If you aren’t yet familiar with glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) you should be. GFRC is a specialized form of concrete with many applications. It can be effectively used to create façade wall panels, fireplace surrounds, vanity tops and concrete countertops due to its unique properties and tensile strength. One of the best ways to truly understand the benefits of GFRC is to take a deeper look into this unique compound.
What is GFRC?
GFRC is similar to chopped fiberglass (the kind used to form boat hulls and other complex three-dimensional shapes), although much weaker. It’s made by combining a mixture of fine sand, cement, polymer (usually an acrylic polymer), water, other admixtures and alkali-resistant (AR) glass fibers. Many mix designs are available online, but you’ll find that all share similarities in the ingredients and proportions used.
Some of the many benefits of GFRC include:
- Ability to Construct Lightweight Panels– Although the relative density is similar to concrete, GFRC panels can be much thinner than traditional concrete panels, making them lighter.
- High Compressive, Flexural and Tensile Strength– The high dose of glass fibers leads to high tensile strength while the high polymer content makes the concrete flexible and resistant to cracking. Proper reinforcing using scrim will further increase the strength of objects and is critical in projects where visible cracks are not tolerable.
GFRC is strong. Check out this YouTube video to see just how strong it can be:
The Fibers in GFRC- How They Work
The glass fibers used in GFRC help give this unique compound its strength. Alkali resistant fibers act as the principle tensile load carrying member while the polymer and concrete matrix binds the fibers together and helps transfer loads from one fiber to another. Without fibers GFRC would not possess its strength and would be more prone to breakage and cracking.
Understanding the complex fiber network in GFRC is a topic in and of itself. Stay tuned, I’ll post a more in-depth article on GFRC fibers next week.
Commercial GFRC commonly uses two different methods for casting GFRC: spray up and premix. Let’s take a quick look at both as well as a more cost effective hybrid method.
The application process for Spray-up GFRC is very similar to shortcrete in that the fluid concrete mixture is sprayed into the forms. The process uses a specialized spray gun to apply the fluid concrete mixture and to cut and spray long glass fibers from a continuous spool at the same time. Spray-up creates very strong GFRC due to the high fiber load and long fiber length, but purchasing the equipment can be very expensive ($20,000 or more).
Premix mixes shorter fibers into the fluid concrete mixture which is then poured into molds or sprayed. Spray guns for premix don’t need a fiber chopper, but they can still be very costly. Premix also tends to possess less strength than spray-up since the fibers and shorter and placed more randomly throughout the mix.
One final option for creating GFRC is using a hybrid method that uses an inexpensive hopper gun to apply the face coat and a handpacked or poured backer mix. A thin face (without fibers) is sprayed into the molds and the backer mix is then packed in by hand or poured in much like ordinary concrete. This is an affordable way to get started, but it is critical to carefully create both the face mix and backer mix to ensure similar consistency and makeup. This is the method that most concrete countertop makers use.
Coming soon: A more in depth look at GFRC mix designs, casting, thickness, curing and processing.
Quick Facts About GFRC
- GFRC was first created in the 1940s in Russia, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the current form came into widespread use.
- GFRC tends to run about $2.50-$3.00 per square foot for ¾” thick material. The cost increases to about $3.50-$3.75 per square foot for 1” thick material when accounting for the prices of sand, cement, admixtures, fibers and polymer.
- Just like regular concrete, GFRC can accommodate a variety of artistic embellishments including acid staining, dying, integral pigmentation, decorative aggregates, veining and more. It can also be etched, polished, sandblasted and stenciled. If you can imagine it, you can do it, making GFRC a great option for creating concrete countertops and especially three-dimensional concrete elements.