Once we had moved onto the land and into the tent, progress hit a high gear on the homestead. We quickly got the first veg greenhouse setup, ground covered with some weed block, and lights we could run off the solar to keep things in veg setup. We ordered the flower greenhouse and a quest 165-pint dehumidifier and got the biggest swimming pool setup we could find on the island for our water catchment tank. And the project began on the old “sugar shack” building, with the hope and plan to get us out of the tent. Before we could even start on the building, we had to clear 6-10 years of jungle growth from around the sugar shack, trim down some clumping palm trees, and fight the fire ants, but we got it done and the jungle pushed back. We then had gravel dropped for a driveway as well as setup a lumber delivery area, and for a pad for the addition to be built on. Finally, we were ready to start working on the building itself!
When we first started renovation, we had rather lofty ideas about being able to salvage much of the building. Hindsight being 20-20, we would have been time and money ahead just starting from scratch, as it turned out every single piece of wood off the original building needed replacement due to extensive termite damage. Even then the roof tin ended up needing replacement as well, so we pretty much kept the foundation, and replaced everything else piece by piece in the most complicated way possible. The original structure was 16×16 and is situated on piers 5 1/2 foot off the ground. 256 square foot of space was not nearly big enough for us, so we decided to start by adding a 12×16 addition and adding a second roof pitch. 16×28 is Still not the biggest house by any means, especially to run a business from and live out of with dogs, so we do have plans to build a large, covered, and screened porch someday.
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When looking at the sugar shack and using our lack of any real knowledge on construction, we decided it would be best for us to start with the addition’s construction, being that we could use the existing building to help us square off and find where the new piers would be. To accomplish this, we first had to demo out enough of the floor and exterior wall of the original building to expose the lower foundation beam that all the floor joists sit on top of. Once we had enough of the first exterior wall removed, and original subflooring all cut and demoed out, we laid out 3 temporary floor joists for the addition long enough to roughly mark out the required piers. Once we had these marked, we were able to make our concrete molds for the footings and we could get to building the new piers to hold up the addition. As soon as the concrete dried, it was off to the races, and we quickly got the new 4×8 beam in place that supports all the new joists, exterior wall, and roof
Now I know many are wondering about pier construction…as it’s not that common for houses on the mainland. Hawaii building is different than mainland building in the way piers are done here, as there is no frost to force digging deep footings, which in the blue lava rock we have here in puna, requires heavy equipment, but there is always risk of hurricanes. So, this stage of the build became our first introduction to hurricane ties and pier building.
Once the first main support beam was in place, it was time to lay both the floor joists, and the subfloor. This was quite an interesting job to do, as to lay the subfloor, we had to fully cut out the original 4×4 corner stud posts of the sugar shack’s exterior wall, the 2×4 wall studs, as well as fully remove all the old subfloor a good 3 foot into the original structure to fit the new subfloor in. With how heavily damage the original sugar shack was, and how heavily infested with termites it was, it was quite unnerving removing so many of the supports from that exterior wall with the Sawzall. We had to take this in stages, and as we put in the new subflooring, we would pound in 2×4 studs temporarily to help hold up the roof and keep the structure from collapsing. This was all done from ladders as well, as the floor is a good 5-6 foot up off the ground, so it made for some tricky work, especially since we are not contractors, and were totally winging it, with only help from the internet and YouTube. It was not until we had the addition’s sub floored that we were able to have a nice work platform.
From there it was quite a decision…we were starting to realize that we had vastly overestimated how much wood could be saved from the structure, and every time we cut a piece out, it came included with living termites, and even worse, a rain of termite poop. I quickly learned my skin despises termite poop and sweat, as I would break out and have some nasty irritation and redness with burning itching feelings. Not the most fun chapter by any means! The question became, since we are already committed and we have started building and demo already, how the heck are we going to replace all 4 walls, studs, siding, subfloor, and floor joists…and the bigger question…how to do it in a way that does not make the building collapse from the wind, rain, or us working. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time staring, debating, googling, tapping rotten boards, and staring up at this huge project we had no idea how to safely do, or even do at all for that matter. There were moments when I said to myself, “We might have gotten in over our heads.” But the only move we had was forward…so we got to it. We would cut a section out, get covered in termite shit, rinse it off, and then add back in temporary supports. We knew we had to do it in a Tetris pattern that would allow us to put new floor joists in, put subfloor on top, and then once subflooring was there, we would have a new strong spot we could set in a 2×4 brace to hold up the roof. It took quite a bit of steps, forward and backwards, but she came together. The hardest parts ended up being getting the permanent corners level and plumb…as it took fighting a rotting structure that we really did not know for sure was even square. As we replaced new sections of wall further down that had been sagging, it would shift the corners just enough that we would have to go redo them, and it inevitably meant quite a bit of back stepping. Some of those most frustrating and stressful times on the build were the four corners, and I came to despise the level. Truly my wife is to thank, because if I had not had her here, they would not be level and plumb, and I would be living in a crooked house and would have destroyed all the levels lol.
While it was at times extremely hard, frustrating, and stressful, we worked hard every day, and made progress as we could. What we found quickly, 3 acres in Hawaii is a lot of maintenance, and off grid living especially is maintenance, demanding, and tougher than I envisioned in my mind. We had quite a few things break, especially electronics, and others needed constant adjustment till we got them dialed in, and it felt like if we turned around the grass needing mowing and the weeds needed whacking. The jungle felt, and still feels really, like a lurking predator constantly needing a flame waved in its face to keep it at bay. And any inch you allow the jungle to take…takes twice as much work to claim it back. And if you waited for Hawaii to stop raining and dry out to put your work in…you would be waiting forever. Being wet just comes with the territory.