Screed & Topping

Concrete Screed vs Topping Concrete: Which is the Right Choice?

Concrete screed and topping concrete are essential elements in construction that play distinct roles in the creation of durable and functional floor surfaces. While both are applied over substrates to achieve specific purposes, they differ in composition and application methods.  In this article, we will delve into the differences between concrete screed and topping concrete, exploring their unique characteristics, applications, and the factors that influence their selection in construction projects. Understanding these differences is crucial for architects, builders, and project managers to make informed decisions about the most suitable flooring solution for various applications. Let’s explore the key distinctions between concrete screed and topping concrete.

What is Concrete Screed?

In the construction industry, concrete screed is a vital material used in various projects. It plays a crucial role in ensuring a smooth, level surface for subsequent finishes or treatments.

Concrete screed refers to a thin layer of cementitious material that is applied on top of a concrete slab or substrate. It serves as a leveling and smoothing agent, ensuring a flat and even surface. Engineers often use concrete screed to eliminate any imperfections, such as gaps or unevenness, in the underlying concrete.

Concrete Screed


  • Provides a level surface for flooring installations
  • Covers up any irregularities or imperfections in the concrete
  • Enhances overall aesthetics by creating a smooth and polished finish
  • Offers better resistance to wear and tear compared to bare concrete surfaces


  • May require additional drying time before further installation or use
  • Limited thickness range, typically not suitable for thicker layers
  • Additional labor and cost involved in application and curing process

What is Topping Concrete?

Topping concrete, also known as a concrete overlay, is a popular choice in construction and renovation projects. It offers a practical solution for enhancing the durability, functionality, and aesthetics of existing concrete surfaces.

Topping concrete is a specially formulated material applied over existing concrete surfaces. It serves to provide additional strength, protection, and aesthetic appeal to the original surface. Topping concrete can be used to cover up old, damaged, or unsightly concrete, transforming it into a fresh, attractive, and durable surface.


  • Reinforces the existing concrete, enhancing its load-bearing capabilities
  • Provides protection against abrasion and impact damage
  • Allows for aesthetic customization, offering a wide range of textures, colors, and patterns
  • Can be used to cover and transform old or damaged concrete surfaces


  • Requires proper surface preparation for proper adhesion and durability
  • May need regular maintenance depending on the use and wear
  • Potential issues with cracking or delamination if not installed correctly

Composition of Concrete Screed and Topping Concrete

The composition of screed concrete and topping concrete can vary based on specific project requirements, but here are general guidelines for their typical compositions:

Composition of Concrete Screed

Cement: Cement acts as the binding agent in concrete screed. It’s responsible for holding the other components together once mixed with water and begins to harden.

Sand: Sand is the primary aggregate used in concrete screed. The type of sand used can affect the screed’s workability and final strength. Generally, sharp or coarse sand is preferred for screed because it provides better compaction and reduces shrinkage.

Water: Water is added to the cement and sand mixture to initiate the hydration process, which causes the cement to start hardening and bonding the sand particles together. The water-to-cement ratio is crucial, as too much water can weaken the screed, while too little can make it unworkable.

Some types of screed may also include additives or admixtures to enhance certain properties such as drying time, workability, or resistance to freeze-thaw cycles.

Composition of Topping Concrete

Cement: Like in concrete screed, cement serves as the binding agent in topping concrete, facilitating the hardening process when mixed with water.

Aggregates: Aggregates form the bulk of topping concrete. These can range from fine sand to larger stones, depending on the desired finish and strength. Some toppings may also include special aggregates such as glass or recycled materials for decorative purposes.

Water: Water initiates the hydration process, turning the cement and aggregate mixture into a solid mass. The water-to-cement ratio is carefully controlled to ensure optimal strength and durability.

Admixtures: Topping concrete often includes various admixtures to enhance its properties. These can include accelerators or retarders to control setting time, plasticizers to improve workability, and pigments for color.

Characteristics of Concrete Screed and Topping Screed

In the world of construction, concrete screed and topping screed are two commonly used materials. Both have unique characteristics that make them suitable for different applications. Here are the key characteristics of each, providing a comparative analysis to help you understand their differences and similarities.

Characteristics of Concrete Screed

Leveling Ability: Concrete screed is excellent at creating a flat, even surface. It fills in any gaps or irregularities in the underlying concrete, ensuring a smooth finish.

Durability: While not as robust as the base concrete, screed still offers decent durability. It can withstand regular foot traffic and light use.

Thickness: Typically applied in a thin layer, usually between 25mm and 75mm. The thickness depends on the project requirements and the type of screed used.

Drying Time: Requires a certain amount of drying time before it can be walked on or have additional layers added. This can range from a few hours to several days, depending on the type of screed and environmental conditions.

Characteristics of Topping Screed

Enhanced Durability: Topping screed is designed to provide an extra layer of protection to the underlying surface. It’s more resistant to wear, tear, and damage, making it suitable for high-traffic areas.

Aesthetic Appeal: Topping screed can be mixed with various aggregates, pigments, or decorative elements to create a visually appealing surface. It offers more design flexibility compared to standard concrete screed.

Thickness: The thickness of topping screed can vary greatly depending on the project’s needs. It can range from a thin layer of just a few millimeters to several centimeters thick.

Adhesion: Topping screed requires proper surface preparation to ensure good adhesion. If not properly adhered, it can delaminate or crack over time.

Purpose of Concrete Screed and Topping Concrete

In the realm of construction, concrete screed and topping concrete are two materials that play pivotal roles. Each has a specific purpose and is used in different scenarios to achieve various outcomes.

Purpose of Concrete Screed

Leveling: The primary purpose of concrete screed is to create a flat, level surface. It’s applied over a base layer of concrete or substrate, filling in any gaps or irregularities and ensuring an even finish.

Surface Preparation: Prepares the surface for subsequent finishes such as tiles, carpets, or wood flooring. By providing a smooth, level surface, it ensures these finishes can be installed correctly and perform optimally.

Aesthetic Enhancement: While not its primary purpose, concrete screed can also enhance a surface’s aesthetics. Once cured, it provides a smooth, polished finish that can be left exposed in certain design scenarios.

Purpose of Topping Concrete

Surface Reinforcement: Topping concrete adds an extra layer of strength to the existing concrete surface. It enhances the surface’s load-bearing capabilities and resistance to wear and tear, making it suitable for high-traffic areas.

Protection: Topping concrete serves as a protective layer, shielding the underlying concrete from damage due to impact, abrasion, or harsh weather conditions.

Aesthetic Transformation: Topping concrete offers a wide range of customization options. It can be mixed with different colors, textures, and patterns to transform the look of an old or dull concrete surface.

Application Method of Concrete Screed and Topping Concrete

The application methods for concrete screed and topping concrete are crucial aspects that determine the success of a construction project. Both require specific steps and techniques to ensure optimal results. Here are some guides to guide you through the application methods of both materials.

Application Method of Concrete Screed

Applying concrete screed involves several steps:

  • Surface Preparation: The first step is to prepare the base layer. It should be clean, free from dust, debris, or any loose material. Any cracks or holes should be repaired before applying the screed.
  • Mixing: Mix the cement, sand, and water in the correct proportions. Some screeds may also include additives or admixtures, which should be added according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Application: Pour the screed onto the prepared surface and spread it evenly using a straight edge or screed board. The thickness should be consistent across the entire area.
  • Leveling: Use a leveling tool to smooth out the screed and remove any excess material. This ensures a flat, even surface.
  • Curing: Allow the screed to cure for the recommended time before walking on it or installing any finishes. Curing times can vary depending on the type of screed and environmental conditions.

Application Method of Topping Concrete

Topping concrete also requires a specific application process:

  • Surface Preparation: The existing concrete surface must be thoroughly cleaned and prepared. This may involve repairing any damage, removing any loose material, and roughening the surface to improve adhesion.
  • Primer Application: Apply a primer or bonding agent to the prepared surface. This helps the topping concrete adhere better to the existing concrete.
  • Mixing: Mix the topping concrete according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually involves combining cement, aggregates, water, and any admixtures or pigments.
  • Application: Pour the topping concrete onto the primed surface and spread it evenly using a trowel or screed. The thickness will depend on the product specifications and project requirements.
  • Finishing: Smooth out the topping concrete using a float or trowel. If desired, you can also add texture or patterns at this stage.
  • Curing: Allow the topping concrete to cure for the recommended time before using the surface. This ensures the material reaches its full strength and durability.

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Conclusion: Making the Right Choice

Both concrete screed and topping concrete serve distinct purposes in construction projects. While concrete screed ensures a level and smooth surface, topping concrete adds strength, protection, and decorative elements to existing concrete. Ultimately, the choice depends on your specific project requirements and desired outcome.

If you are looking for a leveled and polished finish, concrete screed is an ideal option. On the other hand, if you desire additional strength, durability, and customization, topping concrete is the way to go. Consulting with an experienced engineer or contractor can help you make the best decision for your project's needs.

Q/A Section

A: Yes, concrete screed can be applied over an existing concrete surface to achieve a smooth and level finish.

A: Yes, topping concrete is commonly used for outdoor applications as it provides enhanced durability and protection against weather conditions.

A: The drying time for concrete screed can vary depending on factors such as thickness, temperature, and humidity. It is recommended to follow manufacturer guidelines for accurate drying times.

A: Yes, you can first apply a layer of concrete screed for leveling, then add a topping screed for added durability and aesthetics.

A: The drying time for topping screed can vary based on its thickness and environmental conditions. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for accurate drying times.

A: Yes, topping screed is suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications due to its enhanced durability and resistance to weather conditions.

A: Yes, topping concrete can be applied directly over an existing concrete surface, provided the surface is properly prepared.

A: While not its primary purpose, concrete screed can be left exposed as a final flooring surface in certain design scenarios.

A: Yes, depending on the level of wear and tear, topping concrete may require regular maintenance such as sealing or waxing to maintain its appearance and performance.

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