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Soapstone: A New Alternative to Marble
The Eloquence of This Natural Stone
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There are several advantages of including soapstone in your hardscapes located near or around pools. When it is not waxed, soapstone provides ample traction and will not become dangerously slippery when wet. Also, due to its darker coloration, soapstone is excellent at absorbing and retaining heat, making the pool deck nice and warm on sunny days. Additionally, the distinct coloration allows it to dry off quicker due to evaporation. However, it is important to remember that soapstone is nonporous, so the incorporation of a proper drainage system will help ensure there is no standing water. If the hardscape gets chipped, it can be easily fixed by hand with some sandpaper to soften the edges.


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This eco garden, located in Richmond, Virginia, features a 68' manmade stream that is lined with Alberene soapstone. The stream acts as an irrigation system for the garden, and is able to maintain an average of 2,500 gallons of water. The soapstone used in this project was quarried just 70 miles away in Schuyler, Virginia and is excellent at withstanding both the running water and the Virginian weather. The landscape was designed by SG Designs from Richmond.


If you have been searching for an affordable, aesthetically pleasing and unique natural stone option, look no further; soapstone is a serious contender for all your hardscape needs. Whether your projects are indoors or outdoors, soapstone can be a great choice in any home or landscape. Its dark, bold color has the potential to equip an area with an distinguished elegancy that goes unrivaled.

Soapstone boasts a wide range of positive aspects that give it an advantageous edge over other commonly used stones, such as marble or granite. This naturally occurring stone is nonporous, meaning it will not stain and any spilled mess is easy to clean. This makes it an ideal choice for surfaces that are exposed to high amounts of water, such as showers, sinks and pools. When wet, correctly stained soapstone can even hold grip fairly well, reducing the risk of slipping. This feature allows soapstone to out compete other slippery stones, like granite, when used in wet areas.

Soapstone is also exceedingly resistant to acids and bases and will usually not crack, peel or spall; making it an ideal option for countertops that see routine and messy usage from tomato cutting, wine spilling or drops of vinegar.

Perhaps, one of the most attractive features of soapstone is that it conducts and radiates heat very well; well enough in fact that soapstone can even come into contact with an open flame - fire pits, barbeques and flame-stove countertops all make excellent places for soapstone. Additionally, soapstone is able to retain and radiate heat for longer periods of time than other stone options. In fact, one of the early commercial uses of soapstone was for foot-warming pallets.

Another advantage of using soapstone is that it is available at a relatively low cost. There are even a few types of soapstone that are quarried right here in America. Alberene soapstone is quarried in Virginia, from one of only two soapstone quarries in the United States. By purchasing this option, contractors will be supporting American-based businesses. This specific type is a beautifully rich stone with less talc content, making it harder.

Lastly, soapstone is easy to work with due to its softness. It was commonly used by Native Americans to carve bowls and cooking plates, obviously without the aid of power tools. This example serves to adequately highlight the malleability of this stone. This unique aspect allows "do-it-yourselfers" the option to use soapstone in their homes or landscapes without the need of professional masons or heavy-duty equipment.



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In its natural honed state, soapstone has a cool, cloudy color, exemplified by the pool deck (bottom right) and this outdoor countertop (bottom left). Once the material is waxed, as seen in this indoor kitchen countertop (top right) and the close up (top left), any white talc striations should stand out more against the darkness of the stone. Soapstone is perfect for countertops because acidic liquids or strong alkalis will not damage the look and feel due to its non-porousness. Additionally, according to Polycor's Steven Schrenk, hot pots and pans can be placed directly on a soapstone counter without fear of popping or melting.


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The University of Virginia's Jefferson Scholars Foundation building was completed in 2010 and meets LEED Gold standards. This 32,700 square foot complex features 7 soapstone-clad columns at its main entrance.


Attributes
Soapstone is dense, heavy, not brittle yet still very soft to the touch: much softer feeling than granite because soapstone has a very high talc content and talc has a hardness level of 1 on the Mohs hardness scale. The exact hardness of each piece of soapstone will vary depending on the amount of talc present and this can fluctuate from as little as 30% talc (relatively hard) to 80% talc. Comparatively, granite, whose composition is mainly quartz, has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs hardness scale.

Because it is naturally quarried, each individual piece of soapstone is unique and will contain varying levels of talc. Some slabs will have many veins of white talc running through it, while others may have none. Different quarries around the world will produce soapstone with varying talc contents.

Steven Schrenk, a design consultant from Polycor, a natural stone manufacturing company that is a member of the Natural Stone Institute, stated that when used in areas of high heat "soapstone is very resilient in comparison to granite. Granite can actually pop and spall." Furthermore, he says, "unlike bluestone, which has a sedimentary layering that can peel and flake in freeze/thaw cycles, soapstone has a similar tonality and look but is homogenous and won't peel and flake."

According to Schrenk, quarrying soapstone is also fairly sustainable because the leftover particulate can be used as an additive in many other products, like tires and roofing shingles. This allows the quarrying of soapstone to produce less wasted materials than granite or marble might; yet the extraction method remains the same.

Schrenk mentions that one of the drawbacks of soapstone is that it scratches easily and knowing this could deter people from using it. However, he is quick to add that soapstone is very easy to polish and buff by hand, allowing almost anyone with sandpaper to perform the repair job themselves.

The elegant luxury that this natural stone displays, coupled with its silky soft texture, can be a great choice for your projects. It can add finesse to your hardscapes, at a more affordable price than other options.

To learn more about the use of natural stone for your projects, visit www.usenaturalstone.com.



As seen in LC/DBM magazine, March 2018.






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August 18, 2018, 7:24 pm PDT

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