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Concrete-Fly Ash Countertops
Books for the Do-it-Yourself Builder
Overview by Thomas J. Elpel
Our first kitchen was really cheap, yet reasonably functional. We used recycled lumber and secondhand fixtures and appliances, so we only paid about $300 for all of the cabinetry, countertops and appliances combined. Twelve years later, with four kids and a mountain of dishes, plus some more advanced building skills and slightly more money, we were ready for a kitchen make-over.
We kept our wood-fired cookstove, but redid just about everything else. We refinished our recycled wood cabinetry, and bought a new, reasonably energy efficient fridge, plus a high-tech dishwasher and a nice cast iron sink. We really liked the looks of custom made concrete countertops, but it would have cost nearly $5,000 to have them formed, poured, ground smooth, and installed. There is nothing like sticker-shock to inspire an owner-builder!
We bought a copy of Fu-Tung Cheng's book Concrete Countertops and studied the options. Most of the book is directed towards countertops that are poured in molds in a workshop, ground smooth, and then installed. But we were most attracted to the keep-it-simple approach of pouring the counters right in place. We discussed the possibility of pouring in place, then grinding and polishing to get a glassy surface, but ultimately decided to simply trowel our counters as smooth as we possibly could.
The biggest departure we made from Cheng's work was that we added fly ash to our mix. Fly ash is scrubbed from the exhaust flues of coal-fired power plants and has some of the properties of cement. It also has a buff, sandstone-like color we liked, but more than anything, it improved the quality of our concrete, making it both denser and easier to trowel. The total materials cost for our new counters was only about $300. I documented the process in the 5th Edition of Living Homes: Stone Masonry, Log, and Strawbale Construction
The kitchen photo shown here was taken after more than a year of use. We simply love the solid, massive feel of the counters. It looks a lot like a giant slab of polished sandstone.
For do-it-yourselfers, I recommend Fu-Tung Cheng's book Concrete Countertops to show you the complete range of options, as well as my Living Homes for the keep-it-simple, anybody-can-do-it approach.
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