Glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) is beginning to gain popularity. It is a casting method that relies on spraying the cement mixture onto a mold rather than filling a mold, creating a hollow shell that can save on weight as well as time.
Since I wrote the article “Concrete Countertops…A Solid Surface?” in the October 2007 issue of this magazine, a lot has happened in the world of concrete countertops.
The “green” environmental movement is gaining momentum and technology is rapidly advancing. This article will examine these trends and how they affect the countertop market.
By now everyone knows that green, or environmentally friendly, is one of the hottest trends around. Consumers in certain market areas such as Northern California, Seattle and New York City are increasingly seeking green products. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Gwendolyn Bounds, “The Eco-Kitchen Challenge,” follows her journey of remodeling a kitchen with green materials, countertops, appliances, lights, cabinetry and more. The article featured concrete countertops as the green material of choice for kitchen counters.
In fact, the greenness of concrete countertops depends on several factors, and because concrete countertop manufacturing methods vary around the country; some concrete countertops are greener than others. There are several factors that contribute to greenness of concrete countertops such as local production, recycled aggregates, environmentally friendly cement and green sealers.
Custom concrete countertops are generally made locally and installed within a few miles of the location of manufacture. The sources of prefabricated concrete slabs mentioned in the previous article generally do not meet this criterion because they ship slabs all over the country.
This is an important criterion in obtaining LEED points. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building rating system that recognizes performance in five key areas of human and environmental health in building design and construction. It is a measuring system for the environmental sustainability of buildings’ construction, and one of the factors in environmental sustainability is the use of local materials.
RECYCLED AND LOCAL AGGREGATES
Concrete in its most simple form is composed of sand, rocks and cement. The rocks are commonly referred to as “aggregate.” Some custom concrete countertop makers obtain aggregate from local sources, such as from the dredging of river beds, rather than buying pea gravel that has been shipped long distances. One of my students, Todd Melesco of New River Concrete Countertops in Independence, Va., obtains aggregate this way. He lives by the New River, and one of his friends owns and is restoring a 9-ft.-tall dam built in 1936. The area behind the dam requires periodic dredging and Todd takes advantage of this local aggregate. However, the aggregate does still need to be cleaned, dried and sieved.
Recycled, crushed glass of various sizes can be substituted for some or all of the aggregate, and even the sand used in concrete countertops. It is important to note whether the glass is post-industrial/preconsumer or post-consumer recycled, and to know whether the glass is remelted and reprocessed. If the glass is obtained from factory scrap, shipped to a central location, remelted and colored, this is less green than if the glass is obtained locally from post-consumer bottles and simply cleaned and crushed. Which kind of glass is used will vary among certain premade concrete countertop slab manufacturers such as Vetrazzo and IceStone.
A new manufacturer of premade concrete countertop slabs is Urbanslabs in California, using 50 percent post-consumer recycled glass. Urbanslabs uses crushed glass that gives a more solid appearance than some other glass-cement countertop combinations.
Even porcelain toilets, tubs and sinks can be used inside concrete countertops. A Texas company called EnviroGLAS sells concrete countertops under the brand name EnviroSLAB that incorporates recycled porcelain and glass. Owner Tim Whaley got the idea after he found that the city of Dallas was required by a water regulation to convert to low-flow toilets, meaning that thousands of older toilets would go to the landfill. He also visited a porcelain products manufacturer in Texas and was shocked to learn that the facility sent a 30-yard Dumpster of rejected porcelain products to the landfill every six hours. EnviroGLAS now produces countertops, terrazzo floors and tiles from recycled porcelain. The porcelain aggregate is also available for purchase by custom countertop makers.