Is self-leveling concrete all it’s cracked up to be? Learn about the issues you can run into when working with self-leveling concrete compounds.

On the surface, self-leveling concrete seems like an easy and convenient solution to uneven floors, but the truth is, it’s not always so straightforward.

Self-leveling concrete, sometimes called “self-leveling underlayment”, is most commonly used to fill dips and uneven areas on the surface of concrete in preparation for installing new flooring on top, but in some cases it can be used as a standalone floor itself.

Here at A-1 Concrete Leveling, our goal is to give you the resources you need to make the best decisions regarding your concrete as possible. With that in mind, we’ve written this article to give you a look at four problems you may face if you decide to use self-leveling concrete.

1. Cracking and Crumbling

One of the main concerns that come with self-leveling concrete is its tendency to crack or crumble. This can be caused by a few different factors, but the main ones are poor bonding between the concrete itself and the newly-poured compound, and movement of the concrete slab.

If the self-leveling compound is poured onto a concrete surface that has not been properly prepared, it will not be able to fully bond to it, and will instead cure as a layer separate from the slab, which will be prone to chipping away from the surface or crumbling. Each self-leveling compound comes with different prep requirements, like adding primer or grinding the surface, for example.

By nature, concrete slabs move and shift as the ground underneath them settles or erodes. If a thin layer of material is cured on top of slabs that are moving, even if it is gradual movement, it can begin to crack or crumble over time. 

We have also found that if there are preexisting cracks or expansion joints in the area where the self-leveling compound is being added, this is where it will most likely crack, because the concrete below it is expanding and contracting in these areas. 

2. Difficult for DIYers

Another problem that commonly plagues people looking for smooth surfaces with self-leveling concrete is the fact that it’s not ideal for DIY projects.

Self-leveling concrete is hard to mix, as it requires exact measurements with little room for error. If there is too much water in the mixture, it can overly runny and not set correctly. If there isn’t enough water, it won’t be able to adequately level itself. 

Self-leveling concrete is most ideally used indoors because there are more consistent temperatures, which helps with bonding and helps the compound from chipping off as a result of freeze-thaw cycles. 

However, even inside, a temperature that’s too hot or too cold or the amount of humidity in the room can also affect how well the product cures.

Although a self-leveling compound will come with specific instructions for its use, due to the difficult-to-perfect nature of the compound, it is not ideal for beginners or DIYers who don’t have prior experience with it.

3. Short Working Window

For most self-leveling compounds, a big benefit to using them is their quick drying times. Instead of waiting days for the new, level surface to cure before installing flooring on top, many self-leveling compounds are ready for use within a few hours of application.

While this is definitely a plus, it brings a challenge, as well. Because of its quick-drying nature, there is less time available for actually working with the product. 

Once the water is mixed in, you have to pour and spread the compound almost immediately, as it’s common for self-leveling concrete to have a working window of around 20 minutes. This gives little time for correcting errors or smoothing out any tricky areas.

4. Underlying Issues Aren’t Fixed

It’s also important to mention that self-leveling concrete may seem like a complete solution because it masks any issues you have with your concrete, but it is only a superficial layer on top of the existing problems.

Settling slabs or cracks in the concrete don’t go away when self-leveling concrete is applied to the surface, and will likely continue to worsen over time. This is bad news for the self-leveling concrete, as it will deteriorate along with the problematic concrete it’s applied to.

Before a self-leveling compound is applied, it’s crucial to check the concrete for any underlying issues that can be fixed beforehand, as cracks and other deterioration can make it far more likely that the self-leveling concrete will crack, chip, or break down over time.

Your Next Steps

Now that you know some of the problems associated with self-leveling concrete, you’re more equipped to decide whether or not it’s an option you’d like to explore for your home.

In some cases, what’s really needed is professional concrete leveling rather than a self-leveling compound. We have a detailed article in our Concrete Academy that explains when it's best to use self-leveling concrete and some good alternatives.

We often get calls asking if we can level out dips that were poured in the concrete when it was originally finished.  We don’t do this, which is when a self-leveling compound is the solution, but we can level or lift sunken concrete that has settled from its original position. 

While we don’t apply self-leveling compounds here at A-1 Concrete Leveling, we do have additional concrete repair and maintenance options available that you may be interested in, like concrete leveling, concrete caulking, foundation repair, and concrete cleaning and sealing. 

If you’re interested in learning what any of these services can do for your home, click the link below to request a free onsite consultation and cost estimate with one of our concrete experts!

Check out some of these related resources from our Concrete Academy

Sarah Etler
Sarah Etler

Sarah Etler joined A-1 Concrete Leveling after receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northern Kentucky University. As A-1's Digital Content Manager, she works closely with industry experts to produce content that will best answer questions related to concrete repair and maintenance practices. Sarah loves living a life full of discovery and is excited every day to see what new things she can learn and share with those around her.