• What Is The Difference Between Concrete And Screed?

    | by Holly Wood

    When it comes to constructing floors and surfaces in the construction industry, two essential materials often come into play: concrete and floor screeds. While both concrete and screed serve critical roles in creating functional floors, they are distinct in their composition, applications, and characteristics.

    In this comprehensive blog, we will explore the key differences between concrete and screed, shedding light on their respective roles, compositions, and recommended uses within the construction project.

    Concrete and Screed: Basic Definitions

    Before delving into the specifics, let’s start by defining what concrete and screed are.

    Concrete: Concrete is a widely used construction material known for its strength and durability. It consists of a mixture of cement, water, coarse aggregates (such as small stones or gravel), and finer aggregates (like sand). The cement paste hardens through a chemical process called hydration, resulting in a solid and robust mass.

    Screed: Screed, on the other hand, primarily serves as a construction material for creating a smooth and level surface on top of a concrete base or subfloor. It typically consists of sand and cement mixtures, incorporating various additives depending on the specific application. Contractors apply screed as a thinner layer compared to concrete, and it plays a pivotal role in achieving a level and functional floor finish.

    Now that we have a basic understanding of these materials, let’s explore the key differences between concrete and screed.

    Composition and Mix Consistency

    One of the fundamental distinctions between concrete and screed lies in their composition and mix consistency.

    • Concrete contains coarse aggregates (small stones) along with finer aggregates (sand), resulting in a mixture that is thicker and more substantial. This composition gives concrete its strength and makes it suitable for heavy footfall areas and structural applications in construction projects.
    • Screed, on the other hand, typically comprises a finer mix of sand and cement, sometimes with additives. This results in a thinner layer that is ideal for creating level surfaces and providing a smooth finish. Screed lacks the design to bear structural loads similar to concrete but functions as the top layer for the final floor finish.

    Recommended Minimum and Maximum Thickness

    The recommended thickness for concrete and screed also varies significantly, reflecting their intended purposes.

    • Concrete is usually poured at a thickness determined by the structural requirements of the project. For instance, in a concrete slab, the thickness will depend on the loads it needs to support. There is no specific minimum or maximum thickness for concrete, as it adapts to the construction project’s exact specifications.
    • Screed, conversely, is applied in a much thinner layer compared to concrete. The recommended minimum thickness for floor screeds typically ranges from 20 to 50 mm. This thin layer is ideal for creating a level surface and providing a smooth finish without adding excessive weight to the structure.

    Aggregates and Texture

    Another noticeable difference between concrete and screed is the size of aggregates and the resulting texture.

    • Concrete contains larger aggregates, which can give it a rougher texture when compared to screed. These coarse aggregates contribute to the structural integrity of concrete but are not ideal for achieving a smooth, level surface.
    • Screed, composed of finer aggregates, produces a smoother finish, rendering it suitable for achieving the desired surface quality, particularly when applying the final floor finish, such as wood flooring or polished concrete.

    Applications and Use Cases

    Concrete and screed find their applications in different areas within construction projects.

    • Concrete serves as a common structural material for constructing foundations, slabs, walls, and other load-bearing components. It provides the necessary strength to support heavy loads in both residential and commercial settings. For instance, in a warehouse, a concrete floor is essential to withstand the weight of machinery and storage.
    • Screed, on the other hand, is primarily used to create level and smooth surfaces for the final floor finish, primarily on internal floors. It is often employed in domestic use, underfloor heating systems, and commercial locations where achieving a flat, even surface is crucial.

    Bonding and Application Methods

    The methods of application and bonding differ between concrete and screed.

    • Concrete, typically poured as a single, solid mass, can bond directly to the underlying substrate, such as a concrete subfloor or a damp-proof membrane, depending on the construction requirements. In cases where a damp-proof membrane is necessary, it prevents moisture from rising into the concrete base.
    • Screed offers flexibility in application, resulting in two primary types: bonded screed and unbonded screed. Contractors apply bonded screed directly to the concrete subfloor, establishing a robust bond between the two layers. Conversely, unbonded screed employs a damp-proof membrane to separate it from the substrate, enabling thermal insulation and accommodating potential movement.

    Specialised Screeds

    Specialised screeds like calcium sulphate screed exist alongside traditional sand and cement mixtures.

    These screeds offer unique characteristics such as enhanced thermal insulation properties or rapid drying times, making them suitable for specific construction requirements.


    In summary, while concrete and screed share some of the same basic ingredients, their key differences in composition, recommended thickness, texture, applications, and bonding methods set them apart in the construction industry.

    Understanding the distinctions between these materials is crucial for choosing the right one for your construction project.

    By considering these factors, you can ensure that your construction materials align with your project’s exact specifications and requirements.

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