Several new and exciting developments have recently occurred in the concrete countertop industry that will enable the concrete countertop industry to grow and thrive in todayís competitive marketplace.
To understand these significances, letís first look at where concrete countertops started and the level of technology used then.
Concrete countertops as we know them came into being in the mid-1980s. Back then, concrete was used primarily as an artistic medium to create highly stylized installations. Through the late 1990s there were a mere handful of concrete countertop fabricators in the United States, many of whom were artists, and emphasis tended to be placed on design aesthetics. Design, mass, feel and an organic connection with the environment often were dominant characteristics. These characteristics were of primary importance to the designer, and chance variations and imperfections were embraced as inevitable and inherent characteristics of concrete.
These early pioneers were faced with many challenges. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s specialized pigments, tools, sealers and other ingredients either didnít exist or were not readily available. The basic understanding of how concrete works in the context of countertops was not yet developed. Little was known about the structural requirements, so thick, massive slabs evolved as the only way to make a crack-resistant countertop, and sealer technology for countertops was in its infancy.
At that time, there were no standards, no training and little information exchanged as each concrete countertop maker closely protected his or her secrets. Performance varied wildly. Since all concrete countertops were called concrete, the extreme variability of the products themselves challenged consumer confidence in choosing concrete countertops. Today, new advances in concrete countertop technology have the ability to meld the hand-crafted essence embraced by the artistic pioneers with the business savvy fabricator seeking new market segments and a new material to add to their repertoire.
There are three significant advances that, taken alone, are important but when combined can be revolutionary. Historically the major drawbacks of concrete countertops were poor performance, complicated fabrication and long fabrication lead time. These new technologies improve on all three drawbacks.
The first advancement in concrete countertops is glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC). GFRC is a form of concrete that relies on a high volume of structural glass fibers for reinforcement. No steel rebar is required and thinner (therefore lighter) pieces can be made.
GFRC is strong, lightweight and can be used almost anywhere traditional concrete is used. Originally developed for building faÁade panels, GFRC can be readily adapted to countertop (and any other architectural) applications. The typical appearance is one similar to uniform solid surface, but simple adaptations to the casting technique permit exposed aggregates, marbling, veining and other decorative effects.
GFRC is a good choice for large, complex 3-D shapes (like fireplace surrounds, integral sink vanities, furniture, etc.), since the structural properties of GFRC often far exceed those of ordinary concrete. With this technique, mold fabrication is also quicker and easier. Forms for GFRC are simpler to make because only the outside needs to be made. Since GFRC provides its own reinforcement, no additional rebar is needed. This means less time and material is used in forming and reinforcing the countertop.