Expand Your Offerings With Lightweight Sinks
By Russ Lee
When the integral bowl option first became available, solid surface manufacturers were naturally careful to control their conditions of use. Fabricators were restricted to installing only those undermount sinks made by the same solid surface company that manufactured the sheets. Mixing and matching of different product brands was discouraged, and in some cases, prohibited.
Today, the attitude of most solid surface sheet manufacturers, in terms of the 10-year installed warranty, is more amenable to mixing different brands within the same installation. In most cases, manufacturers will stand behind their material up to the point where the foreign sink meets their branded sheet. Some companies will even cover the joint between the two products, as long their own brand of joint adhesive is used in the fabrication process.
In the old days, an end-user's sink options were often limited to whatever styles and colors the sheet manufacturer offered at the time. Today, those choices have been greatly expanded. Not only are there independent manufacturers who now specialize in the production of traditional solid surface sinks and bowls, but there are even a few companies that have carved out their own tidy niche by offering lightweight, and highly impact-resistant, sinks.
The Swan Co. was first to offer a line of very thin, extremely tough sinks, which was marketed under the name of Swanstone. These acrylic modified, mineral and fiber filled sinks differ from traditional solid surface products in that they are manufactured in a compression molding process, as opposed to having been cast from a syrupy liquid. They are non-porous in nature and are available in a variety of solid and aggregate colors. Besides being light in weight, they are strong. The sinks are practically unbreakable.
Originally designed as a self-rimming, drop-in sink, Swanstone fell out of favor with some fabricators because it was difficult to seam the product into the solid surface countertop deck. It could be underslung in the same way a stainless steel or porcelain sink could be attached to the underside of the countertop deck, but the integral bowl option was unavailable from a practical standpoint until just a few years ago. Today, Swanstone offers selected sink and bowl models specifically designed for a seamed undermount application.
Another lightweight sink product that has undergone a similar evolution from self-rimmed drop-in to seamed undermount is South African-made Karran, distributed in the U.S. by Karran USA, and its American cousin, Integra, manufactured and distributed by Whitewater. Both brands of sinks borrow technology from the acrylic whirlpool tub industry, whereby thin sheets of 100% acrylic are heated and vacuum formed to shape. A mixture of chopped glass fibers saturated in polyester resin is then sprayed on the backside of the sinks, which adds rigidity and strength to the finished product.
The difficulty of properly seaming this type of molded product to the underside of a solid surface deck has always been the rounded corner on the upper inside lip of the sink, which is created during manufacture of the sink. In order to make a tight, invisible joint between the sink and solid surface deck, that radius must be removed by trimming the rim of the sink. Because the thickness of the sink is only 1/8", trimming the rounded corner means cutting off the rim of the sink, leaving virtually no material to bond the sink to the countertop deck. This problem is overcome by adhering a thick ring of composite material (such as a filled polyester or acrylic) to the back side of the sink's rim, and then trimming the rim below the rounded inside corner. The resultant composite ring provides a strong, flat surface for bonding the sink to the underside of the counter-top deck.
Karran and Integra offer products that are lightweight, durable and virtually impervious to stains. Thermal shock, a condition created through extreme temperature changes, also has little effect on the sinks. Like Swanstone, they are available in a variety of colors and styles, but unlike Swanstone, they are not available in aggregate colors. Integra provides a lifetime limited warranty on its products, Karran a 50-year limited warranty, and Swanstone warranties its kitchen and bar sinks for 10 years.
As is the case with other new products in the solid surface category, the availability and acceptance of lightweight sinks increases the scope of options available to the end-user. At the same time, it provides you, the kitchen and bath professional, with additional arrows to add to your marketing quiver, as long as you take the time to familiarize yourself with the corresponding features and benefits of these new offerings.