Flooring Contractors: Pour Your Own Self-Leveling

"Own" Your Flooring Project

Owners, designers and general contractors demand high quality flooring along with rapid installation. During every project, flooring contractors continue to seek ways to increase profits while reducing time and labor costs; and pouring their own self-leveling underlayment (SLU) has become a trending solution.

Why Pour Your Own Floor?

As a contractor, having the floor in your hands from the substrate to the finished product produces a higher quality floor, as you are able to control the prep work and pour your own SLU to your distinct specifications. Pouring your own SLU, as opposed to giving the work to another subcontractor, can set you and your business up for success more readily.

"Every wood floor installation over a SLU is a far superior installation opposed to conventional patching," Rick Klaasen Director of Development at Real Wood Floors, said. "Why aren’t we pouring our own floors?" Rick’s company promptly purchased a 200 bag per hour mixing pump and has been successfully pouring their own floors for several months.

Benefits of Pouring SLU

If the flooring contractor pours their own floors, there are various benefits that can be obtained.

  • The contractor realizes more profit and revenue streams in their job, because they’re picking up a second portion of the project. Typically, this can result as a .50¢ to $1 profit increase per square foot.
  • Moisture mitigation is in the hands of the contractor. Although they are responsible for ensuring that moisture does not migrate to their finished product, they have the ability to know and keep track of the exact preparations that were employed.
  • The contractor can ensure the floor meets flatness and levelness specifications for their given flooring application.
  • Contractors who pour their own SLU can control their schedules more readily, because they are not waiting on a subcontractor to prepare the floor. Placement or SLU coverage is generally completed faster with fewer people, so additional resources can be applied elsewhere on the project.

Today's Technology

New technology allows SLU products to accept finished flooring sooner than products of the past, with some allowing the application of finished flooring to be completed on the same day.

Because the contractor has the floor from raw slab to a finished product, they can strategically decide whether they choose a pumped or manual approach.  SLU pumping can simplify setup, better coordinate batch placement, and streamline equipment transportation, saving both time and money to the project.

Prepping the Floor for SLU

After the floor has been flattened or leveled as desired, prior to an installer pouring a SLU, there are steps that need to be taken to ensure the flooring is prepped properly.

When preparing for SLU, it is important to assess the existing flooring and address any structural deficiencies. Find a leveler that is compatible with that specific flooring. Whether it’s plywood, tile or another material, ensure it’s a suitable substrate.

Once materials have been purchased, secure the floor by screwing the floor down. To avoid losing the SLU into unintended areas, use a product, like foam weather stripping or an adhesive, to close off gaps around the perimeter, fixtures and pipes. This can also help with moisture mitigation, as moisture in the existing substrate needs to be sealed off.

Securing the floor also involves removing any loose materials that may interfere with SLU application. Vacuuming or sweeping the floor entirely can help ensure drywall, dirt or dust are mitigated.

To help ensure the flooring will stick, a contractor can grind, shot blast or prime the floor with an epoxy sand broadcast. For example, priming wood floors before covering them with a self-leveling product prevents the wood from absorbing water. Conveniently, primer can be rolled on, brushed or sprayed.

Flat Flooring vs. Level Flooring

Installing tiles on an uneven floor can cause lippage in the tiles. Also, if the floor gets wet, water can pool up in the low spots. It is best to ensure the subfloor is both level and flat before installing flooring.  

If a contractor needs to flatten a floor with a self-leveling product, they typically pour half of an inch of the SLU over the entire floor. Once they pour the SLU, they can then gauge rake the material to keep it stable at the half of an inch mark and allow the material to flow. Although this can remove any inconsistencies and enhance the overall quality of the floor, the floor may still not be level.

To level a floor, a contractor must use a laser level to check grade pins throughout the floor. Utilizing the laser level will drop pins onto the floor of varying heights that are set at different levels and the floor can then be filled with the self-leveling component to properly level the floor.

SLU Applications

In many cases, self-leveling products serve a utilitarian purpose, such as correcting uneven or damaged floors or serving as an underlayment for tile, carpet or other floor coverings. Wood subfloors and concrete slabs may not be flat enough for tile–a problem that can often be solved with SLU. Typical applications include warehouse floors and for institutional, educational, office, commercial, retail, supermarket, residential, and industrial uses.

Whether placed manually or pumped, depending on the preference of the contractor, pouring your own SLU provides a wide range of benefits and delivers a shortcut to quality flooring with a sharp look. 

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