I'll tell you the back story before I get into how I leveled my floor with the help from my awesome Miller welder.
My wife and I bought a home with an unfinished basement when we moved to Colorado. I've been working on this basement for well, a long time. I'm down to just the tile flooring and a few other little items now.
Like you've probably done, I performed a search on using leveling compound and how to level a floor. The tools list appeared to be expensive for a one time project.
I'll just have to say upfront, I can't stand to spend money on a 1 time use tool. I don't mind spending money on tools, but I'd rather buy ones that I know I'll use more than a handful of times.
What tools do you need to self level a floor?
Plenty of buckets.
A heavy duty drill with a mixer attachment.
A screed roller is needed to spread the compound out evenly on the subfloor.
I also ordered floor leveling spiked shoes with a 3/4 inch spike. The shoes are required so that your feet don't displace the leveling compound.
The last thing you really need are the leveling tripods. These tools help you guarantee the surface will be level. I performed a search and found floor leveling tripods online on Amazon and another outfit online selling floor leveling tripods from Canada.
Floor leveling tripods on Amazon-
The first one was $229 plus shipping for 10 tripods.
Floor Leveling Tripods From Canada-
The floor leveling tripods from Canada were $299 CAD.
After looking at my options, I ordered the screed roller and the shoes. I didn't want to order the tripods after seeing the price.
The next thing I did was go to my local hardware store.
1/4 inch round stock
1/8" x 1/2" flat bar
12 bolts and nuts
12 flat washers
The only thing else to do was to drag out the welder and get after it. I went through the normal process of pre-cutting all of my parts and cleaning them down to white metal.
After prepping the parts to be welded, I started gluing them together with my Miller.
Total cost for the parts was $38.00. Time spent on this weld project was quick and it was super easy to make. Not including gas, wire, and electricity, I saved roughly $200.
How to level a floor using tripods
The subfloor for my floor project was concrete. I'm not sure how to level a floor with a subfloor made of wood. I'm not a flooring man, so use this as a reference guide on the steps I did to level a floor. My way might not be your best way. Always follow the manufacturers. It's their product.
Prep the subfloor surface-
I swept up the gross debris from the entire floor. After sweeping, I ran a vacuum through the entire place to get it really free of saw dust, drywall dust and wood splinters.
Once I had cleaned the entire subfloor, I mopped it several times to get it super clean. If you've got any grease spots on your subfloor, you'll probably need to use a concrete cleaner or degreaser to clean it.
Once you've cleaned it completely, let the floor dry completely.
Apply primer to the concrete
According to the instructions on the product I used, a primer has to be used to guarantee a solid bond to the concrete.
After the concrete was completely dry I applied the primer. You'll want to poor close to the floor to prevent the primer from splashing onto the walls.
I used a thin paint roller to spread the primer over the concrete. Once the entire floor is covered, let it dry. For my product, the sign that it was dry was when it turned dark.
Establish the high spots on the concrete
I didn't have a transit to find the different elevations of my concrete floor, so I had to improvise. Instead, I used a regular laser level, a tape measure and a marker.
It was obvious where my high and low areas were in my room, but to be sure, I measured the whole area.
I started by placing the laser level on where I assumed the highest point was. Directly in front of the laser, I placed a piece of wood so that I could make a mark on where the laser met the piece of wood.
After marking the wood, I moved around the room with the wood to find where all of the elevations are equal (i.e. laser lines up with your mark). I wrote on the concrete floor an E, for equal.
I then continued to pick locations 3 feet apart to perform the same task. If the laser line is above your mark, then that spot is lower than your equal spots. If the laser is lower than your mark on the wood, you now have a new high spot.
Rinse and repeat until you are 100% certain that you know the highest point that is your zero point.
Placing the self leveling tripods
After ensuring where the highest point is, place the tripods about 4-6 feet apart from the laser.
Continue to place more tripods around the room at different locations maintaining that same distance from each other.
Turn the laser.
Go around and adjust the bolts of the tripods up or down. While doing this, hold the stick on top of the washer. Adjust the bolt until the mark on the stick is even with the laser line.
The washer is now level with the highest point.
Mixing the self leveling products
Try to mix as much of the leveler as you can. I mixed 4 bags at a time on my floor chore.
Bring water to the specified depth before adding the mix. Keep all the buckets close together so that you can easily move a mixer between buckets and other buckets without getting into trouble.
Keep the bucket handle facing out for a better grab every second count. Once the floor leveler is mixed, you need to go to the next bucket and mix it according to the manufacture's instructions.
When mixing, try not to aerate, trap air in the mix so as to prevent bubbles from forming. The bubbles will rise to the top and harden in the shape of the bubble. It will create little holes that are raised slightly above the main more, making it aggravating for you when tile time comes.
I used slightly more water than the recommended amount. It allowed me to feather out the edges better.
Perform a search on YouTube to see how others do it. You'll see the consistency with your own eyes.
Pour and spread the product
After mixing, you'll be ready for the messy steps.
One thing I did to prevent cleanup was to tape along the level line on the walls Bring your bucket down to your feet. Keep it low and avoid splashing. I poured slowly around the low areas first. Using the screed roller, I rolled towards the high spots.
When rolling the self leveling underlayment, ensure that you're not rolling too fast. The roller will sling the leveler like Bogger tires sling mud.
Continue to keep pouring and rolling until the leveler rises up to the tripod's washer. You will need to work fast to avoid it setting up on you.
You're finished when all of the tripods have leveler up to the bottom of their washers. That's it. Pull up your tripods, clean your tools and play the waiting game until it dries. I waited a full 24 hours before I walked on it and started to lay tile.
Installing the finished flooring
After you have let the leveling compound cure for the recommended time, it's time for installing your floor. You basically follow the product company's instruction, whether it's laminate, tiled or even a hardwood floor.
This part will require a lot more work in my opinion, but the finished floor will be well worth it. You will get a lot of enjoyment out of it and bragging rights, knowing you are the one that made it happen.
You will have probably increased your home value upon completion of your new floor.
Is it expensive to level a floor?
Well, self leveling underlayment can dang sure add up fast. The product I used was around $30 dollars per 50 pound bag. A bag will cover anywhere from 4 square feet at 1.5 inch lift to 48 square feet for a 1/8 inch lift.
DIY Floor Leveling Cost Example-
For example, a 12 foot by 12 foot room or area that needs 1/4 inch lift would require 6 bags. That's $180 for that small area.
Sadly, I had 14oo square feet of concrete to level. Some areas I had to fill as high as an inch. The original construction sloped the concrete floor towards the sump drain.
Your sweat equity will save you a lot of coin. Fabricating your own tools or method could save you as much as $200. When your done, sell the tripods on Craigslist to recoup some of your money.
Hire Out Your Project To A Professional-
It's a heck of a lot easier to hire someone to level a floor than it is to do it yourself. That also comes at a price. The average price to have someone do it will range from $4 - $8 per square feet.
A Professional Leveling Service Cost Example-
In our same 12' x 12' example from above, your cost would be around $576 to $1152 depending on your location and probably more with the current inflation.
My flooring project was a lot of work, but turned out pretty good to me. I saved quite a bit of money by prepping the concrete and installing the tile myself. Of course, I saved money fabricating my own flooring tripods.
Overall, the floor is level, the room looks great and most importantly my better half is happy. It also just reinforces to her why it's always a good idea to spend money on metal fabrication equipment.
My daughter has asked if I could help her and Luke finish their basement, which will obviously include their floor. What's a dad to say?
I hope you got something out of this post and learned how to level a floor my way. I would love to hear if you've done something like this in the past, or if you have a better way of doing it. Please leave a comment below to let me know what you think.
Cheers and good luck to you if you take on a project like this one.