How to Pour Self Leveling Cement.

Even for those of us who consider ourselves to be pretty handy within the whole home improvement world, the thought of pouring self leveling cement IN OUR HOUSE is moderately terrifying. O.K., completely terrifying. Don’t worry. You can do it.

The floor I laid, on top of the cement I poured, over the heated floors I put down.

photo by donna griffith

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. That might not seem pertinent to the task at hand – and it isn’t.

Second things second. I mean what kind of lunatic would add this to their repertoire of things to do? Me. And possibly you. Why would you ever want to pour self leveling concrete? 

To level an uneven concrete floor.

If you have a wonky basement floor that’s uneven you can use self leveling concrete to smooth everything out and get it nice and flat. It’s even handy if your concrete floors are just filthy. A thin layer of this will give you nice, clean concrete floors.

To prep a floor for laying down tile or to encase radiant floor heating.

The reason I poured it in my kitchen, bathroom and mudroom was so I could put down radiant floor heating. There’s no basement or crawlspace at the back of my house which makes the floors pretty darn cold in the middle of a Canadian winter.  


If you’re also interested in radiant floor heating you can learn exactly how easy it is to install in this post.

The self leveler not only encased the radiant floor heating it also created a super-smooth surface to lay my commercial VCT tile onto.

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.

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 concrete products sometimes.

 

DIY self leveling cement

PREP WORK

Scraping up vinyl tile from plywood with putty knife.

  1. Scrape up any loose debris from the floor. 

 

Horrible fake brick vinyl sheet flooring being prepped for a layer of concrete.

2. Fill any cracks or holes and create a dam to prevent the liquidy solution from seeping anywhere 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 mixutre is so thin it will just run down those small cracks and you’ll never get your work done.  You’ll have to keep adding more and more cement and you might even go crazy.  

 

Ugly Brick look vinyl sheet flooring being vacuumed with central vac.

3. Vacuum so you have a clean surface.

 

Get your materials ready.

MATERIALS

All the materials you need for DIYing self leveling cement laid on the floor including a bucket, self leveling concrete, a drill with cement bit and trowel.

 

Self leveling cement may also be called self leveling concrete, self leveling floor resurfacer or self leveling underlayment.  They’re all the same thing and I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

You need to pay special attention to the product 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 leveling concrete.

There are 2 types.  Quick drying and regular. You want regular.

Quick drying self leveling 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 working on our only bathroom and kitchen I did not use the Quick Drying.  Firstly it was much more expensive than the regular drying stuff AND I knew I needed as much working time with it as possible.  If you’re an amateur, you do too.

Regular drying self leveling 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 leveling cements require that you buy bottles of primer as well to coat your floor with prior to pouring the concrete.  It is a rule but it’s only applicable if you’re pouring cement onto cement. If you have a non porous surface as your base primer isn’t crucial. 

I didn’t use it.

My house did not fall into the abyss but I could feel Mike Holmes scowling from somewhere.

I got away with spending $200 on product. 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  concrete 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 the right kind.  They’re between $10 and $15.

 

Pouring water into a standard white 5 gallon bucket.

STEPS

4. Add the required amount of water to the bucket FIRST. (the bag will tell you how much water to compound mix to use) 

5. Add 1/4 – 1/3 of the powdered compound. Mix with the 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.

 

Dumping dry leveling compound into 5 gallon bucket of water to mix it.


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.


Mixing self leveling concrete in a bucket.

Save your anger, save your sanity, save your relationship and RENT AN INDUSTRIAL DRILL.  I used a regular drill (and a cordless one) for one day before giving up and renting a strong drill for $20 for half a day. 

It sped things up by about 10 fold.

YOUR MIXTURE WILL BE QUITE THIN.  Like runny pudding.  Self leveling is a bit of a misconception.  It will find its own “level”, but it needs some help getting there.

Pouring out mixed self leveling concrete from a bucket onto a vinyl flooring.

6. Pour it where you want it!

 

Leveling compound being trowelled into place in a small mudroom.

7. Trowel it. Using a trowel push and pull the mixture 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.

How much does a 50 lb bag of self leveler cover?

How much the cement will cover depends on how thick you will need it to be.  This mudroom is around 30 square feet and one 50 pound bag of cement just barely covered it at about 1/4″ thickness.

Karen Bertelsen trowels self leveling cement in a mudroom.

8. Clean up your 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.

Wiping up drips from cement compound.

9. Wait 24 hours to walk on it.

 

Wet leveling compound as it cures in a mudroom.

10. Wait 3 days to place furniture back.

The mudroom went perfectly well. 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 product but it turns out I didn’t.  By 10 o’clock at night I realized between the cordless drills, the diminishing bags 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.

Here’s how I installed my heated floors.

A 1940's kitchen with green cupboards in mid renovation with newly poured self leveling concrete flooring.

 

So the next day I rented a drill, bought more cement and got to it. 

Notice I have no shoes on. That’s because whatever shoes you have will obviously get ruined. 

 You can walk right through the cement, no problem, and as you walk away the cement just fills in your footprints. Magic.

NOTE: Wet concrete is caustic and can burn.

YOU HAVE TO WASH YOUR FEET IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU WALK THROUGH IT. Do so after every time you walk through it. Also don’t walk through wet cement if you have open cuts. 

DIYer Karen Bertelsen pouring self leveling concrete over newly installed heated floors in her kitchen.

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.

 

1940's kitchen mid renovation with floor being redone.

 

You’ll find bits of unmixed lumps of cement.  Just mush them with your fingertips.

 

Pushing down solid bits of compound into watery solution.

 

As it’s drying the floor will look discoloured and uneven. It’s all an optical illusion.

 

First coat of self leveling concrete with bits of heated floor elements showing through, ready for second.

 

Once it’s dry you’ll be able to feel that those bits that look like ridges are actually smooth.

 

Kitchen in a disaster mid renovation with newly poured flooring.

 

Even after re-leveling the floor I had issues with dips and bumps.  It was easy to correct them with a bit of Durabond 90.

 

Cement floors touched up with Durabond 90.

Just fill the dips then sand them.

DSC 0200

The Self Leveling Cement *Quick Guide*

Yield: Level concrete floor
Prep Time: 1 day
Active Time: 6 hours
Additional Time: 3 days
Total Time: 4 days 6 hours

A quick guide to pouring self leveling cement. Refer to post for in depth instructions.

Materials

  • Regular Self leveling cement*
  • Leveling Primer**
  • a cement mixing paddle
  • a 5 gallon bucket
  • a trowel
  • filler (Durabond 90).

Tools

  • Strong drill (I rented an industrial one)

Instructions

Scrape up any loose debris or tiles from the floor.

Build dams to stop the cement from going anywhere you don't want it to go.*

Fill any holes and/or cracks in the floor that the liquid cement could run down. I use Durabond 90.

Vacuum to get the surface perfectly clean.

Add water to your bucket (amount will be stated on your bag of cement)

Add 1/3 of the bag of cement into the water.

Mix with the drill and cement paddle, continually adding the rest of the bag of cement until everything is incorporated and then mix for the length of time given on the bag.

Here we go. Pour the self leveling cement into the desired area. Push and pull it into place with a trowel. It does self level but needs some help getting around.

And now you wait for it to cure. You can walk on it within 24 hours and place heavy objects back in 3 days.

Notes

*It may also be called self leveling concrete, self leveling floor resurfacer or self leveling underlayment. Either way make sure you get REGULAR self levelling cement. Quick Dry lets you walk on it within 6 hours, but you have a much shorter working time, and for an amateur it's better to have as much working time with the product as possible.

**Primer is needed when you're pouring concrete onto a porous surface like another concrete floor. It isn't needed when pouring onto old tile.

**It's very liquidy so make sure you don't skip this step or you'll have cement running under your dishwasher or down your stairs or into other rooms! I used thin wood, heavy cardboard and duct tape to make dams.

Self levellers can be poured to an inch deep.

If for some reason your cement isn't level, didn't turn out right or wasn't poured quite deep enough, you can re-pour more cement as long as you do it before the initial cement cures. Don't exceed the total recommended depth of 1".

OTHER TUTORIALS REFERENCED IN THIS POST

  1. How to lay heated flooring.
  2. How to lay VCT tiles.

 

p.s.  I’m out of chips.

(update:  The floor has been laid so you can read the post on how to lay VCT tiles here, or you can watch a quick video of me doing it!)

 
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

How to Pour Self Leveling Cement.

311 Comments

  1. Vicki says:

    The Qhow do you remove the self leveling floor. We used it for a ramp for the shower, but now we want the regular floor back.

  2. Gracious amazing, I’m so intrigued! Is there nothing you can’t do?? I don’t think I know any other individual who can eat a whole jar of Pringles!!! Approach to go!

  3. Paula G says:

    When we moved into this house twelve years ago, we had it re-floored in slate because it was cheap, which turned out to be a HUGE mistake because my floors are the bane of my life. The slate tiles are rough and uneven so the grout lines are as well. Crud gets stuck in them and doesn’t sweep out. They are a bitch to get clean, they are a bitch to keep clean. I absolutely hate my floors. I figured that eventually we’d find a bit of acreage and move, but that ain’t gonna happen. So I’m stuck with them. I recently advised my husband that if we’re going to stay here (his idea) then we’re going to have to replace the flooring because as I get older, these floors are going to be more and more treacherous- I’m already constantly tripping over uneven tiles and if I fall as an old woman, I am going to break a hip on them. I also pointed out that if my heart stops again and I pass out, I could do worse damage to myself hitting the floor with my head. So we. have. to. replace. the. floors. He wasn’t happy. Also being a handy type, I’ve built all kinds of bookcases and built-in furniture (daybed and storage benches), so we can’t just rip up the tiles. Enter self-leveling cement!! I didn’t even know the stuff existed! We might be able to pull off resurfacing the floors by ourselves! Thank you so much for reposting this one!!

    • Karen says:

      Yay! I’m glad the reminder helped. :) With the slate you’ll need to use a primer, but it should work perfectly to level things out and give you a fresh start. ~ karen!

  4. Vikki says:

    No wonder you’re thin—that’s a hella workout!! But so worth it–your kitchen now is beautiful. Thanks for doing all the research and trials for us. A great post!

  5. John Spiegel says:

    Great walkthrough, thanks!

    I’ve been doing research on this (hence finally finding this site). There are a couple considerations on the question of whether to prime or not to prime. One commenter noted that primer helps it stick and can reduce cracking down the road. I had a project a while back where I didn’t prime and in spots where the leveler was thin I could hear the cracking as I walked on the floor.

    Also, about 13:00 in, this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc_5eAKILiY gives a good explanation for using primer on concrete especially (I know your case was tile). Since concrete is porous, not priming can allow water to drain out of the leveling compound before the chemical reaction completes, which can lead to a weakened product.

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