John Connell founded the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in 1980 and the Yestermorrow Building Group Inc. (later to become 2morrow Studio in 1982.) He taught at Yale's school of architecture for five years after which he authored the book Homing Instinct: Using Your Lifestyle to Design & Build Your Own Home, McGraw Hill, 2000. Besides teaching he is currently designing green homes that tell "stories", design/building treehouses for handicapped children, and animating short films. 2morrow Studio puts into actual practice the design/build philosophy taught at the Yestermorrow School. A small design/build firm in Vermont, 2morrow Studio works with residential and small commercial clientele interested in integrated energy-efficient architecture using the latest green and sustainable methodologies. Besides architectural design, Connell is an experienced team builder, group facilitator and educational program designer. The Yestermorrow School teaches people how to plan, design, build or renovate their own homes. It is staffed by over 40 architects, builders and artisans from all over the United States who believe that the way to improve the built and natural environments is to re-involve people in vernacular architecture.

Questions and Answers

Q: I would like to know what the proper procedure is for screwing down plywood subflooring before the installation of hardwood flooring. Can you PROPERLY screw down plywood subflooring from below in the basement?

A: No, plywood subfloor is never screwed down from below the floor joists. That's not to say that it couldn't be if the situation called for it, but why on earth would you want to? Plywood subfloor is normally glued and nailed to the floor joists, staggering the joints at least 2 feet; preferably 4. They make tongue and groove plywood specifically for decking and it comes in one inch thicknesses. This is an ideal nail base for hardwood flooring, but not totally essential. Simple 3/4" ply run perpendicular to the floor joists will work fine. Then you can run the hardwood flooring perpendicular as well, and nail it off at the same spacing as the floor joists.
Let me know if there is some special condition that calls for attaching it from below and I will make a suggestion on how it might be done.

Q: I am building a strawbale house in CT - post and beam w/straw infill. We are hoping to put in a concrete floor in the round house with radiant floor underneath. I don't know how to do the floor myself. I'd like to add color and maybe stamping too. Prices for stamped concrete work in CT are extremely high. Could you recommend a resource for me? Or is it worth the cost to have a pro do it. They quoted me $10 per foot including materials.

A: You will be walking on that floor every moment of your waking day. Having someone who really knows what they're doing wouldn't be a bad investment at all. If you're determined to do it yourself (not my suggestion), I would start reading web sites like: www.greenbuilder.com/general/ articles/AAS.concretefloor.html or go to the www.yestermorrow.org site and sign up for one of their many courses. They offer courses in straw bale, concrete counter tops and loads of other subjects that will probably help you get the results you want. Great way to network with other owner/builders.

Q: I am considering my options. The basement of my 125-year-old brownstone in upstate New York has a dirt floor. There is moisture, but very little. I run a dehumidifier most of the time. I would like to finish this floor, but am having trouble deciding what material to use: brick, stone, concrete, etc. Essentially, I would like to use the most earth-conscious, healthy, cleanable material that I can afford. I will be doing all the work myself.

A: It's hard to specify an entire floor system without seeing the basement.  But if the moisture isn't too bad, I'd suggest 2" of foam insulation covered with 4" of reinforced concrete, steel finished and maybe even dyed. The dye and final finishes depend on whether the room will be used for living or only utility?  Other issues include whether you will need heat, ventilation and/or filtration.  You should also test for Radon before doing anything. Still, dollar for dollar, concrete is the best option for you.

Q: I have a red brick patio with dirt separating each brick by, maybe, 1/2" to 5/8" inch. Above my bricks is a tree that produces less than 1/2" hard pea-like pods. They fall in between the bricks and it's tough to sweep/rake up. My intent is to pour cement in between the bricks to brick level. My question is: 1)It this feasible? 2) Can I get the cement to a pourable, self leveling consistency?

A (Kelly): What you suggest doing is fairly tricky to do without making a mess on the bricks. You would need to clean out all of the debris between the bricks by about an inch, and then use a mortar mix to grout those spaces. One tool that might help is a conical canvas bag similar to what is used to do cake decorations, so that you fill it up with the wet mortar, and gently squeeze the big end to force the contents into the crack at the small end. Be prepared to clean up any spilled mortar with a wet rag before it dries on the bricks.

Q& A : I had a house built 1 year ago, and want to remove the original tile, however, the tile is extremely hard to remove; pieces of concrete are stuck to the thinset and tile...what could cause this? How do I remove the tile without damaging the concrete?

Sounds like a good tile installation. If the concrete is coming off with the thinset, I think you will have to reparge the concrete.  Is this an exterior or interior application?  Water involved?  Weather?  Freezing temperatures. Hard to be too specific knowing so little.

This is inside a house, regular a/c on, nothing abnormal with temperatures or water.  While preparing to remove existing tile (approx 1-2 years old) from the floor, hammer and chisel did not work. We rented a jack hammer to continue w/removal.  That is when tile came up with thinset and small chunks of concrete attached.  The area looked like it was riddled with golf-ball size holes in the concrete. A builder suggested that the concrete was not allowed to cure completely before installing the tile, causing the tile, thinset and concrete to become one. . . hence the difficulty in removing tile the normal way.  Is this possible? 

Entirely possible.

What other method could be used to remove the existing tile? 

Perhaps an electric jack hammer or construction hammer with a flat blade would allow you to chip it off without taking so much concrete along with it.  But...

Shouldn't the floor be floated prior to installing 20x20 tile to ensure an even installation?

Absolutely. So perhaps you should just take the tile up in any way that is efficient and not worry about damage to the concrete.  Remember also that concrete gets harder with age and I'm sure it's only become more durable over time.  So have at it!

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I specifically disclaim any warranty, either expressed or implied, concerning the information on these pages. Neither I nor any of the advisor/consultants associated with this site will have liability for loss, damage, or injury, resulting from the use of any information found on this, or any other page at this site. Kelly Hart, Hartworks LLC.