03 Nov 2015

A fine flooring finish for Will Anderson's self-build

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i-build is following Will Anderson as his self-build journey unfolds. This month he is taking his time laying his floors.

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The time it takes to finish a house depends a great deal on (a) how many people are on site and (b) how ambitious you are with your finishes. In my case, the answer to (a) is usually one: me. As for (b), well, our floors are about as ambitious a project as you can imagine. For every floor in The Orchard is being finished with reclaimed parquet, with a different wood and a different pattern in every room. So, needless to say, it’s all taking rather a long time.

The great advantage of using reclaimed parquet, beyond its obvious eco-credentials as a reused product, is the range of woods available. Over the past 200 years, British builders have imported thousands of tons of tropical hardwoods to finish the floors of schools, public buildings and private dwellings. Many of these woods can no longer be obtained sustainably but many of these buildings are now coming down, or are being refurbished, so there is a plentiful supply of reclaimed product, at least for now. We bought all our parquet blocks from Parquet-Parquet, who offer a good service, a wide range of woods and affordable prices. They even tell you on the invoice exactly where your wood has come from.

Labour of love

The crucial issue with reclaimed parquet blocks is how much cleaning they need before they are glued down again. Parquet is traditionally laid with bitumen, so the bottoms of the blocks are typically still black from this old-fashioned adhesive. Fortunately, this does not need to be taken off. The glue we have been using – SikaBond 5500S – is specially designed for reclaimed parquet and revitalises the bitumen as well as acting as an adhesive itself. The cleaning therefore focuses on the tongues and grooves, which have to be clear of dirt if the blocks are to be laid tightly. You only get into real trouble if these are bunged up with bitumen from an over-zealous Victorian floor-layer. Happily, none of the blocks we bought from Parquet-Parquet suffered from this problem.

Laying parquet is, however, a labour of love. The place to start is usually a line of blocks right down the middle of the room, from which you work outwards to the sides. A border of two blocks is marked out early on and when the pattern reaches this line, you keep on going until the line is covered. Then, with the aid of a plunge saw and a guide rail, the straight interior edge of the border is sliced through all the overlapping blocks before the border itself is laid. There should, therefore, be no need for cutting little pieces at the edges.

If all goes well, the blocks can go down quite fast. A simple pattern such as a ladder, as we used in our utility room, is quick to lay. But a more complicated pattern like herringbone or basket-weave can begin to go ever so slightly awry, which can demand a lot of remedial action, cutting blocks or filling gaps, especially if the floor is large. Our ground floor living room is one big 39m² space, which we have finished in panga-panga – a beautiful chocolate-brown African hardwood – using an offset basketweave pattern. I can only say that I was extremely relieved when I got to the final corner.

The sanding and oiling are still to come but it’s clear enough that these floors are going to look amazing. I’ve got through a lot of elbow grease but I know I’m going to be glad I made the effort for many years to come.

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