Smooth and level floor screed in two private house rooms.

Key takeaways

  • Screed is a layer of strong material, often cement, that offers a smooth and level surface to floors.
  • There are several types of floor screed, including traditional cement, latex, self-levelling, and more.
  • Screeding a floor follows a precise process with steps that involve preparation, mixing, application, and final checks.
  • The cost of screeding your floors varies on the type and surface area but can be anywhere between £4 to £8 per square foot.
  • This complete guide to the different types of screed, how to lay floor screed, and its advantages and disadvantages. We will uncover everything there is to know about this overlooked component, shedding light on just how important it is in construction.

Despite its underlying significance, screed is one of the most overlooked aspects of construction. Screed serves multiple functions, whether used as a protective layer for your flooring or to allow underfloor heating systems to operate even more efficiently. It currently stands as one of the most versatile materials throughout the construction industry.

This complete guide to the different types of screed, how to lay floor screed, and its advantages and disadvantages. We will uncover everything there is to know about this overlooked component, shedding light on just how important it is in construction.

What is screeding?

Screeding involves applying a screed layer to a floor to create a smooth, level, and hard-wearing finish on top of the usual structural base. The process plays a vital role in construction work, as without proper screeding, the final floor finish—whether it’s carpet, vinyl, wood, or tiles—will never be suitably level.

Screeding involves carefully spreading a screed mix over the area being worked on before various tools—including trowels and ‘screed’ boards—are used to achieve the necessary level and smoothness. Once done, the screed will harden quickly, developing into a stable, impact-resistant foundation for any floor finish.

A property’s flooring is not the only area where screeding is crucial, as the process is also used to create suitable bases for installing paths, garages and other structural elements.

What are the types of floor screeds?

Montage showing Next Level employees pouring concrete, leveling it, and the result on various sites

While many construction workers tend to opt for the standard screed made of cement in their projects, there are various types to consider, each with their own unique formulas and benefits:

Traditional cement screed

Containing cement, sand, and water, standard cement screed is tough, an economical choice, and a favoured flooring solution. Its strength means it can be used in both domestic and industrial floor screed projects, with a diverse range of applications.

Sand and cement screed

With a higher sand content, sand and cement screed has better workability and reduced shrinkage. This is the preferred option when a smooth and level surface is required and where it is required more quickly and with less manual labour, with many concrete floor projects using this type of screed.

Fibre-reinforced screed

Fibre-reinforced screed is a tough and more flexible composite, with added fibres such as steel that improve its overall strength and flexibility and crack resistance. Use with heavier loads or where more body is required. This is a long-lasting and very tough solution for any floor covering.

Latex screed

Latex polymers are added to form latex floor screed to give higher flexibility, adhesion, and water resistance. This is often used in wet areas where the environment is moisture-laden, such as bathrooms and kitchens, with a tough finish that can resist constant moisture exposure.

Polymer-modified cement screed

It is a cement screed with polymer additives that give it high strength, good flexibility, and improved workability. Hard-wearing finish with high resistance to cracking, surface wear, and shrinkage, with heavy-duty wear or where a fast drying time is required.

Self-levelling screed

A ready self-levelling floor screed mix will settle to form a level surface and be available in greater volumes, making laying a much faster and preferred process. This is common with larger-sized projects or where it is important to have an absolutely level floor surface to reduce the timing required to level manually. Available in a bonded or unbonded below heavy-duty or floating finish.

Anhydrite screed

The use of a calcium sulfate binder means anhydrite screed can dry much quicker than traditional cement screed, making it even more desirable for floor installation. Due to its thermal conductivity, it is ideal for underfloor heating systems, which are more widely used. It dries faster than an equivalent strength traditional sand and cement screed.

Polymer cement overlay

When a very thin layer of screed is needed for decorative purposes or has sustained damage, a polymer cement overlay can be added over the top of the existing concrete base or substrate. This includes polymers that provide better adhesion and flexibility and are best for surface finish, for example, where contact with an existing wall needs to be minimised or where a good existing floor surface necessitates no complete replacement.

What’s the difference between concrete and screed?

Despite their similar compositions, concrete and screed have entirely different purposes in construction.

Concrete, which commonly contains coarse aggregates such as gravel or crushed stone, is generally used to provide structural strength in elements such as foundations, walls, and other load-bearing elements.

Screed, which is made from finer aggregates like sand and cement, is used to make the top surface flat and even. This top surface provides a suitable foundation for flooring materials such as tiles, wood, or carpet.

How to screed a floor

Before and after shots of floor leveling screed results.

Screeding a floor is essential in the construction process to ensure a level, smooth surface for various floor coverings. A general guide on how to screed a floor is as follows:

Preparation

Preparation is key to successful screeding, so before screeding the area, make sure you are clearly marked out and all debris has been removed. Ensure the substrate is immaculately clean and dry. Follow precise screed specifications for rigorous application methods to guarantee the best possible adhesion and performance.

Layout and marking

Precise reference points must be established, and the floor must be meticulously laid out, marking the level of the finished surface accurately. Paying meticulous attention to slopes, gradients, and layout lines is key to successfully screeding.

Mixing the screed

The screed is mixed thoroughly, and the screed mixture is prepared. Of course, this means carefully measuring and blending the correct proportions of cement, sand, water, and any additives to achieve a homogenous and consistent mixture—guaranteeing optimal strength, durability, and workability.

Application

And then the screed mixture is applied. The screed mixture must be applied diligently and evenly across the substrate, carefully distributing it. Once more, a screeding tool must be deployed to gauge the level and maintain it thoroughly and meticulously to ensure good adhesion.

Compaction and levelling

The surface must be methodically and carefully compacted and levelled, using a trowel or float to smooth and place it. This is a bit of a tedious, time-consuming and exacting task, but without it, you cannot hope to achieve a high-quality, smooth and even finish.

Finishing touches

Depending on the type of screed used, additional finishing may be required, such as trowelling the surface to remove imperfections. Allow the screed to set to cure according to the manufacturer's guidelines, protecting it from excessive moisture, temperature changes, and traffic of any kind during this time.

Final inspection

Finally, once the surface has had a chance to firm off, a thorough final inspection is conducted, examining the surface for defects, imperfections, or irregularities and making any necessary repairs or adjustments to the screed to ensure that it conforms absolutely to the exacting quality standards that the type of floor requires.

How long does screed take to dry?

Floor screeding in commercial enterprises of any complexity.

The screed floor drying time can vary depending on the screed type, application thickness, ambient temperature, humidity levels, and ventilation.

For example, traditional screeds take circa 1 to 2 days to dry sufficiently to walk on and around seven days per 1 cm (0.4 inches) of thickness to dry out completely and be ready to accept floor finishes. However, these timings can vary considerably for the reasons just mentioned.

Specialised floor screeds, such as fast-drying and self-levelling screeds, tend to have much shorter drying times. They typically allow for light foot traffic after 24 hours to a few days and up to 21 days for a complete cure, depending on the particular product and conditions.

Advantages of screed

Screed offers several advantages in construction and flooring applications:

Levelling

Screed creates a flat, level surface that tiles, marble, wood, or virtually any other subsequent flooring materials can be installed without compromising their evenness or warping. As such, it makes a great surface for installing virtually any kind of flooring system. What’s more is that it creates a stable foundation for flooring connections, greatly enhancing the overall look and feel of any given space.

Strength

Screed further works as a robust base for concrete floors, ensuring it can withstand heavy loads, mechanical stress, and structural movements over time. This added strength makes floors incredibly durable, able to bear heavy loads and plenty of foot traffic without causing minor or major accidents due to failed connections.

Durability

The material’s utmost resilience ensures heavy, continuous foot traffic. It comes with abrasion resistance and resistance to environmental degradation, helping maintain its functionality and aesthetic appeal well into the future. By drastically improving the durability and integrity of your floor, screed reduces the need for frequent repair and replacement over time.

Versatility

Because screed can be customized in terms of its composition, the thickness of a concrete screed floor, and the addition of additives like polymers and fibres, it can be altered to satisfy the requirements and design intentions of an installer or contractor. This versatility allows the modern material to be adapted to fit the needs of individual projects, providing an ideal mix of aesthetic and performance benefits for virtually any available application.

Compatibility

As a result of its immense strength, thickness, and composition, modern material concrete screed floors can be seamlessly integrated with various finishes and coatings, making for a highly flexible and ultimately, versatile range of attractive and effective flooring systems.

Disadvantages of screed

Professionally leveled floor screed in a room after underfloor heating system installation.

While screed offers numerous advantages, it also comes with certain disadvantages to consider too:

Time-consuming installation

Screeding can be a labour-intensive process that involves carefully mixing, laying, and levelling the mortar. This can significantly lengthen construction timelines - particularly on larger projects - which could lead to disruption and potential project delays.

Potential cracking

Screed that has been poorly mixed, inadequately cured, or exposed to heavy loads or structural movement may be prone to cracking. This can create unattractive surface defects, compromise the integrity of the floor system, and increase long-term maintenance and repair requirements.

Limited load-bearing capacity

Traditional screed may not be available in the same high-strength formulations as structural concrete, and as such, may not offer the same load-bearing capacity. This can limit its suitability for applications where heavy machinery, heavy equipment, or floor loadings are to be catered for, and may call for additional reinforcement or other solutions.

Moisture sensitivity

Cement-based screed, in particular, is highly sensitive to moisture and, if left unprotected, can be vulnerable to problems such as efflorescence or the growth of mould and mildew. In areas subject to continual or prolonged moisture exposure, non-cementitious solutions may become the material of choice.

Surface preparation requirements

Achieving a smooth, level surface with a screed layer typically requires a high level of pre-existing substrate preparation. This may involve thorough cleaning, levelling, and priming of the existing floor, and failure to carry out these requirements can lead to poor adhesion, an uneven screed thickness and a surface that is unsuitable for subsequent floor coverings to be bonded to.

How much does it cost to screed a floor?

The floor screed cost depends on a number of factors, such as the type of screed used, the floor area to be screeded, project complexity, regional material and labour costs, and labour costs.

On average, however, the cost of floor screed typically ranges between £4 to £8 per square foot (£40 to £80 per square meter) for conventional sand and cement screed. Specialist screeds can be more costly, and additional requirements such as insulation, underfloor heating systems or decorative finishes can all increase the total cost.

For example, due to higher material costs and a faster installation process, self-levelling screed may be priced between £2 and £5 per square foot (£20 to £50 per square meter). Meanwhile, screeding with fibre-reinforced or polymer-modified screed can also raise your cost slightly because these materials often boast enhanced performance characteristics.

You can always use an online floor screed calculator for a better idea of price or contact a local screed expert like Next Level.

Where is the best floor screed near me?

Next Level is the go-to provider of floor screed in Scotland, offering the highest quality, exceptional value, and unbeatable results. With a highly skilled workforce and state-of-the-art methods, we guarantee an accurate screed mix, precise application, and a superior finish to every project.

Our materials are first-class, our team has the in-depth industry knowledge required to adjust and meet your specific requirements, and our highly-trained staff understands and recognises the limitations and capabilities of all our equipment.

From residential projects to commercial developments, Next Level provides Scotland's leading floor screed solutions. Contact one of our experts today to begin your screeding project.

Montage of freshly poured concrete floor screed in commercial premises.

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