Can you please rate MasterCast engineered composite for my bathroom remodel?
Originally published April 17, 2012 in the Green Home Guide, a service of the U.S. Green Building Council
Q: Can you rate or let me know where to find information on MasterCast engineered composite offered from USMarble in terms of low voc's, durability, etc.? I am remodeling a bathroom because of mold problems and have chemically sensitive family members. I want to eliminate grout lines and need a space-specific size shower. I need shower walls that are flexible in terms of cutting for sizing and do-it-yourself installation if possible. I have located a look that I want in the USMarble product line. An expert at this website has indicated that Swanstone products have some inherent problems.
—Asked by Anita Baines, Damascus, MD
A: I must admit, this is a new product for me and I prefer not to judge any product unless I've personally tested it and have spoken directly with other homeowners who have used it extensively. However, I can give you my educated opinion based on my experience with cultured marble, Swanstone and what I've read and see on their website.
Composite: Then and Now
First, this type of product reminds me of the cultured marble that exists in some hotels that I've visited long ago. I recall that they generally looked dull and were not too exciting. Often there were scratches that were too deep to remove. They did not give a great first impression because they were not maintained properly or were boring colors from the start. But that was many years ago.
When I look closer at some of the new photos on USMarble's website, it appears to be like quartz or solid surface. It has a decent appearance for a man made product and is probably much less expensive when compared to other solid surface products such as Swanstone, Corian, Zodiac, etc. It also comes in sizes and configurations that work well in bathroom remodels. There appear to be many advantages that they outline such as lack of seams, customized shapes and colors, stain resistance, mold/mildew resistance, impact resistance, antibacterial, heat resistant and easily repairable. For upgrading a bathroom, this does seem to be a good alternative to tile or other solid surface products.
From an eco-perspective this is not a natural product, nor does it compare to the durability of granite, quartz or any of the new eco-surfaces available such as Vetrazzo recycled glass, Richlite or Paperstone recycled paper, Shekta-stone, or recycled aluminum, etc. But most of those are far more costly, don't come in pre-made sizes for bathrooms or require fabricators to do all the work instead of DIY.
USMarble’s products are similar in that they probably do not emit any toxic odors. However, what might create odors are the adhesives used to install it. You might want to consider using an alternative to silicone or other solvent based adhesives which can off-gas offensive odors for weeks or months. A good alternative sealer/adhesive that is less toxic is Chemlink’s WallSecure or BuildSecure which contain almost zero VOCs and no odor.
Maintenance and Repair
As for maintenance, USMarble recommends using a cleaner with ammonia which is not tolerable to people with chemical sensitivities. There are many good alternatives such as an all natural Universal Stone cleaner, a hydrogen-peroxide based cleaner called Hydroxi-Pro or AFM SuperClean.
Regarding repairs, I would test out some samples to see how easily they scratch and how easily they buff out. The new polymers may be easier than the old which were not something most homeowners could repair very easily. If they are through body colors like solid surface, then they will show scratches less and be easier to buff out.