Update on the Floors: Prepping

Good news! We started laying floors! Sweet, sweet progress. I could not be happier about this development.

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Here are the details...

But first I wanted to clarify a couple of things. A few people have mentioned in the comments sections that they wonder who I'm talking about when I say "we" a lot in my posts. I'm mostly talking about Michael, who pitches in with projects a lot after work and on weekends, and my sister, Ali, who has been a great help whenever I've needed a second pair of hands. I don't have any employees right now and there's no team of little elves over here working behind the scenes that I'm not crediting. I'm being genuine when I say that the projects I'm sharing are doable, often easy and even fun to try. So sorry about any confusion there! I work alone a lot, but when I do get a helper it feels disingenuous to say look at what I did, but I get that that's confusing, so I'll do a better job of saying who did what in the future.

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Also, my friend Christina introduced me to Jason Millar, who I've mentioned here before. (He's all booked up now, so if I haven't gotten back to you with contact info it's because he's asked me to hold off for a bit :). Jason is a handyman who we have paid hourly to come in now and again and help us on the tricky stuff. This has worked out so, so well. I know nothing about electrical work. I am (well, was) terrified of cutting into a wall. I wouldn't have known how or where to start with laying the floors. In general, Jason comes in, lends us his expertise and occasionally some of his specialized equipment and gets us started on projects and then usually he leaves and we do most of the labor ourselves to save money. This is why things are seemingly slow-going on the reno part of the house. But we're saving money by doing it this way and learning a ton along the way. Like, at this point I've laid the floors for three of the bedrooms and it is so different than I thought it would be. Harder in some ways and easier in others. Prepping for the wood was a pretty epic experience in and of itself.

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Most of the houses in Arizona don't have basements and are built on concrete slabs - which you can't nail wood planks into. There are a couple of options if you're in this boat.

1) The first option for us was to use glue-down grade flooring. There are a couple of solid wood lines that are suitable for glueing down, and most laminates and engineered woods can be glued down. We thought a lot about going with a nice engineered option - the kind that is 3/4" thick with solid wood on most of the thick top layer. These can be refinished about as many times as solid wood. The difference is the wood is birch-backed and a little more stable and less sensitive to moisture and weather changes. It's more expensive than solid wood though.

The flooring expert I talked to thought it would be tricky for me to install the floors by myself using the glue-down method - especially if I wanted to use completely solid wood (which will have some irregular planks and some curving to some pieces just due to the nature of wood) and not engineered wood (which is going to be pretty consistent and straight). It's hard/impossible to manipulate slightly bowed wood planks using the glue down method. Plus it's expensive glue at around $250-$350 per bucket. We would have needed more than 10 buckets.

2) The second option was to use a new sticker-like adhesive underlayment called Elastilon right on top of the concrete. It's a moisture barrier as well, which is really nice. I got a little nervous about installation of the solid wood with this stuff for the same reasons as the glue. It was pricey stuff, and it seemed like it would be tricky to get the hard wood installed right and tight without any nails. I was especially worried about the chevron pattern I want to do in the library. (P.S. John and Sherry over at Young House Love used Elastilon to install their hardwood floors and it looks like they had a pretty easy time of it.)

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3) The last option is to glue and nail down 5/8" plywood on all the concrete and then install the hardwood planks with a nail gun. We ended up going with this method because it was slightly more cost effective on the front end, and hugely cost effective on the actual floor installment because we could nail the planks down ourselves. Jason was very helpful with the demo process and he also really took charge in installing the plywood subfloors, which were a bit of a nightmare.

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You trowel on glue (which is rated to be a moisture barrier, as well, though is much less expensive than the other glue I just mentioned - about $75 a bucket and we needed about six or seven) and then you lay down the plywood sheet and use a gun-like ramset to shoot nails into the concrete using the force of .22 caliber bullets. It was nuts and seriously hard work. This was a good project to get pro help on.

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In the girls' rooms and the landing upstairs we were able to reuse the plywood floors already on the floor. The plywood is old, but level and in good enough shape. I had read online that it is imperative for plywood subfloor to be perfectly smooth and as free of old nails and staples as possible. I cannot even begin to describe what a pain it was to pull out all the staples from the old laminate. Hours and hours of hard, intense labor, bending over and kneeling down and pulling at those staples like mad. It was not fun and not easy because the staples are so long. Jason later told me it's not really that big of a deal and we could have just bent the staples over and hammered the them flat, but you know, whatever. I like to do things the hard way. (*hits head repeatedly on pile of wood boxes*)

If you also like to do things the hard way, we found the easiest method to be to tap a long screwdriver into the staple,

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And then use the hammer to pull the staple out by prying the screwdriver up. All the staples will be installed at an angle, all the same direction and if you pull them out in the same direction it makes the process a little easier and rips up your plywood less.

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Then we swept and vacuumed and it was time to start the floors, which I'll detail out for you in a separate post.

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I know a lot of you were on the fence about me taking out the hand-scraped engineered wood and the ceramic tile. I was on the fence too - it was a tough choice that I considered very seriously. And even though we've saved a lot of money by buying the wood prefinished from Lumber Liquidators and installing it ourselves, it still was expensive to buy all this wood, plywood, glue and nails.

You'll probably remember that when I decided to pull out the old floors, I was shooting for the stars and wanted a very specific Parisian apartment look to the wood. Classic and traditional looking, but a little more on the worn in side and warm-looking. I had put aside a lot of our savings to try and do this, but when I got the quote of nearly $40,000 for the wood and installation and finishing on site (not including the demo), I just had to let go of the idea. We hit more roadblocks right and left and ultimately I decided to just go with the prefinished white oak solid wood and take the time to install it myself.

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This way I'm still getting a little bit of the look I was hoping for with the finished-on-site wood and have the option to sand and refinish the floors several times down the road, if we want to.

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So far, I'm liking the floors like a 7.5 or an 8 out of 10. The good news is I really like the 3.25" plank width. I think it will be perfect for the chevron pattern we're starting on in the library next week. I'm okay with the stain/wood color (though there are occasional pieces that are more pink than I'd like to have, but you know, that happens with oak). Minus two or three points for the finish though - it's a little too perfect and satin-y. This is what I was worried about with the prefinished route, but I know it'll look great when we get furniture and rugs in here to break up the sea of smooth wood. We're trying to leave just a hair of a gap in some planks just to avoid that tight butcher block look that I want to avoid. And happily there's none of that hollow sound when we walk and I attribute that 100% to Jason's handy work with the subfloors. Dude knows what he is doing.

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I'm being nit-picky about the finish though - I really like this wood and I still think it was a good choice to change out the old floors before we settled in to this side of the house. Once the walls are all painted and the trim is back up, I know I'll love the floors even more! I'm really glad we did it.

Back to the nail gun!

27 comments:

Love This Space said...

It's looking really good. I have to replace my floors and I'll probably have to go with an inexpensive laminate and I'm hating that because it will have that super shiney, smooth, fakey look all over and I just don't want it. Ah well.

Rather Square said...

As usual, amazing! I'm impressed that you did so much of this work yourself. I'm looking forward to seeing the installed floor photos.

JeanneW said...

Wow great job. I'm absolutely amazed at how much you're getting done with or without help. And in all honesty, your sister, husband and an occasional handy man isn't that much help with the amount of projects that you've been accomplishing. You have a serious amount of energy. I couldn't complete 1/16 of what you do, particularly in that amount of time and with that level of quality. Kudos and keep 'em coming!!

JeanneW said...

Wow great job. I'm absolutely amazed at how much you're getting done with or without help. And in all honesty, your sister, husband and an occasional handy man isn't that much help with the amount of projects that you've been accomplishing. You have a serious amount of energy. I couldn't complete 1/16 of what you do, particularly in that amount of time and with that level of quality. Kudos and keep 'em coming!!

Courtney Leal said...

Wow! Hats off to you for all the hard work. There's a lot to learn about installing true hard wood. I thought, "ok, they just come in a put the floors down." Not that easy... we really wanted to continue the 1970's inlaid parquet that sanded/stained out so beautifully, but after the learning curve, found it to be too expensive and opted for the plywood under route. You're floors are looking great! Can't wait to see the library!!

Mariana said...

You're awesome Jenny! Rock it out, girlfriend!

Zoe Royall said...

WOW - I've learned so much today and it's only lunchtime! Keep up the great (and totally inspiring!!) work!!

Crystal @ 29 Rue House said...

I think they look great and love your honesty on how you feel about it. I don't if it is different from wood pre-finished but our wood floors were shiny after we had them redone (right before we moved in) and over the last couple of years, they've gotten to more of a matte finish from use.

Lynn said...

Amazeballs! Also, I was always wondering who "we" referred to as well although, frankly, I think I would have felt better thinking you had a team of helper-elves working in the background :)

nikkiikkin.com said...

I've been meaning to ask about the "we" too. I see your sister in some shots but never your husband. How much of his opinion is reflected in your projects? Do you two just really love the same things? My husband and I often disagree in our interior design. We dont compromise on our ideas well because we both have a good sense of design. We just have projects that are either more his or more hers. Luckily we do care if they work well together and we do agree on the over all aesthetic. What projects would you say are more your husband's in ideas or labor?
And of course I'm amazed that you are laying the floors in that big house! I need a nap just think about the work. They look beautiful.

MacLainKara Atkinson said...

Looking Great super impressed with how the floor is looking! Can not wait to see your Chevron Pattern. I would love to do something like that.. maybe in our next house.

My Notting Hill said...

I personally hate the look and feel of engineered wood floors so I think it makes total sense for you to rip those out. Real wood just feels, sounds and looks so much better. Congrats on all this hard work and your success w/it.

gustoandgrace said...

I can't wait to see the chevron pattern!

Michelle Panting said...

You're such an inspiration Jenny. I want to replace the faux-wood flooring in our place eventually, and you're making me feel like I can with some help from a flooring friend.

http://www.fullbellywornsoles.com

Erin said...

It's an amazing amount of work and you're doing great. It's going to be so incredibly gorgeous when it's all put together - can't wait to see!!

Annie Neal said...

I just want to tell you that since I decided to quit being a lawyer and stay home when my second was born, you're blog has been an inspiration to me. It helps keep my creative juices flowing and I always have a couple of projects on the front and back burner. Thank you.

Annie Neal said...

I just want to tell you that since I decided to quit being a lawyer and stay home when my second was born, you're blog has been an inspiration to me. It helps keep my creative juices flowing and I always have a couple of projects on the front and back burner. Thank you.

Karen at Home Sweet Hollywood said...

Amazing job! The floors look fantastic. You totally made the right call on the wood. Love your energy and attitude :)

Linenqueen said...

That floor is gorgeous. My hat is off to you. Not only is the color and width attractive, you've done a professional installation. Heartiest congratulations. Ann

Where are my Mary Jane's? said...

This is such an informative post and so fun to learn about and see it come together. Thank you for taking the time to take each picture as you go along; I love it all!

Janelle

Kyla said...

I am so impressed at all you are accomplishing. (As I sit here reading posts...) I did want to mention to make sure you know what termite tubes look like and to keep an eye out for them. We didn't know what they looked like or how common they are in AZ, and ended up replacing a ton of wood flooring around the perimeter of our house because of termite damage. They were having a party in there. An expensive one.

Moya Miller said...

I'd love to know why you chose to lay the floors down before painting the walls, I would have thought it would be easier to do it the other way around? Looks beautiful, you say it's going slowly, but it is incredible how fast it's going considering it's just you and the odd help. Kudos! :)

Moya Miller said...

I'd love to know why you chose to lay the floors down before painting the walls, I would have thought it would be easier to do it the other way around? Looks beautiful, you say it's going slowly, but it is incredible how fast it's going considering it's just you and the odd help. Kudos! :)

Laurie Swartz said...

You made the right decision to make the floors yours. nit-picky- not a chance. What a transformation. I am biased- I am not a fan of the hand scraped look. I have seen it in several homes and the home/room has to be just right to pull off the look.

Lauren Frayne said...

Interesting choice! I like that you opted for a lighter wood instead of the typical go to dark stain. I think it will look lovely once the furniture is in! Looking forward to seeing the progress.
lamourcheznous.com

Maren said...

I fell head over heels for a gorgeous 220 wire brushed French White Oak engineered wood floor that was double my allowance for wood in the home we are building and ultimately decided to go with a laminate that looks almost as good. It's Mannington's Black Forest Oak in Antiqued. It actually has some texture in the coating, so it doesn't look nearly as fake. I've seen it in a couple of homes, and think it will be the best compromise for us. We plan to replace it - and reuse it! - when we finish the basement in 3-5 years.

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