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The Quality and Price Differences in the Grade of Granite Counters

Laurie Brenner
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Granite countertop grades are inconsistent across the industry. Distributors and retailers grade granite by its thickness, appearance and mineral content.

Granite countertops fall into one of four tiers: bottom, middle, top-tier, and premium or designer-grade granite. The factors that affect which of these tiers granite countertops fall into include the granite’s thickness; its origin by country; its overall appearance; and the hard and soft minerals encapsulated within the granite. The more rare the granite, the higher its tier. Prices vary by availability, tier or grade, and the region of the country where you live.

Bottom-Tier Granite

At the lowest part of the scale, bottom-tier granite slabs are called commercial or builder’s grade. Bottom-tier granite represents slabs with common markings that may be thinner than the standard thicknesses that range from 3/4 inch to 1 1/4 inch. These thinner granite slabs are laid over plywood backing for strength. Because there is more bottom-tier or discount granite available, prices are much lower than higher grades, and these slabs may contain color and veining inconsistencies too. Builder’s grade granite generally averages $44 to $61 per square foot, including installation and materials, at the time of publication.

Middle-Tier Granite

With a moderately priced granite, you’ll find more versatility and options. Middle tier choices include imports from Brazil or India, and they have better-looking granite, colors and veining than bottom-tier granite. At the time of publication, most of these slabs generally run $55 to $77 per square foot including materials and installation.

Top-Tier Granite

Premium top-tier granite includes high-quality granite from all around the world with unusual veining, colors and patterns. These slabs are at least 3/4 inch, if not 1 1/4 inch thick, and installed without a plywood backing, unless there are significant overhangs. Rarer than middle or bottom-tier granite, top-tier granite averages between $71 and $100 per square foot including materials and installation.

Premium Grade Granite

Also called designer grade, these countertops are rarer even than top-tier granite and include handpicked designer selections. The rarest of the rare, the designer or premium granite grades include varied colors and pattern-matching between cuts. The price for installation and materials generally runs from $93 to $131 per square foot or more, again, depending on location.

Homeowner Options

Homeowners can buy granite slabs and have them installed in one of several ways. You can hand-select the large uncut granite slabs from a distributor and hire a stonecutter to cut and install them; or you can get a package deal that includes the slabs, cuts and installation, or choose prefabricated slabs already bull-nosed in widths up to 4 feet and lengths between 8 and 9 feet. Companies that sell prefabricated slabs usually also install them as a package deal, with installation based on the number of on-site cuts during installation. Complete your research online before you shop; you may be able to save some money on your new granite countertops.