Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Single Wall Construction


Many of the older homes in Hawaii were constructed with only a single exterior wall, which is often referred to as single wall construction.  The original purpose of single wall construction was to save on costs because most building material has to be shipped in from the mainland.  Single wall construction is possible in Hawaii primarily because there is no need to insulate against the cold.  Many of these single wall homes have louvered windows to throttle the cooling effect of the trade winds.  Since the wood used in single wall construction is exposed to the elements, redwood or cedar are preferred for their termite and dryrot resistance.  In the 1980's, the price of redwood and cedar increased, offsetting the cost advantages single wall construction once held.  Since double wall construction requires slightly less skill, single wall homes became less common.  An irony about single wall construction is that they have less bugs, don't need air conditioning, and are cheaper in the long run.  Single wall homes typically have no fiberglass insulation and often do not have any drywall, both of which are some of the less earth friendly of all building materials.

Where am I going with this?  Off on a tangent of course.

I'd like to think we as humans have the option to build our exterior with single or double construction.  It's easier and far more common to go double-wall, first framing our boundaries, then attaching osb, a moisture barrier, and an exterior siding.  At that point we go about our business of insulating, drywalling, taping, painting, and installing floors and baseboard.  When we are done, we feel strong and protected, and we can open our front door to any of our friends who ring the doorbell or text us that they are stopping by to visit.

By contrast, the single wall human takes a bit more thought and work.  Any gaps will be very noticeable, so the joints between boards and all of the angles which are exposed should maintain tight tolerances.  Electrical wires have to be concealed behind casing, and plumbing routed entirely under the floor.  A lot less material is used, but more time and care must go into the process of building, a process of delayed gratification.

As a child, I never appreciated single wall construction.  I thumbed my nose at any homes that looked so "cheap".  I erroneously assumed that drywall was "right".  I did not fully appreciate the simple beauty that was all around me, single wall homes just seemed like a construction project waiting for funding.

But I do remember how it felt to be inside one of those homes.  How connected to the island you feel when the tradewinds sing through, and how much you hear through the openness of the walls.  In many ways, this feeling, the single wall feeling, describes what I feel in yoga, of connecting myself to the outside, while remaining indoors.

The privileges of a childhood in paradise are numerous because of all the uniqueness which simply cannot survive elsewhere.  Unique species, unique construction methods, unique family units, and unique and breathtaking views of natural wonder.  And yet, while the specifics of Hawaii's uniqueness cannot be directly experienced on the mainland, the conceptual approach to openness and connection is an option for everyone no matter where they are.  We can always extend ourselves to others in various ways without giving up much of anything from ourselves.  We can always get by with less, less stuff, less food, less time, less praise.  We can always feel more connected to the world, by removing barriers between ourselves and that which we seek to be closer to.

One of my favorite memories of home, of being in a place I will always call home, is running past a single wall house, as the afternoon showers rinse my skin, and feeling an intense connection to the life flowing all around me.

23 comments:

  1. you should ask Krista about living in a single-wall house--with a husband and two little kids. not perhaps as idyllic as one would wish ;). but I take your point.

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  2. Good write up. I'm about to build a single wall home on the Big Island!

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    1. Send me photos please, I'd love to write about your project.

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  3. Okay i have a single wall home on leeward Oahu that i want to switch to 2 X 6 framing how would i go about doing that? in the cheaoest way?

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    1. I'm a project Manager for a small construction company on O'ahu. If you want to switch the whole house to 2x6 you might as well knock the house down and start again. Usually single frame houses are built using post and pier construction and the added weight of the 2x6 walls might be too much for the structural members to handle. I am from Wai'anae as well, send me your information and I'll tell you a little more of what I do maybe even swing by and check the project out.

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    2. Usually single wall construction homes are built post and pier. If the house was built slab-on-grade can.

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  4. Thank you. I am looking at houses in Hawaii but will probably opt for a high rise condo.

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  5. Growing up in single-walled homes is indeed a "local kine" experience. Now, an owner of a single wall in one of the oldest pineapple villages on Oahu - I soooooo love my house! Throws back to easier days and lazy times. Just, need to do some upgrades. :) Love this post even though is old - very true.

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  6. My wife and I moved to Pahoa on the Big Island from Texas in 2012. I am an architect, and I became interested in single wall construction. We bought a lot in Hawaiian Shores Recreational Estates about 250 feet off the ocean. I designed a single wall home for us, found a really good builder, and it is under construction as of July 2013. As prolific as single wall construction once was in Hawaii I was surprised to learn that many of the workers on our house, even some who have been in the business for several decades, have never actually been involved in the construction of a single wall construction home.

    This is an incredible experience. Everyone connected with this project appears to be excited about it. We are attempting to pay respect to the spirit of the single wall style of building, while at the same time incorporating sound construction techniques. We are framing the building with heavy timbers and cladding the walls with 2x6 tongue and groove white fir, painted on the outside and stained and varnished on the inside. There is no attic. All the heavy timbers in this project are left exposed, and we are using 2x6 wood tongue and groove roof decking, topped with a peel and stick roof underlayment and a white 24 gauge deep rib corrugated metal roof.

    There is no insulation, but we are using 3'-0" overhangs and very large windows and ridge vents to maximize shade and rain protection and to maximize ventilation. In Hawaii near the ocean if you have shade and ventilation you just about have it all.

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  7. My wife and I moved to Pahoa on the Big Island from Texas in 2012. I am an architect, and I became interested in single wall construction. We bought a lot in Hawaiian Shores Recreational Estates about 250 feet off the ocean. I designed a single wall home for us, found a really good builder, and it is under construction as of July 2013. As prolific as single wall construction once was in Hawaii I was surprised to learn that many of the workers on our house, even some who have been in the business for several decades, have never actually been involved in the construction of a single wall construction home.

    This is an incredible experience. Everyone connected with this project appears to be excited about it. We are attempting to pay respect to the spirit of the single wall style of building, while at the same time incorporating sound construction techniques. We are framing the building with heavy timbers and cladding the walls with 2x6 tongue and groove white fir, painted on the outside and stained and varnished on the inside. There is no attic. All the heavy timbers in this project are left exposed, and we are using 2x6 wood tongue and groove roof decking, topped with a peel and stick roof underlayment and a white 24 gauge deep rib corrugated metal roof.

    There is no insulation, but we are using 3'-0" overhangs and very large windows and ridge vents to maximize shade and rain protection and to maximize ventilation. In Hawaii near the ocean if you have shade and ventilation you just about have it all.

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  8. Single-Wall is not fun when your neighbors are: 1) Awake late at night and vomiting, because they are suffering the effects of chemotherapy. 2) Having loud sex. 3) Smoking. 4) Arguing. 5) Cooking. 6) Lighting fireworks. 7) Listening to Journey play "Don't Stop Believin", for the third time, at 2:20 AM.

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  9. I own a single wall construction home on Oahu. I worked as a flooring installer all over the islands and of course, worked in very many homes over 8 years. My house is made from center cut redwood and the slab is over 1 foot thick. All of the houses around me were built at the same time. My home is extremely well built. It was built in 1967 and it's in great shape. The workmanship that went in to the houses in this valley is obviously the best. All of the pipes are thick copper even the large pipes. We have no termite damage, anywhere. We also do not have A/C. The house is about ~2,600 sq ft and a fine example of a single wall construction home made of Redwood.

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  10. How do you install a replacement pre hung entry door in a single wall home?

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  11. try finding someone to restore these old homes, no can. We have cracked walls- how do you even replace these walls. If you know of anyone with experience please post. Live on the big island

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  12. My wife, Corinne, and I completed our single wal home a year ago in Pahoa on the Big Island. It is incredible. Single wall, done properly, is in my opinion by far the best way to build in Hawaii. No doubt about it.

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  13. My wife, Corinne, and I completed our single wal home a year ago in Pahoa on the Big Island. It is incredible. Single wall, done properly, is in my opinion by far the best way to build in Hawaii. No doubt about it.

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  14. The comments are so true and make me laugh ! My question is how to carefully extend our second story roofline on our single wall home on Oahu? The craftmanship is amazing and we need advice from someone in Hawaii who has done this. Mahalo !

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  15. Same problem all around it seems, nobody knows how to repair a single wall structure other than to tear it down.

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  16. Same problem all around it seems, nobody knows how to repair a single wall structure other than to tear it down.

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  17. Looks like an old thread but worth a shot. I'm buying a single wall 6 unit structure in Naalehu on the Big Island which has some termite damage in the walls. We could replace boards but that gets pricy pretty quick. Another idea we had was wrapping all the walls with sheets of plywood siding. Would there be any downsides to doing this?

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    1. HI Andrew, that's a good question and I'm intested in the answer, too. I am in my grandparents single wall home on Kauai-with termite damage-not sure if tenting and then siding is the way to go for us as well.

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  18. Wow, this is exactly what I was looking for. I have a 45 year old single-wall Hicks home (redwood T&G) - you know da kine. Been wanting to move the walls because it is blocking wind flow and I am about to just do it already - BUT - how?! I mean, the T&G makes sense and looks easy - I repaired the oak T&G floors a couple years ago - BUT - how the heck is this wall standing up - ha!! Like, what is it attached to?

    OK next - I want to rip out the ceiling and have open beam. Mom says that the ceiling is what holds the structure together and (obviously) I should check first. So, I will. But I found this thread, and I am stoked to hear about anyone with tips suggestions, hands-on/experience kine.

    Mahalos!

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  19. Oh wait, I forgot - for those of you who said you JUST built a single-wall - I would love to chit chat with you. I was under the impression that the permitting would not allow that. Another issue - moving walls and not wanting to put in drywall except maybe in the bathroom (for the tile).

    Mahalos, Part 2!

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