Concrete countertops comes in two forms, pre-cast or cast in place. Most notable are Vetrazzo and IceStone.
PRE-CAST - Pre-cast means the concrete is manufactured in a shop and installed on site, just like granite countertops. Pre-cast concrete countertops come in two forms:
Custom - Custom pre-cast concrete countertops are the “traditional” form of concrete countertops, where each piece is custom formed and cast to fit the cabinets. All the forming, casting and finishing is performed in a shop and the finished pieces are then installed in the client’s home.
Since each piece is custom shaped, no cutting is necessary, and since slabs can be made larger than pieces cut from a premade sheet, fewer seams are possible.
Custom pre-cast concrete countertops can have integral sinks, drainboards, embedments and other features cast directly into the concrete. Additionally, custom precast concrete countertops can have any look, from exposed aggregate, honed “salt-and-pepper”, troweled, acid stained and many more.
Unlike premanufactured slabs, custom pre-cast can be made in any thickness, with monolithic edges of 3” or more possible. In contrast, premanufactured slabs have to be laminated like natural stone, and the glue line is always visible.
Premanufactured Slabs – These are the branded products such as Vetrazzo, IceStone and Meld, and their looks are limited to exposed aggregate. Premanufactured slabs are often 3cm thick sheets which are fabricated exactly like natural stone. Granite fabricators buy finished sheets and cut the sheets into slabs.
Slabs are then installed the same manner as granite countertops.The major advantage with Pre-Cast, Premanufacturerd slabs is the quality control of a factory manufactured slab.
After the aggregate is added, the slab is machined to create a nice, flat finish, exposing the aggregate. They may still need to be sealed on a regular basis depending on the sealer applied (check with fabricator).
One significant difference between custom pre-cast and premanufactured is that premanufactured slabs don’t (and can’t) have any reinforcement. Custom pre-cast concrete countertops are reinforced and outperform premanufactured slabs.
This means longer pieces (fewer seams), less breakage and fewer cracks, as well as larger cantilevers (bartop overhangs). Unreinforced concrete relies on the tensile strength of concrete, which is very weak. Well engineered, reinforced concrete always outperforms unreinforced concrete.
CAST-IN-PLACE – Cast-in-Place means the concrete countertops are cast and finished on site, directly on the cabinets. All the work is done in the client’s home, from mixing the concrete to sealing the finished countertops. No seams and less turn around time are the main benefit with cast-in-place. You will be limited on the design choices. Also consider your home will become the work place for the concrete craftsman.
The benefits to cast-in-place concrete countertops is they can be installed in just about any layout. It can be textured, troweled, or smooth pressed to create different looks. Types of edge profiles are only limited by your imagination since it is a poured surface. There are also a number of different integrated features such as custom drain boards and integrated sinks. It is also a somewhat scratch and heat resistant surface.
Concrete is a porous material. Un-sealed concrete is susceptible to stains and water spots. Sealing is a must if you want to maintain its original beauty. Advances in technology have brought about new sealers. Specialized sealers provide excellent stain protection and often do not need any maintenance or reapplication.
Depending on the texture, some concrete fabricators recommend regular waxing in order to help protect and seal the surface. However, research has shown wax provides little or no protection.
It is also very important to find an experienced fabricator / installer when considering concrete countertops. If a countertop is not properly installed, problems like spalling or warping can occur as much as 6 months after the installation.
The most common repair is a crack in the surface. Once a crack appears, more concrete, caulking or epoxy resins can be used to fill such cracks. The quality and appearance of a repair is highly dependent upon the skill and experience of the professional doing the repair.
Concrete countertops are a solid choice for any kitchen. It is important the consumer become educated about the different types and brands of concrete. All concrete is not the same.
Use a reputable fabricator with experience in concrete and the best practices for sealing and maintenance. Concrete, fabricated and installed correctly, can offer years of beauty to any kitchen or bath.
- Local Concrete Fabricators (Cast-in-Place, Custom Pre-Cast)
- Pre-manufactured slabs:
- Squak Mountain Stone
PROS – Unique look and feel, recycled components can be added, custom look with cast in place concrete.
CONS – Cast in Place can be expensive, porous, must be sealed, repairs can be noticeable.
CARE & CLEANING – Avoid abrasive and ammonia based cleaners. For daily cleaning, use a product like Simple Green. Sealers have different procedures so be sure to check with your fabricator about the best cleaners and maintenance schedule.
WARRANTY – Cast-in-Place offers no warranty except from the individual fabricator. Pre-Cast offers various warranties ranging from 1 to 10 years.
COST – The cost to install concrete countertops is generally high, ranging from $65 – over $100 square foot. The more custom the job becomes, the more the cost will rise. Things like custom concrete sinks can add upwards of $800 – $2000. Other custom features such as custom edges, drain board, textures and the addition of pigments, veining, tiles, etc. can also drive the cost up.