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8 Things No One Tells You About Silica-Free Countertops


(Important Update) Engineered Stone is Out, Silica-Free is In!


As of July 1st, 2024, Australia bans engineered stone due to safety concerns. But fear not, homeowners. This paves the way for a stunning and safer alternative: silica free stone benchtops.


Not only are they breathtakingly beautiful. But they also offer the same level of functionality and elegance you've come to expect. Silica-free stone is the future of countertops, and Master Tops is here to guide you through this exciting upgrade.

But before you dive headfirst, let's make sure you have all the information.




Master Tops is here to shed light on Silica-free Stone Bench Top and ensure you make an informed decision for your dream kitchen.


Let's know more about silica-free countertops. Scroll on!


8 Things to Know About Silica-Free Countertops


While silica free stone has undeniable benefits, it's important to be aware of some of its unique characteristics.


1: Sensitive to Heat

Silica-free stone, while tolerant of hot water, isn't entirely heatproof.

Silica-free stone surfaces do not withstand direct contact with extremely hot pots and pans. Placing hot pots directly on the surface can cause permanent burn marks. Unlike natural stone, the epoxy component in silica-free stone can't be repaired if heat-damaged.

Care-Tip: Always use heat-resistant pads or trivets to protect your countertop.


2: Prolong & Direct Sun Exposure

Another factor to consider is sunlight.

Just like our skin, silica-free counters can be sensitive to direct sunlight. While silica-free stone is generally UV resistant, prolonged and direct sunlight can affect its colour over time. Direct & consistent exposure to UV rays can break down the epoxy, leading to fading and pitting. This is especially true for darker shades.

If your kitchen receives a lot of natural light. Discuss this with your Master Tops design consultant to determine if UV protection is necessary for your countertop placement.

Care-Tip: Consider sun exposure in your kitchen layout. If you have large windows. Then go for window treatments like blinds or UV-protected film to shield your countertop from harsh sunlight.


3: Expands & Contracts

Silica-free stone expands and contracts with temperature changes.

It expands at a much faster rate than other materials. To accommodate this, ensure proper expansion gaps (around 5mm) near walls to prevent pressure build-up and potential cracks. This gap can be covered with tiles or glass mosaics.

Care-Tip: Maintain proper expansion gaps. Allow a 5mm gap around the perimeter for natural movement.


4: Prone to Chipping & Cracks

Silica-free stone is susceptible to chipping, especially on sharp corners.

With proper care, chipping shouldn't be a major concern. However, accidents can happen, especially when using your kitchen as intended. Sharp corners, particularly under sinks where pots and pans are frequently lifted, are more prone to chipping.

Slightly rounded edges can help reduce impact. A full bullnose edge or rounded edge, is less prone to chipping compared to a flat edge with a 90-degree corner.

If a chip does occur, try to keep the broken piece for a better repair job, where the chip can be reattached and polished.

Care-Tips:

Choose rounded edges: A slight curve reduces impact better than a sharp 90-degree corner.

Be Okay with minor imperfections: Small chips can often be repaired by a professional.

Handle with care: Avoid rough handling of heavy objects near the countertop edges.


5: Visible Seams & Joints

Every countertop has seams where pieces are joined together. This is especially true for L-shaped kitchens. Stone companies warn that skipping these seams on inside corners can cause cracks due to heat. So, seams are a must!

Some people want invisible seams, but that's not quite possible. You'll see a straight line where the pieces meet. Don't worry, though! Installers mostly use matching glue and carefully flatten the surface to make it as lowkey as possible. You will have to look really hard to find it.

Pro-Tip: Discuss seam options. A near-invisible line is achievable. Seam placement and color-matched glue finishing techniques can minimize and create a subtle, almost invisible seam.

6: Watch Out for Long Countertop Edges (Overhangs)

While super strong, silica-free countertops can't stick out as far as some other materials (like granite) because they're heavier. If the unsupported part gets too long (more than 30 cm or 12 inches), it might crack and break - that's not safe and could void your warranty.


Here's the key point to be mindful of:


  • For overhangs like breakfast bars, stick to 30 cm (12 inches) or less.

  • Longer overhangs are risky and are not covered by warranty.

  • Talk to your countertop expert (Master Tops consultant) about your desired overhang during the planning stage. They can advise you on the best approach based on the material and design of your countertop.


Remember! A big, heavy overhang is a safety hazard, so it's best to keep it within recommended limits.


Pro-Tip: Plan your design. Discuss overhang limitations with your designer or fabricator early in the planning process.


7: Aesthetics vs. Functionality

Silica-free stone offers a breathtaking array of colours, patterns, and finishes, allowing you to create a stunning visual statement in your kitchen.

Stone countertops without silica have been around for a while, and manufacturers can now create a more natural-looking grain pattern. Countertops with a grain pattern are more popular, which means they're also more expensive. Sometimes even double the price. Remember, you're paying extra for a trendy look, not better quality.

However, it's important to strike a balance between aesthetics and functionality. Consider your cooking habits and lifestyle and the amount of wear and tear your countertops will experience. If you require a surface that can withstand extreme heat or heavy chopping, Master Tops can guide you towards materials within the silica-free category that offer a suitable balance between beauty and practicality.

Pro-Tip: Explore a wide range of samples to ensure you find a style that complements your overall kitchen design, cooking habits and lifestyle.


8: Cleaning and Maintenance

Silica-free stone is generally low-maintenance, but understanding proper cleaning practices is crucial. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Skip the harsh chemicals: Don't use strong cleaners or scouring pads, as they can scratch the surface. Think gently, like you would when cleaning your windows.

  • Soapy water does the trick: For everyday cleaning, just use warm water with a bit of soap. That's all you need!

  • Special cleaners? Not needed: Most brands sell special cleaners, but they're not necessary. Just stick to soap and water.

Basically, keep it simple and gentle, and your countertops will stay beautiful for years to come.

Pro-Tip: Regular cleaning with warm, soapy water is sufficient. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as they can damage the surface.

Zero Silica Stone Alternatives

Due to the engineered stone ban Australia, homeowners are exploring safer countertop options. Here’s a list of zero silica and low silica stone bench tops options you can choose from.


Material

Silica Content

Properties

Silica-Free



Meganite

Silica-Free

Acrylic solid surface, similar to engineered stone but safer (can be rejuvenated, curved, cut)

Neolith

Silica-Free

Toughened ceramic, very durable (heat, scratch & stain resistant, flame-resistant for gas burners)

Corian

Silica-Free

Acrylic solid surface, similar to Meganite in colours and designs

Low Silica



Lithostone

Low Silica

Reconstituted stone (hard-wearing, stain & heat resistant)

Porcelain

Low Silica

Large tile for benchtops (heat, scratch & stain resistant)

Remember: It's always best to consult with a countertop professional to discuss your specific needs and preferences before making a decision.


Silica-Free vs. Engineered Stone FAQs


Q: Are silica-free countertops safe?

Yes, silica-free countertops eliminate the risk of silica dust exposure during fabrication and installation, which is harmful to workers.


Q: Are engineered stone countertops safe once installed?

Yes, the engineered stone itself is safe for homeowners once installed. The health risk is during material processing and fabrication, not from the countertops themselves.


Q: Can engineered stone cause health problems?

Workers who inhale silica dust during processing and installation of engineered stone are at risk of developing silicosis, a lung disease. Proper safety measures like dust control and respirators can significantly reduce this risk.


Q: How durable are silica-free countertops?

Silica-free countertops are known for their exceptional strength and scratch resistance, making them ideal for busy kitchens.


Q: What are the disadvantages of silica-free countertops?

Some silica-free materials might be slightly less heat resistant than engineered stone. It's important to check the specific properties of the chosen material.


Q: What are the benefits of engineered stone countertops?

Engineered stone offers a wide variety of colours, patterns, and finishes to suit any design style. It's also known for its durability and ease of maintenance.


Q: Are silica-free countertops more expensive than engineered stone?

In some cases, silica-free countertops might be slightly more expensive than engineered stone. However, the price difference is narrowing as silica-free options become more popular.


Q: Is engineered stone still available?

No, got engineered stone banned recently and is no longer available in Australia as of July 1, 2024, due to safety concerns during processing and manufacturing.


Q: Do silica-free countertops look like engineered stone?

Yes, silica-free countertops come in a wide range of colours and patterns that can replicate the look of engineered stone.


Q: What are the design possibilities with engineered stone?

Engineered stone offers a vast selection of colours, patterns, and finishes to create a sleek and modern look or a classic and natural aesthetic.


Q: How do I clean and maintain silica-free countertops?

Silica-free countertops are generally low-maintenance. They can be cleaned with warm soapy water and avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners.


Q: How do I clean and maintain engineered stone countertops?

Engineered stone countertops are also low-maintenance. Similar to silica-free, use warm soapy water and avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners.


Q: Which countertop material is right for me?

The best choice depends on your priorities. If safety is your top concern, silica-free is the way to go. If you have a specific design in mind and budget is a factor, consider both options and their available styles.


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