When it comes to pouring and smoothening concrete floors, self-leveling compound is often the go-to product. But the costs can really add up, especially for larger jobs.
Luckily, there are some cheaper alternatives that work nearly as well. In this post, we’ll look at several cheaper alternative to self-leveling compound to help you stretch your dollar when leveling floors.
What is Self-Leveling Compound?
Before diving into substitutes, let’s quickly go over what self-leveling compound is and why it’s used. This material levels itself out after you pour it, creating a smooth, even surface. It’s great for:
- Smoothening uneven concrete before flooring installation
- Creating wear layers to protect decorative finishes
- Fixing drainage issues on outdoor concrete
Self-leveling compound relies on flow and viscosity to flatten out. While wonderfully effective, it sits on the pricier end of concretes.
Cheaper Powder-Based Alternatives
If what you mainly need is a free-flowing material to patch cracks and even surfaces, there are some Budget-friendly powder alternatives. While they won’t offer quite the same performance, they can get the job done on a tight wallet.
1. High-Flow Patching Cement
Patching cement has some self-leveling abilities, though not as exceptional as specialized compounds. It flows into dips and valleys nicely but doesn’t leave as smooth a texture. However, it costs notably less. This makes it ideal for garage and basement floors.
You can also use sand to bulk up the mix design if desired. This increases yield and reduces shrinkage cracks. But it may diminish flow capacity somewhat.
2. Fast-Setting Cement Mixes
General cement mixes also provide affordable options. While you must manually distribute them instead of relying on self-leveling properties, they fill uneven spots adequately.
Opt for fast-setting blends when possible. This allows you to pour sections in sequence rather than all at once. As a result, you can direct flow better before drying begins.
3. Hydraulic Water Stop Cement
Water stop cement forms watertight seals to stop moisture penetration. Though not quite self-flattening, its fairly fluid texture helps smooth uneven areas. And it coats horizontal surfaces efficiently while leaving a durable finish.
This specialty cement does cost more than typical concrete. But it still comes in under most self-leveling compounds. So, it presents a decent middle ground option.
Liquid Self-Leveling Options
If you want actual self-leveling abilities without the cost, you can try liquid alternatives. Be aware that these may not leave quite as nice a final surface texture or hardness. But for garage and basement uses, they should perform fine.
1. Resurfacer Concrete Topping
Concrete resurfacer toppings contain polymers and other admixtures for increased flow. Unlike traditional self-leveling compounds, they rarely need sand additions to prevent shrinkage and cracks. This simplify mixing while enhancing spread capacity over low areas.
While more affordable, concrete resurfacer leaves a somewhat porous surface prone to dusting. We’d suggest applying a protective sealer for garage floors.
2. High-Flow Gypsum Underlayment
Gypsum underlayments offer self-flattening abilities at lower costs than traditional compounds. They spread nicely across dips and bumps to create a smooth, even surface. Though keep in mind they don’t hold up as well to heavy loads as concrete-based alternatives.
Major perks are lighter weight and quicker drying times. This allows faster turnaround to install floor covering. Just take care to properly prep and prime the underlying surface first.
Other Handy Alternatives Worth Trying
Beyond basic cementitious options, there are a few other handy products that can help with leveling:
Latex Bonding Agents
Adding latex polymers boosts flow for improved self-leveling capacity. While more expensive than water, latex bonding agents cost far less than specialty compounds. They also reduce shrinkage stresses to minimize cracks.
Plasticizers allow you to achieve greater flow using less water. This enhances spread while limiting high shrinkage often seen with highly fluid mixes. By keeping costs low but performance up, they offer economic benefits.
Don’t overlook basic mortar sand for thinning leveling coats. Though not free-flowing, it builds up dipped regions nicely. Mix sand with cement and latex bonding agent to create budget-friendly patching motar.
While not superb stand-alone options, these products help boost leveling ability in other mixes while keeping costs reasonable.
Key Considerations for Success
While cheaper alternatives definitely save money, don’t expect identical performance to specialty self-leveling compounds. Make sure to:
· Thoroughly clean and prep the substrate –
Get rid of any grease, oil, paint or other residues that could interfere with bonding. Scraping, sweeping, and mopping are a must. Also etch and prime concrete accordingly.
· Only use on slab-on-grade projects (not elevated decks) –
Self-leveling concrete alternatives see substantial shrinkage and cracking in bridge deck applications. Stick to indoor concrete floors directly on the ground.
· Test flow capacity and cohesion first in a wheelbarrow –
Mix a small sample batch to gauge consistency, spread diameter, leveling ability and hardening rate before bulk mixing. This gives you a chance to tweak the mix design first.
· Pour thinner lifts for enhanced smoothness –
Unlike the exceptional flow of true self-leveling compounds, substitutes usually need a little help to reach depressions. Go with tight 1/4 to 1/2 inch maximum lifts.
· Handle sets quickly to maximize flow distance –
Cheaper cement-based materials set up much faster than specialty compounds. Work rapidly and pour sections progressively to keep flow going into dips rather than just spreading.
· Apply a protective sealer when needed –
Some substitute options leave porous, dusting surfaces. Make sure to seal the finished layer adequately with an appropriate concrete sealer for durability. This also allows easier cleaning.
· Maintain adequate ventilation while curing –
Some polymer-modified alternatives can give off strong odors as they set. Keep fresh air moving to clear fumes.
· Expect a little more hand tooling & troweling –
You’ll likely need to coax finishes by hand somewhat to fully smooth and flatten surfaces. Be prepared with appropriate concrete finishing tools.
With reasonable expectations going in, bargain-priced substitutes can still yield positive results. Just anticipate a little more labor on your end compared to self-leveling compounds. Test thoroughly and work swiftly!
1. What Can I Use Instead Of A Self-Leveling Compound On My Basement Floor?
You can use alternatives like patching cement, fast-setting cement mixes, hydraulic water stop cement, concrete resurfacer toppings, or gypsum underlayments on basement floors. Pour them in thin lifts and handle each batch quickly. Seal the finished layer for easy cleaning and durability.
2. How Smooth Of A Finish Can I Expect From These Cheaper Substitutes?
While far more affordable, these alternatives won’t leave as smooth of a finish as true self-leveling compounds. Expect some extra hand troweling to flatten and smooth surfaces. The finish may also remain a bit more porous and prone to dusting unless sealed properly.
3. Are There Any Liquid Products I Can Use Instead?
Yes, products like concrete resurfacer toppings and gypsum underlayments provide liquid, self-leveling abilities for floor smoothing. The polymer modifiers aid flow for more consistent finishes at lower cost than typical compounds.
4. How Do I Get Patching Cement To Flatten Properly?
Pour patching cement in very thin, maximum 1/2 inch lifts. Also mix it fairly wet for increased flow across low spots. Handle each batch rapidly and pour sections methodically so it flows out well before drying begins. A finishing trowel may be needed for final smoothing.
5. Can I Use Joint Compound Or Plaster Instead?
We don’t advise joint compound or plaster for leveling basement and garage floors. These are meant for vertical wall applications, not horizontal concrete surfaces. They lack durability, flexural strength, and adequate adhesion properties for floor use. Stick to concrete-based products for best results.
Let’s Review the Options
To wrap things up, here’s a quick overview of cheaper self-leveling compound alternatives:
Patching cement – Decent flow at lower cost
Fast-setting cement – Must move quickly but fairly economical
Hydraulic water stop cement – Good sealing and some flow
Concrete resurfacer toppings – Polymer-enhanced for self-leveling
Gypsum underlayments – Lightweight and quick-drying but not as hard
While no substitute matches the flow and finish of specialty compounds, these affordable options get the job done. We hope these tips help you save a buck on your next floor leveling project. Let us know if you have any other handy alternatives!