Few kitchen countertop materials are trendier at the moment than high-end concrete. Rock solid and hard as granite or slate, concrete can be a better fit in contemporary kitchen designs than any of those natural stones, since it exudes a modern industrial aesthetic. Adding to the mystique is the fact that concrete can now be etched, acid-stained, stamped, and sealed to create a countertop surface that is unlike almost any other material. Concrete kitchen countertops are not cold slabs of gray concrete (unless you want that)—they are often warm and gleaming surfaces with are utterly functional and also remarkably stylish.
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 appearance of a much-thicker slab is usually the result of a drop-front edging on the countertop. Still, these are very heavy countertops, weighing 19 to 25 pounds per square foot, and installers sometimes need to reinforce cabinetry, and sometimes even floors, in order to bear the 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 needed. 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 a requested. Some kind of sealer is applied, often a very hard epoxy. Once curing and finishing is complete, an installation crew carefully delivers the countertop to the work site and installs it.
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 undermount 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.
Pros of Concrete Countertops
Concrete countertops have many virtues, with the main one being that the material can be shaped and formed to precisely to 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.
Among the advantages of concrete kitchen countertops:
- Can be custom-sized and shaped to any kitchen configuration
- Doesn't scratch and is impervious to heat
- Materials such as glass fragments, stones, shells, and fiber-optic lights can be embedded
- Very durable and long-lasting surface
- Easy clean-up and maintenance, provide regular sealing is done
- Adds real estate value as a "premium" material
Cons of Concrete Countertops
If you are used to thinking 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, premium material when used in kitchen countertops, and fabricating them requires a lot of skill and experience. These are among the more expensive of all countertop materials.
The drawbacks of concrete countertops include:
- Expensive; can cost as much as $150 per square foot
- Annual sealing is required to avoid staining
- Heavy weight can strain cabinet frames and floors
- Repairs are nearly impossible; cracking sometimes does occur
Assuming the countertop has been sealed initially with a good-quality epoxy 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 cracking over time.