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Are Concrete Countertops Right For Your Kitchen?

Are Concrete Countertops Right For Your Kitchen?

Last modified: 2018/06/12 | 5 mins

A concrete countertop can completely transform a space’s look. Many think of concrete as a mainly industrial material, however it can fit perfectly inside a home when done well.  

Concrete countertops can turn a basic kitchen into a very aesthetically pleasing space. They offer both the look and functionality that every kitchen deserves. From their durability to the option of unfinished edges, these countertops offer different possibilities based on what vision you may have.

Before choosing how to personalize your countertop, you need to choose the form. Concrete countertops are available in three types. First among the options is custom precast slabs, which begin with taking the measurements of the countertop area, then building a mold. Once it has been fabricated offsite, it is then transported and installed in the kitchen. Another option is "pour in place" countertops, which are exactly what they sound like. This type of concrete countertop is poured on the spot over a concrete board or plywood surface that covers the cabinets underneath with a molding for the edges. The last type is the simplest and entails using pre-manufactured slabs and having them fitted.

Concrete countertops are functional and beautiful

When they hear the word concrete, many people think of a slab of sidewalk, but the concrete countertops of today have a look like natural stone. Through acid staining techniques, concrete can have the same mottled finish of slate or granite. This contributes to a very chic appearance that can be further enhanced to minimize the appearance of seams by using a color-matched filler. They can also be cast in almost any shape, making them very adaptable to all kitchen sizes.

Concrete countertops can also be heavily customized making them very adaptable to any kitchen design. If you like the look of adding ceramic or glass tiles, they can easily be installed around the edge to give a whole new appearance to your countertop. Concrete can also be tinted in a spectrum of different colors to match with your floors or cabinets. In fact, the staining technique used to give a marbled effect can also create beautiful earth tones on the surface if stained long enough. 

Concrete countertops also tend to look better as they age. Thanks to the nature of concrete, its appearance will evolve over time, eventually developing a warm patina. If you like a rustic-meets-industrial kind of look, this material is perfect.

Concrete countertops

Photo: David Morris

The durability of concrete

The durability of these countertops is based on a few factors, the first being its thickness, which makes it difficult to leave scratches on the surface unless something very heavy is dropped on it. Concrete is very porous and can stain, especially when coming into contact with kitchen staples like wine, juice, coffee, or oil. This makes it paramount to use a surface sealer. Essentially, there are penetrating sealers which work to penetrate into the concretes pores and seal them and other types of sealers which coat the concrete top, leaving a physical barrier in-between the countertop and any liquids. 

The two most effective types of sealer for concrete countertops are polyurethanes and epoxies. While epoxies form a protective film on the surface, they also leave a glossy finish which may not appeal to every homeowner. Polyurethanes on the other hand are very chemical and abrasion resistant but require time to cure before your countertops are ready for the elements. Remember, if a sealer is not applied correctly, it can leave the concrete susceptible to stains.

Heat resistance is also a major selling point of concrete counter tops because hot pots and pans can be left on the side without any issue. However, it is important to note that epoxy sealers can be damaged and become discolored by heat. Polyurethane, on the other hand, can stand up to the daily wear and tear especially if used in a multi-family home, since it is also scratch resistant.

Although concrete countertops are very durable, they can develop hairline cracks. Even though these fractures can be unsightly, they are nonstructural and don’t affect the integrity of the countertop in any way.

What causes hairline cracks on concrete countertops?

Well, when hairline cracks appear, they’re most often due to shrinkage of the concrete. This shrinkage can be either from drying or from a heating-cooling cycle because as concrete cools, it shrinks. Cracks are also most likely to appear where dry concrete repeatedly absorbs moisture and then dries out again. Over time, this wetting and drying cycle can cause the concrete to crack. These type of cracks often appear at openings in the countertop, like near areas of moisture (ex: the sink cutout).

There are companies using fiber reinforcing techniques to create pre-fabricated slabs that are less prone to cracking. Even though a countertop can be reinforced, hairline cracks may still occur with time.

Remember that these cracks are too narrow to catch food and debris and do not affect the structural integrity of the countertop. It’s important to mention that many people find an aged appearance gives character that this natural occurrence bestows. Small cracks and general wear can add to the enduring patina that all concrete slabs exhibit over time.

Tips for concrete countertop maintenance

Maintaining your concrete countertop to keep it in top shape is the most important aspect if you wish to extend its life. The first step is applying an initial sealer. For long term durability urethane helps create a nonporous surface that works to avoid stains from occurring. For best results, sealers need to be applied periodically and ideally, your concrete countertop should be resealed every 1 to 3 years. For regular maintenance on top of the sealer, waxing your countertop monthly will help to protect both the surface and the sealer. This layer will help repel liquid and cause it to bead up so when liquids don’t bead up anymore, it’s an indication that wax should be reapplied.

Concrete countertops give a very upscale look to a kitchen. They are also unique, handcrafted, and often personalized, making each kitchen look different. For those thinking about the lifespan of the materials they use in their home, concrete is a material that lasts indefinitely, which can make it ideal for spaces that are constantly being used. 

Author: David Ben-Zaken

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