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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Countertops: Solid Surface

Next in the countertop series we’re going to take a look at solid surfacing. Solid surfacing covers a wide range of products that share the following characteristics:
  • Man made
  • Non porous
  • Repairable
  • Post-formable

From Corian
Probably the best known brand name of solid surfacing is Corian, which has been around for over 40 years. Today there are many others on the market: Avonite, Gibraltar, Hi-Macs, and Staron to name but a few. Colour and composition are what differentiate these manufacturers from each other, but for the end user they all behave more or less the same.

Composition is typically acrylic polymers and alumina trihydrate, but polyester and other resins are also used. Colouration comes from other minerals, pigments and even ground up bits of solid surface itself. From personal experience, I look for the acrylic based products, and since most manufacturers that once used other resins are switching to acrylic I’d say that my experience is pretty common elsewhere. Bottom line: acrylic is more colour stable and maintains its strength longer than the other resins.

What makes solid surface most appealing is the fact it’s non-porous. Many solid surfaces are acceptable for use in commercial food prep areas because they do not absorb bacteria. Non-porous also means stain resistant, so if you forgot to wipe up the red wine you spilled the night before, you don’t have to worry about it staining.

From Avonite

The colour of each sheet of solid surface is continuous through the thickness of the sheet giving solid surface the benefit of being repairable. A Corian rep I know tells a story about a massive fire in the bar at the Sydney Yacht Club in Australia. The Corian bartop was recovered, and although warped and burned, fabricators were able to straighten it, clean it up and re-install it as though it were brand new.

Of course, most home-owners don’t have to deal with repairs of that magnitude. But for minor scratches and abrasions, solid surface performs equally as well. A little bit of buffing will get out most minor damage, and most can be handled without professional help.

Another attractive feature of solid surface is “invisible” seaming. While it may appear that a solid surface countertop is made from one piece, or even that it was formed from a mould, the fact is there are going to be seams. However, because of the adhesives used and the nature of solid surface these seams are practically invisible to the naked eye. Invisible seams also means there’s nothing for dirt to catch on. In the case of a solid surface sink this is a real benefit; countertop messes can simply be wiped straight into the sink with no ledge to catch on.

From Willis Supply
To take advatage of the post-formability of solid surface, fabricators apply heat, bend the material into whatever shape they'd like, and allow the material to cool. A little creativity allows fabricators to bend sheets of solid surface into furniture, sinks and even lamp shades.

For more information on solid surface check out The International Solid Surface Fabricators Association web site.

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