PICK UP A REAL ESTATE LISTING AND you might conclude from the entries that the housing market is going absolutely bananas and that the term “loft” is overused. You also may conclude that the only thing buyers want to know about a kitchen is if it has granite countertops. If you did jump to such a conclusion, you wouldn't be far off.

Granite is perhaps the most recognized and sought after countertop material among home buyers, which is why builders and real estate agents always make sure to mention that nugget of information. And rightly so—granite is water resistant, durable, and attractive. Home buyers, however, often get a rude awakening once they have lived with the material for some time and discover that it is not maintenance free: It stains, and it requires periodic resealing. That revelation could be a bummer if you're a homeowner trying to avoid extra work.

GRAY'S ANATOMY: Concrete Palette is the manufacturer's newest collection of Zodiaq quartz surfacing. Consistent in color throughout, the product's toughness registers a 7 on the mohs hardness scale, so it is durable, nonporous, and requires no sealing, the company says. The product also is heat, scratch, and stain resistant. It has a 10-year manufacturer's warranty against product defects. DuPont, 800-426-7426. www.zodiaq.com.
GRAY'S ANATOMY: Concrete Palette is the manufacturer's newest collection of Zodiaq quartz surfacing. Consistent in color throughout, the product's toughness registers a 7 on the mohs hardness scale, so it is durable, nonporous, and requires no sealing, the company says. The product also is heat, scratch, and stain resistant. It has a 10-year manufacturer's warranty against product defects. DuPont, 800-426-7426. www.zodiaq.com.

Stone Face For buyers who want the look of granite without the drawbacks, there is an alternative—quartz-based engineered stone, a product that manufacturers say has all the benefits of granite and more. Consumers, apparently, already have discovered it.

“Quartz is now the fastest-growing segment of the countertop surfacing category,” says Valerie A. Aunet, marketing manager for the residential builder division of Wilmington, Del.–based DuPont, which manufacturers Zodiaq quartz.

MARBLE MAGIC: One of the great things about quartz, the manufacturer says, is that it can look like almost any stone. Marble Vision, the company's new color line, comes in marble-like Jerusalem Sand, Lagos Blue, and Misty Carrera. Unlike real marble, which is quite fragile, the product has all the advantages the company's other quartz surfaces have: durability, consistency, reliability, and nonporosity. Caesarstone. 877-978-2789. www.caesarstone.com.
MARBLE MAGIC: One of the great things about quartz, the manufacturer says, is that it can look like almost any stone. Marble Vision, the company's new color line, comes in marble-like Jerusalem Sand, Lagos Blue, and Misty Carrera. Unlike real marble, which is quite fragile, the product has all the advantages the company's other quartz surfaces have: durability, consistency, reliability, and nonporosity. Caesarstone. 877-978-2789. www.caesarstone.com.

According to figures by Le Sueur, Minn.–based Cambria—one of the five big quartz surfacing producers in this country—between 2000 and 2002, quartz surfacing sales grew more than 2,000 percent. In hard numbers, the category went from a 0.3 percent market share in 2000 to a 9 percent share in 2002.

Quartz surfacing is a man-made product that consists of 93 percent quartz and 7 percent resins and pigments. Granite contains, at most, 50 percent quartz. This is one reason quartz surfacing is much more durable and scratch resistant than granite, manufacturers say.

“Only three other natural minerals—diamond, sapphire, and topaz—are harder than quartz,” says Stafford, Texas–based Cosentino USA, manufacturer of Silestone quartz. A slip of the knife will scratch most other counter-tops but not quartz. Because the material is manufactured, it is consistent throughout, so it does not have fissures like granite and is nonporous. So while granite has to be sealed periodically, quartz does not. This lack of porosity also means the surface is highly resistant to stains and acidic liquids such as wine, lemon juice, and vinegar.

BACTERIA FIGHTER: Silestone is the only quartz surfacing that comes with built-in Microban antimicrobial protection, the manufacturer says. The material provides a deterrent to the growth of bacteria on countertops. The surfacing is still virtually maintenance free, highly scratch, stain, and scorch resistant, and nonporous. Silestone is available in 51 colors, but Microban will be available only in selected colors. Cosentino USA. 281-494-7277. www.silestoneusa.com.
BACTERIA FIGHTER: Silestone is the only quartz surfacing that comes with built-in Microban antimicrobial protection, the manufacturer says. The material provides a deterrent to the growth of bacteria on countertops. The surfacing is still virtually maintenance free, highly scratch, stain, and scorch resistant, and nonporous. Silestone is available in 51 colors, but Microban will be available only in selected colors. Cosentino USA. 281-494-7277. www.silestoneusa.com.

Look-Alikes One of the aesthetic benefits of quartz is that it may look like granite, but the material is versatile enough to look like something else, too. “Quartz is competitive with the hard, shiny look of granite, but it offers more colors,” says Aunet. This gives consumers the option of choosing bold reds, concrete-colored grays, and bright yellows.

All manufacturers use the same basic quartz/resin percentages in the makeup of their products, and the manufacturing process they use is essentially the same. Yet, companies still find ways to differentiate themselves from one another.

Last year, Formica, the most recent major manufacturer to enter the category, launched with 12 colors and plans to offer four more this year. DuPont offers 29 and will be introducing four new ones. Silestone offers 48 and is issuing three new colors this year.