There are only two solutions for bad concrete. You can tear it out and start over, or you can cover it. Of those two, the most practical and cost-effective is the latter. Today, many contractors are turning to a self-leveling overlay that they pour over the busted floor. In this satisfying process, old, dirty, and damaged concrete is sealed below a new, attractive, and (most importantly) even surface.
Turns out, we had some deteriorated concrete in the Popular Mechanics office in Easton, Pennsylvania, that needed a little TLC. So we took the opportunity to undertake the overlay process ourselves—and demonstrate why the technology brings concrete repair within reach of the average person.
Our office is located hard along the banks of the confluence of the Lehigh and the Delaware rivers. It’s a renovated building that was constructed in 1924 to house a Studebaker dealership. Known throughout Easton as simply “the garage,” very little of the old building remains—some of the façade, side and back walls, and portions of the original concrete floor. Throughout most of the building, contractors cut and polished the old concrete during the renovations. But the floor in the basement—where we test and store tools—still needed work.
There was no sense in trying to improve the concrete. It was dusty, dirty, cracked, and it sloped oddly in all directions. The highest point on the floor was about 2 inches above the lowest. Owing to that slope, the drawers of our tool cabinets would slide open on their own.
How Overlaying Works
Knowing their expertise in concrete and repairing it, we contacted Quikrete. They referred us to their Custom Building Products division. The solution to such a floor, Business Development Manager Matt Minney said, was to overlay it with LevelQuik RS, a powderized mixture of Portland cement, silica sand, and additives. When mixed with water, it becomes a free-flowing material that levels itself. Although it’s a commercial-duty product, you can easily find it at home and hardware stores. After you lay the concrete with LevelQuik RS, the new surface can function as the finished floor or you can cover it with tile, carpet, or wood.
First, Minney and his colleagues vacuumed the concrete clean and filled in the worst low areas with a patching compound. Next, they spread epoxy over the floor. On top of the wet and sticky epoxy they spread a layer of sand. As the epoxy cured overnight, it locked the sand in place, forming a gritty texture like a gigantic sheet of sandpaper to improve the bond of the overlay.
The next day’s task was applying the LevelQuik. To keep the dust down inside the building, the Custom Building Products crew mixed the LevelQuik RS with water outside then pumped it in through a hose and carried the rest inside in the mixing barrel. We were surprised at how loose the material is; think of it as pancake batter. Coaxing the compound with specialized floor squeegees, the men quickly covered the surface. And once they had flowed the material where they needed it, they left it alone. There’s no careful finishing with floats and trowels as with concrete. With this material, less is more. Once dried, the LevelQuick RS formed a beautifully smooth and hard surface. We applied two coats of utilitarian gray concrete stain to complete the floor.
The process was relatively simple, nothing you couldn’t tackle for patching up concrete at home. Our shop is no longer dusty, and it’s easier to sweep. It’s safer, too, without crevices that catch the toe of our work boot. Best of all, the drawers of our tool cabinets stay shut.
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