Trip Start Mar 16, 2007
Trip End May 02, 2007

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Flag of US Minor Outlying Islands  ,
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Now for some of my observations about construction in the islands. Much of this is the same in the Marshall Islands, Aruba, Bonaire, Belize, and Bali to varying degrees. I've woven a couple of photos into the text, but there are more in the album.

First of all, almost everything is cement block construction with a stucco plaster over it. They use steel rebar for reinforcement and alignment. This gives better insulation and much better resistance to water and termites than wood and drywall.

Wood is only used for cabinets, forms, some roof supports, and some outdoor and temporary structures. The big exception to this is the houses that are made entirely of scrap wood and tin plates, but that's neither the most common nor the role model.

The other big use of wood is in the more traditional native construction. That uses treated logs, bamboo and thatch fronds. This is mostly used for decorative, festive or tourist-oriented structures.

Tile is typically used in many interior spaces. The tile jobs here are generally very sturdy and water-tight.

All of this leads to a difference in the way bathrooms, kitchens and entryways are designed. Typically, bathrooms just have a drain in the middle of the floor. They may or may not have shower curtains. Splashing water without worry about keeping it in the tub is common. In places with water supply problems, keeping a tub under the bathroom faucet to trap water for the toilet or washing clothes is common. After all, if the water isn't running, flushing the toilet is a problem, and your body doesn't necessarily work on that schedule.

Most of the bathrooms have French-style shower heads on flexible hoses. This makes it really easy to wash the bathroom and generally make a wet mess if you want. The bathroom drainage also makes it a great place to dry clothes and scuba gear without doing any damage.

The water problems we had a Suka's were partially because her main kitchen room doesn't have a drain, only her bathroom. The concrete construction kept the water in the room with no place to drain, but also with no place to leak and do damage other than the room.

Another interesting aspect of the concrete block and rebar construction is that you can keep building over time. You don't have to finish all at once. Partially finished houses are a common sight, as are single story houses with rebar sticking out of the roof in case they want to add a second story. Sometimes you also see second stories under construction. Sometimes they have decided not to add another story and just cemented in the rebar, leaving concrete pillars on top of the roof. The latter is pretty scarce.

There are economic advantages to this approach. Since wages are low, they can buy concrete blocks as they can afford them and add them on as it makes sense. It can take years to build a house completely. It also means that if construction is halted due to money, travel, or priorities, the investment is not lost.

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