Specialty CountertopsConcrete

Introduction:Concrete Counter

Concrete countertops are for you if you desire a top that is unique, personalized, natural, has character, has a low sheen unlike polished granite and you have an appreciation for things that are high quality and  artistic.

More and more homeowners are beginning to take advantage of the flexibility that concrete has to offer.

How they are made:

Concrete countertops can be pre-cast or built on site, depending on the complexity of the project and the contractor’s preferences. An advantage to pre-cast countertops is the ability to control the environment. The advantage to tops built on site is being able to make last minute changes or adjustments.

The tops are made from cement, lightweight aggregates and a combination of additives such as fiber reinforcement, silica fume pozzolan and acrylic. Some type of reinforcement such as  structural steel, wire mesh, fiberglass and/or other fibers are used. Concrete Counter 2

Styles

Concrete countertops are thin and graceful, not thick and clunky like concrete driveways or sidewalks. Each top is pigmented and the finish surface is smooth to the touch and finished with a low sheen. Since there are no industry guidelines for concrete contractors to follow, each top is part of the artistic vision of the individual contractor. It is best to find one that you are comfortable with.

The basic edge profiles available are: standard eased edge, bevel, quarter round, back bevel, bullnose and ogee. Each contractor has different options.

The standard slab thickness is 1.5”-2”. Thicker tops can be fabricated if desired.  However, the back and the center of the tops are still 1.5” and the front increases to the desired thickness. Standard cabinetry will support concrete countertops and sinks can be custom fabricated out of the same material.

Concrete countertops are hand finished, so in imperfect finish can be expected. This gives the tops character, making each top unique and one of a kind.

Because of the versatility of concrete, rounded corners and organic shapes are encouraged! Colors can be custom matched to compliment other elements in the kitchen such as tile on the backsplash or floors.  Items like broken dishes, glass aggregates, leaves, stones, seashells, fossils and fiber optic lighting can be incorporated into the tops. Add your initials to your countertop….if you don’t have to be concerned with resale, that is!

Before you buy:

Each concrete contractor has optimum and maximum countertop sizes they work with. Sizes they work with depend on countertop structural issues, shipping and handling.

Even though concrete is extremely hard, cutting boards still need to be used because cutting directly on the tops will cut through the sealer. Hot pots should be avoided as well. Concrete can withstand the heat, but the sealers cannot. However, an advantage to concrete is that metal trivets or hot plates can be built into the countertop surface.

Not in every case, but concrete countertops can develop hairline cracks that are non-structural.  Imperfections and slight irregularities are part of the appeal of concrete reminding you that the product is natural and hand poured.  Edges and corners can be chipped if struck with a hard or heavy object at the right angle.

Concrete countertops have seams. The seams are as visible as marble and granite seams.

In addition to seams, the tops will patina or age over time and will not be the same as the day they were first installed.  Most concrete countertop buyers find this trait very appealing.

Installation:Concrete Countertop

Installation of these tops is not something you want to tackle yourself. Each top must be mixed with just the right amount of water. It must be cured in a very sensitive environment that is not too hot, nor too cold. Most installers have a slightly different artistic approach and installation techniques that have taken considerable amounts of time and effort to perfect.

Cast in place tops are done right on the cabinets or millwork. The forms are built on the cabinets and the concrete is poured into the forms.  The surface is then troweled until smooth and free of pinholes. Colors and additives are then integrated to create a custom look.

Talk to your contractor to see what he/she has to offer as far as technique and artistic differences.

Maintenance:

Abrasive soaps and cleaners should be avoided when cleaning concrete countertops.  Mild cleaners that do not contain ammonia are suitable cleaners. Sealers are used to prevent staining and for water resistance. Staining can occur if the integrity of the sealer is compromised.  Acidic foods like lemon juice, mustard and vinegar can etch the surface of the countertop if not cleaned up promptly. When epoxy sealers are used, the only maintenance required is the application of a good water based liquid wax every nine months to a year. Be sure to see a sample of an epoxy sealer to approve the finished sheen it puts on the countertop.  Wax must be re-applied every one to six months, depending on use and sealers must be reapplied about every two years.