Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.” The same thought, slightly altered, holds true for floor covering installers who, “can’t install great flooring on an improperly prepared substrate.” Properly prepped substrates that are significantly out of level or have depressions or holes in them requires the use of self-leveling underlayments (SLUs). Floor Covering Installer recently spoke with Kyle Chezem, business manager for outside sales for Fishman Flooring Solutions in Southwest Ohio, about some of the latest advances in SLU technology and their impact on the marketplace.  

FCI: What are the various types of self-leveling products?  

Chezem: There are self-leveling products to address virtually any type of substrate and any jobsite situation. For example, Portland cement-based products are used for concrete substrates. Fiber reinforced products are typically used with a flexing wood substrate, like plywood or OSB. Deep pour self-levelers are best when dealing with depressions that are two inches or more in depth. Those are just a few of many examples. 

FCI: Do different types of substrates require different self-leveling compounds or does one size fit all? 

Chezem: There are many self-leveling products that can be used with multiple types of substrates. With the many advancements in self-leveling technologies and how products are engineered, we’re getting closer to the one size fits all scenario, but we’re not there yet. 

FCI: Have there been any new self-leveling technologies that have come on the market recently? 

Chezem: There have been a number of new technologies introduced into the SLU market in recent years. They range from high flow products, such as TEC Level Set 500 that finishes smooth and does not require extra sanding or patching; to fiber-reinforced products like Ardex K22F, which can be used over troubling substrates like gypsum, solid hardwood and plywood; to rapid-setting products, such as Ardex K40 Rapid, which allows for glued-down floors to be installed in as little as four hours after the product has been applied to the substrate. 

FCI: Have these new SLU technologies changed the self-leveling game? 

Chezem: Absolutely! In today’s fast-track business world, time is money and these new SLU technologies make the self-leveling process more efficient and effective for installers. They have also raised the bar in terms of enabling installers and floor covering surface providers to solve the most difficult substrate leveling problems.  

FCI: What advice would you give installers to help them select the right self-leveling compound for a specific job? 

Chezem: We live in an entirely digital world now and installers have plenty of tools at their disposal when they’re looking for information. The vast majority of Fishman’s vendor partners have online or mobile applications that allow any floor covering professional to access technical data sheets, find phone numbers for technical service departments and access online literature to help select the right self-leveling product for any job. 

FCI: How important is it to follow manufacturer’s guidelines and instructions when using self-leveling products? 

Chezem: It’s vital that manufacturer’s guidelines and instructions are followed. First of all, not all substrates, SLUs and primers are the same and they shouldn’t be treated the same way. And I’ve seen more flooring failures than I can count that were due to things like instructions not being followed, improper water mixing ratios and improper product placement.  

FCI: Is there a common mistake you see when self-leveling products are being used? 

Chezem: There are actually two common mistakes I see. One is the lack of adequate manpower or womanpower at the jobsite. Particularly for larger scale projects, multiple people are necessary to carry water, if required, cut open bags, pour the product into buckets of water and apply the product to the substrate. Not having the right size crew for the job can be very costly. 

Using tools that are not right for the job is another common mistake when self-leveling products are involved. For example, many manufacturers require that two bags of self-leveling compound be mixed at the same time, which requires a mixing barrel large enough to contain the proper amount of water and powder. Too often, we see teams mixing product in five-gallon buckets, when something larger is necessary. The same holds true for spreaders and smoothing tools, gauge rakes and depth gauges. Using the right tools greatly increases the odds of a quality job.  

FCI: Is training on using self-leveling compounds available to installers?  

Chezem: Training is always available to installers who want to take advantage of it. I know from personal experience that Fishman’s vendor partners are always eager to help train installers in selecting the right self-leveling products and using them correctly.