Concrete vs Screed: The Difference Between

When it comes to building or renovating a property, choosing the right material for your floor can be a complex task. Concrete and screed are two commonly used materials, each boasting its unique qualities and applications.

But what exactly is the difference between these two? And how can you decide which one is right for your project? In this article, we’ll unpack their distinct characteristics, uses, benefits, and drawbacks to help you find out more about screed and concrete and make an informed decision.

What Is a Concrete Floor?

A concrete floor, as the name suggests, is a type of flooring that is formed from a concrete mix that comprises cement, sand, aggregates, and water. This mixture is poured into a mold, usually reinforced with steel for added strength, and then left to harden and cure. The end result is a highly resilient and durable surface that can withstand heavy traffic, making it an ideal choice for industrial settings, garages, and commercial buildings.

Yet, its versatility doesn’t end there. In recent years, we’ve seen this type of flooring making its way into residential homes, celebrated for its sleek, modern aesthetic and minimal maintenance requirements. With the potential for customization through staining, polishing, or etching, this flooring is a flexible choice that caters to a broad spectrum of design preferences.

Types of Concrete Floors

Exterior Stained Concrete

Exterior stained concrete is a popular choice for those seeking to add a touch of personalization and elegance to their outdoor spaces. This type of floor covering is achieved by applying a layer of chemical or water-based stain to the surface of the concrete.

The stain seeps into the porous concrete, reacting chemically with the cement within and creating a rich, vibrant hue that is permanently part of the concrete itself. The result is a unique, colourful design that can transform patios, driveways, and walkways into eye-catching, artistic statements. The stain is resistant to fading, even under the harshest weather conditions, ensuring that your exterior stained concrete maintains its beauty over time.

Moreover, it offers the same high durability and low maintenance benefits that come with traditional concrete flooring.

Interior Stained Concrete

Interior stained flooring is a modern, stylish, and long-lasting option for homes and businesses alike. Like its exterior counterpart, interior stained concrete integrates colour into the material through the use of staining techniques.

The stain permeates the concrete surface, creating an array of hues and design possibilities that can complement any interior design style. Whether you’re aiming for a rustic, industrial, or contemporary look, interior stained concrete can be customized to fit your aesthetic preferences. Moreover, this type of flooring is easy to maintain, needing only regular sweeping and occasional mopping to keep it looking its best.

Its durability is another key advantage, resistant to wear and damage from heavy furniture or foot traffic. An interior stained floor not only adds visual interest to your space but also boasts longevity and ease of care, making it a practical choice for those seeking a blend of style and functionality.

Metallic Epoxy

For an exceptional blend of durability and visual appeal, metallic epoxy flooring is a standout choice. Created by mixing a clear epoxy resin with metallic pigments, this type of flooring provides a striking three-dimensional, swirling effect that mimics the natural look of marble or the dazzling display of a galaxy.

The fluid, ever-changing nature of the metallic pigments during the curing process ensures that no two metallic epoxy floors are the same, offering a truly unique and personalized finish. Beyond its aesthetic allure, metallic epoxy flooring is applauded for its robust nature. It is remarkably resistant to chipping, abrasion, chemicals, and surface damage, making it a favorite for commercial, industrial, and even residential settings.

Paired with its minimal maintenance needs, just occasional sweeping and mopping, metallic epoxy delivers a gorgeous yet practical flooring solution.

Overlays

Overlays are an innovative flooring solution designed to provide a new surface over existing floors. These thin layers of specialized concrete or resin are applied directly to existing concrete, offering a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to rejuvenate worn, damaged, or outdated floors.

Overlays come in a variety of finishes and can be textured, stained, or colored, allowing for a high degree of customization. From smooth and polished to patterned or textured effects, overlays can replicate the look of natural stone, wood, or other high-end materials, adding elegance and visual appeal to your space. Besides their aesthetic versatility, overlays are known for their incredible durability.

They form a hard, dense surface that can withstand heavy foot traffic, making them an excellent choice for commercial spaces, warehouses, or busy areas in a home. Easy to clean and maintain, overlay flooring is a practical and stylish solution to give your existing floors a brand-new look and extended life.

Garage Floors

Garage floors demand a unique combination of strength, durability, and resistance to withstand the harsh conditions of this multifunctional space. Traditionally, garages were outfitted with basic floors of concrete, but these can often crack, stain, and deteriorate over time, especially under the weight of vehicles and heavy equipment. Enter epoxy garage flooring, a solution that transforms the humble garage into a more functional and aesthetically pleasing space.

Epoxy coatings create a shiny, high-gloss surface that can significantly increase the brightness of your garage. More than just eye-catching, epoxy garage floors are resilient and durable, resistant to chipping, chemicals, stains, and surface abrasion. This means fewer worries about spills from oil or other car fluids, less accumulation of dust and allergens, and no annoying chips or cracks to repair.

Available in a myriad of colors and patterns, you can customize your garage floor to fit your personal style or match it with the overall theme of your home.

Quartz Flooring

Quartz flooring brings a touch of elegance and extreme durability to any space it occupies. As a type of engineered stone, quartz comprises a mix of natural quartz minerals, pigments for color, and resin binders, creating a highly durable and non-porous surface.

This imperviousness to moisture makes quartz flooring an ideal solution for environments prone to spills or wet conditions, such as kitchens, bathrooms, or commercial settings. What sets quartz apart from many other flooring types is its exceptional hardness and resistance to scratches and impact, a testament to the inherent strength of quartz minerals. The design possibilities with quartz flooring are almost endless.

Available in a wide range of colors, patterns, and finishes, quartz can mimic the appearance of natural stone like granite or marble or can be supplied in vibrant, consistent colors for a more contemporary look. This versatility allows it to adapt to numerous design aesthetics, from sleek and modern to warm and traditional. Additionally, quartz flooring is easy to maintain, requiring only regular sweeping and damp mopping to maintain its luster.

Epoxy Flooring

Epoxy Chip Flooring

Epoxy Chip flooring offers an attractive and durable solution for both residential and commercial spaces. This innovative flooring type involves the application of colored chips or flakes onto a wet epoxy base to create a vibrant, multi-hued surface reminiscent of terrazzo or granite. The chips not only contribute to the aesthetic appeal but also provide a slightly textured surface that enhances slip resistance, an important safety feature.

Once the chips are broadcasted, a clear topcoat is applied to seal the floor and protect the chip layer, resulting in a high-gloss finish that is visually appealing. Epoxy chip flooring is renowned for its resilience and longevity. It resists wear, chemicals, stains, and impact, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas like garages, showrooms, schools, or commercial buildings. Maintenance is straightforward, involving only routine sweeping and occasional damp mopping to keep the floor looking its best.

With a multitude of chip colors and sizes available, epoxy chip flooring allows for a high degree of customization, enabling you to design a floor that perfectly fits your space and style preferences.

Standard Epoxy

Standard epoxy flooring is a high-performance solution known for its superior durability and seamless finish. It comprises two main components: resins and hardeners, which when mixed together, form a strong, rigid material that bonds exceptionally well to most base layers, including concrete.

This seamless, glossy finish is not only aesthetically pleasing but also incredibly resistant to a variety of conditions. Standard epoxy floors can withstand heavy traffic, impact, temperature fluctuations, and a wide range of chemicals, making them an ideal choice for industrial environments, warehouses, or garages.

However, their appeal is not limited to tough environments. The lustrous shine of epoxy floors also makes them a stylish choice for commercial and residential settings. Available in a broad spectrum of colors and decorative finish options, standard epoxy floors can be tailored to match any design scheme. In terms of maintenance, they are easy to clean, requiring only regular sweeping and occasional mopping.

Polished Concrete

Polished concrete is a stylish, cost-effective, and durable option that has gained popularity in both commercial and residential settings. Its aesthetic appeal lies in its smooth, high-gloss surface that mimics the look of polished stone.

Polishing is achieved through a progressive grinding process using diamond abrasives, which are applied to a concrete slab, either new or old, to yield a shiny, attractive finish. The resulting surface is not only visually striking but also remarkably resistant to damage. Polished floors can endure heavy foot traffic, resist stains and spills, and require minimal maintenance — a simple sweep and mop will keep them looking pristine.

They also offer the advantage of light reflectivity, enhancing the brightness and sense of space in a room. Another key benefit of polished concrete is its sustainability; it leverages the existing substrate (the concrete slab), eliminating the need for additional flooring materials.

What is Screed Floor?

Screed is a thin layer applied over the top of a concrete subfloor to provide a smooth, level surface. It is usually a cementitious material made from a 1:3 or 1:4.5 ratio of cement to sharp sand but can be reinforced with polypropylene fibres, which strengthens the structural performance of the floor. Screed can be used as a base layer for other finishes such as tiles or carpet. It has gained recognition in recent years as a standalone decorative flooring solution due to its industrial-style aesthetic and versatility.

When screed is used for flooring, it may be applied onto either a solid concrete ground floor slab or onto a precast concrete floor unit. Once poured, the wet mixture is levelled to the minimum thickness required. Once dry, the screed provides a robust and durable floor surface that can withstand significant loads, making it an excellent choice for commercial settings. However, it’s important to note that even the most wearing screed doesn’t match the resilience of materials like epoxy or polished concrete.

Also, unlike other floor types, screed requires a more rigorous maintenance regime to prevent it from cracking or curdling. Nonetheless, with its distinctive look and affordability, screed flooring presents an attractive option for those seeking an urban, minimalist aesthetic.

The Different Types of Screed

Bonded Screed

Bonded screed, as the name suggests, is directly bonded to the concrete base using a bonding agent or primer. This method of screed application is typically used when a thin screed layer, usually between 25mm and 50mm, is required. Bonding the screed directly to the base ensures a high degree of stability and reduces the risk of cracking or curling, making it a suitable choice for heavy-duty areas.

However, its application demands precision; any errors in mixing or leveling can lead to de-bonding or hollowness, causing the screed layer to separate from the concrete base. Despite these challenges, when applied correctly, bonded screed may offer a sturdy, reliable flooring solution with a smooth, flat finish that is ideal for the application of final finishes.

Unbonded Screed

Unbonded screed is often used as a layer of a suitable damp proof membrane or plastic sheeting.

This layer serves as a barrier between the concrete subfloor and the screed layer, preventing any moisture from the base from affecting the screed. The thickness of unbonded screed typically ranges from 50mm to 100mm. While this method eliminates any potential risks associated with direct bonding, it can be more susceptible to movement and therefore, may not be the best choice for high-traffic areas.

However, if properly installed and maintained, this type of concrete screed provides a robust and level surface ideal for various finishes. Its ease of installation and the added protection against dampness make it a popular choice for many residential and commercial projects.

Floating Screeds

A floating screed is laid on top of an insulating layer, typically thermal or acoustic insulation. This insulation layer separates the screed from the concrete base, thus the term ‘floating’. The primary purpose of a floating screed is to improve the thermal or sound insulation of a floor.

The thickness of floating screeds is usually more than 65mm for thermal insulation and at least 75mm for sound insulation. This type of screed is popular in residences and commercial properties where energy efficiency or noise reduction is a priority.

Despite its thicker layer, the screed is still a durable and firm flooring option, able to withstand average residential traffic. However, it is less suitable for heavy-duty areas due to the risk of compression under high loads. Like other screed types, it requires careful installation and diligent maintenance to prevent cracking and ensure longevity.

Underfloor Screed

Underfloor screed is designed to work in conjunction with underfloor heating systems. As the name suggests, the screed is installed over the heating pipes, creating a smooth and level surface for further finishes while also encasing the heating system.

The main purpose of this screed is to distribute the heat evenly across the floor surface. It accomplishes this by maintaining close contact with the heating pipes, allowing for efficient heat transfer. The thickness of an underfloor screed typically ranges between 65mm to 100mm, although this can vary depending on the specific requirements of the heating system.

This type of screed is ideal for covering underfloor heating systems. It provides a robust surface that can withstand wear and tear while ensuring optimal performance of the heating system.

Screed Floors

The Benefits of Concretes and Screed Floors

Both types of flooring offer a range of advantages to consider.

Advantages of Concrete Floors

Concrete floors are hailed for their durability and strength, and ability to withstand heavy loads and traffic, making them an ideal choice for commercial or industrial settings. They’re resistant to fire and water, offering peace of mind in the face of potential hazards.

These floors are also low maintenance, requiring minimal cleaning and upkeep. Furthermore, they offer flexibility in terms of aesthetics with a variety of finishes, textures, and colors available. Polished floors, for example, provide a sleek, contemporary look that enhances any space.

Benefits of Screed Floors

Screed floors, on the other hand, are appreciated for their smoothness and flatness, providing an ideal base for various finishes. With different types of screed — including self-smoothing (self levelling screed) types — available, you can select the one that best suits your specific requirements, whether it’s bonded screed for high stability, unbonded screed for protection against dampness, floating screed for improved insulation, or underfloor screed for efficient heat distribution.

Screed is also relatively easy to install and can be more cost-effective than some other flooring solutions, making it a practical choice for both residential and commercial projects.

Concrete vs Floor Screeds: What is The Difference?

While these are essential materials in the construction industry, they serve different purposes and have distinct properties. In the upcoming section, we will delve into the differences between screed and concrete, exploring their unique characteristics, applications, and benefits.

Composition

Concrete is a robust construction material composed of cement, coarse aggregates such as gravel or crushed stone, sharp sand, and water. The presence of coarse aggregates gives concrete its strength and durability, making it perfect for structural work. Cement floor screed, on the other hand, is a thinner material laid over a concrete base.

It’s a material made of a mixture of sand and cement, and sometimes additives to enhance workability and performance – but, notably, does not contain coarse aggregates. This lack of aggregates results in a smoother, finer finish, which makes the screed the ideal choice for creating a refined, level surface for subsequent finishes.

Method of application

Concrete is usually poured into a mould or formwork to shape it as per the desired structure, whether it be a building foundation, a driveway, or a road. Once poured, it is spread and levelled using tools such as trowels and screeds. It then undergoes a curing process to gain strength and durability. On the other hand, screed is typically applied as a finishing layer over the concrete base. Screed may be left as finished or floated to produce a levelled surface.

The thickness of the screed layer depends on the screed type used and the specific requirements of the project. After application, screed also requires curing but for a shorter period compared to concrete. The method of application underscores the functional differences between concrete and screed – the former providing a strong, robust structure, and the latter providing a smooth, levelled surface for final finishes.

Appearance and Texture

Concrete, due to its coarse aggregate content, has a rougher texture and is generally gray in color, providing an industrial aesthetic that can be left as-is or covered with various flooring materials. On the other hand, screed, due to its finer aggregate mix, offers a smoother surface that is ideal for receiving various finishes such as tiles, wood, or resin.

Its color can vary depending on the cement used, but it’s typically a shade of gray, lighter than concrete. This smoothness and uniformity make screed the preferred choice when a refined, flat, and aesthetically pleasing surface is desired.

Uses

Concrete is largely used in foundational work and is critical in projects that demand high strength and durability, such as the construction of buildings, bridges, driveways, and roads. Its resistance to heavy loads and harsh conditions makes it a go-to material for many heavy-duty structural applications.

Screed, conversely, is typically used as a top layer for floors in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. It provides the smooth and level surface necessary for the application of final finishes like tiles, wood, carpets, or resin. Screed’s versatility allows it to be used in various settings, from homes to schools, hospitals, offices, and more. In particular, its use in underfloor heating systems, due to its excellent heat transfer properties, is a testament to its functional utility in modern construction.

What Is the Typical Thickness Requirement for Concrete in Construction and How Does It Compare to Screed Thickness?

The typical thickness requirement for concrete in construction heavily depends on its application. For instance, the standard thickness for a concrete slab used as a foundation for a residential home is typically between 4 to 6 inches. Driveways and garages, on the other hand, generally require a thickness of 5 to 6 inches of concrete to withstand the weight of vehicles. Industrial floors may require even thicker slabs, often reaching up to 12 inches, due to the heavy loads they must bear.

Screed thickness, conversely, is considerably less than concrete. The standard thickness of a screed layer usually ranges between 1.2 to 2 inches (30 to 50 mm). The thickness can vary depending on the type of screed used and the requirements of the project, but it’s rarely more than 3 inches. This thinner layer is sufficient to provide a smooth, even surface for various finishes. The substantial difference in thickness between concrete and screed reflects their different roles – concrete being used for robust, load-bearing structures, and screed for providing a polished, flat surface suitable for final floor finishes.

FAQs

Is screed stronger than concrete?

No, screed is not stronger than concrete. Given its composition, concrete is designed to withstand substantial weight and pressure, making it a more durable and robust material. It achieves this strength from the inclusion of coarse aggregates like gravel or crushed stone. Screed, on the other hand, lacks these coarse aggregates.

It is designed to provide a smooth, even surface for finishes, making it less strong but more refined than concrete. The intended use of these materials aligns with their strength – concrete for structural purposes, and screed for aesthetic finishes.

What are the cost differences between using concrete and screed for flooring or other construction needs?

The cost of using concrete and screed can vary greatly, depending on several factors such as the type of project, the quality of the materials, labor costs, and the location of the construction site. Generally, concrete tends to be cheaper than screed, as it is a more basic material and is often used in larger quantities. However, keep in mind the cost of concrete can increase depending on the complexity of the job and if reinforcement is required.

Screed, on the other hand, is typically more expensive due to the refining process of the aggregates and its application method, which can be more labor-intensive. Additionally, specialized types of screed, such as those used for underfloor heating, may also increase the cost. Therefore, while concrete may have a lower initial cost, the final expense will depend on the specifics of the project. It’s recommended to obtain quotes from reputable suppliers and contractors for a more accurate comparison.

Can I use concrete instead of screed?

While it’s technically possible to use concrete instead of screed, it’s generally not recommended. The key reason is that concrete does not provide the smooth, level surface that screed does. Thorough preparation of the substrate, including a well-laid screed layer, is crucial to the longevity and aesthetic quality of the final finish.

Using concrete for this purpose might result in an uneven surface, making finishes difficult to apply, and potentially leading to cracks or other problems over time. Therefore, for best results, it’s advisable to use each material as intended: concrete for structural strength and durability, and screed for a smooth, flat surface ready for final floor finishes.

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