Let's Talk Countertops
German engineered, pre-manufactured countertops vs. locally made. What to know before you make your final purchase.
Quartz, granite, marble, soapstone? When it’s time to remodel your kitchen, there are factors to consider besides the final choice of material. We cover how to choose the right countertop material for your kitchen in a separate blog post but in the meantime, let’s explore two considerations.
Lead Time vs. Downtime
When you hear ‘German engineered countertops’, you may hesitate, fearing an imported product will delay or extend the remodeling time. But when planned correctly, a product shipped from overseas will not disrupt the schedule.
German kitchen brands, for example, maximize efficiency by scheduling the cabinet installation toward the end of the remodel. Planning a remodeling schedule based on product lead times eliminates frustrating delays while saving time and money. Flooring, painting, plumbing and electrical stages take place while the cabinets and counters are shipped, ensuring everything is ready for installation once the parts arrive.
Downtime is when a jobsite is under construction, but either no one is working, or they aren’t
working efficiently. This frequently happens when countertops are made locally because the schedule is subject to how busy the local stone contractor is.
Locally made countertops involve templating, waiting for manufacturing and on-site cutting, which not only creates a mess but a lot of noise. It’s a significant annoyance and imposition whether the work takes place in a residential home or condos and high-rises. If you are a developer, having a job done 2-4 weeks faster can mean renting multiple units a month sooner, and homeowners can move in a month earlier, avoiding paying double rent!
You can expect to save downtime with German products since they are pre-manufactured and ready for install at the same time the cabinets are installed.
Precision CNC Cutting vs. Manual Machine Cutting
Precision CNC Cutting
When German countertops are pre-manufactured, every part is cut to the finished size, all edges are polished and all cut-outs for cooktops, sinks or outlets are already done by the time it arrives in your home. Again, no mess or noise from cutting on-site!
Parts are cut with precision CNC stone cutting or water jet machines with 100% accuracy, ensuring exact size and even-edge details. For example, the area where a flush mount sink meets the counter is highly visible. Since the rim is precision cut by a CNC machine, you end up with a flawless transition between surfaces.
Manual Machine Cutting
Uneven areas are an unavoidable consequence with locally cut countertops because the cutting is done with hand tools, but no hand-sanding or polishing is needed with pre-manufactured products. Be aware to order a sink or cooktop with the correct radius because minimum radius on the corners may apply!
Machine Edge Precision vs Manual Edge
These images show the popular and precise machine-cut chamfered edge. As you can see, the 45-degree angle is 100% even on all sides. If this detail is attempted by hand or a hand-held machine, it will most likely not look as geometrically even but more rounded like the second photo.
If you are extremely detail oriented and set on a flush-mount sink or appliance, a
pre-manufactured CNC-cut countertop is best for a precise, clean look. Sink and cooktop manufacturers provide CAD drawings which are imported into a CNC program, making correct cut-outs nearly foolproof!
What if I don't know my final size?
It may be scary to order a countertop from overseas not knowing your exact wall dimensions or angles. However, if you planned your kitchen accurately, and your appliance order has been finalized, not many dimensions are variable. The cabinet sizes will not change and the distance from the sink centerline to the cooktop centerline is final. In that case you can pre-order all the edges and cutouts but order the overall sizes a bit longer and a bit deeper. That allows some flexibility should the walls not be level or at a 90-degree angle. Stone, quartz and ceramics can still be cut on-site. However, a glass top is final, and cannot be cut after it’s produced, so your GC needs to make sure the walls are the correct length, flat, and at 90-degrees.
A few limitations of German Engineered, pre-manufactured countertops you should be aware of:
You may have fewer color or material options than local sources since they can purchase anything from anywhere. On the other hand, German countertops may have colors or textures that are not available locally.
A mitered waterfall connection is not possible. However, you can order a stone top and stone end-panels connected via butt-joints.
Your overall countertop size may be limited to the size of the manufacturing machine.
When shipped from overseas, a cutout can only be within a full piece, meaning you cannot have a seam in the center of a sink, for example. Also, minimum bridge widths will apply, eliminating possible breakage during freight.
Cut-out shapes may be limited to rounds, rectangles or squares. Oval sinks for example are thus not possible.
So, don’t be scared, plan well, measure twice, and order once! After all, that is the common way it’s done in Europe!