We are fortunate to live in a situation that we have more than our fair share of choices about most things in life. Often times we we have to choose between many good things and there is not a clear bad choice. We often get asked the differences between concrete and other countertop options available; here for future reference are our thoughts on these questions. If you have a different perspective or questions please call us.
Let us be clear up front that there is no universal "best" or "perfect" solution. Like we have mentioned before, design (therefore materials) is contextual. And some of that context is desire and innate inclinations. We love concrete and can not pretend to be unbiased; we are and for good reason. There are pros and cons to every material choice and you need to weigh what is really important and consider your particular lifestyle needs. With that being said, there are common concerns that should be addressed. We will compare concrete, marble, granite, quartz, and solid surface and start with short explanations of each.
Concrete is a composite construction material composed primarily of aggregate, cement, and water. There are many formulations, which provide varied properties. The aggregate is generally a coarse gravel or crushed rocks such as limestone, or granite, along with a fine aggregate such as sand. The cement, commonly Portland cement, and other cementitious materials such as fly ash and slag cement, serve as a binder for the aggregate. Various chemical admixtures are also added to achieve varied properties. (courtesy of wikipedia; because we all know its right.)
Marble is a non-foliated metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite. Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone. Really?!? All we care about is that is mined, cut into slabs, very porous, soft, and can be crazy beautiful.
Granite is similar to marble in the sense that it is mined and cut into slabs but is denser and harder.
Quartz is a man-made material consisting of 90% quartz mineral using resin as a binder. It is hard and not porous. As a material it is functional and very uniform; lacking any natural variation and/or richness.
Solid-surface material is similar to quartz in that they are both man-made material, but where quarts is primarily natural quartz solid-surface is plastic polymer. It is not porous and can be seamless, but is soft.
So there is a quick run down. Let's get to the good stuff...
What can I set hot pans on?
You really shouldn't do this with any material. If this is your primary concern start thinking stainless steel.
Solid surface can melt or burn.
Marble, Granite, Quartz, Concrete can chip or break from thermal shock and the sealer can be damaged.
What can I cut on?/ What is durable against scratching?
Again you really shouldn't cut directly on any countertop material (save a butcher block surface). A simple cutting board will protect your counters and your knives.
Solid surface scratches very easily with scratches being more visible on darker colors. It can be repaired with reasonable ease, but will usually require a service visit from an authorized installer and could prove costly; usually around $100/hr.
Quartz is hard and does not scratch easily, I would not recommend cutting on it or otherwise testing its scratch resistance. That being said it certainly does not need the concern solid surface or marble warrants.
Marble and Limestone: both are softer than granite and care should be taken.
Granite dealers will boast that it will not scratch, but we have seen it scratch with keys, forks, and other metal objects. While it is more resistant than marble or solid surface it is not as hard as quartz.
Concrete, again, does not scratch easily, but nothing is impossible. Concrete alone is a little softer than granite, but with granite aggregates it is about the same. Typically there is more concern scratching the sealant than the concrete.
What won't stain?
Quartz and solid surface, neither of these are porous and would be very difficult to stain.
Marble and limestone are the most susceptible to staining, though many people just embrace this aspect and enjoy the patina as it develops with use.
Granite can stain but is fairly resistant with reasonable care. Heat damage and normal wear over time can weaken sealant and create stainable areas. Many dealers recommend resealing your countertops every 6 months or so. This can be done yourself and is fairly inexpensive.
Concrete, when properly sealed, does not stain. Unsealed concrete is similar to marble and limestone; embrace the life and patina.
Any other issues?
Marble will etch if it comes into contact with acids such as lemon juice, red wine, tomato juice, citrus oils, vinegar, etc. Most often, if you quickly wipe up a spill, there won't be visible etching, however, the longer the acid sits on the countertop the more the marble will etch. The etching will be especially visible on polished marble, as it will create dull spots in the middle of your shiny countertop. It does not show up as much on honed marble since it already has a flat finish.
Acids can etch the surface (the sealant) on granite, and concrete if left long enough.
What are the benefits of concrete countertops?
As mentioned above, concrete as a material is very durable but needs care like anything else. The biggest advantage is its ability to be custom crafted to specific needs. It can be formed and molded like no other material; it can be so much more than just a slab. Its ability to be colored, sculpted, and in-layed with other materials give it obvious design advantages and offers virtually endless possibilities. You can exercise more creativity and imagination in concrete than anything else out there.
This is a lot of info. Hope this is helpful and like I said before, if you have any questions give us a call.