What is Soapstone & How Much Does it Cost?
Soapstone is an underutilized architectural material with many benefits. In addition to withstanding heat—one can set a pot fresh off the stove onto a soapstone countertop—it is also nonporous. This prevents it from being stained by spills in the kitchen, like grape or tomato juice. Continue reading to see what you can expect to pay if you choose soapstone countertops.
Average Cost of Soapstone Countertops per 50 square feet
Minimum Cost: $1,800 per 50 square feet
Average Cost: $3,200 per 50 square feet
Maximum Cost: $5,000 per 50 square feet
What is Soapstone?
Steatite, more commonly known as soapstone, is a type of metamorphic rock made of at least 50 percent talc and other minerals like magnetite. Over time, the minerals have been forged into a solid stone thanks to heat and pressure. Its softness has made it popular for carving, over the centuries, and it may be best known for sculptures both large and small. It has a value of 1 on the Mohs hardness scale, indicating its susceptibility to being scratched or shaped. For relative comparison, diamonds are rated 10 on the same scale. It gets its name from the literal soapy feel of the stone, which is a little like touching a dry bar of soap. When fired to temperatures above 1000 degrees Celsius, soapstone increases in hardness on the Mohs scale to 5.5. Found all over the world, it has been used as a carving material by Native Americans, Inuit, Africans, Grecians and many others. Bowls, pipes, statues, metal molds and even ancient roads have been made of soapstone. Soapstone withstands heat without degrading. Soapstone is also the material used as “whiskey stones” to chill liquid without diluting it. Famous uses include the outer layer of the Christ statue which looms over Rio de Janeiro. These days, soapstone sold all over the world is mainly mined in Brazil, India and Finland.
Types of Soapstone
There are two types of soapstone, differing in their talc content. Artistic soapstone has a higher talc content, which makes it easier to work into fine, small carvings. Architectural soapstone is harder, with 50%-75% talc content. Architectural soapstone is the type used to produce counters, bathtubs and other surfaces that need a bit more durability. Soapstone ranges in color and pattern from grayish white to a darker charcoal; the latter effect can also be achieved by applying mineral oil to the surface of the material. The soapstone will require repeated applications of the mineral oil to darken, although this is solely an aesthetic concern and has no effect on the life of the stone or its durability. Soapstone’s visual appearance can range from heavy white veining to a more flecked or speckled look. Some resellers may describe their soapstone as green, but in general, soapstone appears monotone.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Soapstone Countertops
Soapstone is chemically neutral and is unaffected by acids and alkalis in cleaning fluids. Neither granite nor marble can boast this kind of durability, despite their higher ratings on the Mohs scale. It tends to be less “busy" visually, than other common countertop materials, with attractive waves and striations in black, gray and charcoal hues. Its many positive qualities contribute to why soapstone has been the choice for laboratory countertops. It is useful for all surfaces in the home, including bathrooms and kitchens. As an added benefit, it is resistant to bacteria. With time and exposure, the character of the stone can change, though this is often considered part of its beauty. The cost of soapstone may be relatively high, but it is easier to install because of its workability, thus labor costs may mitigate overall costs somewhat.
However, soapstone, because of its softness, is susceptible to nicks and scratches. While nicks and scratches can add to the character of the surface, it can be sanded to restore it from any that prove unsightly. Applications of mineral oil will help create a consistent look, and soapstone weathers to a dark charcoal over time. It is usually quarried in slabs no larger than 80”, which creates a difficulty for anyone wanting solid pieces for countertops larger than that area.
As with other architectural installations, the cost of labor depends heavily on the complexity of configurations. Cutouts for sinks and other elements will increase the cost, as will a profuseness of curves or angles. A simpler installation will be cheaper. Cost will also vary based on the skill of the laborer. Complex edging will also increase labor costs, but overall, labor costs are comparably low to the costs of granite, marble and other stone work surfaces. Shopping around to find the best costs is advisable if soapstone is going to be used for a project.
Labor for Average Job: 10 hours
Vendor Supplies Labor - $350 to $530
Licensed and Bonded Contractor - $380 to $570
Labor Sourced by Designer - $450 to $660
Things to Know
The type of grit used to sand the surface of soapstone can affect the natural look and seeming durability of soapstone. Some homeowners have reported rings or a dull and ugly surface that is different from what they expected. This is generally caused by inexperience on the part of the manufacturer, and thankfully, it can be resolved by having the soapstone surfaces re-sanded using a different grade of paper.
Overall, the pros are said to outweigh the cons. While soapstone is only available in generally gray colors, its relative durability and maintenance-free nature make it a highly sought material for all kinds of use. It's timeless, having been quarried and carved for centuries. It’s also considered a somewhat eco-friendly product because it's relatively easier to quarry and doesn’t require chemical processing or treatment. While it is easier to damage than granite or other harder materials, such damage is also easy for the homeowner to repair without cost or much effort. If soapstone has the look that makes it suitable for a home, most other factors will only serve to further recommend it.
Last updated on Oct 23, 2014
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