F & M's Questions and Answers
A Guide To Concrete Countertops
- Who would want concrete countertops?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages?
- How much do they cost?
- Where can I use concrete in my home?
- Is concrete environmentally friendly?
- What colors are available?
- What is the process for custom colors?
- How much color variation can occur?
- What edges are available?
- What kind of sinks can be used?
- What about backsplashes?
- Will concrete countertops stain?
- Will they scratch?
- Can I put hot pots on the countertops?
- How are concrete countertops made?
- What is the lead time?
- How are templates made?
- How are the countertops installed?
- Are there any special structural considerations?
- Do you offer a warranty?
- Whom can I contact with questions?
Concrete countertops are the most unique, personal countertop option because they are made from scratch for each client. To determine whether concrete is right for you, think about whether you believe that:
- You want something unique and personalized.
- You want something that looks natural and has character.
- You appreciate high-quality, hand-crafted items.
- You think granite is too shiny, too formal, too common.
- You think synthetic solid surface materials look and feel like plastic.
- You need a color or visual texture that’s not available with other countertop materials.
If so, concrete countertops may be right for you.
- Custom: Concrete’s biggest advantage is that it is completely custom. Your countertop will be unique to you and highly personalized.
- Versatile: Concrete is extremely versatile. It can enhance any style, from French Country to Contemporary. From Arts and Crafts to Industrial. From Traditional to Modern. The possibilities are endless.
- Practical: F & M’S proprietary sealer provides a surface that is extremely stain-resistant and low-maintenance. Common food items will not stain it. The sealer does not degrade, and therefore does not need to be reapplied every year like many other sealers. The sealer also exhibits great heat resistance.
- Imperfections: We believe that this is an advantage. Concrete countertops are hand made and hand finished. Since concrete is a heterogeneous mixture of many different ingredients, subtle variations in color, shade, texture and overall appearance should be expected. All concrete is susceptible to harmless hairline cracks. They will sometimes appear months or years after installation, and are generally a result of seasonal movement of the cabinets and the house itself. These should be considered part of the aesthetic charm of concrete, and not a defect. Concrete exhibits natural beauty rather than plastic perfection.
- Staining: Concrete countertops actually behave similar to granite in this regard. Granite countertops are also porous and have to be sealed and maintained. Most people don’t realize this, because granite is usually too dark and patterned to show stains. Food, acids and oil will not stain your countertop if wiped up immediately, and if left on for a longer period of time, they will cause only a light spot whose appearance can be minimized with household bleach and a paper towel.
- Scratching: While the sealer is very durable, it is possible to scratch it. For example, in kitchens, you should use cutting boards on concrete countertops.
- Lead time: Concrete countertops are a long lead time item. They take approximately 4 to 6 weeks to fabricate. See the section on lead time for more details.
Even though it is a completely custom material, concrete is competitive in price with standard countertop materials. The price is competitive with high end granite, ranging from $70 to over $100 per square foot. We are happy to work with you and your designer to give you an estimate on your project, and we can help you with options to fit your budget.
- F & M makes concrete countertops for kitchens, bathrooms, fireplace mantles, tables, desks, and anywhere else countertops are required. Horizontal countertops must be at least 1.5” thick. F & M can make thicker countertops as well as fabricate front edge returns up to 6” deep.
- Concrete countertops can be straight, curved, notched, multi-level, etc. Unlike granite, which would drastically increase in cost for curved shapes, creating curved concrete shapes simply involves some extra complexity and labor in forming.
- Concrete can also be used in vertical applications such as backsplashes, shower surrounds and fireplace surrounds. For vertical applications, concrete is generally 1” thick.
- Maximum slab length for standard depth countertops is about 8 feet. Seams are located around sinks and cooktops, or wherever required for structural reasons. F & M will work with you to design seam placement that is both structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing. Seams are typically 1/16” wide, similar to tile grout lines. However, it is important to realize that concrete countertops are hand made and hand processed; they are not machine cut, so tolerances for seams are more generous than with granite. We take care to minimize seam appearance by using two-part color matched epoxy.
- Integral and undermount sinks are possible. See the section on sinks for more information.
- Concrete countertops can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Very! Concrete itself is environmentally friendly, plus we can use many types of recycled glass, metals, stone chips, and sea shells.
Any color! Any color can be produced in a solid, speckled or variegated pattern. And, you can specify embedded stone, glass, or other objects. You can specify the color, size and density of embedments. Coupled with the many color choices, you have myriad design options.
F & M specializes in custom color development. We can customize existing colors or match the color of an item such as a paint chip or fabric. The process takes about 3 weeks. We produce two or more 6” x 6” samples and submit them for your approval.
Concrete is a natural, handmade material. Many factors such as humidity, sand lot and cement lot can affect the final appearance of the concrete. All of our color formulas record the type of sand, type of cement, and exact measurements of pigments to 1/10th of a gram, and we use specially developed software to calculate mix design. However, colors can still vary because of the aforementioned factors.
Another factor that contributes to perceived variation is simply the size of samples. A 3” x 3” sample, or even a 6” x 6” sample, will look different than a whole countertop simply because the small sample does not capture all of the natural, random variations that will occur over a large surface. The color in a 3” x 3” sample may appear completely uniform, but a whole countertop in that exact same color will not appear as uniform. The same situation occurs with other natural materials such as granite. If you are looking for perfect uniformity, solid surface might be a better countertop option for you.
For concrete, edging is formed and cast rather than cut like granite or solid surface. Therefore, edge choices depend on the availability of appropriate trim molding. For example, F & M can do pencil, beveled, concave and reverse cove edging, and other custom edges may be available. Edging may be placed on top or bottom of the countertop. Bullnose edging is available for 2” thick countertop edges.
F & M concrete countertops can accommodate all types of sinks including drop-in, undermount and apron front. The minimum lip of concrete around all sides of sinks is 3”. Concrete can also accommodate drop-in cooktops. The minimum lip of concrete in the front of a cooktop is 3”; we recommend 3” for the back also, but 2” will suffice.
F & M can make integral concrete sinks of almost any shape. Bathroom vanities are an excellent application of integral concrete sinks. While integral concrete kitchen sinks are possible, F & M can also do undermount, apron, or drop-in concrete kitchen sinks. Because undermount sinks need to be independent from the countertop, F & M takes full responsibility in mounting these types of sinks.
F & M’s concrete sinks can also be made in different colors, creating contrast with your countertop.
Backsplashes are cast and finished separately and deck mounted after the countertops are installed. Backsplashes are nominally 1 inch thick and can be from 3 inches high to full height. Outlet openings are cast in, not cut on site.
Bare concrete is very porous and will readily stain. Virtually all concrete countertops are sealed to prevent staining; however the degree to which these sealers works varies significantly. Commonly used sealers include wax and penetrating acrylic sealer. Both of these are inexpensive and easy to apply. However, neither offer significant stain or heat resistance, and both require frequent reapplication to prevent the formation of a “patina”. F & M’s sealer is different. We use a high-performance sealer that is exceptionally durable and provides excellent resistance to incidental contact with staining agents such as red wine, lemon juice and olive oil. Touch-up of any marks that do occur is simple and easy. For more information, see F & M's Care and Maintenance Guide.
While the sealer is durable, it can scratch if cut with a knife or subjected to heavy, sharp objects dragged across the surface. Cutting on the concrete may compromise the integrity of the sealer and allow stains to permeate the concrete matrix. Cutting on the concrete will also ruin knives, requiring a professional resharpening to reshape the damaged edge. Remember, concrete is made with stone, the same thing used to sharpen knives (and will therefore dull them just as easily). If you do scratch a countertop, you can easily contact F & M for repairs. For more information, see F & M's Care and Maintenance Guide.
As with almost all types of countertop surfaces, you should use trivets and coasters. Concrete can microcrack if exposed to high heat, and the sealer is not elastic enough to “absorb” these microcracks. The sealer coating is heat resistant to 400 degrees, anything at or above this temperature is prone to sealer scorching. If this happens repairs can be made. Any object including but not limited to frying pan lids, crockpot lids, containers or mugs housing hot liquids subject to heat 150 degrees or over placed directly on sealer surface for a prolonged period may cause sealer to lift leaving a cloudy appearance in the finish. Depending on the severity of this cloudy appearance repairs may not be possible. Always use trivets and coasters for hot objects. For more information, see F & M's Care and Maintenance Guide.
All of the slabs are precast in our shop and fully finished and sealed prior to installation.
When it comes to concrete countertops, there are two basic processes: cast-in-place and precast. Cast-in-place involves building forms and pouring concrete in place, directly on the cabinets. While this avoids the hassles of transporting heavy slabs, it does tie up the site for many days (or weeks), and it involves a messy process. In addition, cast (or pour) in place provides fewer options and less control over the finished product. Generally the only finish available is a trowelled surface, which is either acid stained or colored with pigments. The quality of the concrete, the finished appearance and ultimate performance of the countertop are all hampered by the fact that it’s all being done on site under a rushed time schedule.
Precast concrete countertops, on the other hand, move all of the processes off site into a controlled environment. In the structural engineering community, it is well known that precast concrete is superior to cast in place concrete, mainly because tighter quality control can be exercised. Curing, which is a critical step that is commonly misunderstood, can be closely monitored. Moving the process to a shop allows greater flexibilty in terms of the look of the concrete. Glass, stone and other objects can now be embedded; these require extensive wet grinding with diamond power tools to reveal the embedded objects and hone and smooth the resulting surface.
Although countertops are one of the last items to be installed, concrete countertops should be selected as early as possible. Here is an outline of the process:
I - Color selection
F & M often performs custom color matching and submits samples for your approval. Allow about 3 weeks for this process. See the section on custom colors for more information.
II - Templating
Templating is done from finished and installed cabinetry or on top of existing countertops, and it takes less than one day.
III - Fabrication
The typical time required to fabricate most concrete countertops, depending on their size and complexity, is 4-6 weeks. Note that the fabrication process may not start immediately after templating depending on how full our production schedule is. A good guideline is to contact F & M at the beginning of the project, or at the latest one month before cabinetry is scheduled to be installed, both to allow time for custom color samples and to secure a spot on F & M’s production schedule.
In the case of a residential project such as a complete kitchen remodel, homeowners are usually willing to wait longer for their custom-made, handcrafted concrete countertops. However, temporary countertops can be a way to minimize inconvenience. Temporary plywood countertops are one possible solution. Or, the contractor can preserve parts of the old countertop to provide some work surfaces.
IV - Installation
Because F & M concrete countertops are precast and prefinished, installation generally takes less than one day.
Concrete countertops are templated just like granite. Templating can be done on top of existing countertops, minimizing downtime, or after new cabinets are fully installed. Your contractor needs to arrange for existing countertop removal or F & M can do the removal before installation. Almost all concrete countertops require physical templates from the finished and installed cabinetry. In some cases, such as small or freestanding pieces, we can fabricate from CADD drawings instead of physical templates. We will advise on templating requirements for your project, and we provide your contractor with a templating checklist to help him prepare. All fixtures that penetrate the concrete, such as sinks and faucets, must be available at templating time.
Concrete countertops are handled and installed just like granite. Seams are filled with a two-part color matched epoxy. Your contractor needs to arrange for plumbing and electrical hookup after completion of the countertop installation.
A square foot of 1.5” thick concrete weighs about 17 lbs; a square foot of 3 cm granite weighs about 16.5 lbs. Typically, no special considerations are necessary for standard kitchen or bathroom vanity countertops. Cantilevered slabs, bar tops on knee walls and similar situations sometimes require brackets or other structural supports for the countertops. F & M can advise on support requirements.
During the first year after installation, F & M Concrete Castings at its sole option, shall repair or replace product if it fails to maintain functional structural integrity for the intended purpose of the product solely due to a manufacturing defect. This applies to F & M Concrete Castings’ products that have been handled, fabricated, installed and maintained in the manner recommended by F & M Concrete Castings. Hairline cracks, surface scratches and cloudy patches due to sealer lift or sealer scorching are not included as part of this warranty. F & M Concrete Castings shall have sole and final right to determine whether a warranty claim is valid. All repairs outlined in the Care and Maintenance Section of the warranty will be at the cost of the customer.