Regions Southwest Virginia

Countertops use dredged sand and gravel

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As a building material, concrete has moved up in recent years. No longer relegated to foundations, flooring and walkways, concrete is now a popular source for kitchen and bathroom countertops. Todd Melesco, owner of New River Concrete Countertops in Independence, is on the leading edge of this new concept, designing, fabricating and installing countertops for customers in North Carolina and Virginia.

“We’re pretty busy right now,” he says, noting that he builds countertops not only for residential customers but also for commercial clients seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

In some ways, concrete is comparable to high-end granite, typically priced at $85 to $130 a square foot and ranking high in durability and heat, stain and scratch resistance. Moreover, because it is formed rather than cut from mineral slabs, concrete allows for custom shapes and colors. For Melesco’s customers, however, concrete wins out because of its “green” value.

Melesco’s countertops are made of sand and gravel collected from the New River during regular, low-impact dredging to maintain two dams in Grayson County. The company also uses recycled iron oxide and glass aggregates. Because it is collected locally and made by hand, concrete has a low embodied energy and minimal waste associated with its manufacturing process and transport, Melesco says.

“The materials that we use are either recycled or reclaimed for the most part,” says Melesco. “There might be a water-reducing agent and some fibers that are not, but we’re talking about less than a half-percent of a mixed design.”

Concrete’s homemade approach, however, makes for an extremely labor-intensive process. Concrete has to be weighed, mixed, formed, cast, stained, polished and sealed. The time and effort required is the main reason why concrete countertops are so expensive, explains Melesco, who works with just one full-time employee at his manufacturing facility but calls in outside help for the installation phase of projects.

Still, New River Concrete Countertops has plenty of customers who are willing to pay those premium prices. For example, the company has made and installed countertops in the bathrooms, break rooms and conference rooms at a department store and a shopping mall, as well as the kitchen and bar countertops at a large brewery.

“Most people want our countertops because they’re interested in being as green as possible, though we do have a few that simply don’t like granite,” Melesco says. “So it’s definitely a niche market but one that we hope will continue to grow.”

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