A Guide to Concrete Countertops

Who would want concrete countertops?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of concrete compared to other countertop materials?

How much do they cost?

Where can I use concrete in my home?

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 with concrete countertops?

What about backsplashes?

Will concrete countertops stain?

Will they scratch?

Can I put hot pots on the countertops?

Hairline Cracks

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 or to discuss a project?

Who would want concrete countertops?

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 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 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.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of concrete compared to other countertop materials?

Advantages:

  • 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: Our sealers of choice provide a surface that is extremely stain-resistant and low-maintenance. Common food items will not stain them. The sealer will not degrade, and therefore does not need to be reapplied every year like many other sealers. Each sealer option also exhibits very good heat resistance. You can put hot pots on the countertop without trivets, but we recommend temperatures under 450 degrees.
  • 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.

Disadvantages:

  • As with any countertop surface, chipping can accur from heavy blows to corners or edges, which can be fixed.
  • Scratching: While the Clauss Designs high performance sealer is very durable, it is possible to scratch it. Also as for any countertop, it is possible to scratch the surface  from sliding heavy  rough object over it or by cutting directly on  the countertop. 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 3 to 5 weeks to fabricate. See the section on lead time for more details.

How much do they cost?

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 $60 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.


Where can I use concrete in my home?

  • Clauss Designs makes concrete countertops for kitchens, bathrooms, fireplace mantles/hearths, tables, desks, and anywhere else countertops are required. Horizontal countertops must be at least 1.5” thick. Clauss Designs 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. Clauss Designs 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. Seam appearance is minimized by using color-matched acrylic caulk.
  • Integral and vessel sinks are possible. See the section on sinks for more information.
  • Concrete countertops can be used both indoors and outdoors.
  • Concrete floors are a different application. Clauss Designs has contacts who specialize in various types of concrete floors.

What colors are available?

Almost any color! Clauss Designs has developed many standard colors to choose from. each 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.


What is the process for custom colors?

Clauss Designs can design a custom color of your choice. 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.


How much color variation can occur?

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.


What edges are available?

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 moulding. For example, Clauss Designs can do pencil, beveled, concave and reverse cove edging, and many other profiles are available. Edging may be placed on top or bottom of the countertop.


What kind of sinks can be used with concrete countertops?

Clauss Designs 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.

Clauss Designs can make integral concrete sinks of almost any shape. Bathroom vanities are an excellent application of integral concrete sinks. We do not recommend integral concrete kitchen sinks for engineering reasons. Kitchen sinks are deep and have angles that would put large stresses on the concrete and have high potential for cracking. Also, the size of kitchen sinks generally dictates a very thick concrete bottom that would be a problem with standard plumbing and cabinetry.

Concrete vessel sinks are also possible, and concrete’s versatility means that the sink can be any color and shape.


What about backsplashes?

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.


Will concrete countertops stain?

Not under normal usage.

Clauss Designs’ has two sealer options to choose from. We have 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.  This is a sprayed on  topical coating that gives the concrete a very smooth  satin finish that enhances the true color of the concrete.The second options is for people who want to “feel” the beauty of the concrete. This is a treatment  process that actually changes the characteristics of the molecular structure of the surface. It allows for the concrete to be pollished to a 3000 grit, which has a very nice smooth feel and look to it.  It also has very good stain resistance to the above mentioned solutions. Both of these stain resistant processes  were chosen for their proven track record in the industry, being the best products for high performance concrete uses. Complete care instructions are included in your Owner’s Guide. Touch-up of any marks that do occur is simple and easy.


Will they scratch?

Clauss Designs high-performance  sealer is durable, but 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. As for Clauss Designs  treatement proccess, it will not scratch, but you can scratch the concrete itself. 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 minimize the scratch using the Clauss Designs Touch-Up Kit.


Can I put hot pots on the countertops?

As with almost all types of countertop surfaces, it is best to use trivets. Concrete can microcrack if exposed to high heat, and for Clauss Designs high performance sealer; is not elastic enough to “absorb” these microcracks. The surface will appear “crazed”. However, it can be touched up to minimize the appearance of these microcracks. Clauss Designs treatment process has very good resistance to heat. As a safe rule of thumb, do not put hot pots or pans onto countertops that are of a temperature higher than 450 degrees. Each stain resistance option has been tested at 450 degrees with no adverse affects.


Hairline Cracks

Non-structural hairline cracks are possible and are considered an inherent part of the product, not a manufacturing defect. Hairline cracks can occur at any time during the life of the countertop, but are usually not a common occurrence. Hairline cracks are defined as cracks, generally smaller than 1/2 mm in width that do not threaten the integrity or stability of the slab nor prevent the continued and normal use of the countertop.


How are concrete countertops made?

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.


What is the lead time?

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:

1. Color selection

  • Clauss Designs 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.

2. Templating

  • Templating is done from finished and installed cabinetry, and it takes less than one day.

3. Fabrication

  • The typical time required to fabricate most concrete countertops, depending on their size and complexity, is 3-5 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 Clauss Designs 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 Clauss Designs’ 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.

4. Installation

  • Because Clauss Designs concrete countertops are precast and prefinished, installation generally takes less than one day.

How are templates made?

Concrete countertops are templated just like granite. Templating is done after any existing countertops are removed, or after new cabinets are fully installed. Your contractor needs to arrange for existing countertop removal. 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 CAD 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.


How are the countertops installed?

Concrete countertops are handled and installed just like granite. Seams are caulked with a color-matched acrylic caulk. Your contractor needs to arrange for plumbing and electrical hookup no earlier than 24 hours after the countertop installation.


Are there any special structural considerations?

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, bartops on kneewalls and similar situations sometimes require brackets or other structural supports for the countertops. Clauss Designs can advise on support requirements.


Do you offer a warranty?

Yes. Clauss Designs warrantees the structural integrity of the concrete for one year after installation. The countertops will of course last a lot longer than a year, but if any problems were to occur, they would occur in the first year. We subject the concrete to much larger stresses while handling it than clients ever could once it is installed. In addition, Clauss Designs provides each client with an Owner’s Guide and a direct phone number for support from Colby Clauss.


Whom can I contact with questions or to discuss a project?

Contact your designer or Colby Clauss, at 260-833-6030 or ClaussDesigns@gmail.com. See our website at www.ClaussDesigns.com for lots of information and photos. Also, Clauss Designs has a showroom that is open by appointment only, and Colby is available nights and weekends as needed.