230) White Concrete Kitchen Countertops

by Gail on May 23, 2017

Listen to my story. It’s a long one. Seven years, in fact.

This is after:

This is before:

Notice the plywood countertops. They are seven years old. They were ‘temporary’.

I referred to this exercise to give me courage.

Then this one, two years later, to give me confidence.

In the end – and I mean the end, because with this step, This Green House is really, truly, officially finished – it took the encouragement of a whole team to get us here.

Our kitchen countertops are done! At the risk of rude-yelling-in-caps, I say again, OUR KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS ARE DONE!

Here’s how it went down:

Weekend Number One, four intrepid young people rode their bikes to the ferry, then relaxed for the 40-minute ferry ride. Then, they hit the ground running, like this:

First, I drew a rough line on the tops of the plywood to indicate where the seams should be.

The countertop slaves tore out the plumbing and electrical, then unscrewed the plywood countertops/forms.Leaving our poor defenseless kitchen looking like this:

For more details on the HOW, go back to this exercise. The main difference was that we did not place beach glass in the molds.

The countertops molds were, as before, based on the existing countertops installed by our fantastic cabinet-maker, Vincent Lang. They were made from finished birch plywood, and we were able to use them as the base for our forms. We first filled and sanded the plywood cracks and holes.

Pay attention to that seam, if you’re interested, because it presents a problem later.

We (and I mean the Royal We for the whole process) added the edges of melamine, and a tin “seam” to make the three separate countertops into six more manageable pieces. We cut the tin on the table saw.

You’ll notice it’s getting dark here. The pressure was on to get the molds completely ready, so that the silicone would be dry the next morning for the “pour”. 

We just packed (and packed, and packed) the ‘dry’ concrete into these cumbersome molds.

And we left it to cure for 12 days (except for the small section we had to get 2 more bags of concrete mix for in the city – that only cured for 4 days.)

Weekend Number Two, six strongwo/men rode their bikes/cars to the ferry, then relaxed for the 40-minute ferry ride, then did this:

With the wet grinder, Mike ground off any high points we found on the underside.

Then “we” unmolded:

This is unbelievably scary. Unmolding. See that stain above? That was where we used wood filler. Who knew? Later, I’ll point out how it looked after we worked to repair it. As before, we got this disappointing result:

We had to make the best of a bad situation. We ground the slurry off the concrete with the wet stone polisher.

Got this (bland and uninteresting):

I LOVE the photo above – it is shows how this particular group of people discuss when they’re problem-solving: rational and respectful of each other’s skills and thought processes. For the record, most of them are engineers – that helps!

We spent hours and hours filling and grinding and filling and grinding and filling and grinding and filling and grinding.

Wore out the sanding pads before the job was done, and replacements were not available on our coast without a ferry ride to the city.

We had to use too coarse a grit, and even resorted to regular sandpaper for some steps. It would have been much more efficient and given us a smoother finish, to have an additional rented grinder for this big task, but none was available on the coast, and we had to get done before the strong people had to leave.

The concrete had no character. This is what I was hoping for:

So, trepidatious as I was, with the help of my brave artist crew, we painted fake marble with black and brown oxides, keeping it understated and subtle.

Ridiculously happy with its new look.

Colleen sealed it with 2 coats of Broda Clarity. The section she’s working on below is the filler-stained one – see how we managed to camouflage it? And THEN,  the strong men and women just lifted those 700-lb concrete slabs, carried them up the driveway and into the house.

Super-scary. Will they fit?

They did! We cheered! We drank a toast!

We had to level the countertops with shims.

Then, decided that we didn’t need any adhesive to keep them there.

Colleen and Alice sealed the front crack with black silicone. The crew, sans Liam, who had to catch a ferry home, reinstalled the sinks, cleaned everything, including the garage and driveway, moved the stove back, and all the lower drawers.

Then they went home, and I was lonely. I applied two more coats of sealer.

The next day, I attempted to fill the seams.

Oh, my! That proved difficult. All the advice suggested silicone, because it has flex for the inevitable movement. But the silicone choices are white, brown, black and grey. Not StarPatch white countertop sand-colour. I tried white with the off-white filler powder over it. Did not work. I gave it a time-out to improve its behaviour.

Came back several days later, and decided to mix white silicone with grey mortar silicone. I think it worked – anyway, it looks much better than stark white.

So that’s my 7-year-long story. Thanks for listening.

Just for the record, here are the costs for a 47 square foot countertop.

14 bags countertop mix and box of filler:   $420.00

Rental cement mixer: $50

Mold-building material (melamine shelving and screws): $48

Silicone: $48

Grinding pads: $?

TOTAL ~ $600 (12.75 per square foot) and about 160 wo/man hours

In truth, I don’t think concrete is a very green material, especially since we can’t use fly ash, a waste material, instead of the lime in concrete, as we did for house construction. One of those occasional green dilemmas that have plagued me over the course of this project.

Late breaking news: According to 5 Kitchen Design Trends that Buyers Hate, DIY concrete countertops are one of those. I’m just glad that I’ve never cared about trends at This Green House.

Sharing with these generous blog parties: The Essence of Home, Have a Daily Cup of Mrs. Olsen, Home and Garden Thursday, Sundays at Home, Amaze Me Monday, Rustic and Refined, That DIY Party, Coastal Charm, A Stroll Thru Life, Savvy Southern Style







229) Bathroom Concrete Countertop #2

by Gail on May 2, 2017

I’m back! All my sites were hacked, and my hero Kaan happened to be here helping with a major project (to be revealed soon). He fixed ’em. Did I tell you he’s my hero?

So, we do have a  bathroom countertop, only six years after moving into our house.

Here’s what happened after we “poured” the countertop (otherwise known as “packing” – new friend Dan dropped in to help – see here).

Three days after pouring, Dan dropped by to help D and me unmold.

This time, thanks to our use of oil on the mold, the countertop came out quite easily, after we peeled the sides off.

But, just as with prototype #1 (the laundry countertop), it was very disappointing. In this latest disaster, all the beach glass disappeared into the slurry, and we could only see hole after hole after hole.

Nothing to do but experiment, so that’s what I did. I started wet-grinding the top surface, with a 400 grit pad velcroed onto the grinder. The wet-grinder looks like an angle grinder, but it’s got a water hose hookup so that the water can constantly wash the surface as I grind.

Needless to say, this is a process that can only be done outside. I set up a stainless steel table covered with plastic over the flagstone.

I could see the beach glass “come” to the surface, when I ground off the surface. Unexpectedly, the grinding also exposed the brown sand that is part of the white countertop mix – who knew?

That became my new reality/design as I continued the grinding. I decided I liked the brown – it kind off coordinated with the brown cabinet.

After I rinsed off the sand and slurry, I let it dry.

Suddenly, a new challenge – the big holes had been ground off, exposing hundreds/thousands of smaller pits, caused by either the sand being dislodged, or the natural holes of the cast concrete being exposed.

Fortunately, this time I bought a filler mix along with the white countertop mix. On prototype #1, I sifted the large sand and polyester out of the regular countertop mix to get a filler, but it was still too coarse.

Worried that the filler would simply fill in the beach glass, I epoxied the glass that was slightly below the surface, let it dry for 6 hours, then ground it smooth.

I spread the filler, which reminds me of unsanded grout,  over the whole surface, and let it dry – about 30 minutes.

Then ground it again. It looked fantastic in the dark and rain, felt smooth as a baby’s cheek. By the next morning, I could see it was improved, but still lots of new, smaller bug holes had appeared.

In total, I filled and ground it four times, using progressively finer pads (50 grit, then 200, 400, 800 and a buff.) I always say there is a time for any artist to decide when the work is done, and I decided that was my “done”. I quickly ground the accumulated slurry from the back.

The top surface is not perfectly level. Rather, it has small hills -mostly at the glass – and valleys, which are not evident unless I smooth my hand over.

I let it dry a final time, and sealed it with  coats of Broda Clarity that we had left over from the concrete floors in our basement and the flagstone in our entryway.

Now, a scary step: seeing if it fits. It did (!) with only some minor adjustments to the beadboard around the vanity.

D and I attached it with silicone only – not screws like the former plywood countertop – I figure it’s not going anywhere. Gravity sees to that. We reinstalled the sink, and added silicone around the rim, painter’s caulk around the perimeter.

In total, it cost $55 in materials, and required about 12 woman hours and 3 man hours.

It is a piece that carries memories in it – of loved ones and the places we/they visited to find just the right beach glass.

Sharing with: Savvy Southern Style – Wow Us Wednesdays, Beyond the Picket Fence, Waste Not Wednesday




228) Bathroom Concrete Countertop #1

April 15, 2017

You know how you just get used to your home and you stop noticing its deficiencies? Well, that is what happened with the concrete countertop saga. Friends who drop by say they’ve never noticed we had temporary plywood counters, when I tell them that the countertops are the last big thing to do. Some family members, however, […]

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227) Deck Stuff and Good-bye Thompsons WaterSeal

May 7, 2016

D has built a deck for his incoming bee hives. I guess I was expecting something a little more subtle in the yard than an 8×10 deck with 2×4 fence posts. I thought he’d be using rebar posts for the requisite electric fence, to keep the bears out. But, this is what it looks like: […]

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226) Re-painting Exterior Siding

April 20, 2016

As I mentioned in August last year, the cedar sidewall shingles on the weathered south and east walls needed to be re-painted. They were fading, especially the flat-sawn ones, and cupping, in spite of our laborious hand-dipping, which is supposed to prevent cupping. The corners were drying out, creating voids which exposed unstained edges. The Behr semi-transparent […]

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225) Scrap Wood Wall

December 7, 2015

So, D and Tess have been working on a sauna for nearly a year. Tess and Mike built the door in the summer. This past weekend, Tess and several friends came to stay, for a “Ladies Build S–t” retreat. They built such things as dinners, birthday breakfast, stuffed wolf-shark, cutting board, candle holders, carved spoon, […]

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224) Studio Window Finishes

November 16, 2015

It’s only been 4.5 years since we built the studio. The whole family uses it for projects, especially at Christmas time. We had a fold-down bed built in there for guest accommodation. But, the deep window returns and sills have been sporting the truly rustic look all that time. Until now. The 20’x20′ studio was […]

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223) Adding Water Storage

August 27, 2015

We’ve had a four-month drought here in the “rainforest” of southwestern British Columbia. When we built our house and landscaped the yard, we installed a 2000 gallon rainwater storage cistern. The water is used to flush our toilets and water the garden. I never knew how much water we would need for those purposes, but […]

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222) Concrete Countertops – Prototype

February 16, 2015

Well, I know I declared This Green House finished in 2014, only 5 years after we started building. But, the truth is: there will always be more tasks when you build your own house – some of them fun, and some of them fraught with difficulty. Concrete countertops fall into the second category for me. […]

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221) Merry Merry at This Green House

December 23, 2014

I’m wishing you a wonderful and warm holiday season with family, chosen family, and friends. A story: A  year and a half ago, I applied for a GST/HST rebate on our build. A few months later, I received an answer from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), telling me our rebate was denied, because the agent decided that […]

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