Floors by Christmas or Bust

First Christmas in Tennessee is in the books! We had snow blow in on Christmas Eve night, giving us a nice dusting before Santa came. We mostly just sat around eating far too much while the kids destroyed the house with their loot. And honestly, it was pretty perfect…well, besides the fact that Saylor discovered chocolate this Christmas and has decided she doesn’t eat anything else now. She’s a tad hungry today as she has entered detox. It was nice to have a full 24 hours with no sawing, construction messes, or decisions to make (and remake)!

We are in the middle of the first wave of wood flooring going in (at last!!) The plan and hope was for it to be installed just before Christmas. That was a bust, and then the goal became New Years. We are now going for Valentine’s. The floors in this house were old brown carpet (circa 90’s or maybe as late as 2000), very old carpet – part in cat-barf peach color and some in a golden shaggy brown (I’m thinking both originals from the build in ’75) green and gold linoleum, tan linoleum and wood laminate. Upstairs, everything was pulled and subfloor replaced before we ever moved in.

our lovely master in the beginning. ya…we pulled that before moving in

We have tiled both upstairs bathrooms and installed new carpet up there leaving only the hall and stairs to be dealt with. Downstairs, we haven’t replaced any floors yet but we removed all of the super old carpet and replaced subfloor in the living room that we recently vaulted. Ronny tends to likes carpet and I strongly prefer hardwood; so the agreement we have come to is carpet in bedrooms and hardwood everywhere else except for the bathrooms which are (and one which will be) tile. The plan is to do the hardwood in three phases with the first phase being the upstairs hall, stairs, entryway, and living room.

I think the most indecisive we have been yet is with this flooring. We have actually made the final decision, (as in bought and purchased), THREE times. If you’re mulling over wood floors, I hope our struggle helps you. Everyone says you have three basic options: hardwood, engineered, or laminate. I’m not a fan of this categorizing because it doesn’t help you make the biggest decisions. My opinion is you have three choices to make, each with two options each, and all intertwined – meaning it doesn’t lend itself nicely to a decision flowchart (bummer!). I’m not even going to include laminate as an option here because it isn’t wood. Of course I’m biased (everyone is and if they say they aren’t they are simply lying) and I’m also honest so here goes; laminate is fake wood and it looks and feels like crap. Ok, now that I got that out, you have two options for decision #1: full hardwood or engineered. Full hardwood is just like it sounds – planks of real hardwood, nothing changed, nothing added. Engineered is several layers of both hardwood and plywood, arranged in different directional layers making it stronger and less prone to warping and bowing. The top layer is actual hardwood. The names are misleading because engineered is actually harder and hardwood is simply in its unaltered organic state.

I went into this project with a solid opinion; hardwood is the real deal and it’s what I want. Ronny, being all about using tech to make something better than it originally was, was all about engineered. We did a lot of shopping and a lot of talking. Most of the flooring people I talked to were quite pushy about engineered and while they had great selling points, I felt like I was being sold. I do not like sales and I do not like being sold. I want to be shown all of the options honestly and shown straight up the pros and cons of each. As I picked the brains of builders, I learned they lean towards real wood for the most part. They like the timelessness of it, the fact that you can sand and restain as styles change over the years, and the foot feel. As I talked to dealers, they leaned towards engineered -some very heavily, telling me straight up NOT to do full hardwood in this house (probably because they were watching my precious children pushing chairs around the house, throwing sharp edged toys, and biting on things). When I talked to anyone experienced with resale and flipping they said you could go either way, as long as it looks good and is installed well. Before you assume it’s a clear cut issue for you, you need to also strongly consider where you live and how old the house is (we are still on decision #1 in case you were wondering). Hardwood will expand and contract over time and can warp. Sometimes just a touch, giving it that real life natural element appeal, but sometimes quite heavily making it bow and gap and heaven forbid leave holes big enough for water to get into and then you have some very serious issues.

Which brings us to decision #2: how big do you want your planks to be? Humidity is a deal breaker with location and bigger planks lend to greater warping. If you live in Nevada, you don’t have to worry about this at all. Go as big as you like on those real wood suckers and no dramas. If you live in Tennessee, installers don’t recommend going above 5” and several builders I talked to urged me to not go larger than 4”, with 3” being more ideal. Next, you need to weigh in on how old the house is (drafty holes, giving way to imperfect temperature control, type of basement/crawlspace you have, and how controlled you regularly keep the temperatures). This house scored pretty low to start in these areas, but we have made a ton of improvements here. Shortly after we moved in, we encapsulated the crawlspace, meaning we had the dirt in the dungeon leveled, the surface lined with a 20ml polyethylene cover, and a humidifier installed. This area is our storage now and all the flooring people who have seen it have pretty much said that it’s good to go with whatever kind of flooring we choose.

Holes…ya we are still working on those just a bit. With temperature regulation we score pretty well now. We installed a separate AC unit for the upstairs and just last month the downstairs unit, which we knew we were on borrowed time with, kicked the bucket and had to be replaced. With acclimation, the rule of thumb is that full hardwood should sit in the room for 1-2 weeks before install (depending on who you talk to) but some say to be honest, full wood acclimation never really happens so this isn’t a sure fix – especially if your house is not perfectly climate controlled. So if you live in an area with humidity and you want real wood, you need to go smaller on the plank size. I do like medium to larger planks, which makes this tricky.

And finally, decision #3: unstained/unfinished or pre-finished? I originally thought that this was a no- brainer since it would be automatically answered after I chose hard or engineered…wrong again. Hardwood can come finished and ready to go as is, or unfinished and sanded and stained to your liking. To my surprise, engineered can as well. While most comes pre-finished, some comes with a thicker top layer and is sanded and stained (or lacquered) after install. The expectation of pre-finished is that what you see when you shop is what you get when it’s installed. You don’t need to worry about the skill of your installer, the shade coming out a bit wrong, or a dust mess in your house post install. If going unfinished, the skill of your flooring installer matters as they will be matching to what you want, or perhaps to some other wood already in your home. Pre-finished is faster and less mess while you will likely need to get out of the house for a few days for them to sand and stain if going with unfinished.

Ya, it’s a lot to digest! And I didn’t even touch on pricing which is a whole other ballgame. After doing our research, which I feel we did adequately, Ronny won and we decided to go with Costco’s engineered. But as we looked at options and prices, I became more and more unenthused with it. It was expensive and that top layer of real wood was super thin and I just…wasn’t feeling it. So we took advantage of a sale going on at a liquidation lumber store. We switched gears and bought 5” hardwood birch planks in a really beautiful lighter shade. We ordered enough for the entire three phases we plan to do and we returned home to get ready for our new floors by Christmas. Then about 5 days later, Ronny was talking to someone who really strongly recommended a different flooring dealer and discouraged him from birch altogether. He also guaranteed that their prices would be better than the liquidator’s prices we got. So we did what we seem to always do…returned what we bought and started over (we have serious issues, yes). We went to this other dealership with the intention of buying hardwood once again. When we got there and started talking to them I felt good about changing our minds yet again. They had way more options and inventory, were far more objective and knowledgable, and they weren’t trying to sell me on anything. After looking at the hardwood options and talking for quite a while, I realized I liked the look of the engineered much more and was swayed by the fact that it is what they are using in the majority of new builds and rebuilds today. We chose a gorgeous 7” white oak pre-finished engineered. It was lighter but had a lot of variance in it with darker knot holes and streaking making it a little more adaptable to changing styles as well as different types of wood furniture (keep in mind that super light won’t match well with everything and super dark shows all the dust and grime!) Wonderful..decision made. We left with a good sized sample of what would be arriving soon. Our flooring guys came the next week and started working on some subfloor issues and getting ready for install before Christmas. The oak planks were delivered right on time but when we opened them up…they were noticeably orange toned.

sample vs. what came…subtle yes, but not quite right

Now, granted, different planks will absolutely differ and various batches have their own look going on (which is why you need to buy all the same batch for the whole project). So we unpacked a few more boxes and laid them out to get an idea of how off it really was, placing our sample next to it. I am self admittedly crazy and picky but Ronny is not and our flooring installer is a super down to earth straight shooter. He said “ya that’s not the same stuff, and I wouldn’t install it if I were you and what I wanted was that” (pointing to my sample piece). The flooring dealer was great and right away agreed that it didn’t look the same and they were seemingly quite frustrated as well. So we discussed our options and have now made a fourth decision to go with an unfinished, 7” European white oak engineered. It has a much thicker top layer lending itself well to refinishing. After install, they will sand and lacquer.

European rustic white oak 7” engineered hardwood

Our decision process kind of boiled down to this: we like wider planks, we have tons of crazy kids, we live in an area with humidity, we plan on reselling the house at some point (hopefully with floors that still look good), engineered today seems like it is not the same as engineered ten years ago, and if you go a little thicker on the hardwood surface layer, then it can be altered in the future like hardwood can. In fact, the top layer on engineered is sometimes as thick as the portion that can actually be sanded over time on hardwood. Did we make the right choice? Jury’s out- it isn’t installed yet! But I’m so tired of this topic and so convinced that it is going to trump that green and gold linoleum that I’m not sure I even care anymore.

Yes the house is chaos, but that didn’t stop Christmas from coming. We put a large piece of leftover carpet in the living room to cover a chunk of the subfloor, the girls picked out the tallest tree we have ever had thanks to that gorgeous new ceiling, and I deep cleaned all of the windows in this room. Then I touched up and repainted all of the window trim which made a super visible change to the space.

During the past week before Christmas, the flooring team rebuilt the stairs which turned out great. Ronny and I have always dreamed of having un-creaky stairs and we finally have them!! They aren’t quite finished yet…nor are they childproof as you can see…

On Christmas Eve we had a cold storm roll in. The temp was around 20-26. What was the scheduled project for this chilly day? New front door.

Yes, my pink door is tragically gone, but it had to go. The sidelights were falling apart on the exterior and the entire framing around the door was allowing a lot of cold air and water to seep in. To top it off, the door has not been closing well the entire time we have lived here which means when the kids go in and out, it gets properly closed about half the time… at best. The linoleum was pulled up and the sub floor and even a few joists replaced due to water and termite damage. New front door meant we had a hole cut in the front of the house for several hours which was quite…drafty.

Thankfully they finished the install before the evening snow blew in. The entrance to our house was my least favorite part of this home when we purchased and it is now so radically different! I love the amount of light that pours in to the front now and I’m so excited for my pink magnolia we had planted in the front, now visible right through the doors, to bloom in just a few months!!

4 thoughts on “Floors by Christmas or Bust

  1. I love your flooring drama, mainly because I wasn’t there to go through it. It’s going to be beautiful and the changes you’ve made in the last month are amazing. We’ve had both engineered and real wood floors. Both have their advantages/disadvantages. The extra planks of engineered wood make for nice paddles.🀣

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