First things first. I ate a whole can of Pringles today. They were Salt & Vinegar and now my tongue feels like I ate a ball of sandpaper.
Second things second. Why would you ever want to pour self levelling cement? Well, I’m not sure actually. I don’t know you that well.
But … you might want to level out a wonky basement floor. Or garage. Or kitchen. Or like me, you may need to encase radiant floor heating and create a super-smooth surface to lay commercial VCT tile onto.
update: I installed my radiant floors in 2013 and at the time of this update in 2016 they’re still working great and I HUGELY recommend you put them in if you’re redoing a floor. Easy to install, inexpensive to run and … gives you an excuse to pour self levelling cement, lol.
Whatever the reason, you don’t need to be afraid. I say that because I was afraid. Really afraid. Letter from the tax department afraid.
So I did all the research I could, tested out the product in a small area of the house where it wouldn’t matter if I screwed it up and declared it a success.
And it wasn’t hard at all. I was probably right to be afraid because it made me very thorough in my research, but having done it myself now there are a few things I discovered that weren’t mentioned on the Internet at all.
I’ll mention those things in this tutorial because I am nice. I am a nice girl who pours cement sometimes.
Update: This photo of me with bare feet in cement has caused fits in people. Yes, cement is caustic. So don’t stand in cement for hours on end. I wasn’t in cement for more than 2 minutes or so at a time and went outside and immediately washed my feet.
Scrape up any loose debris from the floor. Like old tile.
Vacuum the surface before pouring the cement.
Self levelling cement is liquidy. Very liquidy. You need to build dams out of thin wood or stiff cardboard to stop it from running into areas you don’t want it to go.
I just attached it with duct tape which worked fine. Once the cement has hardened just give a tug upwards and the cardboard or wood will come loose.
Behind the dam I’ve built you can see I’ve also repaired holes. I used Durabond 90 for this (a drywall type compound that is very hard and fast drying).
The reason you need to fill holes and cracks in the floor is because the cement is so thin it will just run down those small cracks and you’ll never get your cementing done. You’ll have to keep adding more and more cement and you might even go crazy. I’m not sure. Again, I don’t know you that well or your coping capabilities.
Self levelling cement, a cement mixing paddle, a strong drill, a 5 gallon bucket, a trowel and filler (Durabond 90).
Self levelling cement may also be called self levelling concrete, self levelling floor resurfacer or self levelling underlayment.
You need to pay special attention to the self levelling cement you buy. Home Depot, Rona, Lowes etc. all of carry different brands of cement.
The brand doesn’t matter so much as the type of self levelling cement.
There are 2 types. Quick drying and regular.
Quick drying self levelling cement is great when the room you’re doing NEEDS to be dry enough to walk on within 5 or 6 hours. BUT, this advantage comes with disadvantages. You only have a small amount of time to work with the product before it starts to set up. Like 5 minutes or so. This means if you’re new to the process or are working by yourself you run the risk of screwing things up royally.
Even though I was pouring cement into our only bathroom and kitchen I did not use Quick Drying self levelling cement. Firstly it was much more expensive than the regular drying stuff AND I knew I needed as much working time with it as possible.
Regular drying self levelling cement gives you much more time in between pouring buckets of it. It starts to set up fairly quickly, within 15 minutes or so but not nearly as quickly as the quick drying stuff. Those extra 10 minutes make a huge difference when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.
Primer All of the self levelling cements require that you buy bottles of primer as well to coat your floor with prior to pouring the concrete. It is a rule. You are told you absolutely have to do it no matter what. You risk ruining everything if you don’t use it. Strangely I couldn’t find any real reason as to why. No one explained what the primer actually did. Did it seal? Don’t know. Did it make the concrete stick better? Don’t know. But you HAD to use it.
I didn’t use it.
My house did not fall into the abyss but I could feel Mike Holmes scowling from somewhere.
The reason I didn’t use it is because I bought my self levelling cement from a store mainly used by contractors, NOT a big box store. When I asked them where the primer for the self leveller was they looked at my quizzically. They didn’t carry it. They had never carried it, and in all the years they’d been selling self levelling cement no one had asked to buy the primer. The professionals just didn’t use it.
Good enough reason for me.
Besides. It was more money saved. I took a risk here but it was fine and nothing went wrong. I can’t guarantee nothing will go wrong for you. Why am I so worried about the cheaper materials and saving money? Because self levelling cement is expensive. I got away with spending $200 on my cement. If I had bought it at a big box store and used the primer it would have cost me $500.
How else can you save money? Ask to buy the open bags. Most stores have opened, ripped, unattractive bags for sale for half the price or even less. I bought a lot of open bags and saved about $120.
The cement mixing paddle is NOT the same as a paint mixing paddle so if you have one of those, leave it in the basement and buy a cement mixer. They’re between $10 and $15.
Add the required amount of water to the bucket FIRST.
(the bag will tell you how much water to cement mix to use)
Add about 1/4 – 1/3rd of the bag of cement. Mix with drill.
Continue mixing in the remainder of the bag bit by bit until it’s all incorporated. Mix for prescribed amount of time as detailed on the bag.
Now here’s a good tip…
GO RENT AN INDUSTRIAL DRILL.
For one bucket of concrete a strong cordless drill will do the job, but if you have any more than 1 bucket to do you’re in trouble. The battery will die after 1 or 2 buckets. Then you’ll go for your corded drill, which will burn out and will get thrown in the garbage.
So save your anger, save your sanity, save your relationship and RENT AN INDUSTRIAL DRILL. After one day of trying to do this without one I went out and rented a drill for $20 for half a day. It sped things up by about 10 fold.
Pour your cement.
The cement will be quite thin. Like runny pudding. Self levelling is a bit of a misconception. It will find its own “level”, but it needs some help getting there.
Using a trowel push and pull the cement where it needs to go. Push it into corners and pull it towards you. Excuse my hair. It appears I was having a Paul Weller moment.
This mudroom is around 30 square feet and one bag of cement just barely covered it at about 1/4″ thickness.
Clean up the Drips
You’re gonna drip. Drip and spray and splash. Just wipe up what you can and then don’t worry about it. It’ll wash off easily later.
The room was dry enough to walk on about 24 hours later and dry enough to put the freezer and other stuff back in there in 3 days. It couldn’t have gone better.
The kitchen and bathroom were a bit of a different story. The mudroom was the test room. It went perfectly. The kitchen and bathroom were bigger … badder. A bigger room means you have to pour the buckets of concrete, run back to the mixer and mix up another batch (which needs to be mixed a longgg time), run through the house with a 50 pound bucket of cement and pour it where you left off. And repeat.
I thought I bought plenty of cement but it turns out I didn’t. By 10 o’clock at night we realized between the cordless drills, the diminishing cement and the crankiness it was time to stop.
After the first go round the Warmly Yours pads were still showing and it obviously wasn’t looking very good.
Before we continue on here …. how long is it you’ve wanted to pour self levelling cement?
Do you keep putting it off? Or is it some other project you’ve been putting off for months?
Join The Summer of Doing Stuff and finally get that project done.
You know. THAT project. The one you’re always putting off.
O.K., where were we? Right.
So the next day I rented a drill, bought more cement and got to it. I abandoned my rubber boots and went barefoot like the cement pouring hippy that I am. I recommend you go barefoot as well. You can walk right through the cement, no problem, and as you walk away the cement just fills in your footprints. Magic.
For these bigger rooms I bought a squeegee on a long handle to push and pull the cement. It worked great but it was a bit difficult to manipulate in the small bathroom.
You’ll find bits of unmixed lumps of cement. Just mush them with your fingertips.
As it’s drying the floor will look discoloured and uneven. It’s all an optical illusion.
Once it’s dry you’ll be able to feel that those bits that look like ridges are actually smooth.
Even after re-levelling the floor I had issues with dips and bumps. It was easy to correct them with a bit of Durabond 90.
My floor was now ready to lay the VCT tiles. I’m not necessarily saying I’m ready. But the floor is.
p.s. I’m out of chips.