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…. 🙂

Capture

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!

Roof – Part 2: Insulation and other materials

What is a Built Up Roof?

 

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This style of roof is also known as a cathedral roof or ceiling. But the simplest answer is a built up roof is a roof where the insulation is on top of what you see from the inside – different from a roof where the insulation is inside and below the roof. A log home can be built with a conventional roof, but nobody wants to walk into a log home and look up to a white dry wall ceiling. Besides, according to a lot of folks who’ve done both styles- the built up roof is only a little more expensive, and it can be argued that it’s even less expensive if you are doing your own labor, if you consider the amount of work to install bats on the inside of the home rather than the top of the roof.

Materials for this roof

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Similar to this roof…

The roof of my butt & pass log home starts with three RPSL’s (Ridge Pole Support Logs), which sit on three 18″x36″ piers that have a six foot square base, buried three feet in the ground. I estimate these piers to be able to support 50,000 lbs each, although the roof will probably only weigh about 70,000 lbs total.

The RPSL’s support a 56′ x 30″ sweet gum Ridge Pole, 30′ in the air.

5″x12″x27.5′ rafters spaced 4 feet apart rest on the walls and the Ridge Pole, spiked with rebar at their attachment points.

2″x6″ tongue and groove (T&G) decking are nailed to the rafters, with 8′ of overhang past the walls of the home at the gable ends, and 4′ of overhang on the eaves.

A synthetic underlayment goes over the top of the decking.

2″x10″ sleepers form a box frame around the solid foam insulation, but only on the insulated portion of the home.  They are spaced every 4′.  Outside of the home, on the overhang areas, shingles are applied to the underlayment, along with a drip edge and soffits.

On top of the insulation is plywood decking, tar paper, and then shingles.

Eventually, we’ll do a metal roof, but I really like the idea that for now my roof will be protected by plywood and shingles, where, if we just did metal, we could forget the plywood, and just screw the metal directly through the foam and into the rafters and decking. That extra umph from the plywood and shingles gives me some peace of mind.

When you buy used….

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I’ve scoured craigslist for insulation for almost a year, and finally got a hit from a guy removing insulation from a senior retirement complex and selling it for $6 for a full sheet. I rented a U-Haul, attached my trailer, and stuffed that thing to the gills with as much foam as I could get in there – which was only $400 worth of foam. I hired my step-son Arthur to help on his day off, and it was a smart move- he worked hard and we had no problems on the road.

With all that, I think I have enough. Alabama requires roof insulation to be R30 or better. The manufacturer of the foam I bought claims R-value of 4.6 / inch. So, an 8″ thick sheet would have an R-value of 8 x 4.6 = R36.8. I wanted to get to R50, but would need bigger sleepers, a ton more foam, and it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, my wife doesn’t like the roof any thicker than it has to be, so 8″ thick it is.

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At first, I was worried about the foam because it slopes by about 0.75″ – 1″, due to the way the previous roofer installed it on the retirement home, so I set up my foam cutter to slice the foam flat. Here’s a video of that.

Later, I decided that since I only need to meet or beat R-30, having all the pieces perfectly flat isn’t all that important, as long as I get to 8″, I’ll be fine. More important is that the foam is four feet wide, and the sleepers are spaced four feet apart on center. This means I had to cut 1.5″ off the foam to make it fit in between the sleepers. Some folks used a saw, but that is messy. I wanted something better, so I turned the foam cutter on its side and used it to slice off 1.5″. I used a borrowed Rheostat transformer from my buddy, Ellery. Here it is in action again.

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Careful…that wire is red-hot
I also got the lumber, used, from a local guy….who said he was going to use it to build a cabin, but had too many other projects on his plate. We talked for a good hour at his house- he informed me that I could get a residential builders license just by taking a test and paying a fee. I’ve always thought to become a General Contractor, you had to work for a General Contractor for two years, but they are not the same thing. So now, I’m thinking about this idea……

Trimming the edge

I put the decking on the roof, knowing that I was going to come back later and trim up the ends of it. Turned out to be very scary and took a lot of motivation to get up there and cut it. I originally thought that I would have to “square the roof” to make it look right, but my buddy Ronnie said, “any thought of making the roof square should’ve gone out the window when you started building with logs.”  I think he’s right- my logs are crooked, the Ridge Pole has a slight bow in it, the RPSL’s are no better, the cap logs are off, the rafters are homemade- nothing lines up, so….If I go off and have this perfectly square roof sitting up there, it’ll look cock-eyed from the ground when compared to the rest of the house. What I ended up doing was following Ronnie’s advice: just snap a chalk line about 2.5′ from the last rafter (the one that sticks out the farthest), and run a skilsaw up the edge.

As a one man show with no man-lift, I made a tool out of rebar that I could slip over the end of the decking to “feel” where the rafter was, and then use that as a reference to snap the chalk line.

Here’s a video of me with the tool I made to help line up my cuts.

Cutting with the skill saw on the edge of the roof, and knowing that the saw could jump out of my hand at any moment, thirty feet in the air- it was all quite unnerving. I tied on, and also used one hand to hold the rope while I ran the saw with the other hand. I think it turned out great, and I’m the only one who can see the little wobbles here and there (they are not that bad, I’m just saying I know there are some ;).

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Next up…

I build a shingle elevator to get everything up on the roof. I need to get the 2×10’s up there, set them at 4′ apart, then screw them to the roof. I need to frame all around them and inside so I have a place to screw the plywood to that will sit atop the foam insulation. But I need quite a few days of dry weather to make sure the foam doesn’t get wet.

 

Roof – Part 1: Decking

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Buying the Decking

I searched high and low for a good price on the decking. The plans call for 2×6 Tongue & Groove, preferably in 16 foot lengths. Yes, 2 inches by 6 inches. It sounded really thick, and when I started looking on Craigslist, I could only find advertisements for 1×6. I checked the plans- nope, 2×6. I called the orange box people – they don’t sell it, and can’t even order it. I checked local mills, but you need a large volume mill – the equipment to make it is expensive. I finally found a supplier in Guntersville- just a few miles down the road. They had it for about $0.95 per foot. I ended up paying about $8,000 for a bunch of it. They delivered and unloaded it for $25.

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Polyurethane

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I decided after talking to another LHBA member to polyurethane the boards before I put them up. Otherwise, you can crane your neck and do it after they are installed. That didn’t sound fun, so I laid out all the boards on the ground and bought 5 gallons of water based polyurethane. I actually bought every gallon of water based polyurethane in town. Went to 3 different orange box stores and bought them all out. The blue people didn’t have any. Then I spent 2 days painting them all. Then another day stacking them back up into piles.

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First layer is the hardest

If you set the first layer incorrectly, when you reach the roof, your decking will be all cockeyed and stuff. The only way I could figure to get it correct was to measure from the exact intersection of the rafters down to the ends of the rafters. I had to “scary climb” up to the Ridgepole, set the tape, throw the tape measure off the house, go down to the ground to get it, go back up the ladder and measure to the end of the rafter. I had to do this 4 times- twice for each end of the house.

Then I ran a string between these two points, and put a nail on the string at each point it touched the rafters. Then I nailed up the first boards, using these nails as stops. After about 6 rows, I had enough to stand on, and now had to think about getting the bulk of the 500 boards up on the roof.

 

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After all this, when I got up to the peak, it is still off by an inch or two. I figure this is due to not all the tongues and grooves fitting together perfectly. In my defense, there’s about 60 rows of boards on each side of the roof. Stuff is going to get out of wack over that distance. No matter, I’ll trim the last board a bit, maybe add some flashing just in case, and nobody will be able to tell.

Getting it up on the roof

 

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I tried sneaking it in through the gable ends, but as the rows got higher, I ran out of space. Then I tried with a pulley to pull them up using the ladder as a rail, and the tractor on the opposite side of the house. I finally just pulled them up with a rope and pulley and nailed a pressure-treated 2×8 nailed to the rafters to prevent the boards from gouging the already-installed decking. Video here.

Installation pattern & finishing up

The manufacturer recommends one nail per rafter, 4 foot spacing between rafters, and staggering the joints. The brochure shows a couple of options. I put 2 nails per rafter, and used ring shank nails and a nail gun and air compressor. I also used a skillsaw when necessary to cut the ends off. I still need to go back and trim the decking to a one foot overhang past the ridge pole and cap logs. That will be scary- out on the edge of the roof, sawing the ends off.

Since the rafters are 48″ on center (4′ apart), and the T&G decking is 16 feet long, things tend to match up nicely. Also doesn’t hurt that I made my rafters 5 inches wide instead of 4 inches wide- provides more surface to nail the decking.

 

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I left the rafters with overlap at the peak until now- it’s too dangerous to trim the overlaps before the decking is on. A friend recommended not trying to pin them until the decking was close enough to the top to provide a place to sit while installing them. It was good advice- even with the decking up close to where I could stand while I pinned the rafters, and even with being tied onto the roof- that 65 pound jackhammer could jump off the rebar at anytime and possibly throw me off the roof. It ended up not helping anyway- that ridge pole made out of sweet gum is very very hard- the jackhammer couldn’t pound the rebar into it. I had to resort to my sledge hammer. Even then, I bent a few pins trying to hammer them into that tough wood. Video here.

Underlayment

Underlayment is either tar paper or a synthetic sheet that allows the house to breathe, but keeps the moisture out. Water gets out of the house, but can’t come in. There’s a lot of debate over exactly where to place the underlayment on a built up roof. Talking with other LHBA members, I decided to place it directly on the decking. Tar paper is good stuff- it’s been in use for a hundred years and works great. But it only has a 30 day UV exposure rating. Knowing how slow I’m going, I needed something with a better rating- the synthetic I went with has a 90 day UV rating. I bought 4 rolls of it: 1,000 sq ft coverage per roll. It was about $60 a roll.

Installing the underlayment means we’ve reached an important point in the build: for the first time, my logs are out of the weather since I cut down that first tree so long ago. It is a huge, huge relief to reach this point. During the first rainstorm after installing the underlayment, I just stood inside the house, listening to the rain, but not feeling it. It is very humbling and satisfying to reach this point. We’ve got a ways to go yet to full “weather proof”, but I’ll take a little victory lap for now.

Next steps

Roof insulation and finishing the roof: I have to decide between solid foam and spray foam. Solid foam might be slightly cheaper, but I have to have a thicker roof- 12″ thick compared to possibly only 6″ thick if I go with spray foam. I also have to install “sleepers”, which are like ribs- they lay on the roof and provide a space for the insulation to lay in.  The sleepers can just be normal 2×6’s or 2×12’s. Or engineered wood I-beams. OSB goes on top of that (if using shingles), or furring strips (if using metal roof).