Kitchen Counters: Concrete, the Nearly Indestructible Option

Kitchen Counters: Concrete, the Nearly Indestructible Option

Infinitely customizable and with an amazingly long life span, concrete countertops are an excellent option for any kitchen

Concrete, the humble material behind many a building foundation, makes for nearly indestructible kitchen counters and offers artisan-crafted customization in both color and layout. With these bragging rights, concrete rises above much of the countertop competition. Learn more below and see whether concrete counters are right for your kitchen.
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The basics: Concrete is composed of water, a binder and a filler.

  • The binder, cement, is most commonly Portland cement, but slag cement and fly ash — both industrial waste by-products — are becoming common additions.
  • The filler, an aggregate, can be anything from sand, gravel and stone to crushed glass and beads.

Concrete counters are either precast or cast onsite (also known as cast in place).

  • Precast concrete counters are cast offsite by a local artisan, who pours the counter based on a template of the layout.
  • Cast-in-place (or site-cast) concrete counters are poured right on top of the cabinets and finished in place.

Cost: $100 to $150 per square foot installed.

Advantages: Concrete’s durability is unquestionable. And options beyond the industrial aesthetic are easy with shapes and additives like stains, pigments, aggregates and coatings. Architects and designers favor this material’s ability to unite with other concrete elements in the home, like floors. And because the counters are handmade by artisans, you can easily have details such as integral drainboards.

Disadvantages: It’s not unusual for concrete, especially when cast in place, to develop tiny hairline cracks as a result of curing and settling. The cracks are typically not structural.

Special considerations: Colored concrete can be created by one of three processes:

  • Integral pigment is a colored powder that’s mixed into the wet concrete, resulting in a color that penetrates the full depth of the slab. This is a permanent and predictable way to color your slab, and the color choices are nearly limitless.
  • Acid staining is less predictable than an integral pigment but adds a little magic to the process courtesy of metallic salts that react with the concrete. Acid staining is performed on hardened slabs and results in a permanent color change, but offers a reduced number of color options.
  • Dye, a liquid available in a wide range of colors, is applied to cured slabs and penetrates only the top layer of the concrete. Some dyes are not UV stable.

Your installer can help determine which, if any, color process is right for you.

Maintenance: As with most countertops, a mild soap and a cloth are all that should be used for routine cleanup. Be sure to avoid harsh cleansers.

The long-term enjoyment of your concrete counter depends on finding the right sealer. Sealers are available in either penetrating or topical:

  • Penetrating sealers soak into the concrete and are barely detectable once dry. They don’t protect the concrete from contact with spills but do inhibit spills from penetrating. Unfortunately, this means that spills can leave a lasting stain or mark more easily than on concrete sealed with a topical sealer.
  • Topical sealers, such as wax, urethane, acrylic and epoxy, coat the surface of the concrete and vary in their look and performance. Epoxy and urethane sealers are thick, glossy and often obvious. Wax, while handsome and easy for the DIYer, performs poorly as a sealer. Acrylic coatings look and perform fairly well but scratch easily.

While the Concrete Countertop Institute acknowledges that there is no ideal sealer, it has a handy chart to help you find the sealer that will best meet your expectations.

It’s worth understanding that while concrete is nearly indestructible, the sealer is not. The sealer can be compromised by surface cutting, harsh cleansers, hot pans,\ and acidic foods. With care and the use of cutting boards and trivets, you can keep your sealer in good shape, thereby reducing the potential for staining and harboring germs.

modern kitchen by Steve Hamm

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Sustainability: The cement in concrete is derived from heating limestone, which is a carbon-intensive process that creates gas emissions. However, slag cement, fly ash and silica fume — all industrial waste by-products that are carbon neutral — can replace more than 50 percent of the cement, reducing emissions and improving the concrete’s ecofriendliness.

More: Compare kitchen counter materials

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