Archive for October, 2009

Wood Flooring – Decision Factors

What are the main decision factors when choosing between pre-finished wood flooring, engineered wood flooring, and solid wood flooring that is finished in place?



  • Pre-finished wood flooring typically has microbevels, which are little v-shaped notches between the planks. Some homeowners think that is attractive and desirable – accentuating the length of a room or creating the illusion of a different proportion. Others think that the grooves would look too “busy” and be a nuisance to clean.
  • Engineered wood flooring may or may not have microbevels, depending on the brand, style, etc.

Pre-finished solid oak flooring with microbevels displayed on top of a field-finished oak floor without microbevels.

    Visual Authenticity

    • Some brands of engineered wood flooring use one wide plank of flooring to simulate several narrower planks. What is referred to as a “1-strip piece” will be a single plank that is a single strip.  A “2-strip piece” will be a single plank made to look like two strips, etc.  If the product has microbevels, this is very noticeable.  If it is smooth, the seams are still visible, but less noticeable.


    • If you are putting new wood flooring next to existing wood flooring, the thickness of the materials may differ, especially between engineered and older wood flooring. If you do not want to have a height difference between two areas, you will either have to have a transition (such as a stained door sill) or build up the subfloor underneath the new flooring to match the height. If your primary motivation was saving money, this added expense should be factored into your decision.


    • Pre-finished has an aluminum oxide finish that cannot be site-finished and does not have a real “clear finish” due to the aluminum suspended in the finish.  If you have large pets with claws, lots of animals, heavy traffic, routinely wear shoes in the house, or are generally hard on your floor, this should not be your first choice.
    • Engineered allows you to sand and refinish the floor, but how many times depends on the thickness of the wear layer.  Look for the thickest wear layer available.  There are companies that have wear layers nearly as thick as solid wood flooring.  Owens has a line with a 5mm (approx. 3/16″) wear layer.  For comparison, 3/4″ solid flooring has a 5/16″ wear layer above the tongue and groove.  This is the amount that is sandable, however you cannot sand all the way down to the tongue and groove without splintering and exposing nails.  So, in reality, a 3/4″ solid product has about a 6mm (1/4″) wear layer which is just about equal to the Owens 5mm wear layer (which can be sanded until there is no wear layer left).



    Wear layer of solid unfinished oak vs. engineered unfinished oak





      Installation Options


      • usually nailed in place, concealed within the tongue and groove joint

      Pre-finished or Engineered

      • nail-down,
      • glue-down, or
      • “floating” (boards are separated from the subfloor by a sheet material and not physically attached to the subfloor)



      • less mess and smell during installation
      • faster start-to-finish install time
      • may be less expensive than field-finished, depending on species, width, and type of installation


      • more expensive and/or exotic species without a significant price increase
      • some brands/lines are suitable for installation over radiant floors (check for options)


      • more predictable longevity (and therefore less likely to end up in a landfill)
      • is able to be refinished many times, with certainty
      • more familiar to floor refinishers (been around forever)
      • unlimited choice of stain colors, which can be swatched on the flooring after it is installed
      • your choice of finish (type, sheen, brand, number of coats)
      • best for period-appropriate installations (top-nailed, inlays, etc.)

      To learn more…

      I recommend Jeff Lane of Lane Hardwood Floors, one of the most talented and knowledgable hardwood flooring vendors and installers here in Seattle.


        Relocating a Japanese Temple


        Dr. David Shaner, chairman of the philosophy department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina (and also a friend), was entrusted in 2004 with the relocation of the Tsuzuki family’s private Buddhist temple from Japan to the Furman campus.  This is the first known relocation of a temple from Japan to the United States, and it was an incredible undertaking with a strict deadline of completed demolition.  Years of energy and talent were required to raise funds, dismantle, transport, and rebuild the temple – including 13 Japanese craftsmen.

        Read more:

        Associated Content, “Palace of Peace Buddhist Temple and Asian Gardens Dedication,” Sept. 18, 2008.

        Lubbock Online, “Buddhist temple becomes part of university campus, ” Nov. 8, 2008.

        Reconstruction is now complete.  These photos, taken during construction, are part of a collection posted here.





        The Client’s Time Investment

        Once our working relationship is established (see Getting the Project Started), the real fun begins.

        “How long will the design process take?”

        As a rule of thumb, the design process takes approximately the same amount of time as building the project. In other words, a project that requires 6 months to build requires 6 months to design. This does not necessarily include permitting (which depends on many variables).

        “How much time will you need me during design?”


        We will need to meet to review design drawings, preferably in person.  This is especially important for the first design meeting and for major design milestones. These meetings are usually 1-1.5 hours long.

        Most clients find it helpful to meet at their home, so that we have a visual reference of size, configuration, etc. of the spaces being considered. Sometimes it is easier to meet at your place of work, or at a nearby restaurant or coffee shop, especially if the project is a new home or is located far away from your workplace.


        You will have homework, including private discussions about the drawings and ideas.  You may find it helpful to continue to look for inspiration photos to illustrate thoughts you have as the design develops, and you will want to spend time researching fixtures and appliances.

        Showroom Visits

        Together, we will typically visit a plumbing showroom and lighting showroom.  These visits are usually 1.5-3 hours long.

        We may also visit tile and flooring showrooms.  This is something that may be delegated to one lead “decision-maker”, and we may follow up (either separately or together) at additional tile showrooms.   Ultimately, we will meet at your home to mix-and-match samples and narrow choices.  The first tile showroom visit can be 1.5-3 hours, depending on the project. Subsequent visits and meetings vary with each project but are usually significantly shorter.


        Many of my clients have said that they dedicated 3-4 hours per week to their project (some weeks more and some less, averaging 3-4 hours per week overall).  Your decision-making abilities, both individually and jointly, are the biggest factor affecting the time investment required.

        Getting the Project Started

        “We want to move forward.  What next?”

        Now that we know we’re on the same page (see How to Prepare for the Architect-Client Interview), we build the foundation for a successful project, beginning with:

        • Contract and retainer – When the budget, objectives, timeline, and chemistry are all in place, the next step is signing a contract. A retainer is required with your signed contract, which is applied to your final invoice. The retainer is typically 10% of the estimated fee.
        • Follow-up meeting – This is an opportunity to continue the discussion about design we began during the interview. You may be able to fill in a few blanks that you hadn’t been able to earlier, or you may have additional questions, ideas, or inspiration images to discuss.
        • Measure and draw existing – To get started on a remodel or addition project, I first need to document what is there. This may be limited to relevant areas or include the entire house, depending on the scope of your project. Most Seattle homes that are “typical urban lot” size take two people 3.5-4.5 hours to measure, which includes significant architectural features (walls, doors, windows, etc.), but does not include mechanical or electrical systems and fixtures, or items which would require destructive demolition. Note: We need to open closets, cabinets, etc. to measure how deep they are and will also take photographs.  Access to the attic(s) and crawlspace(s) should be cleared and ladders provided, if needed.

        How to Prepare for the Architect-Client Interview

        The first meeting is an opportunity for us both to interview each other.  It is very important that everyone that will be involved in the design process be together at the interview so that we all get the chance to ask questions and get a sense for what it would be like to work together.

        “What do you need from us?”

        1) Brief written description of your goals for the project, including:

        • list of “must-have” items, “would be nice to have” items, and “don’t want” items (Note: If all of the people living in the house don’t agree about the goals, it is helpful to know what differs.)
        • budget for the construction cost of the project (for more insight into costs, see “How Much Will my Project Cost?”).
        • timeline for the project (when you will be ready to start design, begin construction, and move in)

        2) Inspiration photos from magazines, books, vacations, etc.  (Note: It is not necessary that these photos be “the answer” to your goals, so don’t exhaust yourself trying to find that!  It is more helpful that you find photos of things you like, even if the photos represent a variety of architectural styles.  A photo of a “cozy corner” may look different for you than it would for someone else, so photos really help me tune into your own personal taste and learn what those words mean to you visually and experientially. Even photos of something you really DON’T like can be helpful for comparison.)

        3) Information that you may have about the house and/or lot, such as:

        • old blueprints – whether original or from previous remodels
        • survey
        • “Improvement Location Certificate” – Sometimes found in your mortgage documents, this is a drawing that shows the outline of your house, garage, etc. (the “improvements”), with dimensions of the structures and of the lot itself.  Sometimes, easement information and encroachments may be included in this document.  If you do not find a one in your file, you may want to check with your title company to see if there was one obtained on your behalf.  I have found that the drawing does not always make its way into your loan document package.)
        • copy of previous appraisal
        • if you’re changing the exterior appearance of the house, it is helpful to know if you anticipate problems with your neighbors
        • neighborhood covenants, if any

        4) “Walk and Talk”  – One of my favorite things to do is to be guided around a house by potential clients, listening to what they do and don’t like about their homes.  It is fun to learn what they wish for, what they’ve already changed, and how they see themselves living there.

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