Why choose concrete over granite, corian, or solid surface?

Cast concrete is a refreshing alternative to the usual mass-produced materials that are becoming commonplace. Concrete appeals to those seeking more personality and soul in their project, or certain features they are not seeing elsewhere. Each of our concrete pieces is handmade to order. Our client’s vision can be achieved by having a say in the color, shape and thickness of their fireplace or bathtub surrounds, for example.  With concrete, no need to limit the design to straight lines and flat materials, it’s a liquid that can be poured into any shape in three dimensions!

Concrete can add both practicality and attractiveness to a home or business by incorporating special features such as drain boards, cutting board slides, trivets and integral sinks. Our clients have also contributed beach pebbles, lucky coins and personal mementos to their projects, which come to reflect the personality of the owners, creating a real sense of “home” in their new house. We call our vision “the softer side of concrete”.

Other clients appreciate the fact concrete is a locally produced material with a small ecological footprint.

How thick are concrete countertops?

Our pre-cast counters are generally 1 ½ to 2” thick, which gives them a pleasing sense of mass and sets them apart from the common 1 1/4” thickness of most other countertops. This thickness also provides enough material for integral drain boards and integral cutting boards, if desired. Drop edges of 8 inches or more may be incorporated for a heavier look, without adding appreciably to the weight, while our backsplashes are usually 5/8” thick.

How thin can concrete be?

Glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) tiles can be as thin as ¼” and our GFRC fireplace and tub surrounds are generally made with thin-walled sections ½” to ¾” thick, giving the impression of girth, but without the weight.

Will they be too heavy for my cabinets?

Our traditional wet-cast countertops weigh approximately 23 lbs. per square foot, which is several pounds more than natural stone, but well within load capacities for standard North American residential construction. Our GFRC products are at least 40% lighter than this. Generally little or no special reinforcement is required to quality-made cabinets. Off-the-shelf store-bought modular cabinets, single-wall, or pressboard cabinets may require certain minor modifications assuring load is transferred directly to the wall or floor. Overhangs up to 12” do not call for additional support. We are happy to offer guidance during our initial on-site measure.

Are there seams?

Most of our countertops will have a seam if over 8’ long. We have poured monolithic pieces over 13’ long, for which a surcharge applies. Seam tolerances are 1/8″ wide and filled with clear silicone sealant. If visual continuity is an issue, we can move the seam to a less conspicuous spot, but we prefer to think of seams as a design opportunity, to be incorporated into the piece as a subtle feature, rather than something to hide. Examples of various decorative seams can be seen in our “portfolio”.

What about chips and cracks?

We guarantee our products against structural cracks. Our countertop edges are eased to minimize chipping if struck by a hard object, but we have repaired chips on the edge of a countertop caused by a champagne bottle or a cast iron pan. This is easily done using color-matched epoxy. Our countertops and fire surrounds are strengthened using several types of internal reinforcement. This, and proper curing after casting, eliminates structural cracking. Hairline cracks, though uncommon, can occur in narrow areas, or occasionally at inside corners. These micro-cracks are seldom noticeable and do not affect the concrete’s strength or durability, nor do they compromise the sealer or usefulness of a countertop. They are inherent to the property of the material and can be easily filled with color-matched epoxy, if need be, but more often are seen as enhancing the timeless beauty and earthen nature of the material, similar to the creases in a leather jacket.

Will you be working in my new kitchen? What is the process?

We will come to your home to create exact templates of your space, then return to our production studio and the controlled workspace and curing environment it provides, to make the molds. These molds are then cast upside down, like a cake, offering a far superior surface quality than can be poured in place. This “reverse mold” casting technique also enables us to mold custom designs and features such as drain boards, curved seams and integral backsplashes into the countertop. After the concrete has properly cured, they are sealed and ready to be delivered and installed.

How long will it take to make my countertops?

Once we have worked out the details, we will schedule a time to come to make the templates and collect a deposit. This is usually after the drywall has been finished and for a kitchen or vanity, usually after the cabinets have been installed. From templating to completed installation of a custom counter is usually three to six weeks and we take pride in consistently meeting our completion date forecasts, thus allowing the other trades to schedule and complete their work.

Will my countertops stain?

All natural stone surfaces will stain if left untreated. Cast concrete is about as porous as marble and must be sealed, as naked concrete is vulnerable to acidic liquids such as wine, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar that can discolor the surface.

We can confidently say our sealed countertops resist most household stains, but this is not to say that they are stain proof.

Periodic maintenance (see below) should keep your countertop in great condition, but if you are the type of person that places priority on having a countertop surface that will never change, (such as glass) you will probably not be satisfied with concrete. If little or no maintenance is performed, a patina will develop over time, which can be quite beautiful, much like the richness of an aged butcher block or an antique rocker.

All this to say, concrete is to be used and enjoyed. Unlike granite, cast concrete is not necessarily meant to remain immaculate and has not automatically reached its full potential when new. Through the years the surface may experience a few stains as it develops its “soul”, and if this added character becomes unsettling, our countertops can always be refinished to almost their original luster relatively easily, even decades later, as they are integrally colored.

What about sealers?

Although the ideal sealer has yet to be developed, much effort is going into new nano-sealing technology that offers not only stain protection, but also reasonable heat protection, scratch protection, safe handling and low toxicity, while allowing the surface to retain its sensual feel.

We use several sealers, have tried many others, and are currently using what we feel is the best product yet developed for our countertops and sinks.  It is a food-safe penetrating reactive sealer that gives off no VOC’s and is specifically developed to increase the surface density of our concrete and protect the concrete surface, while maintaining its silky smoothness that our fingers enjoy so much. Part of our countertop sealing system is included in our mix design and cast into the pieces, a revolutionary approach that is producing great results.

In contrast, urethane or epoxy coatings may offer “bullet-proof” stain resistance, but this is achieved by placing a layer of plastic between our fingertips and the concrete. This protective coating can be damaged by cutting directly on the surface or by intense heat. What’s more, scratches are difficult to repair, not to mention the harmful vapors such products produce during application and curing. We therefore chose not to use topical sealers on most of our products.

What kind of routine maintenance do they require?

Not much, other than we recommend following normal good housekeeping practices, which includes wiping up spills soon after they occur and not allowing liquids to pool. Avoid cutting directly on counters, and do not use scotch-brite scrub pads, etc. to scour the surface. For maintenance, we recommend the use of neutral, non-ammonia, non-abrasive cleansers and a soft cloth. We also suggest not placing terra cotta planters, etc. directly on the countertops, especially in the first few months, as this may cause marking. We provide detailed performance and care instructions.

Some clients are interested in an annual or semi-annual maintenance service, which can be arranged, while most do not see the need.

Can I cut on my countertops, or place hot pots on them?

Cookie sheets and hot pots at “normal cooking temperatures” placed directly on the sealed concrete surface are not a problem, as both are heat resistant, but it is better to use a hot plate to reduce the chance of unsightly marks eventually developing in the surface, as you would on most other countertop surfaces.  Examples of stainless steel trivets designed into the counter can be seen in our portfolio section.

We highly recommend the use of cutting boards, to avoid scratching your countertops. These can be designed next to the stove or sink as removable boards, as seen in our portfolio.

How does concrete compare to granite on price?

If calculated on a square foot basis, our countertops can cost less, the same or more than granite, which is being offered in thinner sections and becoming more affordable and readily available to the masses. Just as paintings are not sold by the square foot, we tend to price our countertops per project, not by size, as not all square feet are created equal.

How is concrete priced?

Hand cast concrete is not a commodity product quarried and processed in factories: which is why many of our clients are drawn to it. Square-foot “volume-based pricing” has been developed by large, automated companies producing hundreds, even thousands of square feet of product daily, shifting the emphasis to production volume and away from where we feel it should be: creating and crafting special pieces responding to our clients’ needs and wishes. We focus on creating designs and finishes that simply cannot be made of any other material.

Our prices reflect the quality of our work and our high level of customer service. Our base price is about 85 $ per square foot for straightforward projects. Price varies according to the intricacies and particularities of certain custom features our clients may wish to include in their countertops. More creative and technically complex projects require more complex forms and a more sophisticated mold making process. The steps involved in producing certain finishes and textures also vary.  A custom decorative inlay, or mosaic, embedded fossils, intricate finish is priced on an hourly basis, rather than a square foot basis. An 8-foot countertop run is not half the price of a sixteen-foot run. Feed-back we have received from designers, builders and repeat clients is that we offer good value for the quality and professionalism we deliver, which is one of our missions. Our estimates list optional features for clients to choose from.

Fill out our contact form, tell us about your project and we will provide you with an estimate.

Who will install the concrete work?

We prefer to deliver and install our concrete work ourselves in Western Canada to avoid warranty issues and assure complete client satisfaction. Travel and installation charges are quoted in our estimates. Otherwise, we will provide installation instructions, but highly recommend using a contractor who is familiar with solid surface countertops, as the installation procedure is not difficult, but delicate, much like solid surface.

Where can I see some of your work?

In addition to visiting our “portfolio” pages, we encourage people to experience the softer side of concrete first hand. Several of our pieces are in commercial settings and examples can be seen (and felt) in select showrooms on Vancouver Island. (EMCO, 2258 Dorman Rd. NANAIMO, Mid Island Cabinets, Mostar Rd. Nanaimo, Urbanna Kitchens, 1745 Blanchard, Victoria) We also welcome visits of our studio/shop (near Nanaimo Airport) by appointment.

I’d like to purchase, what do I do?

You can fax or e-mail us a plan, or in some cases a sketch of your project with a few details of what you have in mind, or simply call to discuss the venture and arrange to meet with us. Ian or Joel can then work with you on the design if needed and quote a price. Once the details have been worked out, a 50% deposit is required at templating for work to begin.

If you have any questions that are not covered on this page, please contact us.

Thank you for your interest in our work.

Concrete Countertops