I worry this will drive them away.”

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

 

StatWatch: Stone Imports, January 2009

   Only three countries – besides one-shot wonders like Caribbean islands with a single-wire saw – managed to get a lift in U.S. dimensional-stone export figures for the first month of this year. China is one; anybody guessing the other two is peeking down the column.

   The following is taken from data collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. “Worked” stone is material that’s been shorn from boulders and blocks, and then cut in standard dimensional measures (such as slabs and tiles) and polished. All figures given are for January 2009 (changes from January 2008 data are shown in parentheses).

 

Worked Granite Value

Total: $71,011,555 (-35.1%)

Sector leader: Brazil @ $26,376,638 (-35.07%)

Backfill: Brazil led the pack at $26.3 million for the first month of the year, but China remains close at $21.1 million; while Brazil’ import value dropped by close to the total sector average, China’s declined by only 18.4%. Italy and India both suffered import-value losses of more than 40%.

Worked Granite Volume

Total: 77,747 metric tons (-38.53%)

Sector leader: Brazil @ 30,786 metric tons (-35.83%)

Backfill: Nobody started the year off on a positive note when it came to tonnage. China showed the least damage, with its 25,304 metric tons showing “only” a 23.5% loss from January 2008. Italy’s 7,425 metric tons is just about half its shipments of a year ago.

Worked Marble Value

Total: $17,286,968 (-29.13%)

Sector leader: Italy @ $7,856,191 (-21.26%)

Backfill: China actually gained 5.58% in import value with its $3.44 million – a rarity among all stone-exporting countries. Spain’s January 2009 numbers, meanwhile, fell through the floor, with its $1.18 million representing a 69.66% decline from the previous year.

Worked Marble Volume

Total: 14,536 metric tons (+23.21%)

Sector leader: China @ 4,358 metric tons (+34.3%)

Backfill: As it did last fall, China continues to best itself from previous-year performance by at least 30%. All other major marble exporters saw U.S. deliveries fall by 20%-25% — with the exception of Spain’s 64.62% drop-off.

Travertine Value

Total: $22,545,878 (-40.71%)

Sector leader: Turkey @ $15,439,236 (-36.97%)

Backfill: Turkey still controls two-thirds of the market – at least in import value – but it suffered as much as any exporting country. Well, except for China, where the $1 million sent stateside showed only a 10-percent drop from January 2008.

Travertine Volume

Total: 34,668 metric tons (-42.69%)

Sector leader: Turkey @ 27,528 metric tons (-38.41%)

Backfill: Nobody’s trying to make up in volume what they’re losing in price, as most major players here drop shipments by a third or better from January 2008. China fares a bit better with a 28.9% decline – but they only sent 933 metric tons to U.S. ports this January.

Other Calcareous Value

Total: $12,236,053 (-32.92)

Sector leader: Italy @ $2,163,266 (-28.35%)

Backfill: Lebanon swings back into high gear here, as its $1.51 million in stone marks a 118.4% increase from January 2008. Portugal, with a more-modest growth of 3.31%, sent in $1.53 million and squeaks into second place behind Italy.

Slate Value

Total: $5,125,055 (-41.15%)

Sector leader: China @ $2,615,848 (-29.5%)

Backfill: The seesaw race for top supplier is swinging to China, as India posted a monthly total of $1.8 million – down 48.5% from January 2008. Brazil suffered the least with a 22.7% drop in slate exports to the United States this January, but it’s a distant third at $497,428.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from them, either.

Granite DIY, Ay-Yi-Yi….

   From the day I saw a slab of Baltic Brown sitting at the entrance to the local Home Depot, I knew it would come to this:  Granite countertops as a weekend project.

   No, people aren’t hauling out the Skil saws to slice up a slab and slap in a kitchen and poolside wet bar – at least not yet. The attraction for some handy-around-the-house types is stone tile, generally considered more of the cut-rate solution for granite and marble tops.

   This will get a boost from a DIY column posted on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Website this week. With the enticing title of, “You can install granite over Corian® counters,” the Sweat Equity feature from brothers Bill and Kevin Burnett notes how current tops can stay in place. Just sand, clean, and – presto – you can start installing that granite countertop you’ve always wanted.

   I’m not going to take issue with the Burnetts (and their third brother, Bryan, who did one of these tile overlays in his own home) about whether it’s possible to do this. It’s certainly feasible, and could easily be a standard request in the Flagston Job Jar from the old comic Hi and Lois.

   But, as the stone professionals reading this are nodding in agreement, there’s a catch. In fact, there a few big items that the Burnetts didn’t tackle. I recognize that they don’t have a huge amount of space in a newspaper column to explain some of the finer points. 

   So, for the DIYers who’ve stumbled on this before attacking their kitchen tops, let’s do a quick rundown.

   For one thing – one big thing – there’s the backsplash. Unless it’s one of the quickest and sloppiest installations of Corian (which isn’t likely, and we’ll get back to that) in the realm of oxygen-breathers, you’ll have a nice one at the back of your countertop. 

   Unlike the simple zip cuts for the layout of the tops, the backsplash is probably going to require some fairly fine miter cuts when encountering corners. Getting straight, thin and unbroken cuts for the tops of the splashes won’t be a treat, either.

   The Chronicle column also noted that sinks shouldn’t be a problem as long as it “remains in the same place.” A problem-free tile-over, though, requires that you’re putting in a top-mount (or drop-in) sink. 

   An undermount (or rimless) sink, meanwhile, is a lost cause, because there’s no way you’ll be able to tile over the Corian rim. Popping in a top-mount sink isn’t necessarily the answer, because you’ll find it nearly impossible to match the sink’s fixture holes with the pre-drilled holes in the Corian. And the whole unit better fit in the hole cut for the original undermount model.

   If you deal with the backspash – most likely by removing the Corian pieces and wall-installing the tile – and can perform a like-for-like transfer of the sink, there’s still the aesthetic problem of amplification, or what I call the Stone Slipcover Syndrome.

   By installing the stone tile directly atop the Corian, you’ve increased the dimensions by the thickness of the tile. Admittedly, it’s only a half-inch or less, but it’s a dimensional offset for cabinets and kitchen appliances; make sure that you have enough free space to fully open your refrigerator doors, for example, before you start tiling away.

   If the original counter had any problems as far as a level surface, the tile won’t fix them. You’ll probably find what was a bit of a nagging thing is now much worse. Luckily, if this is truly Corian you’ve covered, you shouldn’t encounter this; DuPont, Corian’s manufacturer, is picky about quality and requires installer training. If it’s another surface you’re tiling … well, good luck.

   Remember, too, that DIY tiling jobs tend to be ones with the fewest cuts for fancy fits, and mainly right-angle corners and edges. It’s the bane of the slipcover look (which also includes some granite slab and panel jobs, I should add) where you’re not going to have those nice rounded bullnoses and swank, curvy ogee edges.

   So, yes, you can install granite right on top of Corian, but don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be a quick and simple job. If you’re uncertain about anything, do yourself a favor; call in a pro and at least get a quote. Going DIY could be a good answer … but don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be the cheapest.

 

   — Emerson Schwartzkopf

 

    You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at Stone Business Online, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

    

    The advertisements that appear on this page are placed by wordpress.com, and constitute no endorsement of the products or services. And I don’t get a dime from any of them, either.