Hardwood Flooring Overload

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe I haven’t provided any updates in nearly a month, but with the holidays and work keeping us busy, not many decisions were made.  One of the things that we did try to make progress on is our hardwood flooring choice, but I’m honestly not sure we are any closer to making a decision than we were when we first started.

The problem is that there is a nearly endless supply of choices when it comes to hardwood flooring these days.  I almost wish we were just given a handful of options to choose from– the way most of the larger, less custom, builders would operate.  Instead, we can pick from the entire universe of options with their different construction, materials, finishes and sizes.  It can be overwhelming.

Here is a quick pic of samples of just some of the floors we are currently considering.

Traditional hardwood floors are laid in place and then sanded to be perfectly smooth before the finish is applied.  It’s been done that way forever.  A newer trend is to order the wood prefinished by the factory.  Almost every person we have talked with has been in favor of this method.  Apparently, because the finish can be applied under controlled conditions in the factory and a higher number of coats can be applied more easily, the finish of a prefinished floor ends up being more durable.  And durability is one of our big goals for the materials in our house.

I hadn’t been sold on the idea of prefinished floors initially– and they aren’t perfect– but we have come around and are pretty sure that is the direction we’ll be going.

Alright.  Decision made, right?  Just pick a color and be done…

Not so fast.

Beyond deciding what type of wood and how wide the planks should be and whether we want an engineered floor (a discussion for a different day), we also have to decide what type of finish.  But didn’t we just say we wanted it prefinished?  Yes, but there is more than one way to finish a floor (whether onsite or prefinished by the factory).

This decision is where a lot of recent effort has gone and I would greatly appreciate anyone’s insight about it.  From my research, the 2 main types of finishes are polyurethane or oil.  Most people are probably familiar with a polyurethane finish which typically give a more shiny appearance and sits on top of the wood.  An oil finish, by contrast, gives a bit more natural appearance because it soaks into the wood.

The shiny appearance of classic polyurethane finish is not the look we are hoping for and while there are apparently options to make it more “matte” that we need to investigate, the oil finishes that we have seen definitely seem to capture our style better.

Of course, no decision can be simple.  Oil finishes have a major drawback of increased regular maintenance.  (And they tend to be more expensive, but that’s a lesser factor right now.)  As I already said, low maintenance and durability are key features for every part of the house so hearing that we need to apply oil to the entire floor– which will end up being about 1000 sq ft– once a year or more for at least the first few years does not make me excited.

The sales pitch that we keep hearing, though, is that oiled floors are easier to repair damage or conceal wear.  Basically, all hardwood floors will get damaged by scratches and dings and general wear in high traffic areas.  In a polyurethane floor, there is no way to fully repair a scratch without completely sanding off the existing finish and refinishing it.  And we are told that you can’t just refinish one area… the whole thing would need to be done.  On the other hand, if a scratch or wear pattern happens in an oiled floor you apparently can just clean and then re-oil that area and it will end up blending pretty nicely.

Again, this is what I’m hearing from salespeople.  Does anyone have experience they can share about trying to keep up either type of hardwood finish?

I Spoke Too Soon

I hadn’t even finalized yesterday’s post— about how we had amazingly managed to not pick the most expensive cabinet designs– when we had another shopping trip that had a more expected outcome.

We decided to brave the frigid temperatures to check out Chelsea Plank Flooring.  The production facility and factory store are only about 10 minutes away from us and our builder highly recommended we consider that product.

So we made our way into their showroom– probably about 40 feet by 40 feet– and talked to one of the nice salesmen.  I wanted to hear more about prefinished floors versus site-finished floors among other inquiries and we both wanted to see the different style/color options.  And they have a pretty good selection.  The floor of the showroom was finished with at least a dozen, maybe more like 20, different options and then another 3 dozen or so samples were “installed” in about 2×4 foot sections on the walls all around.

We couldn’t have been there more than 5 minutes– just talking at the desk– when Stephanie pointed to one of the samples on the back wall to say she liked it.  To which the salesman replied, “you have excellent taste…that’s the most expensive product we sell.”

No joke.

I don’t think we had even gotten our bearings in there.  I know I hadn’t even seen 50% of the options, but my beautiful wife was able to find the most expensive one– distressed walnut– just like that.

To her credit, I like it too.  It does look very nice and even after trying to find something else that we both like as much or more, we were unsuccessful.  Here is a pic of the sample they had in the showroom.

There’s a lot more to investigate before we would be making a final decision.  Apparently walnut is a relatively soft wood so it would be more prone to damage.  The runner-up option we found was hickory and would be much tougher so more research is necessary.  Plus, I’m still not completely sold on the prefinished flooring.

More to come.

We Have Cheap Taste

Okay, that title’s a bit misleading.

What I should have said is that we don’t always have the most expensive taste… just most of the time.

A few years back, I was out car shopping and Stephanie was thinking about what her next car might be.  She casually pointed to an SUV parked at the dealership saying that she liked the look.  It was a Porsche Cayenne!  I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know that Porsche made an SUV, but that’s just how it goes.

I’m not any different, though.  When I was in high school, my family went to pick out a new dog. The breeder had quite a few puppies at the time (cocker spaniels).  It didn’t take long playing with them for me to fall in love with this little brown puppy with quite a lot of personality.  Decision was made.  As we were getting ready to check out– for lack of a better term– she mentioned that some of the puppies had chocolate coloring in their lineage that would come out if they were bred and the chocolate coloring carried a premium.  Sure enough, I looked down at Nugget and she had a chocolate nose, not black.  We had no intention of breeding, but that nose cost me an extra $100.

Anyway, back to the house.  We went out to look at kitchen design yesterday and tried to educate ourselves a bit about the different options.

And there are a lot of options, some of which I may tackle in future posts.  But, for now, I’ll focus on the topic at hand: how we actually didn’t have the most expensive taste possible when it comes to cabinets.

First off, I think we’ll just try to keep ourselves from even considering custom cabinets because I’m sure we would want them if we really investigated it.  Plus, from looking at the semi-custom cabinets that are available and knowing that we don’t have an irregularly shaped kitchen, we will definitely be able to get some really nice stuff without going custom.

The other conclusion that we came to was that we don’t want inset cabinets.  This was something I didn’t even know existed until the designer showed it to us.  In my mind, all cabinets are the like ones I’ve grown up with, with the door mounted on the front of the cabinet frame.  But it is also possible to have doors that are inset so that they are completely flush with the cabinet frame.  I can see how it would be appealing, but at least in the display we looked at, it wasn’t our thing.  And they would have been an added expense that we don’t have to worry about now… hallelujah!

(Sorry, I totally neglected my duty as a blogger to take a picture to show what we are talking about, and when I looked online, none of the pictures I can find are allowed to be reused, so just google “inset cabinets” to see some examples.)  #Fail

Again, inset cabinets probably can look really awesome.  Our impression might have been swayed by the fact that the display also happened to have lots of added details in the edges and moldings that we definitely don’t want, but we’re happy concluding that we don’t need or want inset cabinets.

Stakes in the Ground!

After months of just looking at preliminary floor plans and exterior elevations, we took a small step forward this past week and actually put some stakes in the ground at our building site.  This was a completely informal exercise that I did with our designer using just approximate property lines and a tape measure, but it still made things seem that much more real.

We had a couple of main reasons for wanting to do this.  Beyond simply seeing some sort of tangible progress, we wanted to see how close we needed to be to the required setbacks to avoid a large raised mound which is planned to be the septic field and also to see what the site will look like behind the house for pool construction.

The topography of our site has been a huge consideration in every aspect of our design.  While the site we chose is flatter than many of the others in the neighborhood, it is by no means flat.  We chose it because it gave us the best option for a usable backyard including a pool, but until we put stakes in the ground, we had no idea where the pool would sit on the slope that exists.  We put the stakes in assuming the house would be as close to the road as the setbacks require and hope to get some pool contractors out before everything is buried in snow so they can get a lay of the land and we can start some planning and budgeting for that part of the project.

Incidentally, this exercise proved to me that I’m terrible at estimating sizes.  When we staked off the setback from one side and I looked at the remaining space before hitting the raised mound on which we can’t build, I said “there is no way the house will fit in that space.”  But, after measuring off the width of the proposed foundation, we have at least 10 more feet of space that will probably allow us to slide the house over a bit.  And, it is amazing at how small it feels when all you have is stakes!  The building envelope is just over 2000 square feet and about 72 feet wide, but it seemed tiny.  I know that they say rooms feel small when they are empty, and that effect apparently gets magnified when you don’t even have walls.

Anyway, here are a couple of pictures to try and show you how it looks right now.

This first picture is oriented looking from what will be driveway toward the front of the house.  The stake in the middle of the frame is about where the front door will be although it will probably be a few feet higher that ground level there since the whole lot is sloping downward from where I’m standing.

staking-lot-01

This second picture is looking along the backside of the house.  The 4 stakes that are in a square represent the dining nook that will represent the back part of the foundation.  So, it starts to give a sense of the topography that exists behind the house, but it is still hard to really grasp.  The main floor, where that dining nook will actually be, will probably be 8-10 feet higher than the level where the stakes actually are.  We don’t know yet what will be in the walkout basement at that location.

staking-lot-02

Why, Elon Musk, Why?!

Why does Elon Musk have to come out with such appetizing products?

I already desperately want a Tesla car, but Elon made quite a few people scream, “Take my money!” when he recently showed off some pretty amazing designs for solar shingles in conjunction with an upgraded Powerwall to store extra energy.

While building a green home is not the most important goal of this project– we’re not willing to use a technology just because it is green if it doesn’t make fiscal sense or ruins the look or function of the home– we would love to be able to incorporate it as much as possible.  If we had more land, I would totally consider installing a solar array away from the house, but we don’t have that option.  And the previously available roof panels don’t give the look we like and would very possibly not be approved by the design review committee of our neighborhood anyway.

But the new shingles shown off at Tesla’s press event on Wisteria Lane (yes, they are only available for Desperate Housewives for now) look like normal high-end shingles from the street.  It’s only from more direct angles, like the angle the sunlight would hit them, that the underlying panels become apparent.  Quite an awesome design that they report loses very little energy.

Of course, this was just a preview and who knows how they will actually look or perform in mass production.

And there’s that little issue of price.  Really no details were shared on this issue other than to say that they expect (or maybe hope) that the added cost of these solar shingles will be offset by the savings in electricity.  Unfortunately, that’s way too vague.  If it is 5 years to break even, then it probably would make sense.  After all, normal roofs are expected to last upwards of 30 or more years.  Of course, since they will have electronic components– and we all know how quickly electronics makes leaps and bounds– owners of these roofs may need and/or want to “upgrade” them much sooner.  But if I’m expected to front a big cost that I wouldn’t recoup for a decade or more, it would be a lot harder to bite.

It will be very interesting to see more of the details as these get closer to production to see how many people they really make sense for and how they actually perform.  I imagine it will be like Tesla cars: very high-end and almost a novelty to begin with and trickling down to more average consumers over a few years.

In our case, they won’t really be an option, though, because they likely won’t be available till late 2017 and we better have a roof on our project before that.  Plus I don’t think I would want to be a day 1 adopter of something like this that will definitely command a premium price.  It will be very appealing as an upgrade down the road, however.

Now, about that Powerwall…