The elegance of true marble remains consistent within the building and interior design industries. The introduction of cultured marble in the late 1960s added a less expensive alternative to marble, one that looked almost as good as marble but didn't have the care and cost associated with the real thing. Marble kitchen counters enhance a home's value. Bathrooms with cultured marble outshine the real thing, are easier to maintain, and resist the staining associated with bathroom products. Before choosing either, understand the composition and cost of each, and consider what makes them unique.

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The elegance and complexity of real marble cannot be duplicated in manufactured cultured marble.

Origins of Marble

The marble slab you look at in the slab yard was created millions of years ago within the earth's interior. Throughout the years, intense heat and pressure affected the stone's original calcite composition, resulting in a dense stone -- but one that's affected by acids. Marble is mined throughout the world, with each geographic area producing a product that varies in color, veining and intensity. No two slabs are alike.

Introduction of Cultured Marble

In the late 1960s, a group of small developers created cultured marble by mixing 75 percent marble dust with a liquid polyester resin. A large stand mixer, affixed to the floor, mixes the ingredients until they're liquid smooth. Color is added but not mixed in entirely, creating a veining effect. Poured into molds conforming to a builder's or customer's requirements, the liquid is left to harden before a gel coating is applied.

Installation of Marble

A template of the marble application is made before cutting the slab; seams connect the pieces when they are installed since the marble can't bend. The heaviness of the stone requires a sturdy base to support the pieces, and sinks must be installed with support if they're under-mounted. Over-mounting is recommended. Installing marble on bathroom walls and shower floors is a precise craft, one that can be costly if the marble chips or cracks.

Installation of Cultured Marble

The mold holding the cultured marble is designed to fit perfectly into the space for which it was designed. Sinks can be crafted into the mold, and no seams are in the construction. Decorative designs are often sculpted into the mold such as an oyster-shell-shaped sink or non-slip treads in the shower pan. Leaking is virtually impossible unless it's at a grout spot. Bathtubs are of continuous construction, as are shower stalls and floors.

Maintaining Marble

High maintenance is the cry of marble customers. Since it's a porous stone, the user must be diligent by keeping liquids from pooling, oil, water or wine from spilling, and bathroom products from turning the marble's color. Mildew can appear in grout seams. Sealing the stone twice a year helps prevent accidents, and specific marble cleaners that do not have an acid base are suggested for daily use.

Caring for Cultured Marble

Once the non-porous surface of the cultured marble piece is covered with its gel coating, the product is considered safe from staining or absorption of any liquid product. It's also mildew resistant. Shower floors don't discolor from hair dyes, shampoos or bathing gels, and sinks survive unscathed. Clean the cultured marble with a regular household cleaner to maintain its shine.

Marble Cost

The rarity of the marble dictates its initial cost, and the complexity of the installation adds to the price. Geography and the amount of competition within an area also figure into the cost. A bare minimum charge for marble in a highly populated and high marble-usage area is approximately $60 per square foot, including installation, at the time of publication.

Cultured Marble Cost

Cultured marble installations are quoted on the complexity of the job. If the mold is for the shower and the shower pan needs replacing and plumbing redirected, the cost of the labor increases. Prices are quoted by the product, not the foot. For example: a bathtub may run up to $2,600, depending on the size, shape and complexity of the installation. Only buy the cultured marble from a certified manufacturer for assurance that you get the quality you're paying for. Also ask to be present during the mixing of your cultured marble if you request a specific color match.