If you’ve been shopping around for some granite countertops in your Denver area home, you probably keep hearing the same two words: grade and level.
The terms are synonymous with each other, but some granite fabricators group their granite by the grade (low-grade, mid-grade, or high-grade), and other fabricators distinguish by level (level one, level two, level three+). Level three+/high-grade granite can actually go up to grade six or seven depending on where it comes from and how rare it is.
The level of granite you choose directly influences the price, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the higher grade granite is better than lower grade granite. Think of it like this: when you go to the grocery store, you probably prefer certain brands over others based on taste, texture, and price. Some of them may be name brand (and therefore, more expensive), but others are probably a cheaper, generic brand that you like just as well (or better!) than the name brand alternative.
Typically, an increase in granite level means a higher price per square foot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better quality of granite. Just like the generic brand versus name brand, you may prefer certain slabs of granite over others because of their composition and color.
The truth is that there isn’t a standard metric for how to assign a level or grade to a slab of granite, so when you’re out browsing slabs, you need to be educated on what to look for so that you get a good deal. If you’re really smart about shopping for granite, you could get an attractive, high-quality slab for a very reasonable price.
Factors to Consider
As far as granite goes, it all comes from the same igneous process. Magma crystalizes under the earth’s surface at different rates and with different mineral compositions to produce different kinds of granite. So basically, granite is granite is granite.
That said, where granite is quarried can influence the price and grade. A lot of the level one granite comes from China where labor is cheap, and quarries are plentiful. Level two often comes from India and Brazil, and level three+ comes from specialized quarries in Italy, India, and Brazil.
Typically, the thinner the granite, the lower the grade. A level one grade can sometimes measure a measly 3/8”, which means that it needs a subtop (plywood or OSB) for stability. If your granite is 3/8” thick, it will also need another piece of granite adhered to the front edge so that you can have a nice, sturdy edge. Level two is usually ¾”, and level three+ has an average thickness of more than ¾”. You want thicker granite because it is less prone to chipping or cracking, and it just looks more striking overall. For more information on granite thickness, check out this blogpost.
Color and Pattern
The color and pattern desirability is strictly in the eye of the beholder, so if you see a beautiful granite that is in a lower grade, don’t hesitate to snap it up! While you can find whites, browns, blacks, and grays in every level of granite, the pattern is what sets each level apart. In level one, you’ll usually find small patterns and little variation. Level two and three usually have more movement and variation, and it just gets more elaborate from there. Once you start getting into the higher grade granite, you’ll find blues, golds, reds, greens, teals, and purples, and you might even see some visible aggregates like seashells and fossils. If you’d like to see a particularly gorgeous (and rare and very expensive) piece of granite, check out the Van Gogh style below. Its swirling blue and gold color looks like something straight off of the artist’s canvas.
Level one granite is sometimes called “commercial grade” because builders use it when there is a need for uniformity and repetition. It often has small mineral deposits that make a simple pattern. You’ll usually find level one granite in new housing developments, apartments, and business centers. If this is the look you’re going for, great! It is still heat-resistant, durable, and attractive granite, but it costs less.
Level two granite looks a little more interesting than level one granite because it usually has more veining, colors, and patterns. This is the stuff that looks like it’s flowing from one point to another, and it often has several color variations and large chunks of other minerals.
High-grade granite can go as high as six or seven levels, and each one jumps the price up $50-100 per square foot. If you’re willing to pay for it, you can find gorgeous granite that is one-of-a-kind and truly breathtaking. Once you venture into the world of high-grade granite, you’re paying for color variation, pattern, and rarity.
Whatever level you choose depends on your tastes, but make sure to inspect the slab before you buy it. There should not be any visible cracks or large chips, and it should be sealed properly and professionally.