Kurt Thiemer, general manager of Stone Systems of South Florida, holds a sample of Silestone, which is made of quartz.
Quarries have never exactly been a green endeavor. But a newly opened manufacturer of quartz and marble countertops is hoping to change that.
From the time it leaves the ground in Europe, Africa and South America, the stone used by Stone Systems of South Florida, a subsidiary of the well-known, Spain-based Cosentino, tries to be green. Although it is not entirely green, the Lauderhill facility, the company's 13th stateside and second in Florida, uses a water reclamation system in manufacturing the countertops, eliminating any discharge. Solar tubing has been installed in the 30,000-square-foot building to reduce the use of electricity.
And what quartz is not used in its Silestone countertops, its staple product, gets recycled for tiles.
Cosentino has also vowed to try to restore the land it digs up.
''It benefits not only the environment but also our bottom line,'' said Kurt Thiemer, the facility's general manager. ``We can be more efficient and pass some of that cost savings onto the customer.''
Until the late 1990s, most high-end countertops were made of marble, Corian or granite, a stone that contains as little as 20 to 30 percent quartz and is therefore softer and more porous. While fans admire its beauty, they bemoan the scratches, stains and repeated treatments needed to seal it. (Thiemer once had a customer say he returned from vacation to find a mushroom growing from his granite countertop.)
Then in 1998, Cosentino entered the American quartz market by launching Silestone.
''There was only Silestone and CaesarStone using very similar procedures,'' Thiemer said. ``Over the last 10 years, there's now eight to 10 of these quartz companies.''
While the material is certainly greener to produce, quartz countertops and tiles have taken off largely because of their durability. Not only will quartz withstand the abuse cooks heap on it, but installation and production is far easier. Quartz and granite countertops, Thiemer said, cost basically the same, between $40 and $70 per square foot installed.
Quartz, the most abundant mineral in the Earth's continental crust, is hard. Only diamond, topaz and sapphire are harder. And 100 percent of what is mined is used, compared with granite, which produces up to 40 percent waste, Thiemer said. Silestone also produces lines with up to 70 percent of its material recycled.
While a variety of quartz companies make countertops, all use the same patented process. The quartz, ranging in size from coarse grain to rock salt, is ground and then combined with bonding agents and color to create a durable, impenetrable surface consisting of 93 percent quartz and 7 percent binder and color. Silestone also adds an anti-microbial substance to prevent the growth of bacteria, Thiemer said.
''When you cut granite, you have to insert a metal rod to strengthen it so when you're installing it, it will prevent it from cracking,'' he said. ``Silestone is 2 ½ times more dense.''
In addition, the uniformity of color makes quartz countertops easier to install.
''With granite, you have directional veining, so when you make a turn, you have veins going the other way,'' he said.
Cosentino USA, which is based in Texas, opened its first Florida subsidiary in Orlando where Thiemer worked while overseeing the three-year construction of the Lauderhill building, which opened in March. Stone Systems of South Florida has about 30 employees. Once it is fully staffed, Thiemer said there will be 50 to 60 employees turning out 40 to 50 kitchens of Silestone and granite a day.
In addition to selling its own stone, Stone Systems of South Florida has contracts to supply Silestone to 43 Home Depots in South Florida. It has also jumped feet first into South Florida building, despite the recent downturn in construction.
It supplied and installed the quartz countertops in HGTV's Islamorada Dream Home as well as the AmericanAirlines Arena. Other projects include the Emerald at Brickell, Paramount Bay and Quantum on the Bay as well as the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. It will also be working on the St. Regis in Bal Harbour, Thiemer said.
Quartz countertops have been particularly popular in South Florida with the prevalence of a more modern aesthetic, Thiemer said.
''When you head north of [Interstate] 595, there's more of a demand for our mountain series. They're earth tones and neutral colors that look like granite,'' he said. ``But when you go south of 595, with all the new construction and condos, it's very sleek and contemporary. Pure white is very popular.''