More on the Floor

Every floor is under construction at once. Or maybe I should say “the floor of every floor”… as in, the basement floor, the first-floor floor, and the attic floor. Let’s tackle them one by one.

D.D. took a jackhammer to the basement floor. Previously a section of this slab sloped up at the base of the old stairs, forming a bumpy landing. Bob suspected the house was built atop an erratic boulder nobody wanted to move at the time, and D.D. basically removed the protruding part, kicking up lots of choking dust in the process. Now instead of a bump the basement has a hole – we’ll have to do something about that.

Ultimate jackhammer power in the hands of D.D.
Ultimate jackhammer power in the hands of D.D.

In the living room we’re gradually replacing the old floorboards with a modern plywood subfloor. Mark and Paté figured out how best to remove the floorboards, working a couple of pry-bars between the bottom of each board and the joists below. There’s actually another subfloor below the floorboards, which we left in place because (I guess) it smoothes out the unevenness of our joist timbers. After removing enough floorboards to expose a four-foot-wide segment, we cut ¾-inch plywood sheets to create the new floor, and so on.

A mighty nail gun in the hands of Mark, as he installs the new subfloor.
A mighty nail gun in the hands of Mark, as he installs the new subfloor.

The attic flooring and the living-room finish ceiling will be two styles of tongue-and-groove floorboards. D.D., Paté, and I made an assembly line to hoist the flooring from Bob’s trailer around the house, up through the attic window, and stacked onto “stickers” so all sides can dry and acclimate to the indoor environment before we install it. Underneath, Hans installed cleats on both sides of the joists so we’d have a place to nail the ceiling. He called ceiling-board measurements up to me (often with “short” and “long” edges since the joists bend a little) and I cut them on the chop saw, then passed ‘em back down for installation.

Arranged By the Floorist

We all enjoyed putting down the first-floor engineered hardwood flooring – well, at least I did – and we did a fine job. But the planks for the second floor are only half as wide, which translates to double the installation time. With Terry pretty much unavailable anyhow, Colin sought a subcontractor to complete the second floor. He got quotes from several professional floorists (I just made that word up), and eventually he hired Don, who took care of the job in about a week.

Don installed bullnose flooring on all the stairs. He oriented the rest of the flooring to match the long edge of the steps, which is orthogonal to the orientation of the first-floor planks. (Not sure if anybody planned it that way.) Unlike the distressed look of the first floor, the second floor uses smooth bamboo stained medium-dark. It appears all the pieces are the same length, making it harder to achieve our desired random-looking layout. But Don done good.

Colin installed a few more light fixtures. I really like the pendants over the kitchen island. There’s a snazzy under-cabinet light next to the fridge, and upstairs two swinging wall-mounted reading lights flank the future master bed. Baby steps indeed, but always towards the finish line.

Kitchen island pendants. In the foreground, trim pieces are primed and drying on the sawhorses.
Kitchen island pendants. In the foreground, trim pieces are primed and drying on sawhorses.

Floored!

Those who know me know that I like finding patterns, and I happen to have a knack for it. Most of the time, a pattern is a good thing to recognize. Scientists look for patterns in nature and run experiments to learn if they always hold true. Media/marketing professionals look for patterns in what consumers like and try to deliver more of the same. Doctors tracking an emergent disease look for patterns of symptoms and use them to diagnose new patients; then they do the same thing to recommend effective treatment.

For the flooring that covers this house’s first floor, it was the exact opposite: I wanted to AVOID making a pattern. Our goal is a rustic farmhouse look with floorboards whose placement appears random. Anything repetitive was a no-no: no joints side by side, no large areas without a joint, no sequences of equal staggers (aka “stair steps”), no groups of equal-length boards. At the same time, I had to balance the limited selection of floorboard sizes we had (eight lengths between 2 feet and 6 feet, all in different proportions) and finish each row with as little wasted material as possible.

We had to cut floorboards to fit around pipes and vents.
We had to cut floorboards to fit around pipes and vents.

Ironically, if I laid down the floorboards haphazardly, the result wouldn’t look haphazard at all: I’d inadvertently violate the no-nos and localized patterns would emerge. It turns out the ability to recognize a pattern is key to preventing one. Anybody can do it, and I think anybody can enjoy the process if given enough time. But we like to work fast, and among our crew I had the greatest facility to find an eye-pleasing arrangement.

Laying out the last few rows in the living room. It's helpful to span doorways with a single board.
Laying out the last few rows in the living room. In the foreground is a selection of floorboard sizes.

So I (and near the end, Carson) took charge of laying out the floorboards ahead of Colin and Terry, who fit them tongue-to-groove and stapled them down flush. Our activities left very little downtime – I could always open the next box of floorboard pieces, or measure and cut the finisher board for the current row, or staple down the next layer of red rosin paper which underlays the flooring to prevent squeakiness. Between our working efficiency and the generous width of the boards, we blazed through the job, flooring the entire first floor in two and a half days.

Unrolling red rosin paper in the hall. An ordinary (not pneumatic) staple gun holds it in place.
Unrolling red rosin paper in the hall. An ordinary (not pneumatic) staple gun holds it in place.

One thing I didn’t do was operate the pneumatic flooring stapler. The stapler is a specialized tool that Terry rented for the installation. It hooks onto the tongue of the floorboard and lodges a long staple into the plywood below, for a connection that’s hidden when complete and very, very hard to remove. We only ever had to remove one board, when we noticed too late that we’d missed some staples in the previous row. Where Terry didn’t have enough space to bop the stapler, he secured the flooring with finish nails, which are exposed but almost invisibly small.

Kitchen/dining. Terry operates the pneumatic flooring stapler.
Kitchen/dining. Terry on the right operates the pneumatic flooring stapler.
Resourceful: Terry uses a wedge of lumber to squeeze a floorboard into place near the wall.
Resourceful: Terry uses a wedge of lumber to squeeze a floorboard into place near the wall.

Of all the work we’ve done since we moved to the interior, laying the floor has been my favorite, hands down. It was creative and fast-paced, with only a little bit of annoyance to wedge in the last pieces of each room. And wow, the finished product looks magnificent.