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natural, semi-affordable flooring in a prexisting house?

 
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We have a manufactured home, and all three bedrooms have synthetic carpet. It's hard to keep clean, and I would LOVE to eventually replace it with a more natural flooring. Our home is on a crawlspace, and the underfloor is plywood. I know very little about flooring!

I thought about using heat treated pallet wood, but I worry that it would need a strong finish to be smooth. We've used shelack for our pallet wood furniture, but I don't know how it would hold up against kids playing and lots of walking, etc.

I'm thinking the earthen/cob flooring wouldn't be a good idea on top of plywood, because of the weight?

Honestly I just don't know where to start, and there's probably a lot of options I don't know about. What ideas do you all have?
 
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Good question...  I used heat treated pallet wood for a number of projects.  I found that it continued to shrink after I installed it (both inside and outside) so I'm thinking "heat treated" and "kiln dried" are very different things.

We did a paper bag floor in our laundry room.  But we used a fancy floor varnish to seal and protect it.  And cat pee ate through it just fine.  Ours is on cement so maybe one done on plywood would be better (I think so).  

My best affordable naturalish flooring job was when I got a big pile of maple flooring from a demo job really cheap.  It had nails in it and was not pretty.  Scraping out the tongue and grooves of their junk and pounding out the nails was a chore.  But then we just cut off the bad parts (damage from demo) and installed it.  Since the original floor had been sanded, the boards weren't the same thickness.  After putting it in, the plan was to sand and varnish it.  But we ended up liking the texture underfoot so we didn't sand it or varnish it.  We did sand over the corners gently before we installed it so we didn't have high corners that were sharp.

We also got some free floor tiles from Freecycle.  I had to mortar them down and grout them but at least they were cheap and reasonably VOC free.
 
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Hi Nicole, I think one option may be hardwood flooring, like oak. Lumber Mills grade all the pieces as they're made, and some hardwood flooring places will have mill run seconds; they didn't make the grade for premium. Usually seconds have "imperfections" like worm holes or knots for example and they cost less than premium. An unfinished oak floor could then be sealed with an oil, like tung or linseed, which are often used to finish furniture. I have no idea if that sort of finish would hold up well to foot traffic and kids playing, but it may be something to look into as it meets your criteria for a natural floor.
 
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Hi Nicole;
Not sure if you will consider this natural enough. And I'm sure that cost is a factor as well, but...
Solid wood , prefinished hardwood flooring. 25 year warranty. Really nice stuff.
I bought mine at Lumber liquidater's at just over $2 a square foot. Solid hickory wood with a beautiful finish already on it.
To install , you will need an air operated nailer.  I bought one "the nailer" on ebay for $90 and I sold it on ebay a few weeks later for $85!
I do own my own small portable air compressor. But they are a common homeowner tool.
Bed rooms are generally small square footage , so may be do one at a time?
 
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What about Softwood Flooring?

The floor in my other house is White Pine, Ship-Lapped, 10 inches wide.

I made mine myself from cutting the logs, to sawing the boards, to forming the ship lapped edges, to screwing them down with screws; so it was very cheap. But a person could also buy the boards and do the same thing for a very reasonable price. White Pine is very stable so it does not shrink much as it dries, but other wood species works just as well.

In the old days in New England, hardwood flooring was used in the Kitchen and Living Room areas of a home, but the other rooms of the house was typically Eastern Hemlock.

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Travis Johnson
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Another cheap flooring is real rock. Obviously this depends on what is available nearby, or on your own land, but as long as fairly flat rocks can be had, you can make a very nice floor for very cheap.

A few years ago I was clearing a forest into field just in back of my house and kept finding huge boulders of slate. At first I just bulldozed them over, but as more showed up, I bulldozed them to teh side where I could later get at them. I ended up splitting that slate into 2 inch thick pieces and made a floor for my entryway. I then used gravel from my gravel pit to make mortor for around the rocks. I think the total cost was something like $12 for the entryway floor as all I had to buy was a bag of Portland Cement.

A person can do the same thing even if you do not have slate. Many rocks split into thin sheets, and they can often be found on road construction jobs. Here in Maine anyway, the Dept of Transportation will often blast their way through outcrops, and many flat rocks are left over. Ask...or "steal"...not really stealing since it is in a public right of way, and thus you semi-own the rock as a taxpayer...and build your floor from those rocks. No one cares about extra rock on the side of the road. For mortor, just buy the pre-mixed kind if you do not have a gravel pit, its still going to be one cheap floor.



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Homemade Slate Entryway Floor
 
Travis Johnson
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If a person is forced to buy something, one of the cheapest floors is thus a Penny Floor.

It sounds crazy, but today flooring is $2-$3 a square foot, well it only takes 30 penny's or so to make a square foot, so going to a bank and converting (2) $20 bills will make a penny floor for an average sized room.

I have never made a floor out of penny's, but I have made a Range Backsplash out of penny's, and it was easy. In our case we wanted a copper look, but copper tiles at the store were $10 a piece, and we needed at least (4) of them. In the end we used 707 pennies to make the backsplash...$7.07 obviously. That is one cheap backsplash!

A person would make a floor the same way we made the backsplash. Just use a drop of hot melt glue on each penny and stick it to the plywood (or concrete) subfloor, then use two-part epoxy to cover the pennys. Then afterwards, polish with a car buffing pad and wax.

I do not have a direct picture of our penny backsplash, but you can see it behind the stove in this picture. A lot of it is actually hidden, but it is fairly big for something costing $7.07. By the way, Katie's kitchen was set up to look like the 1930's, her favorite era, so in this picture she is dressed in a 1930 dress posing in front of her 1917 kitchen stove. She normally does not dress like that! (LOL)


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Penny Backsplash
 
Travis Johnson
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Another extremely cheap floor to make is one made out of wood rounds or squares.

This was often used in old factories because old whale grease would land on the floors and be slippery. Plus everything was oiled back then, so oil dripped everywhere. To combat that, factories cut wood rounds, debarked to an even thickness of 2-4 inches. These were nailed to the floor or adjacent blocks of wood. They did this because the end grain would readily suck up the grease and oil preventing slipping when walked on.

There is two ways to do this. Logs can be debarked, then crosscut so that rounds are made, and then placed about the room as close as possible. They should be dried first though to allow for shrinking. Then concrete is made, and poured around the rounds of wood, just as if you were making a stone patio with flat rock pavers. But in this case, they are rounds blocks of wood. I have personally built this kind of floor for a woodworking shop.

The other way to do it, and is more refined, is to cut logs into square beams...8x8's, 6x6's, 4x4.s etc, and then crosscut them to 2-4 inches in thickness. Then place them end grain up nailing them to each other and the floor as you work across the room. This can be left natural as they did in the old factories, or sanded and sealed with polyurethane.

Sorry, I do not have a picture of that round block floor.
 
Travis Johnson
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Another type of floor that is cheap to make is a stamped concrete floor.

A lot of people think that concrete is heavy, but it really is not. I have made a lot of concrete countertops and at 2 inches thick, it is only 12 pounds per square foot. A floor or set of kitchen cabinets can easily handle that! If you are really concerned about weight, you can use something called Sawdust Concrete where you mix in sawdust instead of gravel to reduce the overall weight, but it is not really needed.

In any case, if you make your own concrete, it is really cheap even if you have to buy the gravel and the portland cement. That cost is around $60 per cubic yard, and where in the world can you make a floor for an average sized room for $60? You can buy stamps to make any number of patterns, and concrete can easily be polished or painted.

I have never done a stamped concrete floor, but I have done (3) concrete countertops, and I would do more in the future. They came out well, and were cheap and easy to do.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Another extremely cheap floor to make is one made out of wood rounds or squares.

This was often used in old factories because old whale grease would land on the floors and be slippery. Plus everything was oiled back then, so oil dripped everywhere. To combat that, factories cut wood rounds, debarked to an even thickness of 2-4 inches. These were nailed to the floor or adjacent blocks of wood. They did this because the end grain would readily suck up the grease and oil preventing slipping when walked on.

There is two ways to do this. Logs can be debarked, then crosscut so that rounds are made, and then placed about the room as close as possible. They should be dried first though to allow for shrinking. Then concrete is made, and poured around the rounds of wood, just as if you were making a stone patio with flat rock pavers. But in this case, they are rounds blocks of wood. I have personally built this kind of floor for a woodworking shop.

The other way to do it, and is more refined, is to cut logs into square beams...8x8's, 6x6's, 4x4.s etc, and then crosscut them to 2-4 inches in thickness. Then place them end grain up nailing them to each other and the floor as you work across the room. This can be left natural as they did in the old factories, or sanded and sealed with polyurethane.

Sorry, I do not have a picture of that round block floor.



I had a friend growing up whose father did this with 2 x 4 lumber. He used cookies about 1/2 inch thick. The pieces looked like little bricks. He wood glued them in a herringbone pattern to a plywood subflooring and then covered the floor in epoxy. It looked really nice.
 
Will Meginley
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Will Meginley wrote:
I had a friend growing up whose father did this with 2 x 4 lumber. He used cookies about 1/2 inch thick. The pieces looked like little bricks. He wood glued them in a herringbone pattern to a plywood subflooring and then covered the floor in epoxy. It looked really nice.



Doing the math: looks like you need about 30 tiles per square foot to pull that floor off. Assuming you get eight tiles per linear foot (to account for kerf, knots, shake, etc.) You should get 2 square feet per standard 2 x 4 x 8. So if you purchase the boards it's not super cheap. My friend's dad had a large scrap wood pile from other projects that provided his flooring.
 
Travis Johnson
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Will Meginley wrote:

Will Meginley wrote:
I had a friend growing up whose father did this with 2 x 4 lumber. He used cookies about 1/2 inch thick. The pieces looked like little bricks. He wood glued them in a herringbone pattern to a plywood subflooring and then covered the floor in epoxy. It looked really nice.



Doing the math: looks like you need about 30 tiles per square foot to pull that floor off. Assuming you get eight tiles per linear foot (to account for kerf, knots, shake, etc.) You should get 2 square feet per standard 2 x 4 x 8. So if you purchase the boards it's not super cheap. My friend's dad had a large scrap wood pile from other projects that provided his flooring.



That is true, but there is more than one way to do something. I have a sawmill so if I was going to do this, I would just saw an 8x8 beam and then crosscut.

But back when I did not have a sawmill, I hewed out 8x8's beams using an axe. Not a broad axe. Not a adze, just a regular pole axe. I was hewing 12 foot beams in about 1-1/2 hours. That means in three days time a person could do an average size room. A day to make the material, a day to lay the floor, and then a third day to sand and finish it.
 
Will Meginley
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Travis Johnson wrote:That is true, but there is more than one way to do something.



That is also true. I should point out in case it wasn't obvious, the math in question was for the floor I was describing, not the floor Travis described which made me remember it.
 
pollinator
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I like the idea of the end grain.  I saved oak logs to use for the timber frame of our home, and I have a lot of hickory logs I saved to use in making doors and cabinets.  I've got some smaller hickory logs that I could cut into beams and crosscut into tiles for the floor.  That could end up looking very nice.  Thanks for the ideas.
 
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I have asthma, allergies, and animals, and am an unhappy housekeeper.  I hate carpet. I've long thought that if I ever bought a house with carpet, especially in the bedrooms, and couldn't afford to immediately have it replaced I would do like one of the fitness studios in town and just lay down thin plywood and put a thick polyurethane coating on it. They used OSB and it actually looked really good! Neighbours in high school had painted plywood living room and bedroom floors. You might be able to use whatever plywood is already there. With the better quality plywood, you might be able to rip wide boards and then lay them like flooring. You could paint them to have a traditional kind of look. Not natural, but much less dust and dust mite hiding places, and very easy to clean, and no icky offgassing carpet.  

My childhood bedroom has pine boards - not shiplapped or tongue and groove, just pine boards. They are probably 30 + years old, so a bit scratched and worn, but that's not a bad life- better than laminate! It was also used in the kitchen and living room, was definitely too soft for that purpose -its gouged and ugly has lots of character. I think the boards used were cut from the property, and they have shrunk over the years, so there was a tiny gap. Definitely use well dried wood! Historically my area of Canada would use pine boards for the upstairs, and then paint them.
 
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Catie George wrote: Not natural, but much less dust and dust mite hiding places, and very easy to clean, and no icky offgassing carpet.  



If carpet offgassing is of concern to you, then you really need to learn more about OSB construction as well as polyurethane coverings. All the best.
 
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We've mostly ditched carpet simply because it's really filthy stuff regardless of personal cleanliness - a right PITA to clean and keep it clean.

Luckily, under the carpet were very old hardwood T & G boards, so they were sanded, sealed and that's it.

However, with a recent renovation at the rear of the house we chose a similarly coloured click together bamboo floating floor system.

The bamboo has proven to be really good - just sweep and mop.

In regards to its 'green' value, well there's arguments 'for' and 'against' - it's a fast growing grass glued together, not a long lived tree that provides habitat.

 
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Travis Johnson wrote:If a person is forced to buy something, one of the cheapest floors is thus a Penny Floor.

It sounds crazy, but today flooring is $2-$3 a square foot, well it only takes 30 penny's or so to make a square foot, so going to a bank and converting (2) $20 bills will make a penny floor for an average sized room.

I have never made a floor out of penny's, but I have made a Range Backsplash out of penny's, and it was easy. In our case we wanted a copper look, but copper tiles at the store were $10 a piece, and we needed at least (4) of them. In the end we used 707 pennies to make the backsplash...$7.07 obviously. That is one cheap backsplash!

A person would make a floor the same way we made the backsplash. Just use a drop of hot melt glue on each penny and stick it to the plywood (or concrete) subfloor, then use two-part epoxy to cover the pennys. Then afterwards, polish with a car buffing pad and wax.

I do not have a direct picture of our penny backsplash, but you can see it behind the stove in this picture. A lot of it is actually hidden, but it is fairly big for something costing $7.07. By the way, Katie's kitchen was set up to look like the 1930's, her favorite era, so in this picture she is dressed in a 1930 dress posing in front of her 1917 kitchen stove. She normally does not dress like that! (LOL)




I did a small counter top from pennies. It turned out good, but there are actually almost 300 pennies per square foot, so it will cost you roughly the same at regular flooring at about $3 a foot, not counting the epoxy. A cool floor idea, but I wouldn't consider it particularly cheap.
 
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A penny is 0.75", so 256 pennies if they are right next to eachother in a grid.

I had the same issue with plywood subfloor and a friend asked how bad it would be to just put a finish on that.  So I will propose the same to you.

If you are looking at cement and tile, why not also a thin layer of cob? The material and weight doesn't seem too different to me.

 
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The idea of soft wood is excellent, as long as you (and your guests) take your shoes off when you enter the house.

We have a large area covered with solid ash flooring which was very inexpensive because the grain was considered odd. It has been oiled, not sealed, and feels lovely under bare feet. It has held up well to children and foot traffic. (We don’t wear shoes in the house.)

It is probably worth finding local suppliers and asking about second and third quality as well as returned wood flooring.
 
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Will Meginley wrote:

Will Meginley wrote:
I had a friend growing up whose father did this with 2 x 4 lumber. He used cookies about 1/2 inch thick. The pieces looked like little bricks. He wood glued them in a herringbone pattern to a plywood subflooring and then covered the floor in epoxy. It looked really nice.



Doing the math: looks like you need about 30 tiles per square foot to pull that floor off. Assuming you get eight tiles per linear foot (to account for kerf, knots, shake, etc.) You should get 2 square feet per standard 2 x 4 x 8. So if you purchase the boards it's not super cheap. My friend's dad had a large scrap wood pile from other projects that provided his flooring.



We have a finishing mill here that has an endless supply of scrap 2x4 chunks free for the loading (most about 8-12" long and already smooth). I'd think you could cut them into uniform 'bricks', split them lengthwise, and secured by a bit of epoxy, you'd have a pre-finished floor.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:What about Softwood Flooring?

The floor in my other house is White Pine, Ship-Lapped, 10 inches wide.

I made mine myself from cutting the logs, to sawing the boards, to forming the ship lapped edges, to screwing them down with screws; so it was very cheap. But a person could also buy the boards and do the same thing for a very reasonable price. White Pine is very stable so it does not shrink much as it dries, but other wood species works just as well.

In the old days in New England, hardwood flooring was used in the Kitchen and Living Room areas of a home, but the other rooms of the house was typically Eastern Hemlock.



I also live in a Manufactured home which had carpet in it. We've removed the carpet in all by one room. Not only was it nasty, but with my husband on oxygen, carpet is deadly.  So far we've only replaced the floor in our bedroom for him. My mother and I put down some temporary vinyl stick floor tile 10 years ago, but they are all peeling up now, and vinyl is also very bad for people with breathing problems. We're still pondering on the replacement issue as well.

As to Travis comment on using the softwood. I've lived in several old New England buildings, and one unique thing I have found is that they would put the hardwood around the perimeter of the room, then use softwood to infill. They would then have carpet to cover the softwood. A cost effective idea.
 
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Rez Zircon wrote:We have a finishing mill here that has an endless supply of scrap 2x4 chunks free for the loading (most about 8-12" long and already smooth). I'd think you could cut them into uniform 'bricks', split them lengthwise, and secured by a bit of epoxy, you'd have a pre-finished floor.



Need to add a note about this sort of wood product: often it is treated with preservative chemicals that you really should not breathe up close and personal, at least not full-time. So either seal it away or find something else.
 
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You know those bamboo blinds made from really thin strips? A friend used those, removing all the hardware, laid on the floor, cut to size as needed. Looked and felt great to walk/lay on (kind of like tatami mats), really cheap. Don't know how long they held up (it was in their guest house/studio where we stayed) but I often thought it was a really creative way to dress a floor instead of rugs.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Another cheap flooring is real rock. Obviously this depends on what is available nearby, or on your own land, but as long as fairly flat rocks can be had, you can make a very nice floor for very cheap.

A few years ago I was clearing a forest into field just in back of my house and kept finding huge boulders of slate. At first I just bulldozed them over, but as more showed up, I bulldozed them to teh side where I could later get at them. I ended up splitting that slate into 2 inch thick pieces and made a floor for my entryway. I then used gravel from my gravel pit to make mortor for around the rocks. I think the total cost was something like $12 for the entryway floor as all I had to buy was a bag of Portland Cement.

A person can do the same thing even if you do not have slate. Many rocks split into thin sheets, and they can often be found on road construction jobs. Here in Maine anyway, the Dept of Transportation will often blast their way through outcrops, and many flat rocks are left over. Ask...or "steal"...not really stealing since it is in a public right of way, and thus you semi-own the rock as a taxpayer...and build your floor from those rocks. No one cares about extra rock on the side of the road. For mortor, just buy the pre-mixed kind if you do not have a gravel pit, its still going to be one cheap floor.





This is a brilliant idea and looks so beautiful. Would love wood flooring but no way can I afford it - plus doing a floor with slate and concrete would possibly be easier than trying to fit a wood floor myself.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have never tried this yet, but I think I will when I redo the house I am currently living in.

That is buying half-inch CDX plywood, then taking a propane torch and charring the wood slightly. Then I would cut each sheet into 12 inch widths (4) 8' long "boards" per sheet, and then shiplapping the edges. Then I would put a finish on it.

It sounds like a lot of work, but basically it is engineered saoftwood flooring, just where I am doing most of the work. It would be very diensional stable, have a unique look to it, and the shipplapped edges would keep the dirt from going through the cracks like on a regular board floor. Cutting it into 12 inch wide boards would make the floor look like wide pine flooring. The cost for the plywood is only 50 cents a board foot, and 12 inch wide boards cover a lot of area in a hurry. If a person did not like the board look though, they could just go with sheets of plywood and save quite a bit of extra work.

 
Travis Johnson
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A person could also mix up their own concrete and stamp it to look like tiles or rock.

You could also color the concrete. The best way I found is to just dump in latex paint as you mix it up. Just go much darker then you actually want on the floor as the concrete will tone down the color quite a bit (hunter green will end up being a pea green). You can also paint the concrete afterwards which is what I did on my concrete countertops.

The cost is super cheap, as it costs me $65 per cubic yard to make concrete myself, and that $65 will cover about (4) average sized rooms.

Weight should not be a problem; concrete 2 inchs thick is only 12 pounds per square foot, but if a person is super concerned about weight, they can always substitute gravel for sawdust and have lightweight sawdustcrete. We had it as flooring in our barn and it lasted 27 years.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:Another extremely cheap floor to make is one made out of wood rounds or squares.

The other way to do it, and is more refined, is to cut logs into square beams...8x8's, 6x6's, 4x4.s etc, and then crosscut them to 2-4 inches in thickness. Then place them end grain up nailing them to each other and the floor as you work across the room. This can be left natural as they did in the old factories, or sanded and sealed with polyurethane.



Great idea! Also instead of using new logs, if old beams can be obtained then those can be sliced into wooden tiles. It would be an excellent way of recycling them!
 
Rez Zircon
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Travis Johnson wrote:A person could also mix up their own concrete and stamp it to look like tiles or rock.



Or just add lots of small round river rock in pleasing colors, and finish it to make a smooth surface where the rock shows a lot -- I've seen that done with ordinary concrete and it looked fantastic, and was very pleasantly textured. If you're just walking on it, strength isn't a huge concern.

Remember you can experiment with small batches (really easy if you're using the mix-and-eat stuff as your base, just blow $3 mixing up one bag with whatever trimmings, and see what kind of tiles it makes. Silicon cake molds, anyone?)

If you have native clay, or clay-heavy soil, you can use a simple mudbrick kiln to turn it into tiles, with the surface as finished or not as you like.
See the Primitive Technology channel, where my favorite is the tile-roofed tiny house.
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P73REgj-3UE
Lot of work but hey, it's all yours!

Travis Johnson wrote:lightweight sawdustcrete. We had it as flooring in our barn and it lasted 27 years.



Tell me more about this? I'd really like to have a hard surface in my barn, but needs to be super cheap, and preferably something that would drain a bit. (Barn floods during spring melt, for one thing.)
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:What about Softwood Flooring?

The floor in my other house is White Pine, Ship-Lapped, 10 inches wide.

I made mine myself from cutting the logs, to sawing the boards, to forming the ship lapped edges, to screwing them down with screws; so it was very cheap. But a person could also buy the boards and do the same thing for a very reasonable price. White Pine is very stable so it does not shrink much as it dries, but other wood species works just as well.

In the old days in New England, hardwood flooring was used in the Kitchen and Living Room areas of a home, but the other rooms of the house was typically Eastern Hemlock.



Beautiful floor. Mine is also white pine. I purchased mine at .99/sq ft. I do like it but.....we have big dogs and they've kind of ripped it up.

In the attached pic you can see both, 1 of the offending dogs, and the damage to the floor. We've never bothered to sand it down and reseal. I don't think it'll last with the dogs anyway.
46375398_10156803050033633_3395683203862757376_n.jpg
[Thumbnail for 46375398_10156803050033633_3395683203862757376_n.jpg]
 
Travis Johnson
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elle sagenev wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:What about Softwood Flooring?

The floor in my other house is White Pine, Ship-Lapped, 10 inches wide.

I made mine myself from cutting the logs, to sawing the boards, to forming the ship lapped edges, to screwing them down with screws; so it was very cheap. But a person could also buy the boards and do the same thing for a very reasonable price. White Pine is very stable so it does not shrink much as it dries, but other wood species works just as well.

In the old days in New England, hardwood flooring was used in the Kitchen and Living Room areas of a home, but the other rooms of the house was typically Eastern Hemlock.



Beautiful floor. Mine is also white pine. I purchased mine at .99/sq ft. I do like it but.....we have big dogs and they've kind of ripped it up.

In the attached pic you can see both, 1 of the offending dogs, and the damage to the floor. We've never bothered to sand it down and reseal. I don't think it'll last with the dogs anyway.



To make my White Pine Flooring, I sawed my own trees into logs, then logs into boards 10 inches wide, then used a router and formed the shiplapped edges. I never planned the lumber before installation, just srcewed it down, and for a full year let us walking on it slowly smooth out the floor. Then, and only, then did I sand the floor, and just used a 6" orbital rotating sander using (40) sheets of 50 grit. It took me 4 hours, but I would have spent more time and money on planing the wood down, and still would have had to sand the lumber. And 4 hours is not that bad, my great room is 40 ft x 24 feet, which is a whole lot of floor!

Here is a photo of me starting my White Pine Flooring! I know not everyone has a woodlot, and I fully understand that, but I am a huge fan of doing as much as I can for myself, so since I do have a woodlot, and logging equipment, and a sawmill...I do as much as I can. In this photo, I was explaining to my daughter why it is NOT wrong to cut trees.



100_3079.JPG
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White Pine Log for my Home's Flooring
 
Rez Zircon
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Came across something interesting on Craigslist: recycled bowling alley floors!
https://wyoming.craigslist.org/mad/d/brighton-beautiful-reclaimed-bowling/6937023342.html
From now on I'll be on the lookout when a bowling alley is being torn down!

In my tack room I have a floor apparently made from recycled boxcar floors, which are structurally similar -- it's made of pale oak strips, is two inches thick, and if it were polished up could be beautiful. (And strong as hell. I stack a couple tons of feed in there in the winter and it doesn't even squeak.) There are more chunks in a pile in the pasture and they've probably been there since the barn was built in 1980, and still the only rot is where the boxcars were already bad around the edges... and they're probably from the 1940s if not earlier.

Anyway, a couple recycling ideas for you, if you happen to trip over similar stuff.

 
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Hi ! Here are some ideas that I hope are useful. Riffing off Travis's idea on a concrete floor (I love concrete floors!) what you would be considering is a floor screed that’s similar to an old fashioned thickset mud pan of bedding mortar, as used in old Victorian or Edwardian bathrooms as a base for floor tiles. Anyone who has rehabbed really old houses has probably run into these.  You can get creative ideas on different ways of doing this, variants on the technique, by looking up older builder/construction material on laying tile on substrates of bedding mortar pans. Now, the thing is many people do not like Portland cement, see it as artificial and unnatural, having high embodied energy and ecological costs. But you can do the same thing without Portland cement. If you want something more natural then there are historically used and proven alternative ways using Lime and/or Gypsum Plaster of Paris.

You would want to lookup "plaster floors." There is a very long history of what are variously called "lime ash floors",  or "gypsum floors", or "alabaster floors", or "plaster floors", or gypsum plaster floors,. etc. There are many documented archaic mixes, some combine clayish earth with the lime or gypsum.
They used to be very, very, common in England and France. They were used in earlier periods in Southern Spain/Andalusia. Through North Africa from Morocco all the way east similar practices were done, using thick mud slab of clayish earth floors over wood floors comprised of timber joists and beams, with reed or grass matting as bedding, in which a large amount of lime or gypsum was worked into the earth. Terrace roofs in the region were done in the same way, and variants of the practice can be found mostly through the Mediterranean basin on Europe Africa and the Middle East, but in Europe mainly only in England and France. I suspect the technique was an import into the West from the crusades, since they only seem to start appearing in the 1200s.

Traditional English lime ash floors are suspended wood floors comprised of timber joist and beams, with wood laths or reed, cane, or hay matting over which a 1 ½ to 3 inch (rarely thicker) of a pozzolanic lime and wood ash based mortar was laid. This mortar was troweled and wood float worked and polished before curing, and with time became a strong natural concrete floor surface. Lime ash is a mortar and plaster made of reactive burnt lime, sand as aggregate, sometimes crushed brick, and then wood or coal ash. Sometimes eggs or spoiled milk were used in the mxi for different properties, or bull blood. Which is ethnically sketchy in today's world, but if someone has a homestead and slaughters their animals it’s probably better than wasting it. The proteins in the milk or blood added certain properties to the mortar...

Why it works is lime ash is a weekly hydraulic cement. It sets both by drying and carbonation, and forming certain crystalline structures similar to that formed in Portalnd cement. So it’s basically a weak cement. Lime without ash only sets by carbonation, and takes much, much, longer to set. “Roman cement (Opus Cementum) was based on this, using volcanic ash, or crushed brick (Opus Signinum). There is a lot of info on doing lime ash flooring in the UK, it and modern "limecrete" floors are just a version of this idea. They have the attention of lots of historic restoration and natural building folks.
Now, gypsum plaster floors are very similar, but use a mortar or plaster made of plaster of paris, with sand, and other aggregates added. So too eggs, or spoiled milk, etc. were added. The mix is heavily worked before full setting to make a dense and smooth surface. Gypsum plaster floors are weaker than lime ash plaster floors. Sometimes the two were combined, with about a 70% gypsum to 20% lime ash ratio, with the rest being sand, crushed brick or crockery, bits of charcoal and coal dust, animal blood, or dung, or eggs, and other weird Harry Potter kitchen-like ingredients…
They were often finished with linseed oil, or pouring several gallons of bad sour milk over it, mopping it in, and polishing off. Which sounds disgusting smelly. But the result was supposed to look beautiful and stone-like. Sometimes it was finished in a fake tile pattern, like a checkerboard and so on.
I'm sure there are photos for examples on the net, I'll search around and post some.


How it was traditionally done is this:
To make the floor the mortar mix is plastered over an organic bedding, a floor substrate serving as a kind of subflooring and shuttering formwork. Traditionally these wood laths, the same kind of laths used in walls, OR reed/cane or even hay/stray bedding. Lathing gives keying, like something to teeth on. So did the organic bedding, whether cane or hay/dry grass. It also formed a formwork, a shuttering of sorts, to contain the fluid plaster until it dried and hardened. This gave a floor surface that would not easily de-laminate, and would properly cure.

The lathing or bedding that’s nailed over the joists and beams basically takes the role of sub flooring or floorboards. The laths are just nailed across the joists - just as you would see in old fashioned house ceilings - but on the upper side.

You then lay wood guide rails that are as deep as your intended pour. The serve as guides and divide the job into sections. You put down some plank platforms that rest on-top of the rails to kneel on and work off and to walk over already laid sections. The platform keeps you and your bucket and trowel nice and tidy and gives a work platform. Then you pour in your mortar or plaster in the section, trowel it down and roughly work it. Before it fully sets you have to further wood float it for a smoother, denser, more compressed surface. You would follow similar guidelines as found in resources on floating and finishing plaster walls for a smooth surface. You are doing the same thing, just horizontally. The thing is, however, there are no scratch coats, brown coats, etc. It's one coat.

When you finish a section, you move the guide rails over, and do another equal sized section. The advantage of doing it in sections, and not as a monolithic poor is you end up with segments that are jointed, which would prevent cracks in one section from spreading, and it makes the job more manageable. Also plaster sets very quickly, doing it in smaller sections enables you to actually do the job without risking it setting before being worked.

So imagine instead of pouring a huge section, you the mix is troweled over it the cane, reed or straw bedding, or over the wood laths. If used the cane bedding is additionally secured by nailing down running wood strips perpendicular to the direction of the bedding. Sometimes a thin slurry of lime putty was applied to the bedding to better help the plaster key in and attach, and to keep runny plaster from dribbling down below. If the underfloor was to be left as is then the plaster drips would be unsightly. But, if the underfloor was going to be a plastered over ceiling then the upper floor plaster drips could serve as a useful plastering key for the underside. In any case, whatever the substrate or underfloor was, it was generally laid out perpendicular to the actual floor joists directly.

In 19th century Paris, plaster floors were poured directly over the joists, with sort of coping boards lowered between the joists or somehow suspended below the actual the joists. The floor was poured in sections. This was a labor intensive and expensive technique, it used a lot of material but aided fire resistance, because the joists end up being fully embedded in plaster to some depth. It also confined the joists and added to the floor stiffness – and weight.

Traditionally the floors were allowed to cure without traffic for a fortnight to 3 or 4 weeks.
 
Rez Zircon
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Found some good info on gypsum concrete:
https://www.constructionspecifier.com/dispelling-common-myths-associated-with-poured-gypsum-floors/2/
Also, cool photo of a guy pumping it onto a new floor.
 
Simon Malik
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So a bit more. The thing about lime plaster floors is they need time to cure, but are more crack resistant - yet softer and weaker - than concrete floors. Gypsum plaster is even weaker and softer. Let both types of floors over time can cure to almost stone light hardness, and examples exist that are hundreds of years old. Some in old houses are accidentally mistaken for more recent concrete floors.

To visualize the process I dug around on the web for pictures illustrating the process of line-ash and plaster floors. These ones I found online may be helpful:

Here is a good illustration from the web of how to lay down a traditional lime-ash plaster floor. Sometimes a picture is worth 5000 words !
https://live.staticflickr.com/4104/4975092504_db876aabed_b.jpg

Here is good article about lime-ash flooring:
http://izreal.eu/2014/07/20/lime-ash-flooring/

Here are more random pics
A modern limecrete screed, over underfloor radiant heating tubes:
https://www.oakridgecornwall.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Limecrete-screed-over-underfloor-heating-cornwall.jpg

Someone in the UK laying a modern limecrete floor
http://www.greenspec.co.uk/images/web/materials/limemortar/limcrete-floor-2a.jpg
after
http://www.greenspec.co.uk/images/web/materials/limemortar/limcrete-floor-4a.jpg

Screeding a new lime ash floor for Tattershal Castle, in the UK (source with interesting pics) https://www.wheathills.com/product/tattershall-castle-floors
https://www.wheathills.com/uploads/images/IMG_0879-resized.jpg

Float-finishing the caste's restored floor
https://www.wheathills.com/uploads/images/WH2-resized.jpg

Floor under-boards and bits of straw, from a plaster floor restoration job (source http://oldhouserepairs.co.uk/id69.html)
http://oldhouserepairs.co.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/LimeAshPrep2.JPG

Same floor
http://oldhouserepairs.co.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/LimeAshPrep1.JPG

After Restoration
http://oldhouserepairs.co.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/LAFinal.JPG

View of the laths on the underside:
http://files.websitebuilder.prositehosting.co.uk/fasthosts14425/image/underlimeash_1.jpg

The underside of a modern restored lime-ash floor
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/As700u8CIAE89cU.jpg

Underside of a historic lime-ash floor:
http://izreal.eu/2014/07/20/lime-ash-flooring/lime-ash-floor-01/

Close-up of a modern lime-ash plaster floor reed mat shuttering, with a base coat of lime putty, nailed down by wood strips (from the source link listed above)
http://izreal.eu/2014/07/20/lime-ash-flooring/lime-ash-floor-01/

The above with the main layer of plaster being put down
http://izreal.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Lime-Ash-Floor-03.png

To imagine actually doing this, think about the technique of the old fashioned American and English thickset bathroom floor mud pans. The old Parisian plaster floor was not too different. A thick slab of bedding mortar was laid down enclosing the floor joists. Several inches down coping boards were nailed on rails, nailed to the joists themselves, to keep the mortar from falling below. These boards acted as formwork/shuttering. In the late 19th and early 20th century sometimes joists were shaved to a point at the tip, to help the mudset mortar slab to better get a key. Modern codes would probably frown on this because you have direct contact with the joists, which are structural members.  Later in the century metal lath was put on top of floor boards and the thickset mortar applied.

This pic sows an example of thick-set between floor joists (Source https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ask-toh/mysterious-subfloor ) - it's actually more common than people think, under their feet in old houses)
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/sites/default/files/styles/banner_3/public/migrated/tout-images/subfloor-x.jpg?itok=XaSjE2LH×tamp=1464295937

Another example:
https://www.diychatroom.com/attachments/f5/384513d1495582986-1950s-thickset-mortar-bed-img_8676.jpg

Nowadays thickset floor-bedding mortar 'mud pans' are laid on top of the subfloor, usually  with a vapor/moisture membrane beneath, like tar paper or plastic sheeting.

A modern example:
https://diy.sndimg.com/content/dam/images/diy/fullset/2008/1/28/0/dbtr502_3fd.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.1280.960.suffix/1420606006661.jpeg

Bathroom floor gypcrete over wood in a 1980s condo
https://www.contractortalk.com/attachments/f3/64141d1327640293t-should-i-put-membrane-between-concrete-topping-over-plywood-subfloor-100_8942.jpg

Modern mudset laying for shower pans, from Sakrete
https://www.sakrete.com/blog/creating-a-mortar-bed-for-a-shower-installation-using-sakrete-sand-mix

A modern lime concrete pour, over membranes, in an older rennovated house
http://timberandlime.com/wp-content/uploads/Pouring-the-Lime-Concrete-over-the-LECA.jpg


Traditional plaster flooring is breathable however which helps prevent rotting wood joists because moisture has a chance to evaporate, and isn't trapped. This is the real reason codes frown upon concrete directly touching structural wood. Modern concrete is impermeable. Moisture cannot evaporate and is trapped. The traditional methods lasted centuries.

In this case, unlike with plaster floors, the mortar was usually at a dry pack consistency, similar to a rammed earth mix or really damp sand on a beach. Good sand castle making consistency.. It would be barely damp, stiff, like zero slump concrete. You would be able to make squeeze a ball in your hand, and it should hold its form, like a well squeezed ball of damp sand or clay. This stuff is dumped in place, troweled floated and compacted. It was sometimes rammed.  The advantage of the old way is that the joists were literally embedded, so you wouldn't risk delamination.

Now in any case you could want to consider something similar, by adapting the essence of the older techniques to a modern context. So let's say you are going to do lime ash instead of cement based mortar. Since you are doing this over an actual floor you could, for example, nail or screw down modern expanded metal lath as a substrate, or nail down strips of wood laths. You could also look into how modern gypcrete is laid over plywood subfloors for ideas. Modern gypcrete and concrete flooring tends to be directly applied on the wood floor or sub-floor, or on top a plastic membrane. There is a lot of documentation on laying and finishing gypcrete.

As to the mortar, there are historical lime-ash recipes floating around. You could look up what was historically done, and look up what modern restorationists are doing. You have lime – depending on your budget there’s Type S masonry lime, or more expensive specialty NHL (Natural Hydraulic Lime) or AHL (artificial Hydraulic Lime) that’s being manufacture red. For ash, you could probably, for example, use well burned barbecue grill ashes, or a wood bonfire ash, well sifted through a screen. Maybe gather barbeque grill ashes from local picnic groves and parks, add to your own from when you cook out. Save it in a small plastic garbage can.

Also if you have a barbecue grill and no neighbors to complain nearby you could probably calcine autumn raked up leaves and dry grass clippings in patches.  (Avoid burning poison ivy by mistake :-) Leaves have a lot of silica. Leaf ash can be more reactive with lime mortar/plaster when mixed in. Some people say that twice burned ash is even more reactive, or at least I've heard people say this. Sift the ashes into a bucket placed over a tarp, normal screen window screen mesh would get large un-burned twigs, etc. Chunks of 4th of July barbecue grill nasties, etc., out of your ash.

You could also use ground up brick dust (which is middle eastern 'horasan mortar') it turns into a natural lime based concrete but is more crack resistant. In some areas you can source ground up brick from landscape supply companies. Another idea - hit up local ceramics shops, ask for their cast offs, place in thick sacks, whack with sledge hammers until you pound it into aggregate. Ceramic waste (brick, pottery, crockery, etc.) when ground up/pounded has pozzolanic properties. This means it gives lime a hydraulic set, makes it stringer, more like concrete. Modern masonry lime is not very reactive at all. Reactive lime is very expensive, because it's used for niche high-end historical restoration people. Adding ground brick aggregate to wood ashes makes the mix more reactive. It could have a harder and faster set and cure.

To increase the crack resistance and give more flexural strength to any plaster rendering traditionally people could add fiber, usually animal hair. Traditionally horse hair was favored by plasterers. Modern plasterers also sometimes use artificial poly fibers. However well washed human hair is very strong, and there’s some experimental uses of human hair as mortar and plaster fiber. You cut tresses into shorter segments with scissors. You can literally just go to a barber, ask them for a bunch of their hair shavings. Wash them very well with detergent or some degreasing soap. Just 'shampoo' bunches of hair in a plastic rubber maid bus-tub in your bathroom, rinse well, let dry very well, then cut into more manageable lengths and mix into your plaster/mortar mix. There is a lot of historical info on plastering with hair, etc.

A modern way would be just embedding nylon mesh or fiberglass mesh in the mortar pan, to give it flexural strength.

If you have time and good weather on your hands here is a good way to test out mixes. Take a few wood pallet skids, and penny-nail down small wood lathes with small gaps across the pallets slats (some Home Depots still sell wood lathe in bundles for plasterers). With others use expanded metal lath, if you have access to it and if it’s affordable. These are going to be your mini test floors. You would come up with different experimental mixes, and plaster trowel a 2" thick layer across the whole pallet, level it and float it, and ignore your neighbors' curious looks. Wood float finish it smooth, and let it further set and cure. You can and walk over them, drop hammers, jump, get neighboring parents permission to allow their kids to jump up and down, etc. See how the mix handles to flexing, impact, and use. See how it cracks during curing, etc. When you are done break the test mini-floor sections up, and just re-use the chunks as aggregate after hammering them into smaller rubble...

Next, instead of lime you can do gypsum plaster of paris flooring. Gypsum plaster’s direct modern equivalent is "Gypcrete” flooring, which is becoming popular in some high end hotel and condo builds around the country). What you have is just a thickset pan made of a plaster of paris based mortar. There are different formulas for mixing the mortar, in various ratios, as with lime-ash. Other substances are needed as aggregate, from sand to crushed bricks, and traditionally people also sometimes mixed in clay earth, loamy earth, silt, broken pottery and crockery, and other substances. It was never straight plaster. You also would need retarders, because all gypsum plaster sets quickly. Traditional retarders ranged, including lime putty for example slightly retards the setting. You have to prevent the gypsum plaster from setting up too quickly to be worked. Tri-sodium citrate is a modern retarder, there are others. Today, some markets have high quality finishing plasters that have a slower set and give a harder surface.

If you read up on these various techniques you should be able to figure out a method that works best to your unique situation. In old libraries, Google Books, and archive.org, pdf docs from restoration societies and government heritage sites, you may be able to find a wealth of information to shed light into whether this approach would work for you.
Good luck !
 
Rez Zircon
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Wow, what a lot of fascinating info, and photos!!

My sister the architect built herself an uber-modern house with poured concrete floors (including upstairs). Now I'm wondering if they're actually gypcrete -- they're that same chalky white color, and very fine-textured.
 
Helen Butt
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Yes, absolutely fascinating. Loved the photos.
 
Rez Zircon
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A minor point about expanded metal lath -- it can disrupt or block wireless signals.

I once lived in a house with metal lath and plaster walls... had to stand in front of the window to use the cellphone.
 
Simon Malik
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Rez Zircon wrote:A minor point about expanded metal lath -- it can disrupt or block wireless signals.
I once lived in a house with metal lath and plaster walls... had to stand in front of the window to use the cellphone.



Hi Rez,
Thanks for the kind words earlier. Your sister's house sounds really cool. Her floors sound beautiful, it would be really interesting to know what she used.

That's a good point on expanded metal lath. I work in an older building with tons of plaster on metal lath and the stuff is not kind at all to wireless signals. This could be very good for people sensitive to higher frequency wireless.. but it can be a real bummer in turns of today's living, mobile, wifi, the works...

Something just popped in my mind. If for any reason someone wants a space in which Wireless signals are deliberately blocked I wonder if this could be a good side use of expanded metal lath.

Let's say, if you can get a good quantity cheaply enough, you could just affix it to the studs and floor boards of a room, and re-plaster it all. Just attach self furring lath to all walls, floors, ceiling, and connect the seams with some conductive wire, and once it's all solidly plastered over you would have a room that's relatively interference free.

That is just a random thought that popped in my head. I haven't done this.. but I'm tempted to plaster a closet up like this for giggles, and see how much signal it blocks.

Some hardware store chains have self furring expanded metal lath for around or under $8 for a 2'x8' sheet.  Since it's self furring you can put it on just about any surface and plaster over it. The stuff is designed to give a solid substrate for plaster. Put a scratch coat on, then a brown coat, then a finishing coat. Then paint using a low vapor emission, or natural paint. Or use mineral pigments and lime and whitewash paint it. Or even tile all over.

In many parts of North Africa, Spain, and Portugal some people often partially or fully tile entire walls and floors. Especially in living rooms or salons. I saw a lot of this in Morocco and Algeria. I think it can be a rather pretty, and practical from a cleaning perspective.  I've seen very chic and modern looking ceramic tile panel modules, especially 3d designed ones, attractively tiled from floor to ceiling in upscale homes. Plastered self furring metal lath is a great substrate for tiles (it's how bathroom walls were tiled before cement backer-board was invented) so you could make a signal blocked room, nicely and attractively tiled up.

Just random thoughts and ideas, Cheers everyone.
 
Rez Zircon
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Whether metal lath is quiet might be an it-depends. My previous house with metal lath and plaster walls... was like living inside a drum. Any little sound was amplified and carried through the entire house. Worse, with music it filtered out bass and amplified treble. I could not play music in the back room and be in the front room -- that was like ear assault with high-pitched noise. I should note that I think these were prefab metal-lath-with-plaster already attached, not plastered in place. The whole house was built from a kit.

Not sure what's behind the plaster in current house (it's slightly older), but have not found any of metal lath's usual bits sticking into vacant spaces, so the backing might be wooden lath. And this house is very quiet.

I like the idea of using tile to finish a plaster wall! Could do some very interesting things there.



 
Nothing up my sleeve ... and ... presto! A tiny ad:
Food Forest Card Game - Game Forum
https://permies.com/t/61704/Food-Forest-Card-Game-Game
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