Picture this… and then walk on it…

25 Apr

It’s Spring.

Well, supposedly it’s Spring. It snowed here yesterday. I spent most of my day driving through it.

In most parts of the US, families are beginning to implement their plans of building affordable, energy efficient ISBU homes. As they do this, they’re thinking about every penny they’re spending… in part because it’s coming out of their paychecks.

While we work 16-18 hour days, 7 days a week, we thought we’d hit the mailbag and give you a look at what families building ISBU homes are facing as they build, in real time.

Strap in, because here we go:

Dear Ronin,

We know that you preach “spending money carefully” when building a home for your family.

In fact, in our discussions with you (which were the best money we could have spent, based on the information provided to us through those exchanges) we learned how you put every line item of a build under a magnifying glass to insure that money is going exactly WHERE it is needed.

We’ve erected our ISBU structure and we bumped our budget pretty hard by installing PEX tubing in the concrete floor to provide “radiant heat” to our home. As a result, our budget has taken a beating.

We’d planned to install hardwood flooring “floated” over the slab, but we can’t afford that any longer.

We’ve found some $1.00 a square foot laminate flooring that looks pretty good. But, we’re really concerned because we’re afraid it’s not very good quality.

We need to install this flooring throughout the home, in every room that doesn’t get carpeting.

Have you ever dealt with laminate flooring like this?

Broke in the ‘burbs…


Dear “BB”,

Thanks for the “flowery praise”. The shop here still smells like sweat and old welding rods, but… 🙂

Our goal is to help family home builders design and produce residences, with a firm budget established from the beginning. There will always be bumps in the road, but having a good plan and a solid budget helps to insure a successful build.

“Show me a man who failed and I’ll show you a man who didn’t have a good plan.”

Adding radiant floor heat does bump your budget, for sure. Radiant slabs are created by installing a grid of flexible tubes in a concrete slab. These (closed loop) grids are attached to manifolds that distribute water or hydronic fluids (“hydronic systems” use water or a mix of water and anti-freeze such as propylene glycol as the heat transfer fluid in a “closed loop”). In many cases, that fluid is heated and stored in an insulated reservoir – in our case usually by using solar heating panels on your roof.

It’s an expensive line item that once implemented correctly, will keep your family warm and comfortable efficiently and almost invisibly for decades without any significant amount of maintenance being required. I can understand that you’ve had to move other parts of your budget around to cover this expenditure.

You now have a “warm slab” waiting for a dress. And you want wood flooring.

Okay. That’s cool. We LOVE hardwood flooring. 🙂

First; “laminate” wood flooring ISN’T “wood flooring”. It’s generally a very thin “photograph” of wood that is then transferred to a substrate like MDF (pressed wood-like product that runs from 8-12mm/ .31″ – .47″ thick) or even a wood fiber/paper fiber composite.

Okay, a floor begins at it’s base. What’s MDF?

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is an “engineered wood” product that is produced by taking scraps of  hardwood or softwood and reducing them to fibers. Then, they mix these wood fibers with materials like resin and wax and create panels by combining this “wood slurry” by subjecting it to high temperature and pressure.

It doesn’t “look” like flooring at this point. It looks like a really dense piece of plywood. It’s NOT attractive. It’s just a “blank” piece of wood product. To turn it into “flooring”, you then cover it with a thin “photograph” of the texture you’re trying  to “impersonate”.

Because it’s manufactured cheaply and the “surface” is a photograph of a “perfect” sample, you can produce a good looking flooring product that appears to be a “wood” floor.

Second; It’s NOT going to cost you $1.00 a square foot. To install it, you have to prepare your slab, cover it with a thin sheet of foam underlayment that is used to provide some “noise control” and to “cushion” the flooring. This underlayment is going to cost you between 30-50 cents a square foot.

Now, you’re up to $1.50 a foot for a “picture of wood” on your floor.

Third; Think about what you’re putting on your floor. If you’re building an ISBU home for your family, the driving theme behind your  build is that you’re building  an energy efficient, low maintenance structure that will shelter your family for generations.

This flooring isn’t durable (it’s easily scuffed by furniture or animals), it’s imperiled by moisture (you’d never use this type of flooring in a place like a kitchen or bathroom) and “average traffic use” will produce wear that will make it look like you marched an army across it in the matter of a few years…

… which means that you’ll be doing your flooring again…  probably while suffering “the slings and arrows” of a very disappointed significant other.

If it was me…

I’d polish the floors of that slab and then color it using dyes. Then, I’d seal it. This can be done very affordably and will produce a durable, attractive floor that will be warm underfoot and easy to clean and maintain.

Use strategically place throw rugs and accent rugs to define spaces.


Start saving your money for “real” hardwood flooring. Many families build their homes in “phases” as they can afford them.

I suggest that you do likewise.

Commit to the dream/desire/goal of hardwood flooring, by saving for it and then buying high-quality, high-performance flooring and then… install it.

Think of it as the “Anniversary/Birthday/Holidays gift that keeps on giving…

RR Avatar