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timbo59 01-03-2012 03:45 PM

How to repair a concrete floor we just had repaired!
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We've been planning on putting down a solid wood floor in our lounge area, and to that end I did my homework and read that the tolerances for deviation in the concrete are small in glue down operations. I checked the floor and discovered that there were some issues, mainly a high spot in one area which created a slight ridge across the width of the floor, with the floor being about 1/4" out of bubble level either end of the room in relation to the high spot/ridge. Aside from that it was dead flat (not level, but flat) except for a couple of small shallow depressions. The other issue was that the entire floor, ridge and all, inclined towards the short side of the room, with the deviation being about 1/2" from one side of the room to the other.

Bottom line, we decided to have the floor completely leveled by a concrete professional, and called in someone suggested by a neighbor.

The guy rolled up with a 2 x 4 and a level to do some initial checking, but needn't have bothered as I'd already drawn out lines on the floor and set up some leveled lengths of wood of my own to show where the issues were. (I later discovered that the 2 x 4 he'd brought along was as bent as a banana, which should have set off the warning lights!) After checking it all out he gave us a quote of $600 including materials to do the 20 x 14 room, which was about double what I expected, but as I figured he'd need a fair bit of material and might have to put in a fair amount of work getting a true level across the entire room I thought that maybe I'd under-estimated the extent of the work, so I ended up agreeing to the figure.

Later that afternoon his son turned up and did some grinding down of the high spots, which seemed to auger well, though I was a little puzzled why he started working areas at what I knew to be the low side of the floor.

Next day the son turned up and took me by surprise when he started filling in the few shallow spots I knew existed, rather than setting out to level the entire floor. When I called him on it, he claimed he'd been misled by his father and that he was simply flattening out the room lengthways, rather than bubble-leveling the entire thing as I'd expected and thought I'd paid for. There could have been no doubt on the matter, as I had numerous pieces of wood set at bubble level when they came round in order to show the deviations and to show the level to which I expected the floor to be raised. A series of phone calls later, his disgruntled father turned up, and they began ladling cement all over the floor and working it around, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I was finally getting what we needed. Only problem was that we didn't get anything like what we needed!

Just watching the patriarch of the family at work set off all sorts of alarm bells as it seemed the guy was clearly free-handing everything with nary a thought to our requirements. The first concern was when they started laying the cement fairly thickly at the high end of the room, which seemed odd as I figured they would use it as the bench mark to both make a level line across the length of the room and then use it to work their way 'down' the lower level of the floor. At no stage did the guy ever pull out a level to check his work or set a base measure (in fact I don't think he had one with him nor did he avail himself of the opportunity to use either of mine that were handy) and the way he kept 'floating' out each new bucket of cement made me nervous as heck, because I could clearly see that while he had a nice clean line in the central 3 - 4 feet of the piece of wood, it was clearly evident that there were significant gaps showing at the ends - even his son pointed it out to him a few times! When they had finished the first layer the father said they had to leave it for a while to set and that they'd be back in an hour to lay down the skim coat.

After they left I looked down at the work and the untidy nature of the finish. and just hoped that the next stage was going to give me a considerably cleaner look - and all I could do was hope that the guy was some kind of concreting genius who's claimed twenty years experience had given him such an eye that he knew exactly what he was doing without recourse to something as mundane as a level!

Three hours later (yes three, not one) father and son returned, and the elder began the process of slopping the skim coat around and doing everything conceivable to blow my expectations of a clean and accurate finish out the water. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have seen plenty who are and their workmanship always look so easy, smooth and professional – this guy constantly kept digging the near end of the trowel into the cement because he wouldn’t incline it enough, left trowel marks and ridges everywhere, and kept spraying bonding agent on the older surface like some demented fire marshal trying to put out a raging fire – according to him, the skim coat was drying too quickly on him because the older surface was so dry that it was leeching out all the moisture.

After he finished he assured me that, despite appearances, the floor was to the specification I required for my wood flooring and that it didn’t need to be perfect cosmetically under the circumstances. I didn’t care about the cosmetics, I simply wanted it to be dead level. Did we get what we wanted or needed? No. The floor in actual fact turned out to be worse than it was before.

I went over it the next day and was left completely demoralized by just how lousy a job had been done on it. Forget any notion of it being level bubble wise – the drop to one side of the room was still there, and not only had they not eliminated the slight ridge that was evident before, they’d laid in a few new ones, as well as leaving buildup along the walls that was half an inch thick and an inch wide in places. According to the wood flooring guides I have tolerances down to 3/16ths of an inch I’m supposed to work at a distance of 10 feet. We now have ridges and depressions that are at variances of 2/10ths within just a few feet, even inch drops in places.

We can’t afford to get someone else to do this again (we already hadn’t budgeted for the $600 this individual took from us) so I have to try and find a way to solve this myself – like everything else. It’s very disheartening, because every time we’ve called in outside help for our house we’ve been royally screwed – it gets to a point where you wonder if there’s any honest and competent tradesmen left, at least here in Orlando. Getting our pool fixed, roofing done, carpets professionally cleaned, custom kitchen cabinets made/installed, granite countertops put in place, and now this – each time it’s been a disaster.

I’ve attached some pictures of the work, as well as a map I did of the room showing where all the depressions are. As mentioned, the room drops half an inch towards the widow side,(as marked, but I’m not even taking this into account any more – I just want it level lengthways in the room. which is the direction the wood is going to be laid. The gray areas on the map show depressions of 1/10 of an inch, red goes down to 2/10ths, and purple is ”. As the rule of thumb I’m aware of is 3/16” over 10 feet, I’d consider that we’re pretty well screwed on that score with all the little peaks and hollows everywhere!

So what do I do? Try and grind down the high areas so I only have a few small spots to fill in? I can rent a 7 inch grinder at HD for $35 for 24 hours, and then buy the appropriate blade for $85. Or should I leave the high spots in place and just try and fill in the other areas? And what do I use – the guys who did the first job used 8 bags of ‘Patcher’ to do their work, and I read on the bag that it can be used to a minimum of an inch and a maximum of 2” – so I don’t think it would be applicable.

Lastly, the point about getting the guy who made the mess to clean it up is certainly an obvious one, but at this stage it’s merely a money thing as I wouldn’t let the guy anywhere near the floor to try and repair his ‘repairs’ after what I witnessed.

Sorry about the lengthy post – any advice or help would be much appreciated.


JazMan 01-03-2012 08:15 PM


That's obviously some really poor work. But, I'm not surprised it came out that way since you were interviewing workers that you hoped would do the work for $300 or so. That would have been ridiculous. $600 is ridiculously low too. :yes:Way too low to expect decent workmanship, and that included materials too?:furious:


titanoman 01-03-2012 08:41 PM

Do you actually pay them for that?

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abracaboom 01-04-2012 05:40 AM

Snap level chalk lines on all four walls, just above the highest point.
Divide the room into 8 rectangles.
Use string lines to mark the level on the two sides of each rectangle that are not against a wall (the strings would be stretched from a point in the chalk line to another point in the chalk line of the opposite wall).
Do one of the 8 rectangles at a time.

AtlanticWBConst. 01-04-2012 06:00 AM

IMHO - Possibly use floor leveler (self leveling) and finish it up yourself (?)

timbo59 01-04-2012 07:22 AM

@Jazman. I've actually had a hardwood flooring specialist in since who came VERY highly recommended (I really checked this time!) and he looked in in disgust at the floor and stated that he could have had a much better job done of it for $250.

It wasn't a case of penny-pinching, just the simple fact I thought it would only take a pro 3 - 4 hours to do the job - how much do you think is fair at an hourly rate, $300 - $400?! The guys we had in did actually do the job (if you could call it that) in about four hours with all the toing and froing taken out, and as they used about $100 in materials I figure walking away at $125 an hour after costs is pretty damn rewarding in most people's books.

@Abracaboom. That's what I would have done had I gone with my original plan of doing the job myself. I was going to divide the floor into sections, fashion wood strips to the appropriate thickness to make level mini-forms, and then lay the cement inside each one. Then I decided that maybe I was taking on too much for someone who had never worked with concrete before and decided to seek 'expert' help - the rest is history!

Dividing it up now isn't going to work, because having half a depression in one section isn't going to make sense as far as using leveling compound - I have to address each low and high area specifically.

Though I still will address these leveling issues, I'm now starting to wonder if laying down some ply might not be a better long term solution to the floor rather than gluing direct to a cement surface that might be questionable. The room in question is a sunken living room with steps leading down to it from the two access points, so laying down a couple of half inch layers of ply isn't going to affect anything else. Then I can glue the wood flooring to the ply.

JazMan 01-04-2012 11:02 AM


It wasn't a case of penny-pinching, just the simple fact I thought it would only take a pro 3 - 4 hours to do the job - how much do you think is fair at an hourly rate, $300 - $400?! The guys we had in did actually do the job (if you could call it that) in about four hours with all the toing and froing taken out, and as they used about $100 in materials I figure walking away at $125 an hour after costs is pretty damn rewarding in most people's books.
It's wrong-thinking like the above that gets people in trouble and some into the trades until reality strikes.

You say 3-4 hours. Is that man hours, there were two. So is it really 6 or 8? Who's paying for the 'toing and froing? Maybe your neighbor? How about the cost and time necessary to get you to call these jokers and all the 'costs' you don't see?

By your lengthy and detailed description I would guess it's a job that would take me most of a day to do, plus most likely should plan to return the next day to 'tweek' the results. Also since the floor is out-of-level and a self leveling compound will probably do the best job, one should expect to use 7-8 bags or more. At about $30 per copy it adds up fast. Plus to give a firm quote instead on a time + material basis is taking a big risk and you'd have to guess high just to be fair.

So, two days on the calendar, plus materials, plus overhead, and it would be nice to add something called 'profit'.

In the end, it's obvious those guys should be doing something else and let you find someone else to do the work. I hope the next guy can do a better job. Or, why not do it yourself?


Bud Cline 01-04-2012 12:17 PM

Timbo you set yourself up for this fall.

You oversold yourself on the ability of anyone to "level" that floor.
You set your own expectations and then you weren't able to deliver the proper mechanic to your job. Did you check references or look at other work these guys had done? Obviously not.

Then YOU went in there and scribbled a bunch of hash-marks on the floor in an effort to be the boss and remain in control. Those marks mean nothing to anyone. That wasn't the way to do it and was a total waste of your time.

Then you all along felt like the price was too high. You tried to put yourself in the position of once again telling a man what his time and effort was worth based on your estimate of what you dreamed it would take to do it.

The real humor is the fact that the floor doesn't have to be level. It only needs to be flat. You say you paid him to produce a "dead level" floor. There is no such thing in residential concrete work. No such thing. Maybe in a perfect world but not in this world.

You didn't do your homework. If you had, your expectations would not have been as high as you have made them. You have underestimated the cost of doing performing such a task and you have over-estimated your ability to manage the process.

You are correct about one thing...that is some shoddy work.

The thing to do now is to grind that floor. But here again you are off on the wrong foot my friend. There is no way a 7" grinder is the proper tool to use to grind that floor. That idea is absurd. You will have a bigger mess than you started with.

The thing to do is to rent a floor grinding machine using orbiting elements and get to work. Then after you have the high spots ground down and the ridges feathered then prime the floor and use a Self Levelling Compound to complete the resurfacing.

This time hire somebody that has experience and has references.

Trying to micro-manage a task you know nothing about right down to telling a tradesman how he should be holding his trowel is ludicrous.

Solicit bids, get references, check references, visit previous jobs they have done, award the contract, then get the hell out of the house and let them do their job without any further input and criticism from you.

timbo59 01-04-2012 03:56 PM

@Jazman. Just a correction. It was supposed to be a one man job - assigned to his son. The father swapped over with him. Even if it was a two man operation, people must be doing REALLY well for themselves in your neck of the woods if they'd sniff at earnimg $60 odd dollars an hour.

To explain it another way, if the guy had come back at me and said that the only way he could deliver what I wanted was to use some kind of shallow formwork and that it would take a full day or two at the appropriate prices, it would have made perfect sense. In short, it wasn't about shoe-horning a job into a specified price, as you seem to be fixated upon - it was a loose figure based on an inexperienced approximation on how long the work might take. When you take work to an expert, say a mechanic, don't you mentally try and figure what you think it might cost, even though you obviously don't know enough to do it yourself? The fact I readily agreed to a figure twice what I'd approximated should indicate that nit-picking over money wasn't at issue - within limits of course.

Secondly, I generally do make appropriate inquiries, especially as we've had such shoddy work done in the past, and all of it irrespective of price. In this case I asked my neigbour, who has been buying and flipping houses for years and thus uses tradespeople all the time, to recommend a concrete specialist who we could trust to do an accurate job. He suggested someone nearby, told me the addresses of a couple of places he'd worked, I went and had a look at the steps and driveways concerned, and all seemed fine. What else would you suggest I have done - beat the absolutely living crap out of him to ascertain if he felt fully capable of doing an adequate job? Blow torch his children? My neighbor has since seen the results we obtained and is mortified - all we can both think is that this guy may well be reasonably capable with form-work, bricks, etc, but is utterly useless free-handing everything. The fact that he turned up after his break distinctly smelling of booze might also be an issue - should I have checked to see if he's a lapsed member of the local AA?

Anything else you want there - pictures of the houses he worked on that I inspected? A taped interview from my neighbor verifying his recommendation?

timbo59 01-04-2012 03:57 PM

@ Bud Cline. We've had some nice chats in the past Bud, but this time you're way out of line with your offensive diatribe, and one can only assume you’re projecting or recalling less than savory dealings with certain customers.

For starters, guy, the hash marks you went to so much trouble to jump up and down and scream about, as far as my apparent dictatorial attitude is concerned, were marks I put down AFTERWARDS for my OWN benefit so I could piece together where all the trouble spots are located in order to grind down or place SLC in the appropriate areas. How do you think I produced that map of the room? I ruled the floor, created a grid spaced out one foot apart, then went over it painstakingly measuring and marking depth. The P's you see in the photo are Peaks, the H's the center of the Hollows. Got that now?

As for your point about references, read the above post to Jazman, and stick your 'Obviously not' where it belongs, okay?

Same point with regard to the financial side of things. Where in my initial statement did I state that I dickered around with him on price – go on, have a look at my post and point it out if you can! I had a figure in my head that I never specified to him, he gave me a figure twice that - and I promptly agreed to it! Do you have a problem reading, or do you simply go out of your way to be rude and accusatory when it's not warranted?

As for overselling 'myself' on the ability of others to perform a set task, not only is it a nonsensical statement and poor example of English usage, it goes to the heart of a mindlessly vituperative attack without any foundation whatsoever other than your wildly incorrect and offensive conclusions. I did my homework on glue down flooring and discovered that it's an area with very little tolerances for error with regard to moisture, glues, surface preparation, and deviations of more than 3/16ths over a span of ten feet - tiling, your metier, is a doddle by comparison. So here are the following points, laid out in simple fashion so you can digest them -

1) I have zero experience with concrete, but know what I need to in order to get my concrete floor within the tolerances specified for wood glue down

2) I submit the requirements to the 'expert', clearly specifying that I want a bubble-level floor to counter issues on two planes, to which the expert says CAN DO and sets a price for the task – which I readily agreed to without question! If there had been an issue of my request being beyond his capabilities, of it being technically too difficult, etc, it was his position to tell the client 'NO CAN DO', explain why, and offer alternatives. But when the guy looks at me smugly, says 'no problem, we do this all the time' and sets out to do the task, one could say it's reasonably within my expectations that I'm going to get what was specified, just as I'd have readily acceded to anything he might have said to the contrary given my lack of expertise.

3) Said 'expert' then proceeds to give results that in no way approximate what is required and what he claimed HE WOULD DELIVER. Not only was the resulting work nowhere near bubble level, but the flatness you so stridently asserted was the only requirement also proved completely absent, tellingly on the plane that the flooring is to be laid.

4) Once the 'expert' commenced his task I never uttered a piece of instruction to him while doing my own work nearby, even when my senses were screaming at me that things were distinctly amiss. About the only thing I did do was pleasantly shoot the breeze with the guy, talk about his origins in Chicago, baseball, etc. Throughout the process, I kept uttering to myself that the contractor knew what he was doing, to keep quiet, that he was the expert, and that all would be well in the end. So, as far as your erroneous and bombastic assertion is concerned that I was somehow constantly barking orders and controlling things, not only are you totally off base, but in hindsight I should have trusted my instincts, called a halt to proceedings, and paid him off before he could do any further harm. Instead I stayed silent over my misgivings, paid him off in pleasant fashion, and sat down to wait for the work to dry so I could ascertain for myself if my gut instincts had been correct. They obviously were.

As for your point about residential floors not being level, I’ve done enough tiling to know the point all too well. But exactly how does this relate to the job at hand, other than to prove the point underlying the whole operation, namely that the concrete floor as is was not in a fit state for a glue down operation because of its imperfections – meaning it needed fixing? Is there anything in there that you don’t understand, or do you wish to keep up this nonsensical circular argument? As a point of fact I have since been given expert views that there are a couple of ways the task could have been approached, either by using wood strips as a leveling guide to address the issue of the lower floor edge, and simply using a decent-sized level to obtain a flat floor across the plane that I really needed for the sake of the wood flooring. it was this measure at least that I had expected to see in use myself – not once did this guy even come close to using a level.

Finally, your point about the 7” grinder being ‘absurd’ is rather novel considering your admirably staunch defense of a fellow tradesman – it was exactly the tool which was used to grind our floor in the first place. That aside, I had actually intended hiring a floor grinder as you suggested, but was specifically told that it would be complete overkill for the job at hand, that I could easily render a great deal of damage with it in my inexperienced hands, and that a 7 inch grinder would more than handle the job at hand, especially with the new surface that was laid down. Three people have stated the same thing, so you’ll forgive me if I take their opinion over your own, especially under the circumstances.

One could make jokes about the asinine conclusions you jumped to Bud, but the truth of the matter is that there’s nothing remotely funny or humorous about your post. It could well serve as an example of all that’s wrong with the internet and forums, of ill-mannered major domo’s like you marching up and down territorially in their little fiefdoms barking at everyone furiously while basking behind the anonymity of their keyboards. I can only point to your petulant paragraph regarding the markings on the floor, and how insanely off base you were in your conclusion as to their meaning, as an example of where the problems lie. The notion that I apparently diagrammed the entire floor for someone else to explicitly follow, like some sort of bizarre concrete-by-numbers, is truly one for the books – now who is your psychiatrist again?

If you still can’t digest it all this, go back and read my original post, than match your answers paragraph by paragraph to see what an obnoxious, erroneous and ill-conceived missive you submitted, right down to your point about my supposedly telling the contractor how to use his trowel! It was an observation on what seemed a sloppy technique, genius, not a judgment I delivered personally to him.

In short, Bud, there is nothing in your post that is of merit or close to approximating the truth of the circumstances, but don’t let that hold you back from showing yourself to being a hot –tempered jerk flying off with baseless accusations and inflammatory opinions, right? I wouldn’t expect you to apologize for your appalling outburst, because anyone who could let fly in such an outrageously ill-mannered fashion certainly doesn’t have the character to recognize when they’re at fault. So by all means feel free to indulge yourself in whatever rationalizations you consider necessary to paper over your numerous gaffs and the bell-ringing nature of your insulting tones. I’d love to see what you have to say on the score of the markings on the floor and your outrageous conclusions, but it’s obviously time to call it a day on this forum and move on.

Many thanks to those who have offered their egoless advice and help in the past – it’s been appreciated. But if anything confirms why it’s fast approaching time to head back to my homeland with my family, it’s raving crap like this from people like Bud. A decade in this country is more than enough for anyone, because I can assure you, where people like Bud are the rare exception where I come from, here they’re fast becoming the norm. Life’s just too short, and I want my kids to grow up unfettered by it all in a country where people by and large are still friendly, easy-going, relaxed, direct, and honest. Here people either read all that with suspicion, or consider you a prime sap ready for the taking.

In the famous words of Edward R Murrow, ‘Goodnight and good luck’.

Bud Cline 01-04-2012 04:24 PM

Much too wordy I can't read all of that. I figured the truth would ruffle your feathers. Glad to have been helpful in the past, sorry you don't find my input helpful now. The truth is sometimes hard to take I suppose.

Maybe another time.:)


JazMan 01-04-2012 06:15 PM



people must be doing REALLY well for themselves in your neck of the woods if they'd sniff at earnimg $60 odd dollars an hour.
That is the problem with people that have never worked having to earn the money to pay all the bills. You think that if a contractor charges $60 an hour, that he is making $60 and hour. You then extrapolate that into $480 a day and then to $2,400 a week and then compare all that to what your take-home is. All wrong headed figuring, apples and orange juice. You have to consider the amount of value you make for the company you work for, as compare to what you are paid. Often the amount you're paid is less than half what the company charges for your services. In some labor intensive business the amount the worker gets is 35% of what the customer pays for that worker's efforts. It has to be or no company.

The fact is that in this business you'd have to charge $60 an hour for 40 hours every week x 50 to be able to retain about $40 an hour on a regular basis. That does not happen. Matter of fact many owners have to go many week without a pay check just to pay for the other expenses. Especially if they're trying to stay legitimate and honest.


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