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Management Matters: Answering Architects' FAQs

MANAGEMENT MATTERS: ANSWERING ARCHITECTS’ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SOLID SURFACE

Many architects are becoming very interested in using solid surface in their designs. Along with this interest, though, comes many questions. Being able to provide answers to these questions is very important. As architects plan out projects, they need to know how material will respond to their designs. Solid surface has a lot of great properties and can be used in a variety of ways for different projects. However, using it in an application that does not fit the capabilities of the material can lead to disastrous results.

What follows is a list of some of the questions asked along with some starting points for accurate replies. Some of the questions will seem simple to a fabricator because they work with the product day in and day out, but an architect will need to familiarize themselves thoroughly with solid surface before they can utilize it effectively in their designs.

Fabricators can also look at the questions below as a marketing tool. Seeing what questions architects are asking will also help you see what you can add to any sales presentations you might be developing to better appeal to them.

1. What is solid surface made of?
Solid surface is most commonly a man-made material consisting of an ATH (alumina trihydrate) filler bound together by resin, which is typically acrylic, polyester or an acrylic/polyester blend. ATH is a derivative of bauxite ore, which is basically a form of clay.

2. What are the standard sheet sizes and thicknesses of solid surface?
The standard sheet size in the industry is ½ inch thick by 30 inches wide by 145 inches long. Sheet thicknesses, though, do come in steps of ¼ inch, 3/8 inch, ½ inch, 3/4 inch, 2 cm (about 5/6 inch) and 3 cm (roughly 1-1/4 inches).

Its worth noting that when you leave the ½ inch thickness standard you will generally have fewer color choices.

Sheet sizes in ½ inch, ¾ inch, 2cm and 3cm can generally range from 120 inches to 144 inches long.

Sheet sizes in ¼ inch stocks can range in size from widths of 30, 36, 48, and 60 inches wide by 96 inches long.

Many manufactures will accommodate custom sizes if they see the project as desirable or it cost effective to do so, and some companies have specific programs just for commercial projects that can benefit from custom sheet sizes.

3. Can solid surface be bent or shaped?
Yes solid surface can be shaped using a process called thermoforming in which it is heated and then bent or molded to a specific shape. However, all solid surface is not created equal in this respect. Solid surface made with acrylic has greater thermoforming ability. Solid Surface with polyester content can be thermoformed, but the capabilities are restricted.

4. Can I have a custom color made?
While there are hundreds of colors of solid surface when you look at products from a variety of different manufacturers, sometimes the exact one needed is not available, leading an architect to want something custom. The short answer to this question is yes. Some manufactures will go so far as to make just one sheet of a custom color. Others are looking for a certain quantity before they will go through this process. The cost will obviously be much higher for custom colors than if you select from the standard color palettes. And making just one sheet of a custom color will also typically be much more expensive that 100 sheets.

5. Can I get a solid surface sink in something other than a solid color?
Manufacturers normally stick to solid colors for sinks. However, there are fabricators with the ability to thermoform vanity bowls into many different colors. Other fabricators can custom make trough sinks, kitchen bowls, etc.

Another process used by some manufacturers is to pour the raw material in its liquid state into molds for a particular bowl shape. This enables the use of different colors. If you want a mold made, though, the cost can be quite high.

6. What types of finishes can I get?
In the solid surface industry there are generally three types of finishes: matte, semi gloss and high gloss.

Any of the three finishes can be applied to any color. The general rule of thumb is the darker the color the more glossy the finish should be to enhance it. There are different ways to achieve the finishes. All begin with using sandpaper. A high gloss involves more work and requires buffing pads.

7. Can solid surface be joined to other materials?
All material expands and contracts at different rates. The same is true of solid surface. Most solid surfaces expand and contract 1/8 inch every 10 feet. The key to bonding solid surface to other material is to know the limitations and choosing the proper design and bonding agent. The adhesive used should have good elasticity. This allows for movement. Some of the surfaces that bond well are metal, glass and granite. With any design, looking at the application is the first step to understanding if dissimilar materials can work together.

8. Can solid surface be used outside?
Yes, it can. There are many case studies explaining how solid surface has been used on building cladding, benches, countertops, signs, furniture, playgrounds and other outdoor applications. Virtually anything that has been done indoors can be done outside, though there are a few points worth considering:

Effects of the sun – There can be some fading similar to what you would find in other outdoor materials. The key is to pick a color that will fade minimally, based on the manufacturer’s accelerated weathering tests.

Hot to touch – Have you ever touched playground equipment on a hot summer day? On sunny days, solid surface gets warm like other materials. Proper education to the end use is advised.

Maintaining integrity of the panels (cladding projects) – If not applied correctly serious structural issues can result with solid surface. A well thought-out structural plan is needed when solid surface is to be used in exterior cladding projects.

Solid surface is making headlines. Its ability to work well with so many different designs makes it a perfect choice for architects and designers. It’s up to us, as fabricators, to make sure we have the answers architects may ask. I hope this article is a first step in the process.

About the Author
Jon Olson is the former online marketing, sales and communications manager for Sterling Surfaces/Kitchen Associates in Sterling, Mas.. A solid surface fabricator for more than 30 years, he can be reached at [email protected]