Party House, Grow House, Room with a View

Exploring the History of a Home and a Neighborhood

1 Comment

Reclaiming Gym Floors: eco-friendly beauty and soundproofing all in one inexpensive package

After weeks of stalking Craigslist, I was beginning to despair of ever finding affordable–let alone ecologically sustainable–flooring for Rocky Butte’s 3,000 square feet of public space (we will probably be re-carpeting the bedrooms). But yesterday I found 2,000 square feet of premium grade maple tongue and groove for $1 per square foot. It has been lightly used as the floor of the gym at a Christian high school in rural Oregon. With luck, we’ll be able to buy another 1,000 square feet from the same contractors. Here’s a picture:


Unlike gym floors bought through an FSC certified dealer, this flooring won’t come with an official FSC re-use chain of custody certification. But since we are buying it from the people who demo’d the floor, we know its story. And since–unlike more expensive certified repurposed flooring–we’ll have to take apart the dang floor ourselves, there is no question it really was a gym floor to begin with. Moreover, since absolutely nothing about owning a 5,000 square foot home made mostly of windows is eco-friendly, we aren’t exactly trying for any official certifications.

Traditional gym floors are made from maple tongue and groove stapled onto two layers of plywood or pine subflooring; this assembly is then floated on top of evenly spaced pads that allow the floor to absorb shock and, hopefully, save the knees and ankles of the athletes and dancers who use it. When the contractors demo’d the floor they cut the floor assembly into the large rectangular pieces pictured above. They are *heavy*! It took five of us many hours to load them onto a trailer and unload them into the garage at Rocky Butte.

Last week we almost had a chance to purchase 1,700 square feet of old growth Douglas Fir tongue and groove from an 1880s farmhouse, also at $1 a square foot, but the woman decided in the end to keep the flooring. It would have been an amazing opportunity–this type of flooring usually sells for $15 a square foot. Yet those beautiful old growth boards really belong in a smaller home that would respect and showcase the labor and history that they represent.

Our repurposed gym floors are much more in keeping with Rocky Butte’s history as a party house. We will have to pry apart the tongue and groove from its two layers of plywood backing and cut off/sand down the blind nailed staples. But we should be able to reuse most of the plywood when we create our own floating floors in areas of the house where soundproofing is desirable. As this article notes, floating your hardwood floor on two layers of plywood over either acoustic rubber matting or rubber gym pads is the most effective way to muffle impact noise. And the additional layers of plywood mass also help address airborne noise. Portland building codes will require us to muffle both impact (IIC) and airborne (STC) noise to at least 45 between the main floor and the accessory dwelling unit we hope to build in the basement. Since at STC 45 loud voices can still be heard as a low murmur, we hope to meet the higher STC 50 standard mandated in California. Repurposed gym flooring is the first part of putting that standard within our financial reach. Insulation, careful sealing of ducts and other passageways, and perhaps a floating/furred ceiling, will comprise the second half of the project.

Aesthetically, both first and third grade floors have their beauty, the former for its clear, smooth grain; the latter for its interesting knots and discolorations. Because first grade maple has become increasingly expensive, newer gym floors are increasingly made with third grade maple, also known as “seconds.” While both would be beautiful at Rocky Butte, the large open expanses of the great rooms will be accentuated by the smooth lines of the first grade maple. And while those who install gym floors sometimes retain the original gym markings to create visual interest, we are going for a more traditional look.

Don’t expect photos of the refinished floors for a long while yet . . .


Leave a comment >

The other day, taking a break from moving boxes, we saw a red tailed hawk riding a thermal right outside the kitchen window. More recently, again moving boxes, a juvenile bald eagle soared by. Every day as I finish work, I watch the sunset from the living room windows:Image

Here, in the end, is what makes this house so beautiful. Despite the Rocky Butte house’s fortress-like exterior, many elements of the original architecture emphasized a connection to the natural world. This is evident in everything from the huge timber beams that span the open floor plan to the banks of windows overlooking the city, and as we remodel we are searching for ways to bring nature back into the home in keeping with Northwest Modernism.

The original emphasis on the natural was most evident in its incorporation of two large fir trees—probably Douglas Firs—into the plan for the ground floor. The part of the house where the firs were incorporated is one story with the large front deck above it. In the architect’s construction documents, the fir trees are the two circles in the “party room.” (As you can see from the names of the rooms–party room, pool room, card room–the original owner did not plan to spend all that much time contemplating nature. . .) The text beside the the fir trees instructs the reader to “save existing fir trees [illegible] enclose in glass . . .”


Here is a picture of the beams that seem to have been the framing for these firs, evidence that the plan was carried out (the smaller beams painted grey, and the unstained smaller beams edged in plywood painted a greenish grey that seem to been used as an exterior finish):


Neither tree remains today, and there is no record of how or why they died. It is such a shame that they are gone! Since we can’t really plan to grow new Douglas Firs up through the ceiling, what can we do to bring nature back into the building?

As you can see from these photographs we have begun by uncovering some of the beams. We are revealing the beams on the ground floor, while postponing any decision on the beams on the middle and upper floors. My mother still worries that it will make the house “too rustic.” I’ll update this post with photos of the gorgeous tongue and groove that we also decided to uncover throughout the ground floor.

Perhaps most excitingly, my father has suggested that we consider incorporating bedrock into the design of the Accessory Dwelling Unit that we hope to build in the two story “crawl space” that used to be the grow room. Here’s what the floors looked like when the county busted the house:


I am measuring the inside carefully in order to develop a Sketchup model that can be used to develop designs/floor plans. Not sure how we can or will incorporate bedrock, but here are some photos from around the web of different extravagant designs:

Elrod_Murray Grigor_01 Malibu1103rock10 Malibu1103rock11 inside-rock-outside-treepetre4

The last image is from a controversial building that follows a design by Frank Lloyd Wright updated to fit today’s construction codes. As the Guardian notes, “One particular bone of contention with the purists is the “desert masonry” – a much-imitated technique Wright devised for creating massive supporting walls, using large rocks embedded in concrete. Usually the rocks stand proud of the wall by only half an inch or so, but the rocks in Massaro’s desert masonry jut out much further. He couldn’t recess them any deeper, he explains, because the walls have an insulating layer necessary to satisfy the building code.”

Compare the use of large boulders in the images above to Wright’s use of rock and bedrock in his famous Fallingwater:


Our use of bedrock may in the end be limited by the need to mitigate radon infiltration–a neighbor has reported problems with radon, and we are running a short term home test kit now. . .