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Is Cement Screed All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

It was only in recent years that cement screed’s popularity in Singapore as a decorative surface material soared. We’re not quite sure how its prominence came about; possibly simultaneous with the rise of the industrial style and also from the pages of décor magazines espousing its cool quotient. Whatever the case, it’s a style that is very much associated with warehouse chic, modern retro and for those seeking a natural, pared-back look. When used appropriately, it can also find a place in a contemporary and sleek interior.

Design: Fuse Concept

For homeowners who are seriously considering using this material in their homes, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns unfortunately. Unlike tiles or laminates, they are not as easy to install – which means that you might not get perfect results – and they are also not the easiest of materials to maintain.

We caught up with interior designer Desmond Ong of Dezzo to find out more about cement screed and to see if you should still take the plunge with this material.

1. There’s a chance you won’t get your desired results

Installing cement screed is a laborious process that usually requires sealing (it’s a porous material) if you don’t want it to stain easily. But the look is usually not as natural thanks to the resulting slight sheen, which kinda defeats the purpose of having a cement screed surface in the first place.

However, there are options out there to get the cement screed look you really want, whether it be flat or gloss and even rough or smooth.

Design: Box.ID Studio

You can choose not to seal, but that will result in a powdery texture unless you buff down the surface with a buffing machine and reapply the cement for approximately six more times. “Unfortunately, not every contractor nowadays will do this for you as it’s a very time-consuming process,” says Desmond.

Design: JQ Ong

Be prepared also to accept running tones and potential mistakes like weird patches, which are caused by the cement reacting to parts of the existing floor base. “The ones you see in design magazines have probably been done over a few times,” reveals Desmond.

As cement screed is applied by hand by a contractor, you will probably get slightly varying results from the examples you see on his or her portfolio.


 

2. Chips and cracks are probably going to happen over time

Cement screed isn’t the most flexible of materials, so you can expect chips and cracks to happen over time depending on the conditions of your home e.g. the humidity and temperature levels or your next door neighbour’s intense renovation works can actually cause cracks on your cement screed flooring.

In addition, depending on how the surface is used and how often, it can also cause blemishes e.g. if the surface is constantly subjected to the rigours of everyday life, cracks and chips will invariably appear.

Design: 0932 Design Consultants

The material is essentially made up of basic Portland cement mixed with some form of hardener or elasticity that helps to prevent chipping and cracking. But depending on the brand, the amount of hardener or elasticity in the form of polymers/compounds and binders can vary, which means the amount of cracks and chips can vary too.

Design: Versaform

Desmond says: “The common brands in the market are Mapei and LaFarge, but they come in different levels of either plasticity (for crack prevention) or hardness (for chip prevention), but not both.”


3. Maintenance isn’t a breeze

Once the cement has set, it’s literally set in stone. There are ways to repair hairline cracks or even more major ones, but you will most likely have to sacrifice aesthetics for safety because it will simply never look the same again. Cement screed surfaces will also wear off with traffic, and there is no way to patch it up unless you start again with a completely new layer.

Design: Dezzo

The day to day upkeep isn’t very difficult, thankfully. Use a dry cloth or a broom for everyday cleaning. Occasionally, wipe the area down with a wet cloth or mop.


4. It’s (relatively) cheap

Design: Poetus

The good thing about cement screed surfaces is that it is relatively cheaper than other surface materials. Desmond places the standard price for those with better compounds at $5 psf today, although depending on the compounds in the mix, it can easily go up to $10 psf. He also suggests one way to get the cement mix at cheap: purchase them directly from manufacturers in China or Europe.


5. Blemishes aren’t all bad

Design: The Association

For open-minded individuals, the scratches, kinks and cracks that would invariably come with cement screed surfaces are all part of the character. It’s all part of your perception.


 

If you’re still all for cement screed, here’s how to make it work in your home:

Design: The Design Practice

  • “Not every contractor can do it correctly. Always ask a contractor to show existing examples of cement flooring he or she has done to ensure that an acceptable result can be replicated at your home,” advises Desmond.
  • Make sure you place it in the right locations. Good places would be where you don’t get much traffic and when there is no water. Walls are a good area, as there aren’t much activity on them, unless you’re thinking of fixing up frames or shelves in the future. We would advise against using them as kitchen countertops, as they are usually a very hardworking surface that would be subjected to heavy use. Desmond recommends using a cement mix with a waterproof compound if you wish to use it in a wet zone like the bathroom.
  • In order to ensure evenness in application, particularly in a big surface area like flooring, “break up” the surface during application into suitable panels. One way is to use steel strips to make sure it’s consistently levelled throughout the area.

Source: Lamitak, Ando Concrete DXN 5324X laminates

But if you just like the look of cement screed without all the fuss that comes along with it, there are suitable alternatives out there such as concrete-like or cement-screed laminates and tiles, which are a lot easier to install, maintain and are suitable for use even in areas like your bathroom floor.

Source: Hafary, Waterfront 90B tiles

Will you still go for cement screed surfaces in your home? Let us know in the comments below.

 


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