Few kitchen countertop materials are more misunderstood than high-end concrete. Rock-solid and hard as granite or slate, concrete can be a better fit in contemporary kitchen designs than engineered or natural stones since it exudes a modern industrial aesthetic.
Adding to the mystique is the fact that concrete can be etched, acid-stained, stamped, and sealed to create a countertop surface that is unlike almost any other available material. Modern concrete kitchen countertops are no longer cold impersonal slabs of gray concrete. More often, they are warm and gleaming surfaces that are functional and also remarkably stylish.
Yet concrete does have some significant downsides that make this a product you'll want to consider carefully before you make the purchase.
As part of the installation, the crew may build or install support frames for sinks, since it is important that the countertop itself not carry the weight of the sink. If the sink is an under-mount style, it is set in place first, then the countertop is installed over it. The countertop is usually adhered to the cabinets with construction adhesives after being carefully leveled and shimmed.
Note: If properly built countertops should have reinforcement around the sink area. Support frames should not be necessary.
Pros and Cons of Concrete Countertops
Concrete countertops have many virtues, especially its ability to be shaped and formed to exactly match your kitchen dimensions and finished precisely to your liking. With other countertop materials, you are often limited to whatever colors and styles are available, but concrete offers you a wider range of options. Only ceramic tile comes close to offering a comparable range of choices.
While concrete is not scratch-proof, it does resist scratches remarkably well, especially when compared to softer counter materials such as solid surface or laminate.
Concrete, too, can be customized by the addition of small items pressed into the top surface. Glass fragments, stones, shells, and even fiber-optic lights can be embedded.
In the right house, concrete countertops can improve the house's resale value since it is considered to be a premium material, on par with quartz or natural stone counters.
If you are conditioned to think of concrete as a utilitarian building material used for slabs and foundations, you might imagine that concrete countertops are cheap and easy to install. Nothing could be further from the truth. Concrete is a high-end material when used in kitchen countertops, and fabricating them requires the skill and experience of trained technicians.
Concrete counters are expensive, too. Once again, the idea that concrete is used for sidewalks and patios, thus it must be inexpensive, is false. Expect to pay $150/sq ft or more for full-service concrete countertop fabrication and installation.
If you are averse to regular maintenance, then concrete may not be for you. Concrete does require annual resealing, at a minimum.
Because concrete is so heavy, cabinets and often flooring often need to be strengthened to bear the increased weight.
Can be custom-sized and shaped
Difficult to scratch and impervious to heat
Small items can be embedded
Durable and long-lasting
Can improve resale value since it is considered to be a premium surface
Expensive, costing as much as $150 per square foot
Regular sealing is required to avoid staining
Its excessive weight can tax cabinet frames and floors
Repairs are difficult for the do-it-yourselfer
Installation of Concrete Countertops
Concrete countertops may look like massive slabs, but in reality, they are usually only 1-1/2 to 2 inches thick. The illusion that they are much thicker slabs is usually the result of a drop-front edging on the countertop.
Still, concrete countertops are very heavy and can weigh upwards of 19 to 25 pounds per square foot. Installers sometimes need to reinforce cabinetry and sometimes even the floors in order to bear the substantial weight.
While concrete countertops are sometimes formed and poured on-site, more often they are fabricated in shops after a technician takes precise measurements of your kitchen space and discusses all finish options with you.
In the shop, forms are built and the countertop is poured, complete with whatever sink cutouts, coloration, or additives are requested. During fabrication, the countertop slabs are usually reinforced with fiber or metal mesh of some type to give them strength and rigidity.
After fabrication, the countertop is allowed to cure fully, and the surface may be ground and polished to whatever finish the client has requested. Sealer is applied, often a very hard epoxy. Once curing and finishing are complete, an installation crew carefully delivers the countertop to the worksite and installs it.
Assuming the countertop has been sealed initially with a good-quality sealer, ongoing maintenance requires only the application of a good water-based wax sealer every 9 to 12 months. Annual sealing will ensure the surface resists staining and will lessen the chances of the concrete countertop cracking over time.