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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Glasson

alternatives to engineered stone benchtops: everything you need to know

Australia has taken a significant step towards ensuring the health and safety of kitchen stone benchtop workers by implementing a ban on engineered stone kitchen benchtops containing silica from 1st July 2024.


Given it was used in >60% of kitchen installations in Australia in 2023 you might be wondering what alternatives to engineered stone benchtops are available. Let’s look at the reasons for the ban and what your options are moving forward.

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Why were engineered stone silica benchtops banned?

The ban on silica-containing kitchen benchtops stems from a growing awareness of the health risks associated with silica exposure. Silica, a common component in certain engineered benchtop materials, poses respiratory hazards when the dust is inhaled during the installation process, sometimes leading to the potentially fatal Silicosis disease.


Response from the key manufacturers makers in the industry:

Until the ban comes into effect 1st July 2024 you will still be able to purchase all kitchen benchtop products that contain Silica with all warranties upheld by the major manufacturers listed below.


If you are in the middle of a renovation or build and have already selected a benchtop colour/range that has Silica content you should contact the manufacturer as soon as possible for availability as they are no longer manufacturing these types of benchtops and will only sell what’s left in their inventory until sold out.


There is no doubt that this change will cause a temporary disruption to the building and renovation industry whilst this transition occurs. It’s not all bad news though, with the key benchtop manufacturers stating their new and exciting silica free products on their way to consumers in 2024.



What are the alternative products to engineered stone benchtop in Australia?


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Natural stone

Nothing beats the beauty of natural stone, which is why engineered products have emulated the look since they were first created. Every piece is unique and they come in a huge variety of stones and looks. Prices and properties vary dramatically depending on the type of stone selected. Stones like Dolomite come in an incredible variety of patterns and are extremely robust and more affordable. Popular looks like Calacatta Marble can be very expensive and are susceptible to etching in contact with acid due to its porosity. This is poses a high risk if you are an avid cook or baker.


Porcelain

Porcelain is an excellent alternative to engineered stone, though about 30% more expensive. It is very hard but more brittle than engineered stone and needs a substrate underneath. Porcelain is printed directly on top with no through-body colour or veining, so you may notice it’s not real stone where you see edges such as around an undermounted sink.


Porcelain cannot tolerate rapid temperature changes such as hot pans being placed directly on the surface – can crack in these circumstances. It is also UV stable, so perfect to use indoors and outdoors.


Sintered stone

Sintered stone is a already a popular option in other parts of the world and will soon become popular in Australia. It contains no resins, no silica and is extremely hard and durable, stronger than porcelain and non-porous, so won’t stain. Though it can be brittle if knocked hard, it is highly heat resistant and can tolerate rapid temperature changes, so you can put your hot pots straight on the benchtop!


It’s UV stable and resistant to yellowing, so ideal for indoor and outdoor use. Sintered stone can also be manufactured with through-body colour or veining to match the surface. Sintered stone is extremely heavy, so this may need to be factored in during installation.

Sintered stone products are on the way to Australia, so pricing is still not known but anticipated to be higher than porcelain.


How are key manufacturers in Australia responding?


Caesarstone logo




A key manufacturer of engineered quartz surfaces for over 40 years, Caesarstone has responded proactively to the recent ban on silica-containing kitchen benchtops in Australia. Coming in 2024 Caesarstone® has stated they are bringing a new Silica free formulation benchtop which will retain the same ease of fabrication and functional performance as previous products. The new range of benchtops will launch in the first half of 2024 and we are eagerly awaiting to see the look, feel and performance of the new product.


In the meantime, during this transitory phase you can still purchase the Caesarstone® porcelain collection which are both beautiful, have great stain resistance and can be used in both indoor and outdoor applications. For more information click here: https://www.caesarstone.com.au/porcelain-collection/



smartstone logo


Sintered stone smartsone

A key player in the engineered stone space Smart Stone has already given some details on their next generation Silica free stone solution called ‘Sintered Stone’ to be released in 2024. The new range is manufactured by the fusion of raw natural materials under extreme pressures and high heat to create an ultra-dense benchtop that can be used both indoors and out. The Sintered stone collection has the following range:


·        Pure contains the purest white and black, and versatile neutrals.

·        Classic and Deluxe veined ranges, which includes recreations of luxurious stones.


Sintered Collection surfaces come in either Matt or Suede finishes and a choice of edge profiles. All surfaces offer through-body biscuit that perfectly matches the surface colour. Veined surfaces offer through-body veining while book matching is available for selected surfaces. Smartstone Sintered Collection is also highly resistant to stains, heat, chemicals, chips, scratches, mould and bacteria.


With an estimate launch date of March 2024 we look forward to seeing the range and using this in upcoming projects! See more information here: https://www.smartstone.com.au/sintered-collection/



Talostone logo


Upholding their dedication to excellence and Safety, Talostone have also detailed their upcoming Silica free benchtop solution called MinQ Zero technology. Slated to be launched in the first half of 2024. Currently undergoing testing for strength, stain, scratch and heat resistance, Talostone has said some stock should be available by March 2024 in very limited colours/ranges.


Good news is the MinQ Zero range still offers all the colours from the existing range of Talostone products with only a small number of colours being discontinued.

See more information on the new MinQ Zero technology here: https://talostone.com.au/minq-zero



Corian Logo



Corian benchtops offer a great affordable, non-silica option for kitchens creating the look of stone with incredible flexibility and hygiene. This non-porous surface is highly resistant to staining, is UV stable and easily able to be moulded into curves or seam-free edges. The only notable downside is its low heat resistance and propensity to crack with rapid temperature change or scratch if used as a cutting surface. Corian is not ideal for use with a gas stove due to the radiating heat. Corian is easily repaired on-site though, which mitigates some of this risk.


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Should I delay my kitchen renovation in light of the silica ban?

With each of these manufactures on the edge of releasing new products and some products already available, it’s still worth getting the ball rolling on your kitchen renovation now. Be mindful that the process may take longer than usual and information about new products is still emerging. As production slowly ramps up it helps to be in line early to get the benchtop you love.


The ban on silica-containing kitchen benchtops in Australia signifies a proactive approach to prioritising health and safety. At Shire Build, we are committed to using safe and compliant materials in all our construction projects, so if you have any questions or need assistance with your building or renovation needs, feel free to reach out. We are here to ensure your project is finished with the best quality materials and creating a look you love.


If you have any questions or want to start your dream kitchen renovation please contact us today!


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