The Pros and Cons of Engineered Stone for Stonemasonry Jobs

Engineered stone has become popular in the stone industry due to its durability and aesthetic appeal. This blog will examine the advantages and disadvantages of using engineered stone in stonemasonry jobs. On the positive side, engineered stone offers consistent quality, a wide range of colours, and resistance to stains and scratches, making it ideal for high-traffic areas. 

However, it has drawbacks, such as the potential for heat damage, the need for professional installation, and higher costs than natural stone. Understanding these pros and cons of engineered stone is crucial for making informed decisions in stonemasonry projects.

Key Takeaways

  • Engineered stone is highly durable and aesthetically versatile, making it a popular choice for various applications.

  • The high silica content in engineered stone poses serious health risks, leading to increased regulations and safety measures.

  • Engineered stone’s susceptibility to heat damage requires additional precautions during use.

  • Despite higher initial costs, engineered stone offers long-term benefits with proper maintenance and professional installation.

What is the Engineered Stone Industry?

What is the Engineered Stone Industry?

Image Source: Building connection

The engineered stone industry in Australia is a significant segment of the broader construction and home renovation markets. Engineered stone, a composite material of crushed stone bound together by an adhesive, typically polymer resin, is highly valued for its durability, aesthetic appeal, and versatility. The industry has grown substantially, driven by increasing demand for durable and low-maintenance residential and commercial application materials.

According to a report by 6Wresearch, the Australian engineered stone market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7% from 2024 to 2030. This growth is fueled by rising construction activities, particularly in the residential sector, where engineered stone is preferred for kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, and flooring solutions due to its aesthetic qualities and resilience.

Applications and Trends

The engineered stone market in Australia is divided into several key segments based on application:

  • Countertops: The largest segment, accounting for a significant portion of the market, is driven by homeowners’ preference for stylish and durable kitchen and bathroom surfaces.

  • Flooring: Increasingly popular in both residential and commercial settings due to its durability and ease of maintenance.

  • Other Applications: Including wall cladding, backsplashes, and other architectural features.

The Pros of Using Engineered Stone

The Pros of Using Engineered Stone

Image Source: The Korea Times

Engineered stone has become a significant material in stonemasonry, particularly in Australia. This blog outlines the advantages of using engineered stone in various stonemasonry applications.

Durability and Longevity

Engineered stone is renowned for its exceptional durability. Composed mainly of crushed stone bound together by polymer resin, it is highly resistant to scratches, stains, and heat. That makes it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas such as kitchen countertops and flooring. 

Engineered stone surfaces can last up to 20 years with proper maintenance. This longevity reduces the need for frequent replacements, offering a cost-effective solution over time.

Consistency in Appearance

One significant advantage of engineered stone is its uniformity. Unlike natural stone, which can vary in colour and pattern, engineered stone is manufactured to have a consistent appearance throughout the slab. 

It ensures that large installations have a cohesive look, which is particularly beneficial in commercial projects where uniformity is crucial. Additionally, the variety of colours and patterns available can match any design aesthetic, making it a versatile option for designers and architects.

Environmental Benefits

Engineered stone can be considered an environmentally friendly option in stonemasonry. Production often utilizes recycled materials, reducing waste and the demand for natural stone quarrying. Moreover, some engineered stones are produced using low-emission technologies, minimizing their environmental impact. 

According to a report, incorporating recycled materials into engineered stone production can reduce the carbon footprint by up to 30% compared to traditional stone products.

Hygiene and Maintenance

Engineered stone is non-porous, which means it does not absorb liquids and is resistant to bacteria and mould growth. This makes it a highly hygienic option for kitchen and bathroom surfaces, where cleanliness is paramount. 

Maintenance is also straightforward; regular cleaning with mild soap and water is usually sufficient to keep the surface looking pristine. This ease of maintenance and durability make engineered stone a practical choice for residential and commercial applications.

Comparison of Stone Products by Crystalline Silica Content

Stone ProductTypical Crystalline Silica Content
Engineered Stone40% to 95%
Sandstone70% to 90%
Granite25% to 60%
Slate20% to 40%
Porcelain14% to 18%
MarbleLess than 5%

The above table highlights the typical crystalline silica content of various stone products. Engineered stone has a high silica content, which is a consideration for health and safety regulations. However, its advantages in other areas often outweigh these concerns when appropriate safety measures are implemented.

Engineered stone offers numerous benefits for stone industry jobs in Australia, including durability, consistent appearance, environmental advantages, and ease of maintenance. Despite the upcoming ban on engineered stone in Australia due to health concerns, its current applications demonstrate why it has been a favoured material in the industry​.

The Cons or Disadvantages of Using Engineered Stone

The Cons or Disadvantages of Using Engineered Stone

Image Source: Building Connection

While famous for its aesthetic and durability, engineered stone has several notable disadvantages that impact its use in stonemasonry jobs; understanding these drawbacks is crucial for professionals and consumers to make informed decisions. 

This section will delve into the primary cons associated with engineered stone.

Health Risks

One of the most significant disadvantages of using engineered stone is the health risks it poses to workers. Engineered stone contains a high percentage of crystalline silica, which can be released as fine dust during cutting, grinding, or polishing. Inhalation of this silica dust can lead to severe health conditions, such as silicosis, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. 

A study highlighted that approximately 575 cases of silicosis were linked to engineered stone in Australia, most of which were diagnosed within the first five years of exposure​ ​. This alarming statistic prompted a nationwide ban on the material, effective July 2024.

Potential for Heat Damage

Another disadvantage of engineered stone is its susceptibility to heat damage. Although engineered stone is durable and resistant to stains and scratches, it does not withstand high temperatures well. Placing hot pots or pans on the surface can cause thermal shock, leading to cracks or discolouration. 

This limitation means that additional precautions, such as trivets and heat pads, are necessary to maintain the integrity of the surface. The risk of heat damage makes the engineered stone less suitable for areas exposed to high temperatures, such as kitchen countertops near stoves.

Cost

The engineered stone cost can be a significant drawback, especially for natural alternatives. Engineered stone is typically more expensive due to the manufacturing process involving combining natural quartz with resins and pigments. The higher initial cost can be a barrier for budget-conscious consumers and businesses. 

Additionally, installing engineered stone requires professional expertise, adding to the overall expense. The table below provides a comparison of costs between different stone materials:

Mitigating Engineered Stone Risks While Maintaining Quality

Mitigating Engineered Stone Risks While Maintaining Quality

Image Source: greenbuildingadvisor.com

Despite its popularity, engineered stone poses significant health risks to workers, primarily due to exposure to silica dust. 

Silicosis and other related diseases have prompted stringent regulations and innovative safety measures to protect workers without compromising the material’s quality.

1st. Respiratory Protective Equipment and Ventilation

Ensuring workers’ safety starts with proper respiratory protection and adequate ventilation systems. Companies must provide respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to all workers who are cutting, grinding, or polishing engineered stone.

Wet-cutting methods and on-tool dust extraction systems significantly reduce airborne silica dust. These measures are crucial since about 70% of silicosis cases in recent years have been linked to engineered stone processing​.

2nd. Regular Health Monitoring and Risk Assessments

Health monitoring is another critical step in mitigating the ill effects of engineered stone. Regular medical examinations, including lung function tests and chest X-rays, are essential for early detection of silicosis. 

Companies must conduct risk assessments for all crystalline silica processes, identifying and controlling high-risk activities. A comprehensive Silica Risk Control Plan, which outlines the hazards and controls in place​, is mandatory.

3rd. Worker Training and Education

Proper worker training and education are vital components of a safe working environment. Trade jobs in Australia require that workers must be informed about the risks associated with silica dust and trained in the correct use of protective equipment and safety procedures.

This education helps workers understand the importance of adhering to safety protocols, ultimately reducing the risk of exposure. Safe Work Australia states continuous training and awareness programs are necessary to keep workers updated on best practices and regulatory changes​.

4th. Stronger Regulatory Framework

Australia has implemented a more robust regulatory framework to govern the use of engineered stone. From July 2024, the manufacture, supply, and installation of engineered stone will be banned unless specific safety measures are in place. 

These regulations include mandatory notifications to WHS regulators for any work involving legacy engineered stone, ensuring that such activities are conducted safely. The framework also requires businesses to obtain exemptions if they can demonstrate that their processes do not pose significant risks to workers​.

5th. Controlled Processing and Disposal

Controlled processing and disposal methods are essential to minimize the health risks associated with engineered stone. Companies must use enclosed processing systems or local exhaust ventilation to capture and remove silica dust at the source. 

Proper disposal of silica-containing waste is also crucial, preventing environmental contamination and further exposure risks. These measures ensure that engineered stone can be used safely without compromising its quality or aesthetic appeal.

Types of Engineered Stone

Types of Engineered Stone

Image Source: Research Dive

Engineered stone, popular in stonemasonry, comprises various materials, primarily quartz, bound with resins and pigments. Understanding the different types of engineered stone is crucial for assessing their suitability for various applications and their health implications.

Type of Engineered StoneCompositionSilica Content (%)DurabilityCommon UsesHeath Risks
Quartz-basedQuartz, resin, pigments90-97HighKitchen countertops, bathroomsHigh risk of silicosis due to silica dust
Polymer ConcreteQuartz, polyester resin, additives50-70MediumFlooring, industrial surfacesModerate risk, lesser silica content
Sintered StoneNatural minerals, sintered at high temp0-15Very HighWall cladding, countertopsLow risk, minimal silica
Glass-basedRecycled glass, resins0MediumDecorative surfacesLow risk, no silica

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Final Thoughts

While engineered stone presents numerous benefits, such as durability, consistent appearance, and environmental advantages, it also carries significant health risks and higher costs, necessitating stringent safety measures and professional handling. As the industry adapts to these challenges with improved regulations and safety protocols, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully to make informed decisions in stonemasonry projects.

Dayjob Recruitment specializes in connecting skilled professionals with top employers in the stone industry. Whether you are a job seeker looking to apply your expertise in stonemasonry or an employer needing dedicated and qualified workers, we have the resources and network to meet your needs. Contact us today to discover how our tailored recruitment solutions can help you achieve your career or hiring goals.

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FAQs

How does the upcoming ban on engineered stone in Australia impact existing installations?

Australia’s upcoming ban on engineered stone primarily affects the manufacture, supply, and new installations. Existing installations do not need to be removed or replaced. 

However, homeowners and businesses with existing engineered stone surfaces should follow recommended maintenance practices and safety precautions to minimize health risks. This includes avoiding cutting, grinding, or polishing the surfaces to prevent the release of silica dust.

What alternative materials are recommended for stonemasonry jobs if the engineered stone is not an option?

With the ban on engineered stone, several alternative materials can be considered for stonemasonry jobs. Natural stone options like granite, marble, and slate offer unique aesthetic qualities and durability. 

Porcelain and solid surface materials like Corian are also viable alternatives that provide a wide range of colours and patterns and ease of maintenance. Each alternative has pros and cons, so it’s essential to choose based on the project’s specific requirements.

Are there any engineered stone products that are exempt from the upcoming ban?

Yes, there are exceptions to the ban on engineered stone products. Engineered stone products that meet specific safety criteria and are proven to have reduced health risks may be exempt. Manufacturers and suppliers must demonstrate that their products and processes do not pose significant risks to workers by using low-silica content materials, advanced dust control technologies, and implementing stringent safety measures. 

Businesses must obtain exemptions from the relevant regulatory bodies by providing detailed safety plans and compliance documentation.

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