We built a lot of custom outdoor kitchens. We also get calls from clients whose grill islands were not built but us. A lot of clients will contact us a few years after their outdoor kitchen was built because the island os falling apart or because the structure is settling and causing cracks and breaks in the counter-top. We refused to take most of these refurbishing jobs because the islands were usually built completely wrong. Although the outside looks the same if the internal architecture is not built to code and built to last there is often nothing we can keep of the original island other than the appliances built-in.
We refused to build this island but one of our service technicians promised to repair it for the homeowner so we let him do it. This island was originally built with wood and as you can see in the first image above the distressed, sun-faded wood is a really great look. We actually use this look ona lot of our custom outdoor kitchens. However, the problem with this grill island is the inside architecture was also built with wood. This is stupid. People use wood in fireplaces because fire burns very well and fairly easily. Putting a barbecue grill that will have an open flame — especially a DCS built in grill that gets a lot hotter than most barbecues — is really, really, stu….. well, it is not the right thing to do.
When we got to the job the wood was decomposing and collapsing. This happens even with pressure treated and chemically treated wood over time. On a boat where treated wood may last decades the wood endured because of the strict maintenance performed. No one is going to crawl inside on outdoor counter and maintain wood supports inside a structure so eventually is fails. When that happens the counter is a ticking bomb because the wood is much more flammable once it starts to fall apart and the wood is also going to damage the gas and electrical lines as it collapses.
The customer wanted the island repaired but the only thing we could do is remove it and rebuld the island from non-combustible materials — steel and concrete. As you can see the stucco color and texture matches the house perfectly and the “new” island appears to have been built with the original house design. Perfectly matching or complementing the finishing features is always our role and years in the business has given us the ability to decide when to match perfectly or to complement the design.
What I find really interesting on this custom grill island is the finish work. The granite on the left image looks like a completely different material than the image on the right side. They are the same granite. This customer called us so we could repair his DCS barbecue. My service technician told the homeowner he was afraid to repair the grill because the island was falling down so we ended up working on the island — but this homeowner did not call us to refurbish this grill island counter. Looking at these images next to one another that sounds crazy!
Many of our clients choose to use granite on their outdoor kitchen counter top because granite is very low-maintenance. When we use porcelain filed tile counter tops we seal the tile and make sure the owner understands how often to clean and seal the tile tops so the grout lines do not soak up grease and dirt, get moldy and cause the tiles to pop loose. Although granite costs quadruple the price of a tile top a lot of our clients choose granite because it is a lot less maintenance.
Just like stainless steel is not never-stain steel low-maintenance granite counter tops are not never-maintain counter tops. Granite must be properly cared for. Granite installed outdoors needs more care than granite installed indoors but granite is a natural stone and is going to have all the problems of a natural stone — problems will arise slower because of the thick, geavy density of granite but i still needs to be properly cared for.
Above the left image looks like grey granite and the right image looks like an absolute black. The change happened so slowly (5 years) and so evenly that the appearance was never obviously dirty or patchy just like the high-quality paint finishes on cars do become affected by the outdoor elements but they do so so slowly and evenly that the changes are not obvious.
There are products available for maintaining granite and any granite retailer or fabricator will have a the ability to perform a service call on granite. Granite should be cleaned as often as possible. Personally I use 409 or some similar kitchen cleaner but soapy water is probably best so long as the soap does not leave a residue. The are also granite – natural stone – sealant products available. Granite, like tile should be cleaned and resealed every three months outdoors.
If granite is not properly maintained a service call from a fabrication company is usually necessary. The service company will use a highly acidic acetate to clean the granite to the original stone. Often they may also use what looks like a car buffer to slightly sand down a tiny layer to get to new stone below the surface. Shaving a thin layer and re-polishing the granite usually produces the best results.
Most custom indoor or outdoor granite counter tops will have a seam. The seams are the sections where one slab of granite ended and another piece was used. We generally hide our seams behind the barbecue so they are invisible. We also insist out granite fabricators practice making seams all the time so they are able to make the seams as un-intrusive as possible. The hakimi used to fill a seam between two pieces of granite is a very dangerous product t use. The hakimi is mixed with acetate and a hardener into a paste that is used to pack into the granite seam. If the mixture is not used correctly the hakimi can fall out of the seam or the paste will chemically get so hot it can severely burn skin and I have seen this paste mixed improperly so it became so hot it just burst in to flames.
Depending on the area and how the area was prepared for an outdoor kitchen sometimes the heavy grill island will settle a bit on the floor. If pavers are settling or a deck settles into a softer section of earth below the deck this settling may he only a fraction of an inch. The granite seams will show the fraction of an inch difference that settled and running a hand — or a glass of juice — across the counter will definitely expose a ruptured seam. The granite fabricator performing service will need to reset the granite slabs and re seal the seams ofter cutting out the previous hakimi seam.
Finally, Granite is usually installed with a laminated edge. Three centimeter granite slabs will not have edging laminated but the more common two centimeter slabs will be laminated for thickness and for edging. When we select granite for a counter we select different types of edging like a bull-nose, half-slope, quarter-slope, straight-edge, ogee, double ogee, etc. When fabricated the technician will cut three-inch strips of granite and glue them along the edges of the sections of the granite that will become the front edges of the counter top. If the depth of a counter is twenty-four inches the finished granite counter top will be twenty-six and a half inches. The front 2.5″ have a strip of granite laminated to the bottom so the granite appears to be twice as thick as the slab is cut so a 2cm slab will appear to be 4cm at the front edge. With a 2 cm slab that has 2.5″ strips laminated along the edges there is an emptiness in the center of the slab further back where the strip ends. In a 24″ counter the granite will be 26.5″ deep on top and on the bottom of the slab the fron 2.5″ will be 4 cm thick but the back depth of the granite will have something glued to the slab as a filler.
Usually the filler used in the granite above the counter where it cannot be seen is an expensive, dense hardwood treated for longevity. Unfortunately I have seen cut-rate fabricators use cheap wood or nothing at all. Cheap plywood is the worst because the wood will absorb moisture even if it is only absorbing moisture from the air. When the wood swells from the moisture the slab will either break free of the counter top below it or the granite will crack. Usually if a new piece of granite breaks in the first year of use it is because of improper wood used inside the laminate.
When granite is serviced five to eight years after installation most fabricators will remove all or will remove sections of the wood under the slab. The wood should be checked for swelling and for mold and questionable section should be removed. If the ground has settled the supporting wood below the slab will need to be reinstalled to reset the seam.
Of couse the inspiration for this post was the tremendous difference in the granite slab in the images above. When I received the images I actually called my technician and asked him about the granite because this job did not have the budget to buy and fabricate a new slab of granite — I looked at those images and I thought the granite had been replaced! The granite looks like a completely new, different slab of granite because it was treated, sanded down, re-polished and reinstalled. Proper service makes a huge difference. This custom outdoor kitchen not only looks a lot better it is not longer a tremendous safety hazard waiting for an opportunity to burn down this customers’ house.