Self-leveling concrete is a newer form of underlayment and subfloor material designed to take the stress out of laying a new floor.
While everything sounds good, this flooring solution can be tricky and difficult to master.
Best Self-Leveling Concrete Brands
- 1 Best Self-Leveling Concrete Brands
- 2 How to Use Self-Leveling Concrete
- 3 Best Brands Reviewed
- 4 Advantages of Self-Leveling Concrete
- 5 Disadvantages of Self-Leveling Concrete
- 6 Self-Leveling Concrete Cost Per Square Foot
- 7 Self-Leveling Concrete Repair
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions
- 8.0.1 Q. What is the self leveling concrete maximum thickness?
- 8.0.2 Q. Can I pour self-leveling concrete over existing flooring?
- 8.0.3 Q. What is the difference between leveling concrete and self-leveling concrete?
- 8.0.4 Q. Can I pour multiple layers of self-leveling concrete?
- 8.0.5 Q. How much area does a 50-pound bag of self-leveling concrete cover?
- 9 Conclusion
You may be tempted to grab the first back or bucket of self-leveling concrete you come across, but there are differences in the brands. Here are the best.
- Mapei Novoplan 2 Plus. Best self-leveling underlayment.
- Akona Self-Leveling Floor Underlayment. Best self-leveling concrete for radiant heating.
- Henry 565 FloorPro. Best quick-dry self-leveling concrete.
- LevelQuik RS Self-Leveling Underlayment. Best low-preparation self-leveling concrete.
- ARDEX K 10 Reactivatable. Best self-leveling concrete for multiple pours.
How to Use Self-Leveling Concrete
When you decide to level your floor, you do it so you can install a flooring solution such as LVP, tile, or even carpet. Having a flat, level foundation will make installation easier and the floor look better.
But how do you use a self-leveling concrete? We look at the basic steps here so you know what you are getting into. Each brand and formula will have varying degrees of prep and install procedures.
Before you do anything you should get the space ready. This will include your tools, buckets, water, and of course the concrete mix. Most important, though, is getting the floor ready.
While it is possible for some types of self-leveling concrete to cover existing flooring, it isn’t recommended. This can create an unsteady surface, air pockets will collapse and the entire floor could crack or bubble.
You want to bring the floor down to the foundation or existing subfloor first. Remove old vinyl, laminate or planks until you get down to the concrete or plywood subfloor that you will then level.
Once the old flooring is removed, it is time to clean.
Cleaning is important so you don’t introduce any impurities into the mix that can cause problems in the future. Remove all the furniture, remove the old flooring and then it is time to get out the vacuum and broom.
You want to clean the floor as best as you can, making sure to get all the edges and in any cracks or grooves that are present. Since the concrete will cover all of this, you won’t have to worry about seeing the imperfections later.
However, if you don’t clean the floor, those impurities will resurface.
Mixing and Pouring
You should check if your product includes a primer. Some do, but many do not. If you have deep cracks, joints or extensive damage, you also want to patch those first. Along with the primer (if needed) your floor is ready to go.
You will have to be precise and expect to move fast. You will have a limited time between mixing and pouring before the concrete starts to set. You won’t need to put on your running shoes, but you won’t have but a few minutes.
Make sure the repairs or patches are dry and if you have to apply a primer or moisture barrier that it is down and ready for the concrete.
While there are mixing kits, you only need a few things. First you should have a large bucket to mix in. You also need a good drill with an extension and a cement paddle. A trowel will also help spread the mix to areas that don’t get an even layer of coverage and a few towels to help clean up and splashes or spills before the compound dries.
Read the instructions for proper mixing and add the compound mix to the water, not the water to the compound. Use the drill and paddle to thoroughly mix the solution until it is a runny, paint-like texture.
Use the trowel to push the mix to corners or areas that don’t have a lot of coverage or are bare. Once you are satisfied, it is time to wait.
Set and Cure
The set time will vary by brand, amount mixed and depth of the pour. In general, though you will need to wait at least 2 hours for it to be hard.
During this time, you should be proactive in preventing anything from touching the surface, including tools, clothing, feet, pets, or even debris.
Once the initial set is in, you can walk on it, but shouldn’t. Your particular compound and brand will have a specific cure time, which is generally 14 to 24 hours for plank and tile flooring and up to 72 hours for wood flooring.
Once the cure time has been reached you can walk on the flooring and test it out. Everything should be smooth, even and level. If so, you can install your chosen flooring option as you see fit.
Best Brands Reviewed
Mapei has several types of self-leveling concrete and the water-based Novoplan 2 Plus is among their best.
The initial set time after pour is about 15 minutes. You will need a full cure before you add most flooring types, though. For ceramic and porcelain tiles you should wait at least 24 hours. For all other flooring types that wait will extend to 48 hours.
The Novoplan 2 Plus is rated for all indoor applications and engineered floors. It has a simple mix ration that will pour to between 1/8 and 1-inch thick. It also comes in 50-pound bags and depending on your retailer, it will cost you only about $30 per bag.
While it is among the most affordable options, no primer is included, but primer is required. So plan for that extra expense ahead of time so you aren’t surprised later.
Best Option For: Interior use for all floor types.
TCC’s Akona brand produces a self-leveling concrete that is suitable for a lot of interior applications. It is ideal for those with radiant floor heating that want to encase the heating elements in the subfloor.
One of the best features of this water-based product is that Akona includes a primer in the mix. You won’t need to apply a liquid primer before pouring, which saves you money and time on your project.
The self-leveling concrete sets up in about 5 minutes, so your pour and trowel window is pretty low. However, once poured it will cure for most flooring (ceramic, LVP, laminate and carpet) in 24 hours.
For hardier flooring options, you should wait 72 hours, though. This product also comes in a 50-pound bag which will cost you between $35 and $40. It is not as cheap as Mapei, but with the inclusion of the primer is it more cost effective.
Best Option For: Interior subfloors with radiant heating.
The 565 FloorPro from Henry is a versatile self-leveling concrete that allows for much thicker pours and can even be tapered to meet specific needs.
Unlike the other brands here, Henry’s can pour up to 5-inches thick, making it perfect for raising your subfloor level in a uniform and simple manner.
You will need to apply a liquid primer before mixing a pouring, and that is not included with your purchase. However, once poured, the initial set is about 10 minutes, with the floor walk-able in 3 hours.
You can install ceramic tile in as little as 6 hours and all other floor types in 16 hours. If you need a thicker pour and a faster floor install, Henry 565 FloorPro is your best option.
For a 50-pound bag, you can expect to pay about $40. The higher cost is worth it, though, for the extra thick and durable pours you can produce.
Best Option For: Thick pours up to 5-inches.
Custom Building Products LevelQuik line is an acrylic-based self-leveling concrete. It does require an acrylic primer, which is a separate purchase, but comes in handy 1-gallon bottles for easy application.
The RS (rapid setting) formula will have an initial set of about 10 minutes. Once cured you can walk or apply most flooring options in about 24 hours.
However, the biggest draw is the layering ability. Each 50-pound bag will pour up to 1.5 inches thick and can be layers with a second pour (and primer) after only 6 hours.
It is also great for modern homes with wider joists, and LevelQuik RS will pour evenly into joists up to 24-inches apart.
The 50-pound bag will cost about $35 on average, though some regions and location swill charge a bit more. The quick set time and extra durable finish make up for the added cost, though.
Best Option For: Highly durable thick pour needs on interior surfaces.
Like Mapei, ARDEX offers a wider variety of options than other brands. The ARDEX K 10 is the best option for beginners that may need more time for pouring and cleaning up.
The K 10 has an extended set time of 25 minutes, which allows for plenty of mistake reversals and corner troweling, smoothing or tapering if needed.
Once set, though, you are good to go. The floor is walk-able in 3 hours and you can install ceramic tile in as little as 6 hours. Most other flooring options need to wait at least 24 hours before install, though.
ARDEX also requires a primer, and will cost you about $40 per 50 pound bag. You can pour up to 0.5 inches thick, so multiple pours or layers may be required.
Each pour will also require another layer of primer and at least 3 hours wait time between each mix.
Best Option For: The beginner needing extra time to cover mistakes.
Advantages of Self-Leveling Concrete
Self-leveling concrete has several advantages over other types of concrete and subfloors. This doesn’t always mean it is the best option, but it doesn’t hurt.
- Easy to use. Self-leveling concrete also levels the playing field. Now subfloor leveling is a DIY project.
- Two options to choose. Acrylic-based concrete is more giving, has a slight flex and sturdiness. Water-based concrete dries fast and is harder than standard concrete.
- Radiant heat capable. Most self-leveling concrete brands and styles are rated for using over around or under radiant floor heating systems.
- Quick acting. The formula that makes up the concrete compound is strong, durable and fast acting. It can set up in as little as 10 minutes and be ready for most flooring types in just a few hours.
- Hypoallergenic. Unlike standard concrete which has been known to cause work-induced asthma, self-leveling concrete doesn’t contain those chemicals and minerals.
- Mold and mildew resistant. Even when installed in wet areas, self-leveling concrete is more resistant to mold and mildew growth than standard concrete.
Disadvantages of Self-Leveling Concrete
Of course, not everything is sunshine and rainbows when it comes to self-leveling concrete. There are some downsides, as you will see here.
- Fast acting. Yes, this is also a pro item, but it dries fast. You shouldn’t mix until you are ready to pour, and when you pour you shouldn’t stop. Finding the right balance can be difficult.
- Doesn’t repair subfloors. If there is damage, cracks, joints or weak spots in your subfloor, self-leveling concrete will not fix or patch them. If the spot worsens, it will disrupt the self-leveling concrete and the floor above it, too.
- Difficult to remove. If you splash, get it on your clothing, tools or other surfaces and it is allowed to dry, you will have a difficult time getting it off. Any spills or splashes need to be cleaned up quickly.
- Mixing is hard. You need to be precise in your measurements and you don’t get to make mistakes. If you add too much water or not enough, it will affect how the concrete pours and how viscous it becomes.
Self-Leveling Concrete Cost Per Square Foot
The cost of self-leveling concrete will vary based on brand, bag size and area of coverage. You will need to know two measurements before you head out to buy your concrete mix.
First, you need to know the square footage of the floor you will be covering. Simply multiply the length of the area by the width and you will get the square footage.
Second, you need to know how thick you will be pouring the concrete. On average coverage estimates are based on a 1/8-inch thickness. However, you may need more, such as 1/2-inch or even a full inch.
Some brands will pour as thick as 5-inches, but at a higher cost per square foot.
Once you know these two measurements you can gauge your costs more effectively. National averages, between all brands and container sizes range between $35 and $50 for 50 pounds of mix.
In short, though, you can estimate you will need to pay about $1 per square foot for optimal coverage and enough material to finish the job.
Self-Leveling Concrete Repair
If there is a problem with the compound, it can cause problems. However, repairs are hit and miss as well.
If the compound is too watery, it will harden with a softer texture. You will actually be able to dig a nail in it and leave marks. Likewise, if the concrete is poured over adhesive materials, large or deep cracks or damaged areas, it, too, will become cracked when weight is applied.
When it comes to soft compounds, you can’t do much about it. You will need to remove the entire area and start over. There isn’t a way to harden the concrete once it is poured.
For damaged areas, though, you can chisel it out, smooth the edges and sand down the damaged area and pour a second layer to fill and flatten the ruined area.
Frequently Asked Questions
In this section we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about self-leveling concrete. If you have other questions, please use the comment section below.
Q. What is the self leveling concrete maximum thickness?
- Most brands and types of self-leveling concrete are rated for pours between 1/8th inch and 1/2-inch. However, some specialized compounds can pour as low as 1/25th inch or as thick as 5-inches. Your maximum thickness will depend on brand, style, subfloor condition and area coverage size.
Q. Can I pour self-leveling concrete over existing flooring?
- Yes, you can pour self-leveling concrete over some existing flooring. The flooring needs to be permanent, non-movable and durable. Tiles, concrete, LVP, wood or plywood are all suitable options for pouring over.
Q. What is the difference between leveling concrete and self-leveling concrete?
- There are a few subtle differences, but the main aspect is that leveling concrete requires trowels and smoothing to lay flat, even and uniform. Self-leveling concrete is highly viscous and will smooth and level itself as it fills the coverage area.
Q. Can I pour multiple layers of self-leveling concrete?
- Once the first layer is dry, you can pour a second layer. You will need a primer laid down first, and it is possible to need a moisture barrier. However, in almost every case, once you have the first layer set and added a primer, a second layer (or more) can be poured.
Q. How much area does a 50-pound bag of self-leveling concrete cover?
- On average across the brands thickness is expected to be about 1/8th-inch thick. With that, you can expect to cover 1 square foot per pound, or 50 square feet per bag.
Self-leveling concrete is a game changer for the DIYer that wants to install a new floor in their home. This compound can smooth, flatten and level itself as it dries. Once fully cured, it is also denser and harder than standard concrete.
It does have it’s difficulties, mixing and pouring the correct amount, mixed with an exact ratio of powder and water. However, when done correctly, it can produce a perfect subfloor for mounting your new flooring over.
If you are still wondering which brand or type of self-leveling concrete to use, take another look at the Mapei Novoplan 2 Plus. This self-leveling concrete is fast acting, easier to mix and is the best overall compound on the market right now. Ideal for beginners and DIYers of any type.