Nightmare Phase One: Pouring Self-Leveling Concrete

Pouring Self Leveling ConcreteSo it’s finally time for me to begin the series of trials that we had to brave in order to successfully install the new tile floor in our living room. First up, subfloor preparation. I.E. pouring self leveling concrete. I.E. a messy, repetitive hell.

Now, you may not need to do much extra work to level your subfloors, but ours was bad. Like… dips and high spots that were over an inch in some places. We actually took one of our tiles around the floor and tried to see how bad different spots were, to see if anywhere would be bad enough to even warrant it. We accidentally broke one of our tiles doing this. *grumble grumble*

But, first up, I needed to seal all of the cracks in our floor.

Our living room floor before beginning our project.

This is the glory of our living room as it was before we started.

Some of the sealed cracks.

Applying the crack sealant was a fairly simple affair. I just bought a bottle of concrete (You can see it in the top of the picture below, by the stairs), applied a generous amount all along the crack, and smoothed it into the crack with a flat piece of plastic. (I can’t remember what I actually used, but something similar in effect to a credit card.)

Sealing the Cracks

There were more cracks than I realized when I started. But it’s important to get them all plugged up, because the self-leveling concrete is runny enough to run into it. And it’s not cheap, so losing any down a crack is not a good idea.

My work attire of boots, knee pads and my awesome sweater.

Looking cute while doing it is optional, but I recommend it. It makes the job more fun. Knee pads are not optional. They are amazing and I recommend getting a decent pair. Test them out at the store before you buy them if you don’t mind looking a little silly in a Home Depot aisle.

Then you have to do the rest of the prepping for the concrete pour.

Matt excited about finding play money in the walls.

Finding play money behind a wall may not be an option for you, but if you happen to, be sure to be really happy and smile like a fool.

Matt vacuuming the floor.

Then you have to vacuum up. We had to vacuum like seventeen times before we poured (I may be exaggerating). That floor was messy. And we mopped. And vacuumed more.

Matt cuddling a quite content Fancy Pants.

Then you have to cuddle kittens. Not optional. Not doing this will destroy the rest of the project.

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

Then you have to make sure to button up any borders so that the self-leveling concrete won’t flow outside of the room where you want it. We just used some duct tape. It worked very well and we just cut any exposed tape when we were completely done.

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

More duct tape.

Duct Tape Really Fixes Everything

We didn’t initially want to buy a special tool to spread the concrete around. So we had a rake, and we decided to tape it so that there was around an 1/8-inch of space below the tape. Seems genius, but in our first attempt it didn’t work very well. But more on that later. On to the actual pour!

In our research for pouring, one of the places I looked into was The Art of Doing Stuff, which is a wonderful blog by an incredibly talented woman. In this article, she talks about all of the research that she did before doing her project, and then everything that she did during her project. And it made me much more confident in tackling this myself.

However… Ours didn’t go as swimmingly as hers. And there’s a fairly simple reason, so I’ll go ahead and tell you. USE THE PRIMER!! Now, she says in her article that she didn’t. And that professionals didn’t. That may be true if you’re leveling a plywood or other type of subfloor (which she was and it worked fine for her not to use the primer). However, not so much if you’re leveling a concrete subfloor.

The concrete you’re covering will absorb the liquid in the concrete that you’re pouring, causing it to set up far more quickly than it should. And when it should set up in 5-7 minutes, that’s a disaster.

There’s actually a little test that you can do to determine whether your concrete needs the primer. Dump a bunch of water on your floor. If it’s completely dry in less than an hour, use the primer. If it’s completely dry in less than 30 minutes, follow the instructions for doing two coats of the primer. Really pretty simple. (This is not a professional test. It’s honestly just a test that I came up with that seems to be a fairly logical one since the purpose of the primer is to stop the concrete you’re covering from absorbing water too quickly.)

Oh, yeah. One more thing you shouldn’t do? Don’t get the rapid-setting concrete. Just…. trust me. The normal stuff sets up in like 15 minutes. The rapid setting… you’ll have like 5 minutes tops. So just, be nice to yourself. Get the normal stuff.

Okay, let’s do this.


Rapid-setting self-leveling concrete with no primer (that’s right, cuz if you’re going to do it wrong, why not do it ALL wrong)

Matt mixing our first batch of self-leveling concrete.

Having two people for this project is awesome. Three was even better, but that’s not this attempt. Having somebody to mix and somebody to pour made the process much more seemless. This shows the type of consistency that the concrete should have when mixed.

Now, it may seem silly, but we did a dry run. We ran through doing the mixing and the pouring and made sure that we each knew what we should be doing at any given time. We’re really lucky that we did, because I was going to be doing the mixing and Matt was going to be doing the pouring, but it turned out I couldn’t easily get the 50 lb bag of concrete up on the lip of the bucket to get it poured in for mixing. So we switched jobs for the real deal. That would have sucked to figure out while the clock was already ticking.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

While waiting for Matt to finish mixing up buckets, I had a few minutes to snap some pictures. You may be able to see rake marks in the freshly laid concrete. That’s because the concrete was setting up in less than a minute. No joke. It was bad news.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

Wherein the rake marks are more obvious. *sigh*

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

And the nightmare continues.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

This area actually turned out almost perfectly because for this bucket Matt accidentally added about half a cup or so too much water. Which allowed me a little more time to spread it out evenly. Up until the rake marks that you see again.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

We had almost enough concrete to cover the floor. Almost. In an effort to finish it up, Matt added a bunch of water to one of the buckets and shot it out there. I have no idea why he thought that was a good idea. It wasn’t. And it looked dumb.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling ConcreteHe even got some in my nice area. *grumble grumble*

Clearly, we had to pour again. We did attempt 1 on Friday. I believe that we did attempt 2 on Sunday.


Henry’s Level Pro (normal) Self Leveling Concrete and Two Coats of Primer (That’s a bit better, huh?)

Our set-up for our second attempt.

So, we clearly had a new approach for this one. We got giant buckets, mixed four of the bags at once in one of them, three bags in the other, dumped them out and spread it out. It honestly worked so much better. And we bought gallons of distilled water so that we would know that there wasn’t anything in it that would effect the outcome (we have well water. Questionable well water at that) and so that we would have much more precise measuring.

Our set-up for our second attempt.

After mixing the bucket with 4 bags in it, I actually grabbed out a five gallon bucket’s worth of the concrete to hold back and apply in any places that needed it, and the area behind the buckets (by the fireplace).

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

Success! You can still see some rake marks, but those are actually just color variations in the wet concrete, not indentations like before.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling ConcreteThose little spots did end up filling up as the “self-leveling” part of the concrete took over. And things were good. Except… Wait…


Henry’s Level Pro (normal) Self Leveling Concrete and One Coat of Primer (Again)

Yep. Turns out the area by our stairs is like an inch lower than the rest of the floor. So. Yeah. For this attempt, which is really more of a patch, Jess was here to help us out and take pictures of more of the process.

The marks that Matt made on the floor.

For this time around, Matt went through with a four foot level and measured all of the dips and high spots so we knew exactly where it was high or low and by how much. We probably should have done this to start with. It made the job much more manageable.

The set-up for our third attempt.

We were planning on the same technique again. It did work very well last time.

The primer and the marks on the floor.

Here you can see the pink primer. We applied it with a big bristle brush. It was easy to see where it was and where it still needed to be applied.

The primer on the floor.

Whenever it puddles like it is here, you want to brush it back out. It’s not supposed to puddle. I don’t know why, but I was ready to just follow all instructions blindly at this point. Also, you should pour your concrete within 12-24 hours of laying the primer, so plan for that.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.

With this method, we’re able to work together in the mixing part. I couldn’t wear my glasses and the mask though (because my glasses try to fall into the concrete if I do) so I did this mostly blind.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.

Matt poured in the bags of concrete while I started mixing them in.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.

Mix, mix, mix.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.

Then Matt took over the mixing, because I wanted to take over the camera. Here you can also see his wonderful marks on the floor.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.

You mix for, like, ever. Or, you know, three-five minutes.

The process of mixing the self-leveling concrete.But if feels like forever.

The proper consistency for the mixed self-leveling concrete.

This is about the consistency that it should be when you’re ready to pour it.

Honestly, maybe not having pictures of this part in the beginning would have been fine.

I wish we had gotten a picture of us pouring it. That was my favorite part. You’ll have to deal with my lame sound effects instead. *SPLOOSH*

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

Then we made sure to feather out the edges of the pour to the marks that Matt had made.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

As you can see from the foot prints, we also did a majority of this work without shoes on.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

I feel like we’re pros at this now. But I hope I never have to do it again. Ever.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

It did turn out very smooth. We were finally happy with how flat our floor was.

Pouring and Spreading the Self Leveling Concrete

You can see in the background that there was another small patch that we did. It turned out fine too. And then we were done! And it was finally time to start laying tiles! That’s another blog post, but here’s a little sneak peak for you (but not a great one, otherwise you may not come back):

Sneak Peak of our Tile


3 thoughts on “Nightmare Phase One: Pouring Self-Leveling Concrete

  1. Pingback: Nightmare Phase Two: Laying Tile | From House to Home

  2. Pingback: DIY Mirror Wall Art | From House to Home

  3. Just want to say thank you for this great overview of your experience with DIY self-leveling concrete! I’m about to embark on my own self-leveling adventure (wish me luck!) and your blog post is the most helpful I’ve found. Thanks!

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