Choosing a Caribbean Building Site
Choosing a Caribbean building site for your new home is a vitally important decision and needs to start when you view the land for the first time. The time that you spend standing quietly on the building site for your planned new home, may be some of the most valuable moments you will ever spend in your life, and can either save, or lose you a fortune.
Small lots in developed residential areas, will probably already have a designated site for a home. However plots in country areas may have no properties in the immediate vicinity and offer a wide range of possibilities for where a house could be located.
Before starting on your quest for the perfect building site, make sure that you are properly equipped for viewing Caribbean properties. In most cases it is wise to wear long trousers and strong walking shoes, so that you can walk the sites that you will be shown by your estate agent, without getting ripped to shreds by cactus and razor grass. You should also use a suitable bug spay, to minimise insect bits and stings. It is also wise to carry a camera to record the plots of land that you are shown, and recommended that you carry at least 1.5 litres of water per person and a granola bar, or something else to eat, if the area where you are viewing land is miles from any shops or restaurants, or if you are viewing over a weekend, when the shops and restaurants may well be closed. It is also a good idea to carry an umbrella, or waterproof clothing, as whilst the Caribbean is usually dry and sunny, it can rain - and when it does, the rain is often torrential.
Your estate agent will probably suggest potential areas on the land where a home could be built. Even if these areas are difficult to access, you should take the trouble to push your way through the undergrowth and stand for at least a few minutes in the location where your future home may be constructed.
The following list gives a number of important factors that should be considered in evaluating any potential Caribbean building site :-
Is the Building Site Hot or Pleasantly Cool ?
The temperature of your new Caribbean home will be largely decided by its location. Typically building sites that are low down in hollows and valleys and those facing due west, will be hot. Those in elevated locations, or more open areas facing East and into the prevailing wind, will probably be cool.
Check to feel if the building site has a steady breeze, and if so in which direction is this breeze blowing? If you are not sure of the prevailing winds, take a look at the trees and tall grasses on the site, as often these will be windswept in the direction of the prevailing wind.
Caribbean Building Sites - Homes in the Mountains are Pleasantly Cool
Coastal Building Sites
If the building site is located on or near the East Coast, and exposed to the prevailing wind, it may be particularly prone to wind damage during storms and hurricanes.
Any property within a quarter mile of a coastline that faces the prevailing wind will also be subject to sea blast, the microscopic salty spay from the sea, that drifts inland carried by the wind. This need not be a problem, however your house design will need to make provision for the sea blast and use only marine grade stainless steel or approved plastic fittings for doors and windows. You will also need to consider non-corroding roofing materials for roofing, as galvanised steel roofing, which is used extensively throughout the Caribbean, will not usually last long in locations subject to sea blast.
Beachfront Building Sites
Beachfront sites are among the most popular sites for a new home in the Caribbean. They do however come with their own set of problems, not least the risk of any new home being damaged by waves or storm surge in a hurricane.
The suitability of beachfront sites for building is complex and beyond the scope of this general article. It is therefore wise for anyone considering a beachfront property to employ a structural engineer to visit the site and advise on its suitability for a new home and its susceptibility to storm damage.
Caribbean Building Sites - Beachfront Properties are Rightfully Very Popular
How Steep Is the Building Site ?
The cost of constructing your new home will increase significantly if the building site requires the excavation of a hillside, or filling of a deep hollow, since earthworks and retaining walls are expensive.
Flat or gently sloping building sites, are much cheaper to develop. However, in some Caribbean countries you will not have much option but to build on a slope, and when looking at potential building sites in these countries, it is best to judge each potential building site by whether they are steeper, or less steep than the average building site.
Is the Building Site Safe from Land Slippage ?
The views from the top of a cliff, or any other elevated location may be impressive, but building sites in these locations may also run the risk of land slippage.
Whilst a long hard look at the building site may help you to assess these risks, it is important you are seriously interested in the site, to invest time in making further enquiries as to the structural stability of the area, as land slips on neighbouring properties may be visible if you drive and walk the area.
All of the comments above, apply equally to building sites that are located below steep hills or cliffs; as any slippage or rock fall, could end up on your home. In any doubtful cases, it is best to request a structural engineer to visit the site and give a report on its suitability as a home site.
Will the Building Site Flood ?
Locating a house next to a river or stream makes for a very attractive location, however it is again important to be certain that your future home is not in danger of flooding, or located on land that could be eroded or lost the next time the river changes its course.
Rivers in the Caribbean typically have two heights of river bank. The lowest river bank, where you will probably see the river on your visit to the land, is where the river flows for most of the year. However look to see if there is a flattish area and then another higher bank, as this is where the river will flow when it is in flood. Even this higher bank may be breached occasionally by exceptionally heavy flows.
Again, in any doubtful cases, it is best to request a structural engineer to visit the site and give a report on its suitability and susceptibility to flood damage, before purchasing the land.
On the drier islands in the Caribbean, water courses that can flow with large volumes of water in the rainy season, may be completely dry and hidden by undergrowth when you visit the land in the dry season. In these cases, it is important to carefully view the land and general topography above the property that you are purchasing, to check to see where water will flow in the rainy season.
Your real estate agent and local people in the neighbourhood may be able to help you in telling you about these dry watercourses, known locally as ghuts, ghauts and dry ravines, depending upon the island.
Does the Building Site have Road Access ?
Whilst it is possible to develop building sites without road access, for the majority of us, road access is essential to get construction equipment, materials and staff to the building site and of course, for you to get to your completed home.
As access roads are not cheap, you should plan to keep the access road as short as possible, whilst also allowing the house to be sited away from any busy public road.
Does the Building Site have Mains Utilities ?
More and more people are choosing to live "off grid" and rely on various alternative means to create their own electricity and harvest rainwater from the roof or a spring, to provide their water source. It is even possible to use a satellite connection in some locations to get high speed internet. Going "off grid" is initially more expensive and generally will require more thought and work than simply connecting into what is already there. If there are electrical power and phone lines near your building site, try and estimate the number of additional poles that would be needed to bring these services to your site.
Generally wooded electricity power poles are spaced about 100 yards apart, however, you can always pace the distance between two poles and check the actual distance for yourself. You may wish to bring the mains utilities to your land underground, but calculating the number of poles is the best way to quickly find the distance that you will need to carry these services to your new home.
Does the Building Site have Natural Features ?
Mature trees and natural rock formations and all desirable features that help to make your building site stand out from all the others. The final position of your home in your site needs to take these matters into consideration to avoid damage to the trees and rock formations and also damage at a later date to your completed home from tree roots, falling trees and falling rocks.
There are many other factors that may effect your decision on the suitability of the building site; however the above short list are all extremely important.
The time that you spend standing quietly on the site for your new home, should be sufficient to let you check that the site meets most of the above criteria and decide whether you will need to revisit the building site for a closer more detailed check of the site, as a preliminary to buying the land.
Choosing Caribbean Building Sites
by Stewart Andrews - Caribbean Land & Property Copyright 2008
About the Writer : Stewart has designed, built and supervised the construction of many homes and major construction projects in the Caribbean over the past 20 years, before starting Caribbean Land & Property.
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