Review: Lumber Liquidators Natural Oak Flooring

lumber-liquidatorsI recently installed hardwood floors in my Bodega. I originally wanted to use flooring made by Bruce. Home Depot carries Bruce flooring and their website said it was in stock.

After driving 40 minutes to Home Depot, I discovered that their website was wrong. Out of the 6-7 styles of flooring in stock they had only 2 with enough to do my job. Whats the point of only having 6 boxes (120 square feet) of hardwood flooring in stock? Even a tiny home needs more flooring then that.

I made an executive decision to drive to NH where there are 3 home depot’s and 2 Lowes within a 10 mile area give or take. On the way I remembered that there was a Lumber Liquidators and decided to shop there first.

Its in the basement and around the back of a furniture store but easy enough to locate. I located a display of natural red oak flooring that looked acceptable.

I had a choice of “select oak” or not. The select product has a more uniform color I was told. Unfortunately, the select product was sold out and I could only get the “non-select” oak.

The salesman assured me that the color variations would not be too bad. I figured I could cherry pick nice pieces for downstairs and use the rest in the loft where they would be less visible. I plunked down my Amex card and signed the receipt.  As I was about to walk out I asked the sales guy “I can just return any unopened boxes right?” he said yes but with a 20% restocking fee! “. The piece of paper you just signed says that in the fine print. Thats a bad way of doing business if you ask me. Home Depot takes stuff no questions asked.

I figured the square footage to the exact amount and added 10%. To that number I added an extra box of 20 square feet “just in case”. The salesman told me that most people just figures 5% over not 10 as I had.

After unloading the boxes I sized up the amount of color variation and quality of pieces. Overall I was not that impressed. I had many warped pieces (greater than 1 inch) and several that were unusable due to surface defects.

The difference in color between lightest and darkest was about 6 shades or more. If you removed the darkest pieces the varation was maybe 3-4 shades of variation which I could live with. As the floor went down I decided that I like the variation more than I thought I would. On the fly I decided to include some of the darker pieces in the downstairs floor.  Overall the color variations were not an issue for me at all.

When the floor was complete, I had about 5% scrap due to just crappy pieces being in the box. The other 5% was normal scrap from having small ends and rip cuts.

Bottom line is that the poor quality of the product forced me to use about 5% more material than I would have.  If you factor this into the price of the flooring their pricing advantage begins to dissolve.

Conclusion

I can’t really recommend Lumber Liquidators flooring over anyone else. Their pricing is hard to compare to flooring carried by Home Depot or Lowes because the grading is tough to gauge (on purpose I suspect). Top of the line “select” grades are perhaps a few cents more per square foot at Home Depot.

For a flooring store with such low overhead (crappy location) and a draconian return policy (20% restocking) I expect better quality product or a deeper discount. Next time I will probably skip Lumber Liquidators and go with Home Depot. Even with their spotty selection, their prices are reasonable and they have better customer service IMO.

More loft floor

 

Tiny House Wood Flooring

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I will start off by saying that installing wood flooring in a tiny house is hard! Its not hard from a technical perspective. Although some sections demand perfection in your cuts if you want nice tight joints. By definition, tiny houses are….well tiny and some sections are just hard to maneuver in.

For the most part everything is covered by trim and if you can measure and cut to 1/8 inch then you’re good. Wood flooring is hard on the body. Even with nice kneepads, the knees are sore.  Bending over to align and nail pieces is hard on the back. Whacking the nailer over 1700 times beats up the rest of you!

There was a day that guys did floors without air tools…that must have been rough. In any event my wood flooring is in and it looks pretty respectable.

Tools

I rented a floor nailer and hammer from Home Depot. A good floor nailer is $600 and not worth owning.  I already have a finish nailer so did not need to rent one. You will also need a saw to cut the pieces. If you have only edge cuts then any POS saw will do.  If you have fine cuts (around the wood stove) like I did then a nice saw is probably required.

Flooring

I started laying the floor by the front door. I wanted to lay the floor out so that I had a full section in front of the stove rather than some notched pieces. I laid it out 3 times and still ended up 1/4 inch off!

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The nailer squishes the boards together much tighter than you can by hand. Over the course of 22 rows, the boards squished together close to 5/16″.  I started 1/16″ closer to compensate for this effect, but still ended 1/4 inch off. I imagine a pro flooring dude would have known how to lay this out properly, I only had Ajax and he thought it would work.

The 1/4″ notch does not look bad as I was able to make it very tight. The rest of the floor went as expected, it was just very time consuming and tiring.  By days end Saturday the downstairs was compete less three thresholds sections.

Sunday morning I finished the three thresholds. Each was a bit different and required quite a lot of fitting and screwing around to get all the pieces in there. By afternoon Tim came along to help me do the loft.  I was able to lay the floor while he trimmed the pieces.

After about three hours it was complete. I managed to smash off the edge of my window sill with the flooring hammer as the pieces got close to the wall.  A bit of glue and some clamps and its looking good again.

After the flooring was in a massive cleanup began and the floor carefully swept to remove any dirt that was tracked in. The cardboard cartons that the flooring comes in makes excellent floor covering while you are working.

Doggie Door

Ajax is an independent dog and likes the ability to come and go as he pleases. The yard will be surrounded by 5ft wire fencing to keep out the local wildlife and keep Ajax from harassing them. He just needs a way to get out of the house.

I bought a PetSafe Extreme Weather door from the local Petco. It comes with 3 flaps to keep the cold air out of the house. The two outer flaps are rubber and seal with a magnetic catch on the bottom. The inner flap is insulation to keep the heat in.

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This door was a real pain in the ass to install and required about 5 hands to hold all the plastic parts together. Once installed its pretty sturdy. Ajax required a bit more coaxing to go thru it since its quite a bit thicker than the one he’s used to.

Inspections

Monday morning came the parade of inspectors…all two of them. Four inspections were required: Fuel storage (propane), smoke detector, driveway, and final plumbing. The first three are handled by the DPW Manager and the fire chief.  Since they are the same person in my town it made things easy.

He inspected the driveway apron to make sure there was adequate protection to the side of the road so it would not crack. The fuel storage inspection made sure the tank was in the correct location and the tubing was installed properly. The smoke detector inspection looked at the location and function of the combination smoke/CO detector. Everything passed, and I wrote him (yet another) check for $50.

 

The plumbing inspector looked at the final plumbing work and measured the hot water temperature in the sink and shower. He wanted to see 125 degrees F at the sink, and 113 degrees F in the shower.  Satisfied, he signed my paper and left.

Whats next?

I need to install baseboard trim and a few other doo-dads. The building inspector will be by this week to do a final inspection. Next weekend I will move the pump controller, batteries, and PV wiring to the new house.

Getting Close Now…

closenow

This past weekend was the last chance for me to do cleanup work before I install the flooring. I wanted to get done anything that would create lots of dust or drip on my new hardwood.

I first went around with a putty knife and patched all the wall dings. Once sanded, I went over the entire house with a small roller and spot painted anything that needed it.

Bathroom

A towel bar, paper holder, and mirror was installed in the bathroom. I also added a shelf to the medicine cabinet along with a door.  I used some interesting fasteners to attach my items since there were no studs in the walls where they needed to go.

The first one is a plastic screw in fastener. you poke a little hole in the spot where you want to install them and then “drill” the fastener thru the wall with your screw gun. I like to screw it in half way then put a couple drops of gorilla glue on the threads and then finish screwing it in. Be careful not to overdrive it or you end up with a real big hole and and the fastener won’t hold much of anything.

drywall1

 

The other drywall fastener is new to me and is pretty kick ass. Its a plastic version of a toggle fastener. You start by drilling a fairly large hole and squeezing the fastener “wings” to insert it. The screw expands the wings to provide a super strong attachment point. You are not pulling out one of these things without taking a bunch of sheetrock too.  I used these on my towel bar.

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Electrical

Another task was to complete the wiring in my control box. I installed the Xantrex LinkLite system monitor so I can see how much power I am harvesting or using. I pre-wired the pump controller so it can be installed quickly when I decide to do it.

There are also several circuits and switches for the DSL modem and LED projector. It’s very important when off grid to be able to shut things off. The switches on the control panel let me shut off things that would not normally have an on/off switch like the pump.

Kitchen

The cabinets were outfitted with two shelves each. I used pine panels from Lowes that are manufactured from small scraps of pine finger joined together. The edges are from a single piece of wood but the middle is a patchwork of small pine pieces.

pinepanel

 

I used 12×36 and 12×48 panels to construct the shelves for the cabinets. The shelves were installed with shelf pins to allow for future adjustment. You simply drill a 1/4 inch hole at the level you want the shelf to be and the pins get stuck in the holes. The shelves rest on the pins and force them to stay snug in their holes.

shelfpin

 

Driveway

Yet another stupid expense mandated by the town was to have an apron installed at the end of my driveway. The theory was that the road pavement would break if I were to drive on it every day. Well after a year of driving on it with cement trucks, dump trucks, well rigs, and anything else you can imagine it has not been damaged at all.  Still I was forced to spend $350 to put down a strip of dead dinosaur brew on the end of my driveway.

Whats next?

I picked up 14 boxes of oak flooring and have it on site to acclimate to the house. This weekend it will be nailed down.

On Thursday the gas company will deliver my 200 pound propane tank (smallest they had). Once installed, the plumbing inspector will stop by to give me some grief and sign off on the plumbing. All that’s left is the final cleaning and final inspection.

Final Plumbing

An awful day to be doing anything let alone plumbing my house.  Humidity, rain, and thunder were the order of the day.  The plumbers arrived on time and got right to work.  Overall, I think they did a very nice job on the final.  I didn’t care for them on the rough in but they were great on the final.

I picked up a bunch of traps and sink lines for them to use from Lowes.  They brought their own stuff which was as good or better than my stuff, so I told them to use their stuff.  Lowes accepted them back no questions asked.  I think the difference between big box parts and pro parts is getting bigger.

The plumbers were like 800 pound gorillas leaving dings, footprints, and smudges everywhere.   When you do your final, take precautions to protect any finished areas because they will get marked up since space is limited in a tiny house.  They tried their best to be careful but its tough sometimes.

By lunch time we had everything installed with a lot of condensation but no leaks!  As of this writing, I have cold water in my Bodega with hot water on the way next week when the gas company installs my tank.

Once the tank is installed, the plumbing inspector will come by with incense and rose petals to bless the work and sign off.

Wed night I met with the board of health (two guys in an old town office).  They looked at pics of the grass over my septic tank and signed my occupancy permit.   This weekend will be final touchup and the place will be ready for wood floors.

 

Final Odds n Ends

exhibitor-checklist

This weekend I began what will be 2 weeks of punch list work.  Meaning I finished all the little odds n ends that were too time consuming to deal with when I was building.  It also means that I was fixing things that I broke when building other things (wall dings etc).

The weekend began by renting a 12ft ladder from Home Depot.  I could have bought one, but they are $280 and I just don’t see the need when a rental was 22 bucks.

Fan Fix

When I originally installed the fan, very little air was blowing.  I speculated that it needed some room away from the ceiling to let aerodynamics work properly.

I pulled down the ceiling fan and installed a 24 inch rod on it.  I also decided to install a special switch that would reverse the direction of the fan.  That is a very useful feature in the winter heating season where you want the fan sucking instead of blowing.  Here is the circuit diagram in case you want to add one to your DC fan (I did not draw this, just stole it from a google search).

DC-motor-reversing-switch-schematic-wiring-diagram-285x275

With everything back together I tested the fan and guess what?  It actually blows and sucks air!  Lesson: make sure you have enough space around your fan….tough in a tiny house, but important.

Stove Trim

The other task I needed the ladder for was the trim around the stove pipe.  This was a very complex piece since the pipe goes thru both the flat and sloped ceiling.  I had my friend Tim make me templates on his CAD system so I could trace them onto cardboard and then metal.

The trim is made in two pieces and are different sizes.  I made cardboard ones first, then when I thought I had it right the cardboard helped me mark the sheet of aluminum.  I use thin gauge aluminum and scribe it with a sharp utility knife.  If you scribe it deep enough, the pieces can be wiggled a bit and will break at the scribed line.  The process was a real pain in the ass let me tell you! If possible install your chimney so standard trim can be used.

Kitchen Trim

I wanted something to break up the walls of the kitchen and make the control panels not look so much like well….control panels.  I decided to use up the leftover paneling from the porch project.

Using a liberal amount of Liquid Nails paneling formula and a few strategically placed finish nails I added about 24 inches of paneling.  I will add some nice black coat hooks and who knows what else.  Might find an old school telephone for the wall as well.

Water Tank

The last thing needed before the plumber comes is the water tank.  I built up the “tee” pipe with all the doo-dads you need.  It starts with a gate valve which lets me block the pipe so I can force water to the other house.  Then a check valve is installed so that the tank can’t push water back into the well.  Next a connection to the tank, pressure gauge, relief valve, and pressure switch is made.  The pressure switch “switches” at 60 PSI which will command my pump controller to shut off.  The relief valve opens if that fails to happen.

After installation I discovered that there was a leak which sucks since this stuff is really packed in there.  The cause was the plastic fitting on the tank.  The instructions to hand tighten and then some are totally bogus.

My solution was to rip out the tank and use a pipe sealant rather than teflon tape.  Then I tightened it pretty darn tight.  After pressurizing it for the second time….there was still a leak!

For the third attempt, I decided to leave everything in the hole and tighten it in place.  Using a mother adjustable wrench I tightened it to the point where I thought it was ready to crack.  After pressurizing the third time, it was still leaking a tiny bit.  I’m going to let it be and see if the pipe sealant stops it up.  There is nothing in the hole that can be damaged, so a little drip is not an issue.  During humid months the tank will sweat which can produce a lot of moisture….so a little drip is acceptable (to me anyway).

Whats Next?

This Thurs the plumber is coming for final plumbing work.  The propane company will be coming by next Thurs to install a 200 pound tank.  This weekend, I will be doing more punch list items, cleanup, and hardwood floor shopping.  If all goes well, I should be installing the flooring by the third week in Sept.  A move in date of Oct 1 looks to be doable.  Stay Tuned!

Aereo Update

I’ve been using Aereo now for several months and have learned a number of things I though I would share.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the service.  I get the morning and nightly news without any trouble at all.  There are a couple old TV shows that I record.  Of course there is the excellent content on PBS that I record as well.

The biggest thing I have learned is how far brodcast TV has fallen.  With the exception of PBS everything else is total crap.

Its not perfect…

Aereo is not perfect.  In fact it has a severe weakness, streaming NFL football games.  Yesterday I wanted to watch the Pats crush the Bills.  Not only were the Pats awful, Aereo was too.  It was so bad, I had to visit the local pizza joint to watch the game.  Tweets about the issue were responded to, but I suspect the issue may not be fixable.  If you have thousands of customers, all with their own TV antenna….thats thousands of separate streams all serving the same content.   We will give it a couple more games to see for sure.

Tiny House Wood Stove Final Installation

This post I will go over the final installation for the wood stove that will heat my tiny house.  The wood stove I bought has a crack in the back plate which is common for this model (Jotul 602) and I needed to make a repair on it.

Stove Pipes

The stove pipe installation was pretty easy.  I had 6ft of class A chimney pipe and then another 3ft of double wall stove pipe with adapters and a damper.

The class A pipe comes in silver which looks like crap so I painted it with stove bright paint in flat black.  To prepare the pipes, peel off the stickers and clean with denatured alcohol.  Then apply light coats of paint until the surface looks smooth and even.  This paint has *really* bad fumes so working outside is a must.  I was lucky and dodged just enough rain drops on Saturday to get my pipes painted.

Once painted, the pipes get attached to one another and “hung” off the chimney stub that I installed with the roof.  Be sure and use 4 screws per joint….no reason to skimp. The class A pipe has special locking rings, make sure they are tight.

Wood Stove Repairs

The used stove I bought had a cracked back plate and needed to be torn apart for repair.  I ordered a replacement back plate from Woodmans Parts Plus for about $130 which brings the total cost of the stove to $330 which I don’t think is too bad.

Since this was used stove I knew it would be messy.  I vacuumed all the ashes out and got to work.  There are 4 bolts inside the stove that hold the top on.  A 10mm socket and penetrating oil got one of them off easily.  The other 3 broke off without much effort at all.  I suspect they had degraded quite a bit and were weak.

After breaking the seal on the stove top with a rubber mallet (its cemented on) I had 3 bolt stumps to remove.  After 15 minutes of work, two of the bolts sheared off flush and the other came out with a little persuasion.  I’m going to slot the heads of the stuck bolts and try an impact gun with heat.  If that does not work, i’ll just drill and tap it there’s plenty of metal there.

Replacing the back panel required me to scrape out all the stove cement with an old chisel.  The replacement part fits perfectly in place.  Once I get my stuck bolts out, the final assembly should be a snap.

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Whats Next?

Stove final assembly.  Pipe trim on the pipes as they exit the house.  Longer downrod for the ceiling fan.  Prepping for the final visit by the plumber.

Jotul 602 wood stove repair

As I mentioned in my last post the wood stove needed more surgery to repair the cracked back plate.  During the disassembly I broke off 3 of the bolts holding on the top plate.  In order to assemble the stove I needed to get out the stuck bolts.

To assist me, I bought some specialized tools at the hardware store.  The first is called a screw extractor.  You start by drilling a specific sized hole thru the broken off bolt.  The extractor is inserted into this hole and bites into the metal and the screw comes out.

In reality, the extractor is inserted into the hole and the screw won’t budge.  If you twist too much you strip out the hole.  If you get a real good bite there is a risk of breaking off the tip of the extractor.  If this happens, you are royally and totally screwed (ha!).  The extractor is hardened and can’t be drilled out.

Plan A

the first thing I tried to get the screw out was to cut a slot in the head using my rotary tool with cutoff wheel.  With the impact driver and a straight driver bit, I attempted to drive it out.  The metal in the driver bit and eventually the screw chipped off….back to the drawing board.

Plan B

I tried to use the screw extractor and a torch.  I center punched the broken off stub and drilled a hole thru the bolt.  Next I inserted the screw extractor attached to a tap wrench.  While applying torque to unscrew the broken bolt I applied heat to the part.  To make a long story short, the screw extractor was a waste of four bucks….back to the drawing board.

Plan C

As a last resort I bought a 5mm drill bit and 6mm tap.  Using progressively larger bits I enlarged the hole from plan C to 5mm in diameter.  Then I ran the 6mm tap thru the holes to form fresh/cleaned out threads.  Unfortunately, the tap I had was not a bottoming style which means I could not tap the entire length of the hole.  This forced me to shorten the screw a bit so it would not bottom out.

Assembly

With fresh holes drilled and taped I began re-assembly.  I started by cleaning all the old stove cement from the grooves with an old wood chisel.  Fresh stove cement was applied from a caulk style tube.  The back plate was installed and pressed into position…oozing out just a bit of stove cement.  Then the top was set in place and the 4 screws installed.

I also took the time to seal up any and all cracks with extra stove cement to prevent air leaks.  Two obvious ones are the pipe adapter and back cover plate.  I will also cement on the round cooktop plate before burning season.  To maintain good control of your stove, you want all the combustion air entering thru the round front damper.  Any cracks, holes, gaps anyplace will allow air in and give you less control over your fire.

The last thing I did was to replace the door gasket with a fresh piece of gasket material and stove cement.  When the door is closed on a dollar bill, it should be very difficult to pull out on a properly gasketed door.

Stove Polish

Using a foam paintbrush, I applied Rutland stove polish to the entire stove.  Don’t worry too much about dirt or rust because this stuff covers it all up.  Once dry you can buff off the excess with a clean rag.  The first burn will be smoky and stinky as the polish burns off.  I will be doing the first couple burns outside to break in the new parts and not have the stink inside my house.

Tiny House Porch Complete!

My goal for this long weekend was 1) to get my porch walls covered, 2) install my wood stove, and 3) clean up the crap that has collected over the past 2 months.

I managed to get 2.8 of my tasks completed despite the rather crappy weather.  There was a constant threat of rain so I could not set tools and material outside.  With all the crap I have inside it was a bit of a maze to get around.

Porch

I procured 11 bundles of 1/4 x 3 1/2 inch pine boards for the walls.  I wanted to use cedar which cost about $5 per bundle more, but there was no stock anywhere.  For the window trim I used 1 1/2 inch cedar strips cut from wide pieces since the local stock was pretty much crap.

In order to avoid cutting in stain next to the painted window sills I pre-stained the trim.  Using an air nailer and stainless steel nails (very important) I first installed the trim everywhere.

Once the trim was installed it was pretty easy but time-consuming to install the 1/4 inch pine on the walls and ceiling.  As you would expect the ceiling took a long time and the walls went pretty fast.

I took care to match the corners so I would not have to use corner trim.  The only place corner trim was needed is on the sloped part of the ceiling where getting a perfect fit is more trouble than its worth.

photo 1

Once installed the pine was covered in my Cabot natural cedar colored stain.  I screwed up a bit and got some blotchy areas.  This forced me to apply a second coat to even things out.  You want to paint this stuff one row at a time lengthwise rather than across multiple row for best results.  You might also look into wood conditioner which I’m told helps even things out on soft wood.

photo 3

Wood Stove Pipes

The stove pipe installation was pretty easy.  I had 6ft of class A chimney pipe and then another 3ft of double wall stove pipe with adapters and a damper.

The class A pipe comes in silver which looks like crap so I painted it with stove bright paint in flat black.  To prepare the pipes, peel off the stickers and clean with denatured alcohol.  Then apply light coats of paint until the surface looks smooth and even.  This paint has *really* bad fumes so working outside is a must.  I was lucky and dodged just enough rain drops on Saturday to get my pipes painted.

Once painted, the pipes get attached to one another and “hung” off the chimney stub that I installed with the roof.  Be sure and use 4 screws per joint….no reason to skimp. The class A pipe has special locking rings, make sure they are tight.

Wood Stove Repairs

The used stove I bought had a cracked back plate and needed to be torn apart for repair.  I ordered a replacement back plate from Woodmans Parts Plus for about $130 which brings the total cost of the stove to $330 which I don’t think is too bad.

Since this was used stove I knew it would be messy.  I vacuumed all the ashes out and got to work.  There are 4 bolts inside the stove that hold the top on.  A 10mm socket and penetrating oil got one of them off easily.  The other 3 broke off without much effort at all.  I suspect they had degraded quite a bit and were weak.

After breaking the seal on the stove top with a rubber mallet (its cemented on) I had 3 bolt stumps to remove.  After 15 minutes of work, two of the bolts sheared off flush and the other came out with a little persuasion.  I’m going to slot the heads of the stuck bolts and try an impact gun with heat.  If that does not work, i’ll just drill and tap it there’s plenty of metal there.

Replacing the back panel required me to scrape out all the stove cement with an old chisel.  The replacement part fits perfectly in place.  Once I get my stuck bolts out, the final assembly should be a snap.

photo 4

photo 5

Whats Next?

Stove final assembly.  Pipe trim on the pipes as they exit the house.  Longer downrod for the ceiling fan.  Prepping for the final visit by the plumber.