Concrete Countertop Tutorial
So just what are your expectations when it comes to concrete countertops? Are you looking at them because they’re unique compared to other countertop options? The available options? Edges? Colors? How about pricing?
Well, let’s go over some of the pros and cons of concrete countertops to help you with the decision making process but let’s make it an honest review; concrete is a great alternative in most cases but it may not be your best choice depending on what you do in your kitchen or bathrooms. Let’s find out.
There are many different countertop materials available to review, for this one we are going to go with what we consider to be strong competitors to concrete in terms of durability, pricing, etc. Specifically we’ll look at quartz and granite but before we start can we have a quick reality check?
Everyone says their material is stain, chip, heat, crack, and cut resistant and at the same time super affordable. But is that really true? Of course not. That perfect countertop material does not exist. Generally, if you want more durability you are going to pay more and vice versa. You have to decide what is important for your home.
Hate cutting boards and want to cut directly on the countertops? Granite will be your best choice. Have a limited budget? You’ll probably want to go with a laminate. Minimal maintenance? Quartz fits the bill. Want something warm and unique that stands out? Consider concrete.
As to pricing, do your homework. A lot of places will claim to be $25 or $35 per square foot installed but those prices don’t include cutting out a hole for the sink (really?), or drilling holes for the faucets, or are ¾” edge thickness, etc. Lots of fine print.
By the time you add the “options” the price has doubled. Seriously, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Look at the final, installed cost after all those things that are needed have been included.
Let’s see how these materials compare to each other.
Quartz is an made from a mix of an epoxy binder, stone chips, and pigments, it is an engineered stone countertop.
Pros: The epoxy matrix makes quartz flexible with little tendency to chip or crack. Good impact resistance if you drop something on them. Epoxy is very stain resistant so these countertops never need resealing but keep in mind that doesn’t mean they can’t stain, especially if you are going with lighter colors.
The ground quartz stone makes them abrasion and cut resistant so they tend to be durable countertops. This does not mean that you should just start cutting away on them, they can and will scratch and field repairs of scratches and chips can be challenging and expensive.
Cons: While heat resistant, quartz con discolor if exposed to medium heat repeatedly over an extended period of time (think of that crock pot you put on the same spot on your countertop) or high heat in a short period (frying pan with hot oil placed directly on the countertop).
Exposure to sunlight over time can also discolor it which is something to consider if you get a lot of sun through windows or are thinking of installing quartz countertops outdoors (this may void warranty).
Pricing: $56 to $96 per square foot, averaging $74
Granite is born in fire, specifically when magma (molten rock) cools down in the earth’s crust and solidifies.
It is a composition of quartz (makes it hard), feldspar (which creates a lot of the veining you see in granite), and mica (the sparkles). It is quarried, cut into sheets that are then polished and ultimately cut into countertops.
Pros: Very hard, handles cutting directly on it with little to no damage; likewise for hot pans.
Decent impact resistance. Granite has good stain resistance, it can be etched if something acidic is left on the surface but it would take a while.
This is probably the best choice if you are planning to go hard on your countertops – cutting, slamming things down on them, don’t want to use trivets to protect from hot pans, going to knead dough directly on the surface, etc. Granite is tough and can handle a lot of abuse.
Cons: Needs periodic resealing but nothing out of this world. Chips and repairs usually require a professional though a skilled DIY’er may be able to do them.
Pricing: $46 to $106 per square foot, averaging $64
Concrete is actually a mixture of various materials depending on how it’s made. In its simplest form we have a mix that is cement, stone, sand, and reinforcing steel while its more exotic, higher strength formulations combine cement, sand, glass fibers and other additives to enhance its mechanical properties. In both cases, the cement acts like a glue that holds all these components together. When it dries and cures it is then called concrete.
Pros: Handles normal wear and tear well, good impact resistance. Good stain resistance if sealed with polyurethanes or epoxies. Customizable with many available colors, edges, and shapes. Concrete is the best choice if you are looking for a combination of durability and uniqueness and are not particularly rough and tough on your countertops.
Cons: Will need to be resealed though if it was initially sealed with a polyurethane sealer it will be years later. Cannot be cut on directly. Difficult to match color samples as each one countertop is uniquely different. Can chip and scratch (usually the sealer coat) but this is repairable.
Pricing: $55 to $130 per square foot, averaging $72
Ok, which way you went just depends on what you consider to be more important. I’m assuming if you’re still reading then you’re still considering concrete.
No, it won’t hold up to anything you can throw at it, get granite if you want that. If you want a fairly uniform, consistent appearance then quartz will give you some good options as granite tends to have a lot of “movement”. But if you want a great countertop with good durability and personality, concrete is tailor made for you. Let’s get some more details.
How We Make Concrete Countertops
Generally there are two ways to build concrete countertops – cast in place (sometimes called poured in place) and precast.
Both processes have advantages and disadvantages. Generally precast countertops are more economical and allow for a more finished appearance than cast in place. They’re cheaper simply because as we are building them in our shop we don’t have to add the daily travel time to the clients home plus the set up, shut down, and clean up time; and the cost for gas, wear and tear on the vehicles, etc. By building it in our shop we eliminate all those costs.
When it comes to the finish, precast concrete countertops generally has a smoother finish because of the way they are built. Generally they are cast with the face and edges against a smooth surface. Typically it’s a 4’ x 8’ sheet of 3/4″ melamine. This is a medium density fiberboard that has a plastic veneer on both sides.
This veneer is very smooth and so when you cast concrete against it you get the same type of finish. Once we pour them, we pop them out of the mold, do a light sanding, then seal them, generally with a polyurethane that gives them excellent stain and heat resistance.
Next we load and drive them over the client’s home and install them in sections just like what is done with granite or quartz.
What that means is that our clients can continue to use their kitchen or bathroom during the entire build and only have one to two day down time when it’s time to do the actual install.
Cast in place concrete countertops are always done on site. Their greatest advantage is being seamless as we are pouring the entire countertop at the same time.
They are more expensive on a square foot basis than precast as we do have to do all of the work on site. With these, we build the mold on site, directly over the existing cabinets. We haul all of our mixing equipment, materials, and tooling to the site, make a batch, and fill the molds.
Since these are made “face up” we have to wait a few hours after they are poured so that the concrete starts to harden then begin troweling them to their final finish. This can take many hours depending on how warm it is. If it’s really cold, we could trowel for up to 6 hours before wrapping it up.
The reason we trowel is to progressively smooth the concrete countertop surface. We pass a steel trowel over the surface, making it smoother, then we have to let it harden a little bit more before doing it again.
Once its really smooth we let it dry overnight then come back the next day to open the mold, do any touchups, sand, and seal it.
This troweling process creates a lot of variation in the surface finish, some areas are smoother than others, have more waviness, color variations, etc. It’s a manual, artisan finishing process that creates beautiful finishes with a lot of personality.
Here’s a video showing the cast in place process from start to finish.
Which way you go depends on what is the final result you want and of course your budget. Generally we install about twenty or more precast countertops to each cast in place as we can usually provide what the client is asking for with a precast countertop at a more economical price.
However, there are times when a cast in place is the best way to go. For example we’ve had exterior grills or pergolas where a roof support beam is right in the middle of the countertop area and the client does not want to see a notch which we would need if they are precast. We can mold and pour right around these beams without having to notch them if we do a cast in place concrete countertop.
Are you interested in seeing more available options? Visit any of these links for more information:
Concrete Countertop Care Guide
Below are some examples of the available countertop edges.
Thanks for taking some time to read our concrete countertop tutorial. We hope we’ve been able to answer your questions but please don’t hesitate in reaching out to us if you have more. We hope to hear from you soon.