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Mary Ann's Tropical Building Page

Report #3:
July 15, 1997



My husband Bob and I have acquired land on a Caribbean island where we plan to design and construct our home, a technology center and a guest house.. These pages record our plans, resources, ideas, problems, and progress.

Hints: Click on any small picture to see it larger and visit the Site Map for previous and future progress reports, house plans, bookstore and references.

The Gazebo

[Click for bigger view of Arne] [Click for larger view]

The idea for making the gazebo out of recycled "Luis" telephone poles came to us while sitting in Barrel Stay restaurant on Sandy Ground. To learn how to do it, we studied the book Low Cost Pole Building Construction by Doug Merrilees and Everlyn Loveday, revised by Ralph Wolfe, Garden Way Publishing, ISBN 0-88266-170-1.

Arne Harrigan of Island Harbour won the contract for the gazebo. Arnie is well known for his cabinetry and boat building and he understands pole construction (he also had a book on the subject). That is Arne pictured above, with his father (who taught him carpentry) helping him. Arnie has also been a tailor and his father taught him that too. And Arne is a musician as well, his proudest accompishment considering that he has always been almost deaf.

Pouring Of Our First Concrete

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The eight telephone poles that support the gazebo will be set 4' deep into concrete so that they won't blow away in a hurricane. The gazebo is built completely of wood, with a wood shingle roof. This will be an informal place to sit in your sandy, wet swimming suit and enjoy the view.

The second picture above shows our project manager Griffin Webster on site as Arne directs concrete into our gazebo holes.

Landscaping: Holes Refilled...

If you look at these pictures carefully, you will see that all the holes we hammered out of the rock last month have now been filled back up. Trees and shrubs will be planted in the holes later. The holes were filled in with some of the shattered rocks, crusher waste (this is small pebbles from Albert Lake's rock crusher, no nutriant value), then black sand (sand with organic matter), then expensive top soil that we bought. Later, before planting, we will enhance the soil further.

Soil Tests Reveal?

There was some controversy as to which soil we purchased was the best. We had soil delivered to our site from several different sources, ranging in price from US$ 20.00 to US$ 30.00 per yard.

Griffin performed some soil tests using a test kit I bought in Canada at a Garden Center. Although the test kit measured many factors, organic content was not one of them. The results were inconclusive: all four samples measured the same!

So we brought down our 72-year old housekeeper Rumania Hodge, "Monty". She marched up to each pile, grabbed a handful of dirt, squeezed it, looked at it closely, and immediately declared "good", "useless" or "Very Good", with absolute authority and certainty. So we ignored all the little test tubes and took Monty's word for it. After all, she's been working her "ground" since before we were born and sells her excess produce to Ashley and Sons.

Fencing and Goats

[Click for larger view of rock wall]

We are searching for a way to keep the goats out of the front of our property, along the waterfront, without building a giant wire fence. There is currently a rock wall across most of the property and we are extending it to the property lines.

At some points the rock wall is 4 feet high, but at others it is only 2-1/2 feet. We are considering setting concrete posts into the top of the wall, then a 2' wooden fence between the posts, then plant a hedge of something prickly behind the wall. Then get a dog too. Anybody have any suggestions?

Feedback About Pounding Holes

In our last report, we described our efforts pounding holes on our rocky property. In response, Anguilla home-owner John Bedford writes
When we dug our cistern hole, also in solid rock, it took almost 4 weeks and 3 machines, which took turns breaking down, and driving the neighbors crazy - They even worked on Easter Sunday!

I know Rayme has a good machine - He just dug a septic hole for us this spring. Did the fellow from Montserrat operate the hammer? He was very congenial, and did a great job for us, but I can't recollect his name just now.

We found that National Trucking's big hammer was the most cost effective for creating a big hole fast (like a septic field). However, Rayme's smaller hammer was more precise at making smaller holes such as those for the gazebo poles. Rayme Lake's Hammer Operator. In answer to this question, Samuel Delay (sounds like Daley) is Rayme's hammer operator, and he is a Montserratian.

Some Questions

We are looking for ideas. Send suggestions to Mary Ann. Questions that are currently occupying our minds:

Concrete Floors Are Hard!

Walking on tile floors is hurting our knees and feet. We are considering a wood floor, probably greenheart from Guyana, which is termite- and dry rot-resistant, impervious to sun, heat and moisture, and hard as a rock (almost). But unlike tile, wood has good tensile strength and can be suspended and even laid over springy materials like foam to provide more give (or "deflection" in engineer terms).

The question is how exactly to install this floor to save our knees?

Another person who is also building in Anguilla went to Guyana recently and found sources for tongue and groove flooring at US$1.25 per board foot. But then you have to pay dock loading, shipping of at least $2800 for an open pallet, 2% export tax, etc.

Bill Pratt from B.C. writes:

Many years ago I put rigid high density fiber glass batts under 3/4 plywood with hard vinyl tiles on top. This was an office area in a steel pipe mill. It was put in for accoustics reasons as a large overhead crane rolled along next to the office. The hush of the area was like a sound studio but in the end the floor was just as hard.

Your wood floor will also be hard unless you put underpad and carpet on it. But that defeats your Ann's desires. Is a hardwood floor common in Anquilla. No termites??? If there are, don't leave a space under for them to make a home. Your neoprene will act as a shock absorber but the wood will always be hard and non resiliant. I can only think of smart remarks like knee pads and thick slippers but as I am often wrong and I am not a fan of hardwood floors, much as I like other people to have them.

After a few phone calls I got nowhere from the trades. If you can get a foam neoprene you might get a better result as the load is low per sq inch unless you have a grand piano or such. I think you will have to do some tests. Try high density polyurethane sheets and get some free insulation for the cistern below? Don't let nails touch the concrete or the system is defeated. I don't want to sound flippant but some well placed persian rugs will give you refuge areas and some exclusive decorative potential. Make certain that water can drain away quickly if a hurricane should flood your floor. Some tricky detailing is necessary.

Any Other Suggestions?

Shutters For Outward-Opening French Doors?

In our kitchen and library we have 6'x8' openings with double French Doors that open out (so that we can have screen doors opening in). We could put accordian shutters over the opening? Has anyone out there covered french doors in another way that survived a hurricane? We would like something that is permanent mounted and can be shut tight in a few moments. One idea we had was traditional wooden West Indian shutters, but mounted and hinged on an extruding frame around the French doors. In this way, perhaps the shutters could lay flat against the walls when open and the French doors could also open completely and lay flat over the shutters.

Some Answers

Dade County Building Code Online

In the tropics, you always need to worry about hurricanes. Here is the web site for the Dade County Florida building code compliance deparment:


Their site is huge and includes lists of hurricane approved products in many categories. For example, their page with approved shutter products is


Tropical Hardwoods

We have a US Forest Service survey of South American hardwoods that we found on the Internet last year (part of a world wide survey). It lists the scientific name, plus all the local names for each wood and what it is useful for. It is now a reference page on the Beach Shack web site. Once you have it loaded (450K), you can use your browser's Find function to search for wood by name. If you find it useful, you can save it on your hard drive using the File-SaveAs function, then Open and Bookmark it locally.

Wenco Vinyl Windows and Durawood

Judy Carmichael writes:
We have a home on Sea Feathers Bay (Rainbow Reef) and the building of it was overseen by my brother and sister in law. They were absolutely wonderful as were our builders: Paul Neuss and Lionel "Ram" Richardson. The place was built in record time (for Anguilla) with their very capable crew. My brother helped by advising us to put special materials in the house that would do well considering the tropical conditions; i.e. the constant blast of salty wind, the sun, the humidity, etc. He has lived, successfully, down there for about 30 years and has really done a study of the place for building, living, etc. (He even had a part in the revolution.)

We have put Wenco solid vinyl windows and doors on our place and they are terrific. We have also used a "wood" made of recycled plastic milk cartons, called Durawood, for porch rails and gates, kitchen and bathroom window sills, etc. The Durawood comes in colors (we preferred white) and never needs painting. It is all working very well and survived all the recent hurricanes.

My brother, Dr. David Berglund, is the rep for those Wenco windows and Durawood. If you are interested contact him or his wife, Charlotte, at 2817. They live at Little Horbour. They will be happy to show you our house (if it isn't rented) so that you can see how those items appear.

Note: we had placed an order for Wenco vinyl windows with David, but on July 15th we found out that Wenco had decided to give up selling to the Caribbean. These windows were for the downstairs of the office building, which will be air conditioned and hold computers. For the upstairs guest quarters and meeting room, we are planning wind cooling and louvers made with inexpensive aluminum operators and white durawood slats. The operators may have to be replaced in 5 years, but the slats should still be reusable. In the other buildings we are avoiding glass and aluminum and opting mostly for solid wood louvers.

Please fax or email any suggestions, questions, or comments to me on Anguilla.

Site Map: Links, Plans and Other Info

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Beach Shack Contact:

Mary Ann Green
Box 931, Shoal Bay, Anguilla, West Indies
Fax: 264-497-3295
[Home] [Mail] URL: www.beachshack.ai
Email: maryann@beachshack.ai