I’m just gonna put it right out there: WE SUCK AT FLOORS!!!!!! Since the beginning of our Net Zero house design, the plan was to build on a concrete slab. It’s a relatively inexpensive floor, easy to insulate and seal beneath. It enhances the Net Zero thermal design, providing a stone mass that gains heat from the south-facing windows on winter days and releases it into the living space during the night. In summer it provides a constant cool stabilizing influence, eliminating the need for air conditioning. Our actual floor was to be cement. One of the jobs we were always going to do ourselves was stain and polish our cement floors.
If you’ve been following our progress, you remember 12 inches of insulation was laid before the pad was poured. The cement finishers worked their artistry making ultra-smooth the surface that was to become the final floor of our lives in this place. Before it was cured, the guy with the saw came and made long saw cuts so the surface would crack along the cuts and not willy-nilly across our dining and living room.
We even signed our names in this floor!!!! Then the floor was carefully covered to keep it free of skid marks, wall-mud spatter and paint splatter, only to be uncovered once it was time for us to do our magic on it.
Did I say, “WE SUCK AT FLOORS?”Well the day came when the floor was uncovered. It was beautifully cement smooth, but we decided to rent this beast of a vibrating sander and we did an amazing job. We sanded the whole sucker until it was satiny, almost shiny. We swept up the dust, vacuumed the dust. We mopped with soap and rinse-mopped, TWICE!!!
But did I tell you, “WE SUCK AT FLOORS?” Well…we found some soy-based stain that seemed promising and we did a couple of test plots in a back closet where no one would ever see them and those looked promising. We were excited to get started after anticipating it for several months. I even had Ethan, our neighbor video techie guy from across the back fence come to video tape the whole process. We poured the base stain in a big bucket and added the pigment and it all stirred up into the brilliant terra-cotta with which we would make the floor our canvas. But I might’ve told you we SUCK AT FLOORS.
We began to apply the stain in the back rooms and it looked promising and we might’ve missed something in the instructions but as it dried it left brush marks so we tried to be artistic with the marks, with, you know, swirls and circular sweeps and zig zags and stuff but it soon became apparent WE SUCK AT FLOORS. We decided the swirls weren’t going to work for us so we decided to apply a second, heavier coat and make straight sweep lines over the swirls and when we finished the second coat in the back rooms it was getting dark so we went home and slept and when we came back in the morning we could see straight mop lines over the swirly ones and it was really clear, we suck at floors.
WHAT TO DO? We’re not used to sucking at stuff. And even if we were, we wouldn’t, like, talk about it, right? And some of you may already be offended that we used the word…well you know, THE S WORD. All we know is we’re standing there looking at floors we’re going to live on the rest of our lives and looking at them is making our teeth hurt. And now it’s the weekend and our builder, John, is at a wedding in California and we’re interrupting him with annoying phone calls and texts, but we finally decide we have to find a way to do floors we love, because we’re going to be here awhile and we decide on cork. Yes, it’s an import. But it is true cork is the bark of the cork tree and you can harvest the bark every 9 years and cork trees live for hundreds of years so we found cork flooring to lay a floating floor over our sucky stained cement.
But then, we’re driving back to the house with a carload of cork and it hit me like a blinding flash of the obvious: how can we put cork (an insulator) over our cement which is to be the thermal mass of our Net Zero life, you know, gaining heat from the south windows and releasing it. Holy crap, haven’t we just totally defeated our purpose? So now I’m doing an internal deer in the headlights kind of dance with my psyche and I get on my iPhone with our Passive House certifier, Ryan Shanahan and our energy modeler Scott Kosmecki and they say TAKE A DEEP BREATH and let us run an energy model and they call back and say, NO WORRIES: that we’ll possibly lose 3 Kilowatt hours by corking the floor and they explain to me that we’re not talking about a passive solar house from the 70’s. Apparently, as we insulate and seal our building envelopes better and better, the impact of the thermal mass becomes less and less important.
Woah, was I glad to hear that! I was afraid the whole project had gone in the dumper. I know, I know. A little dramatic maybe, but if you have an opinion about my little episode, just put a cork in it! Anyway….both Ryan and Scott suggested that maybe this was our happy accident. They said, “You know, cement floor can be kinda cold in W. Oregon winters and living on them and standing around on them might not be the best thing for your old joints anyway.” So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We went for the cork. We started in the back bedroom and moved south toward the living room windows. It’s really kinda cool how the panels lock together.
The more we laid down, the more we loved the look and the feel. It’s been really cold and rainy and we could feel the cold from the cement in our feet. The color of the cork is warm. The feel of the cork is warm.
The installation takes some skilled work with the rubber hammer to get them to fit tight. So we are pleased with what we’ve done.
We do suck at floors, but not ALL floors. We’ll take that. The only question I really have is why the guy with the rubber hammer insists on using it to pummel, bloody and bruise his own fingers! Just sayin.