Jun 4, 2012

Go Hardwood or Go Home

So.... I showed you the very first house updates (oh, the wonders of paint!!) in our kitchen and den (check them out here). Other must-do-before-we-move-in projects - for which my parents tracked down contractors - included:

-hall bathroom: remove mirror tiles, spackle, prime
-master bathroom: remove wallpaper, spackle, prime
-remove border in guest room
-general patching of holes throughout the house

As I've mentioned, my parents rock, and these projects were all taken care of before we even moved back to Nashville. Paying pros was obviously not as cheap as DIY, but it was all still pretty affordable.

But once Ben and I were back, we had to finally make a big (and expensive) decision we'd been putting off: to put in new floors or not to put in new floors? The entire house was carpeted in off white (check out our den in the photo above), and I had visions of Bosco's black dog hair instantly layering over that carpeting. Not to mention that the carpeting was just plain old and it was hard to know what amount of crud we'd be inheriting! So we got down to the business of crunching numbers, setting a budget, and then visiting as many flooring stores as we could manage to drag Max to in the course of a week. We ultimately decided that new flooring was a must for our main living spaces (the den, kitchen, living room and hallway), but that we'd live with the carpeting in the bedrooms for now and get them professionally steam-cleaned. Sidenote: we were living in my parents' house at this point! We wanted to finish our floors before moving in with Max, since flooring would entail lots of debris, noise, and a generally dysfunctional house for a week or so. All this to say - we needed to get this flooring show on the road.

We considered all different types of flooring - solid versus engineered hardwood, bamboo, laminate, vinyl, even cork - and pretty quickly narrowed it down to either solid or engineered hardwood. Engineered hardwood can be a bit more durable and less prone to warping, but it can't be refinished as many times as solid wood. Secretly, I was in love with pine flooring in a pale whitewashed finish, but I had to let that dream go. Between a kiddo, my clumsy self and a big dog with sharp claws (pine is a soft wood that scratches easily), it was pretty much the least practical solution imaginable, but just look how pretty...

via KITKA design toronto
My next love was white oak floors with a very pale stain. And I really wanted wider planks than the standard 3". Something like this:

via Desire to Inspire
The most economical choice seemed to be pre-finished oak, since the labor involved in installing it is minimal; the planks basically snap together and no extra finishing is required once they're in place. But no matter how nicely made the pre-finished boards were, there was always a bit of a groove between each plank of flooring. The last condo we rented in Calgary had grooves in the floors, and those darn things drove me crazy! Gunk and dog hair got stuck in them, and I never felt like I could quite get the floors clean. After lots of research and deliberation, here's what I wanted:

1) Solid white oak
2) At least 4" wide
3) Unfinished, so that it could be sanded, stained and finished in the house (which is really the only way to get a nice smooth surface)

It took some digging, but eventually I tracked down a local lumber company, Middle Tennessee Lumber, called them up and got an amazing price for 5" unfinished white oak. We used a contractor recommended by the lumber company, and were able to get everything done exactly on budget. Success! Not to mention that buying lumber locally made me feel extra eco-friendly (no shipping cross country or overseas, as we learned that lots of flooring comes from China = lower fuel emissions AND the wood comes from sustainable foresting practices.) I think it's kind of cool, too, that our floors are from Appalachian forests in our own home state. Here's the floors after they were laid, but still unfinished, in the kitchen and living room:

The only hurdle left was deciding how to finish the floors. I was fresh off a trip to Denmark, and was obsessed with the floors my families had in their homes there - either pine or oak, treated with mineral oil. No stain, no protective top coat, just mineral oil. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anybody in Nashville who knew much about this finishing style. Those who did actually know what it was, would not do it because they claimed it was a fire hazard. Ack! I ultimately decided to use a water-based stain and topcoat by Bona. It's one of the most eco-friendly, low VOC options available, so I felt good about the choice. And it came highly recommended across the board. I used their satin-finish topcoat, which gave just a bit of sheen, but mostly let the wood's natural beauty show through. One thing I'd disliked about so many of the pre-finished floors I saw in stores was their overly glossy top coat. I didn't want to see my reflection, just protect the floors a little! Anyway, here's how they came out. I love our floors :)

We've now lived with our floors for close to a year, and they have held up wonderfully. I'm actually pretty relieved that we didn't go with the mineral oil finish, which requires more maintenance and can be more susceptible to staining and water damage. We are a family who is really rough on our house, and every time Max dumps over Bosco's water bowl, or throws globs of oatmeal on the floor, or takes off his diaper and pees in the middle of the den, I thank the contractor who talked me into using a Bona topcoat, because everything just wipes right off.

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