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?

We Started Appliance Shopping

Our builder is hoping to work on a first estimate during the month of January, so they have asked us to start working on selections, which is very exciting, but equally stressful.

We need to pick– or let someone else pick– everything about our house.  That’s the double-edged sword of building a custom home.  We have ultimate freedom to create whatever we want– within constraints of the budget, of course– but have hundreds of decisions to make.

I’m sure I’ll spend some time here discussing many of the bigger decisions for us that will keep me up late at night researching, but the prospect of all the little decisions– like trim shape or cabinet pulls– has me stressed enough.

All of these decisions will not only determine the look, feel, comfort and durability of our home, but they will significantly impact the bottom line.

We are getting good guidance from our builder and they have narrowed some of the massive options out there so we aren’t, for example, trying to research every single hardwood floor provider in the area.  As a result we’ve been pointed in the direction of trusted, local resources for specific things.

One of those recommendations is Big Georges Home Appliance Mart here in Ann Arbor.  It happens to be right down the street from my daughter’s swimming lessons, so we decided to stop by today after her class.

Appliances are definitely one of those items that could majorly swing a budget.  Big George’s has ranges listed on their website over $18,000 and I know there are ranges out there that easily exceed that price.  (No, we aren’t going to be spending that type of money.)  A nice kitchen appliance package could easily be $6000 and as soon as you start talking about a cooktop with separate wall ovens, vent hoods, built-in microwaves and a refrigerator and dishwasher with some of the latest bells and whistles, the price starts to soar.

I was hoping today’s visit would allow 3 main things:

  • Determine a general style/feel.  I know that Stephanie doesn’t care for pieces that have too much of an industrial appearance.  I do actually kind of like the look, but won’t be sad that we don’t select a pricey Wolf cooktop that really exemplifies that style.  I think we saw things that we both like that are industrial enough, but don’t look like Wolfgang Puck should be using them.
  • Figure out which pieces we want and sizes.  One of the other big things we need to figure out to make the estimate as helpful and accurate as possible is the kitchen cabinets and counters.  So, we need to meet with a kitchen designer to figure out what cabinets we need and how much counter space will be present  Knowing, for example, that we probably will go with a 36 inch cooktop with separate wall oven(s) vs an integrated range will affect those plans.
  • Try to start narrowing brands.  If we knew we needed/wanted to have a  specific brand, that could certainly have budget implications, but we really didn’t have enough time to get to that level of decision making today.  Lunch time snuck up on us quickly and our daughter got fussy.  That was probably just as well, though, because we won’t be actually purchasing the appliances for 8 or 9 months probably, so who knows what new features or designs could come out by then

What I wasn’t hoping for was to create new questions that need answering.

And that’s when the salesman mentioned induction heating.  I had always assumed that we would have gas burners since that’s what I’ve used for nearly my entire life (our rental house has electric burners, but otherwise, it’s always been gas).  But hearing about how induction heating is more efficient than gas, easier to clean up since it is just one smooth surface, faster to boil water (we love our pasta!), but still very responsive like gas has me very intrigued.

As one might expect, an induction cooktop is more expensive than the other options.  In fact, it appears to be double the price of a gas cooktop if not more in some cases.  Beyond that, I am concerned about durability.  I don’t want to always worry that I’m gonna put a pot down too hard or slide it across the surface and leave a scratch.

So, now I’ve got something else to research.  I’ll let you know what we decide.

Please share any thoughts you have that could help us out regarding induction vs gas or anything else about appliance selection.

Who Knows about Pools?

One of my motivations for starting this site is the hope that we’ll be able to get helpful feedback and advice about the many decisions we will have to be making during this process.  Whether that’s deciding between 2 paint color options or, in this case, a much bigger decision, I welcome others’ input.

When we decided to move off the lake, we knew that we would miss the water, so we pretty quickly decided that we needed to include a pool in our plans.

But neither of us has ever had a pool, so there is a ton to learn before jumping into what will be a very expensive project all its own.  Our community guidelines require an inground pool, which we would have done anyways, but before starting this research, I wasn’t familiar with the different types of pools.  Fiberglass, vinyl liner and concrete — plus some companies do hybrids of these techniques– all have their proponents.  And, of course, most people are very loyal to their preferred method and are quick to bash the others.

pool-planning

 

So, I’m hoping that people out there can provide some advice.

  • Do you have a pool or at least have you researched them?
  • What kind did you get and why?
  • Has there been anything about your pool that surprised or disappointed you?
  • If you were planning a new pool right now, what factors would push you to one pool type over another and why?
  • Any other advice?

Thanks in advance.

We will definitely keep you posted as we explore more and make some decisions.

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

Introduction

Well, this should have been the first post on this site, but I hadn’t gotten around to finishing it before we received builder approval and, in the spirit of this being a diary, I thought that post should be published in real time as it happened.  I hope to provide mostly real time progress reports, but so much has happened over the past handful of years to get us to where we are right now that I will definitely be recounting some of that journey as well.

So, let’s take some steps back to quickly bring you up to speed.

As of the writing of this post, we are (hopefully) about 7 months away from breaking ground on our dream home.  We will be building a custom home in Southeast Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor.

Just about a year ago, we purchased our lot in a developed community.  I plan to recount the stressful process of picking the right location in a separate post, but suffice it to say that I had quite a number of days that I laid awake in bed trying to figure out the right decision.  I really think we ended up making the right decision, but it did require some compromise (I foresee much more of that in our future!)

That was actually a very big step for us, though, as we had previously been planning to knock down the house we had been living in and build on that lot.  Making the decision to leave the lake we had been living on– yeah, I know, how could we leave the lake?– was a huge surprise to everyone, including ourselves.  That decision deserves its own post for sure.

Anyway, thanks for joining us to follow this process.