What is Microcement (and why is it the trending flooring material)?
You may have come across the term microcement while you’re sourcing for a flooring material for your home. Or you may have seen homes with cement-screed like flooring but looks somewhat different for some reason you can’t quite put your finger on.
Design: Third Avenue Studio
Microcement flooring installed by MONJU
This surface material has in recent months surged in popularity in its use in residential homes in Singapore, mostly for flooring, mainly because of a greater awareness. Because of its high price (more on that later), it was more often employed in commercial spaces. But for homeowners looking to have the cement screed look without all the fuss, microcement was the answer.
Image courtesy of Aftertouch Works. Stairs applied with microcement.
To answer your questions on this trendy material are microcement suppliers and applicators Ivan Gutierrez, co-owner of MONJU (@monjusurfaces), Justin James Lim Wei-Chern, director at CimentArt Microcement (@cimentart.sg) and Ahmad Basyir Bin Othman, founder of Aftertouch Works (@aftertouchworks).
What is microcement exactly?
Design: Spacedge Designs. Flooring applied with microcement.
Microcement is a generic term that refers to thin surface finishes made with cementitious compounds, fillers and polymers. There are different formulations of microcement available that vary according to their application, but most involve a primer or base, a finish layer, and a protection layer.
Every microcement brand has their own blend of materials that is unique to them. Most applicators offer you the choice of a surface that has larger cement particles for a “coarser” look, or one that has finer particles for a more sleek finish. The end result is a resilient and seamless floor finish that looks like cement screed, but with several differences.
What are the main differences between microcement and cement screed?
Microcement was developed as an alternative to cement screed, which requires major installation works and is notorious for cracking, flaking and unpredictable aesthetics.
As a thin topping (around 2 to 3mm thick), microcement can also be applied over an existing floor that is in need of refinishing, but is otherwise in good condition. By adjusting the formulation, the look could also approach that of cement screed, without major renovation works.
Where can microcement be applied? Can it be installed in wet areas like the bathroom?
Image courtesy of CimentArt. Bathroom walls applied with microcement.
Most microcement systems can be installed over almost any substrate. The only places not recommended are over hardwood and parquet floors because these materials can expand and contract, which causes the microcement surface to be unstable.
One of the main advantages of microcement over conventional cement screed is that it can be used in wet zones since it is seamless. For extra assurance, you can opt for CimentArt’s Aqua range, which was formulated to be 100 percent waterproof and developed for installation in wet areas specifically.
If you are thinking of using microcement in wet areas, make sure you engage an experienced applicator as there are potential risks.
Image courtesy of Aftertouch Works. Bathroom walls applied with microcement.
Due to poor application, water may find its way through an adjacent finish or through a joint (at the skirting/tiles/glass partition, etc) and seep behind the microcement. The polyurethane top coat traps this moisture, resulting in a water stain on your surface.
Another issue that can arise because of poor application is discolouration. This can happen when standing water, possibly due to poor slope to a drain, is absorbed by an improperly applied polyurethane top coat.
Are there different colours and finishes to select from?
Design: Spire ID. Walls and flooring applied with microcement.
At CimentArt, you get to choose from a wide range of colours from their catalogue, including shades of green, red and grey. They are also able to match the colour of your choice. Some of the finishes include natural concrete, marble and an oxidised look.
For MONJU, they are able to customised their microcement surfaces to match any colour code from Dulux, Nippon, Pantone, or even a textile swatch for a fabric look.
At Aftertouch Works, you will be able to request for surfaces with a smooth, mirror-like finish to ones with rough, sand-like textures. You are also able to customise any colour, including gradient, ombre tones.
How much does microcement cost per square metre?
Design: Third Avenue Studio
Microcement flooring installed by MONJU
CimentArt Microcement charges around $180 per square metre for their traditional microcement, which includes supply and installation. Their waterproof microcement goes for $230 per square metre.
MONJU installs microcement in residences at $175 per square metre with a minimum charge of $10,000 before GST. This includes custom colour and an 18-month warranty against cracking and colour fading. They also offer a 5-year warranty at $195 with a $12,000 minimum.
Based on the above prices, you can expect to pay around $15,750 – $16,200 if you decide to do microcement for all your flooring in a 4-room BTO.
What does a typical installation look like and how long does it usually take?
To minimise the use of polymers, which can make the finish resilient but also tend to cause streaks, MONJU applies two cementitious base coats over a fibreglass mesh. This layer works as a buffer to isolate microcracks in the substrate. This is followed by two cementitious finish coats and two coats of polyurethane. In all, eight layers are applied at the rate of one layer per day.
Some poured microcement systems can be applied as little as four days, while others can go up to 10 days, depending on the scope.
How do you maintain a microcement surface?
Image courtesy of CimentArt. Walls and flooring applied with microcement.
Because microcement top coats are either acrylic or polyurethane, a microcement surface is highly resistant to a wide range of stains. Regular maintenance includes damp mopping with a mild detergent without the need for strong cleaning agents i.e. no abrasives, no solvents and acids, and no oxidising agents.
In residential settings, there isn’t a need to re-seal it regularly as the polyurethane coating serves as a protective layer for the microcement. Most microcement surfaces can last more than 10 years without a need to refresh the surface. If there is a need to re-coat because of high footfall, the top coat (protective polyurethane coat) is the one that gets a refresh. You can opt for a refresh once you see dull spots from an angle, as that usually means the top coat is worn out. The re-coat is a fast one-day job, but it is recommended to let it cure for two days before stepping on it.