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.
In the past year, a number of technological advances have made the manufacture of concrete countertops much more streamlined and therefore even more accessible to established surface fabricators. Concrete countertop “plants” have become available, and new casting methods and materials have made the process easier and faster.
A company called Concrete Countertop Plants has developed a complete set of equipment and systems for efficient manufacturing and delivery of custom concrete countertops. This is helpful both for smaller custom concrete countertop makers that have in the past relied on manual labor for slab handling and also for larger surface shops that have the slab handling capabilities but would like to integrate concrete-specific machinery into their operations.
In my last article, I explained the basic technique for making precast concrete countertops: custom molds are built and then a traditional concrete mix (sand, cement, rocks and some admixtures) is poured to fill the forms. A different casting method employing glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) is becoming more popular. GFRC relies on spraying a mixture of cement, acrylic polymer and glass fibers onto a mold. Instead of filling a mold, a hollow shell is created. This offers tremendous savings in terms of weight, and the spraying process is faster than the pouring process.
One of the biggest advantages of concrete as a countertop material is that it can easily be molded and shaped into large, complex 3-D shapes such as sinks, tubs, fireplace surrounds and sculptural islands. However, when poured solid, these shapes are extremely heavy, and the custom molds are complicated. The GFRC technique eliminates both of these problems. Many concrete countertop makers are adopting it to allow them to create more complex and valuable custom projects.
The use of plants, GFRC and fast setting cement all make custom concrete countertop manufacture a more viable business that is closer in speed to other surface fabrication. As long as manufacturers continue to keep quality and prices of custom concrete countertops high, this represents a growing profit opportunity.
It is important to recognize that consumers will choose custom concrete countertops or premade concrete slabs for different reasons. Custom concrete countertops, no matter how efficiently manufactured, have a higher value to consumers because they are completely unique and personalizable. A custom concrete countertop can be color matched to a tile or fabric in a home. Glass tiles from the backsplash can be broken up and incorporated in the concrete. Even personal mementos from a homeowner can be incorporated in the concrete — I’ve embedded cuff links in a writing desk and broken wedding crystal in a bar top. Given this amazing level of personalization, custom concrete countertops should cost more than other countertop options. Consumers may choose premade concrete countertops when they are looking for a green option but cannot afford custom concrete.
ADDING CONCRETE TO YOUR OFFERINGS
I ended my last article with some questions you should ask yourself about whether to add concrete countertops to your offerings. With the green movement gaining steam and so many advances in concrete countertop manufacturing, the answer to that question is more likely now to be yes. In that case, the question becomes whether to fabricate premade concrete slabs or to manufacture custom concrete countertops.
If you do decide to add custom concrete countertops to your offerings, there are many training and information resources. You can find a listing of training programs at www.ConcreteNetwork.com. The Web site www.ConcreteCountertops.net, a service of my company The Concrete Countertop Institute, has articles and frequently asked questions about custom concrete countertops. There are also many DVDS and books about concrete countertop making available and easily found by searching online.
About The Author: Jeffrey Girard, P.E., is a licensed professional civil engineer. He is president and founder of The Concrete Countertop Institute, whose mission is to raise the standard for concrete countertops through training, information and outreach. For more information, visit www.ConcreteCountertopInstitute.com or call 888-386-7711.