Wood floors

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I work on it at night. 

Yes, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but this discussion has started and I wanted to capture it.

You’d think you just go down to the big orange or blue box store and buy some hardwood. But no, that’s not how we’ll do it- mostly because they don’t sell what we want. There is a confusing amount of choices to make when it comes to floors. For our cabin, we get the luxury of installing the same floor throughout the entire 1st floor BEFORE we ever install any interior walls. It’s a perk of a LHBA log home because:

  1. 1. we don’t have any load bearing walls on the interior like they do in every episode of HGTV.
  2. 2. cutting the floor material every time you need to meet up with an interior wall is a pain.

What is the best type of floor for the home we are building? And by “best”, I mean:

  1. Durable
  2. Easy installation
  3. Cheap
  4. Long lasting
  5. Beautiful
  6. Practical

There are a lot of options, but here’s what we’ve looked at doing:

Type of floor

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concrete floors – http://www.concretenetwork.com/concrete/interiorfloors/design-ideas/log-cabin.html

There are concrete floors– Ronnie (of LHBA) does this a lot- and they look great. He installs pex before pouring, and then hooks it up to provide radiant heating. This requires at least a concrete slab, so it wasn’t an option for us since we planned on having a pier foundation. Plus, I really did want the pier foundation for two reasons: 1. lots of airflow to keep things cool under the house during the hot, humid summers we have in the south. 2. Even though our property shows up on the FEMA map as being 600 feet from the outermost band of a 1,000 year flood zone, I’m still not taking any chances, and piers gave the house an extra 3 feet of height, just in case.

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tile floor: https://www.offgridquest.com/images/1596/Log-house-kitchen-with-stone-tile-work_7062.png

Tile floors– this would be nice for spills and leaks, but I worry about getting it right everywhere- it must be perfectly level everywhere. Also, I have a piano to roll in there- I really don’t want to break tiles with that thing. And even though we have hot humid summers, my toes told me they don’t like cold tile in the morning.

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carpet with wood

Carpet – Well, we entertained the idea, but when looking at cabins with carpet in them- we both decided it just looks ugly to us. Maybe for the upstairs, but not the main floor. I personally feel like carpet holds dust, dust mites, and is generally bad for the air, but I was surprised that there are studies on both sides of the issue, and there’s a lot of disagreement on this idea. Either way, we thought it looked ugly in practice, so we’re not doing it.

This leaves wood. But not so fast- what kind of wood? engineered? solid? Hardwood? Softwood? What shape of edge- flat boards? Shiplap? Tongue and Groove (T&G)? What type of attachment method? Face nailing? Blind nailing? peel and stick? glue or no glue?

Wood Floors

I asked around on the LHBA forum- Rod said even the engineered stuff isn’t staying flat- he installed it in his camper. That was surprising. I thought it might be better, but I’m actually a snob and want real wood. So that narrows our choice down to either hardwood or softwood. The heavy piano is a problem. Even though I believe shellacking it *could* make it hard enough, I’d rather just install oak or something and *know* it’s hard enough.

But still- not so fast. I put red oak in my old house in Utah- it worked out great, but the boards were only about 2″ wide. For this cabin, we both agree that we want really wide planks- like 12″ wide. But the orange and blue people don’t sell them in that width normally, so we are going to have to use a lumberyard.

That still leaves the attachment method and the edge- T&G would probably be expensive for the mill do for us. I imagine shiplap to be cheaper and easier. Or, I’ve heard folks just doing planks with no edge and face nailing the planks. LogHouseNut (LHN) did this, and then used tung oil to protect the wood.

And on the face nailing issue, Rod was a purist- advocating “cut nails” over standard nails from a nailgun. I looked into cut nails- there’s a company that makes them using civil war era equipment – no joke. But LHN said he’s been disappointed that even though he went through all the trouble to use cut nails, not one person has ever asked about them. Probably because once they’re installed, the average person can’t tell the difference between the head of a cut nail and a regular nail.

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This guy has 1″x12″x12′ oak planks. And the same in pine. 

On a not-so-satisfying-note about wood floors- everywhere I read, they all agreed that wood floors must be installed cross-wise of the floor joists. My floor joists will have to run N-S, due to the layout of my pier foundation, which means my finished floor will have to run E-W, which means when you enter my front door, the floors will run left and right- I wanted them to run front-back (N-S). Oh well. I mean, I can’t easily move the piers…. 🙂

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And finally, there are a lot of determining factors on the width of the plank- some websites say they can only be installed in an area where the humidity only varies “a little”. They say Colorado is a terrible place for wide planks because the humidity can vary so much. But here in the south- we have high humidity most of the time- is this also bad? Nobody knows. And what do they mean by “bad”? Some say it doesn’t matter if you have an AC system. Also, they say don’t install wood floors before you have the AC working – need to keep the humidity level. But that would mean I’d need the house to pass the final inspection (can’t turn on the power until I get an ok from utilities), meaning – what? – I just leave the subfloor until I’m ready to move in? I don’t think so. No. I’m thinking these ‘experts’ might not be so expert when it comes to the real world.

Summary

We’d like to go with very wide – hopefully 12″ wide – oak plank floors, made from rough-sawn lumber, installed E-W, probably glued to subfloor, face-nailed with ring-shanked nails, and then slightly counter sunk. Floor sanded, stained, and then sealed. Oh, and it’ll come with a “if you ever want to remove it down the road, good luck” guarantee.

One guy on C-list sells a rough cut oak board (1″x12″x12′) for $18 each. I’ll need about 1600/12 = 133 boards. It looks like I can get 1600 square feet of  the stuff for about $2400 or less. I have never seen pictures of a floor with planks that wide in a cabin. If I can get out to the local mall, I might take a few of a floor I saw there with very wide planks. When I saw it, I just stopped and stared. I don’t even know what they sell in that store, but the floors are awesome!

Rain, Rain, go away

 

I need about a week of dry weather. Here’s the story:

Contacted my excavator- he still says he can dig 31 holes for about $400. He came out to look at my site on March 3, and said he can dig the holes any time I want, but he did  point out that I should have the plywood forms ready to drop in the holes the day he digs them. Which, at the time, I didn’t have any built, but I did have the plywood for them.

That sets up a few things that needed to happen:

Pour schedule

Day 0: foundation is dug, forms are ready to put in ground, rebar is onsite, and cut to size.

Day 1: level holes, install forms.

Day 2: Orient forms perfectly so the rebar will be ready to accept logs. The whole focus is to ensure the line of rebar sticking out of the tops of the piers is within 1/16″  perfectly lined up along the center of each line of piers along each side of the house. This helps with attaching the dreaded first layer of logs to the foundation, which is a pain, from what I hear.

Day 3: get pre-pour inspection done. Not sure what to expect here, but this is one of the inspections required by the city. I assume they are checking code to ensure piers are a minimum of 12″ below grade.

Day 4: pour concrete and place rebar in the forms.

Day 11:? pull plywood off forms. I think I wait a week after the pour to remove the plywood.
I have to do this over a short time period (think: days), because I think my forms (due to winter water damage) probably can’t take any more moisture. I don’t want them sitting around in the rain in holes in the ground while my rebar is on order, or while I try to get them oriented correctly. I just want to get them in the ground, orient them, get them inspected, and pour the concrete- preferably over the span of 2-3 dry days.

I did a final calculation on the volume of concrete needed. It’s a little tricky to calculate the volume of a “truncated regular pyramid”:

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Fortunately, the internet is a fantastic place for letting someone else do the heavy lifting, and there’s a website that will calculate the volume if you provide the a,b, & h. Turns out I need 0.66 cubic yards for each of my smaller forms (28), and 1.28 cubic yards for the larger forms (3), for a total of about 23 yards of concrete (about $2300).

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Building the forms

I left the property after talking to Juni (the excavator) to go home and build forms. I built them all afternoon, and most of the next day (Saturday). Then I spent all week (when it wasn’t raining) building more. I almost finished building all 31 after a week of work. I need to put together the last three (which are the big ones- 54″x54″ base, 45 1/4″ tall).

My plywood was covered by a tarp all winter, but it still soaked up some water, which worries me. Concrete weighs about 3,700 pounds per cubic yard, and each pier is about 0.66 cubic yards, so I can figure about 2,400 pounds per pier. So the forms have to withstand 65 pounds per square foot (at least at the top). I also have to worry about the corners of the forms blowing out, or the bottoms, or maybe the whole pier will lift when the concrete is poured. I plan on using the extra dirt from the excavation to hold the forms down during the pour, and I’m adding collars to each one- found a cheap place (Mike’s Merchandise) to buy bolts – they sell surplus bolts and nuts for $1.00 per pound (13 nuts and bolts were a pound). I bought all they had in one size and ended up at about $20 of bolts- enough to do about 70% of the collars. If I had bought the same bolts at HomeDepot, it would have cost me $1.00 per bolt/nut, meaning, I would have paid about $372.00. So, my deal of $20-$30 is pretty cheap. Pays to shop around.

After building the forms, I have this huge pile of scrap leftover that I plan on using as part of the collars to strengthen the forms.

Getting Utilities installed

This has to be done before I can pass inspection- must have running water on site before you can pour concrete.

I went in January to get the utilities installed, but the utility company said I had to have a building permit. I went to the city to get the building permit, and they said I had to have utilities installed. Arggh! Will someone just please take my money so I can build?

I went back today, after getting the building permit- and they said, “Oh, do you have a copy of your building permit?” Well…..yes….posted out there on the property, like the city requires…. No matter- have to wait for the city electrical engineer to go out now (something else they didn’t mention last time….) and decide whether there’s enough power in the area to drop a line onto my property. She said she’ll take a picture of the permit while she’s out there tomorrow.

And I got the quote, too: normally, they come out and install a temporary utility pole with the meter on it. When you’re done building, you move the meter onto your house, and they come get the temporary pole. Of course, my build can’t be that simple, no- there’s no poles near my property – they are all across the street. So I have to pay for a permanent pole, plus a temporary pole (not sure why they can’t be the same). I also have to pay for a transformer. Expected cost: $5,000 for water, $385 for the temporary pole, and  $1800 for the permanent drop. Things are adding up…..

Sourcing Rebar

HomeDepot (hate to pick on them because they actually do sell 2×4’s for a good price, and they do have a lot of stuff in stock when you need it) sells rebar for about $0.50 per foot.

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On the LHBA forum, there’s a section for posting “Craigslist finds”. On there, I discovered $0.30  per foot is a good deal. And just the other day, an advertisement popped up in my search:

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I did the math- 7,000 ft for $1,000 works out to $0.14 per foot- a screaming deal. Except the guy (or gal, I guess), didn’t leave a phone number. Of course, 7,000 feet of rebar weighs 7,000 x .668 = 4676 lbs, so I’d need a bigger trailer (I think mine is rated for 2,000 pounds). But I only need 2600 feet for the cabin, and maybe half that for the garage. In the end, I could probably sell the scrap, and make my money back. In the end, the guy didn’t post any contact info- I pressed the “let poster know they didn’t leave any contact info” button. Several times. And again yesterday. And today. Twice. Maybe three times.

So I looked again for other ads, and found this guy in Decatur that says he’ll beat any price. I called him, and he did- $0.29 per foot. And he’ll cut it for free.  The old “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” holds true. And he spent all week last week cutting out plywood for forms for a house he’s building for himself. He wants the rain to go away, too…..

Summary

All of this adds up, of course, to a lot of money, time, and exhaustion. The main thing I’m worried about is that my forms don’t get left in the rain for days while I wait for an inspection, or the concrete, or the excavation. Getting all the materials, inspections, installations, and people lined up is quite an adventure. But once the foundation is done, the next adventure begins: getting ready to stack logs.

Sawmills

We’re going to need a sawmill. Pricing out the cost of lumber for the flooring and the interior of the roof shows me that the lumber alone would cost about $11,000 by itself. If I can get a sawmill for $3-4,000, that saves me about $7,000. Plus, if I get the logs for free or nearly free, it’s quite an investment. Besides, what man out there does not want a sawmill? Even if you don’t know anything about carpentry or woodwork (or, like me, have never even used a sawmill before), having a sawmill just sitting in your garage says, “A man lives here.”  On the other hand, sawmills can quickly get expensive. It’s common to see an advertisement on Craigslist for a $42,000 sawmill, so let’s not go crazy here. I narrowed it down to three:

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Woodland Mills HM126

The Woodland Mills HM126 has a 9.5 HP engine, can cut a 26″x10′ log, plus longer logs as well. $2,800 is a pretty good deal.

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Timbery M100

For the same price, the Timbery M100 is another good looking portable sawmill with the same basic features.

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Burg Sawmill

And then there’s this one: 36″ capacity for $3700. Made by some company called Burg Sawmills out in Oregon or somewhere 16 HP Honda engine, and two 10′ sections of track.

I like certain things about each of them, so I’ll have to narrow it down.

Some of the logistical problems:

Portability: so, I get this sawmill, haul it down to the property, set it up (which could take a while because it’s heavy – maybe 1,000 lbs, and it has to be absolutely level to use), start sawing wood, and then at the end of each day, pack it back up so it doesn’t get stolen? Or do I build a shed to keep it in temporarily? Maybe I get a trailer to put it on (more expense)?

Timing: Looks like it takes about a year to get usable lumber out of logs because of the drying time – something like 9 months. Since I’ll be using some of the lumber I saw for the roof, getting my first board cut using the sawmill kind of sets up the timeline for when I’ll be able to use that board 9 months later.

I’ll also need a tractor to load the logs on the rail (and then what do I do with the tractor when not in use?), but that’s a post for another day…

 

Update (4/27/17):

I ended up buying an HudSon Oscar 121 mill from a LHBA member up in TN. I’ve made a few cuts on a scrap 400 lb+ maple log someone left in their front yard. You can see a photo of the sawmill here.

Cost analysis

I got bored while looking for land, so I priced out all the materials I could think of that I will need to build this log home. I went to HomeDepot online, and just looked there for everything. I’m sure that I can get stuff cheaper if I keep my eyes open- for example, I saw an ad recently on Craigslist for 3/4″ OSB for $7.00/sheet.

The cost is very surprising. Assuming I can get the logs for free (I found a Craigslist ad for a guy that wants someone to come take 50 mature trees out of his yard), everything else prices out as below. I’d have to hire a logging truck to come pick up the logs, but I already found out it’s about $300 or less. So, here’s my price list: log-home-cost-analysis

For less than $10,000, I get the shell. That includes a sawmill, a chainsaw, other tools, concrete for the foundation, the logs, the spikes, and the roof. I forgot to add one thing: a tractor. Found out I’m going to need a way to load the logs onto the sawmill, dig holes, drag chains attached to pulleys, level the ground, build driveways, move dirt, and basically lift heavy stuff. I’ve been looking, and it appears I can get one for about $3500, so the shell will cost about $13,000.

The whole thing (not including the land) will cost about $40,000. I’m using the sawmill to make the beams, and also the flooring. We may even do concrete counter-tops like this: concrete-countertop

Our plan right now is 36’x48′ two levels, with 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, an atrium for plants, and a balcony. $40,000 for a 3,000 sq ft log home is pretty darn cheap!