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Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

As part of an upcoming relo to (likely) STX rather than STT or STJ, I'd like to connect to people who are in the process of building from scratch, are considering it or have recently completed a new build.
What are some do's, don'ts, what's a realistic timeline, are there good quality contractors? What's the cost/sqft for the build and how much do you need to add on to make the land ready/suitable to build on?

Considering both buying and building, just want to get a complete picture before making a decision on either.

 

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Topic starter Posted : June 7, 2021 12:12 pm
Gator's Mom
(@gators_mom)
Trusted Member

Those with limitless funds are building on stx right now. You can’t compete with the mega rich for limited supplies and skilled workers unless you’re in that club.  

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Posted : June 7, 2021 6:20 pm
stjohnjulie
(@stjohnjulie)
Trusted Member

Building costs are higher than usual right now because the cost of lumber and ply are high.  A good place to start would be with a locally licensed architect.  You will need them for a new build or a substantial remodel.   They can help connect you with licensed builders.   Finished square foot costs are so subjective because if finishes.  Skilled labor is in high demand still because there is still lots of hurricane damage work still being done.  Sorry I can’t add any STX specifics.  

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Posted : June 8, 2021 3:25 am
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @stjohnjulie

Building costs are higher than usual right now because the cost of lumber and ply are high.

This is very true but is likely a temporary (1, 2 or 3 years) nationwide issue driven by the pandemic and the current housing bubble.  I’m in the process of both building a garage on STX as well as finishing up a major remodel in Massachusetts and I’ve seen the cost of materials skyrocket and the availability of skilled labor disappear.  On STX the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes is also a real factor in driving up costs and it’s only getting worse in the near-term.  Not trying to be negative, just highlighting it’s a boom time for quality builders and the prices reflect that reality.  The bottom-line is if your looking for value for money, your better off buying an existing property.  You can then wait and build once the bubble has burst, as it always does. 

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Posted : June 8, 2021 4:32 am
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member

@epo_

Have you decided where you want to be on STX yet?

Site topography and geology can have a major impact on costs to get the site ready to build and how a home needs to be constructed. A steep, rocky slope will require specialized heavy equipment to prepare and add levels to the construction.

Materials costs are sky high here (as everywhere due to supply chain impacts of covid-19) at present, and the limited supply can cause significant delays in the building schedule if suppliers don't have enough of the materials you need at the moment.

Houses here seem to go up much more slowly them on the mainland - even if you had the land, approved plan and builder already lined up, it wouldn't be surprising for construction to take close to 2 years (with no supply chain issues).

If you haven't had a pre-move visit (or PMV) yet, they're strongly advised and may help you determine where you're like to be.

Depending on the time frame for your relocation, you may want to rent out buy an existing home that will work for you while you decide and get your plans and funding in place.

Best of luck!

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Posted : June 8, 2021 9:37 am
Afriend
(@afriend)
Trusted Member

Regardless of whether you build in the near future or wait until the extraordinary high lumbering materials prices (hopefully) return to more normal prices you can expect your "island building project" to be behind schedule and over budget almost from day one.  Supply issues and the limited number of skilled workers are just a fact of life when it comes to constructing a home in the Caribbean.  As the previous posters said the best advice one can give you is to hire a competent local architect - he/she will be familiar with all the local building codes and should be able to put you in touch with the more reputable general contractors and trades people.  

Once you have your design and plans finalized the "fun" really begins.  Be very thorough in getting your best pre-constructions from your architect, builder and off-island suppliers of materials.  Basically, your local GC will "supply" your cistern, foundation, floor slab, your "four walls" with openings for windows and doors and the framing for your roof.  Just about everything will have to be imported either by you or your GC).  Add 35% to 50% to that pre-construction estimate and you'll have a fairly rough idea of what your finished home will actually cost.  If that revised number doesn't frighten you proceed with your project.  For what it is worth, everyone I know who built a home in the USVI's and throughout the Caribbean (me included) ended up paying close to 50% more than the original estimates.  Building in the Caribbean is not for the faint of heart or for those on a budget - it pays to have very deep pockets.

When figuring your initial budget don't forget to add in contingencies for unexpected site work due to the nee for massive retaining walls (if building on hillside lots), drainage, high water tables (if building in the lowlands, etc. and for landscaping work once your home is built.  These types of expenses are easily dismissed or under estimated by the architect and builder.

My island home ended up taking twice as long to complete and cost slightly more than 50% than our original budget.

 

One last thing, your initial construction is only the beginning - you can expect that annual maintenance costs on your home will be substantially higher that they are where you now live.  The corrosion from exposure to salt air, strong U/V sun rays, heat, storms, frequent power outages, termites (aka wood lice) will play havoc on just about everything in or on your home so you'll be fixing/replacing something in your home often.  I tell people that I consider it a cause for celebration if I have a week go by when I don't have to fix something.

 

Good luck following your dream - it will be the biggest and most challenging project you ever undertake. 

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Posted : June 8, 2021 10:09 am
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

@jaldeborgh how long would it take to build a garage with maybe a 1 Bed/1 Bath either adjacent or on top?

@Afriend / @Rewired, we have a little flexibility when moving because of our work, but we would like to be ocean front and sandy beach over rocky beach, so the south side seems to be the better option based on the research I've done so far. PMV will likely be in July.

Just seems like ocean front properties are (fairly) expensive and it almost seems like in cost/sqft it's cheaper to build than to buy as a lot of properties ocean front have some issues or need some form of repair/updating already.

Could just build the 1 Bed/1 Bath first and then build the rest as you go, but then at least we will be there already. At least we'll be able to build it to our specs/preferences.

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Topic starter Posted : June 8, 2021 1:39 pm
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @epo_

@jaldeborgh how long would it take to build a garage with maybe a 1 Bed/1 Bath either adjacent or on top?

All I can offer with any knowledge is as follows.

The permitting process I’m told takes 1 to 3 months as I already have the completed design and drawings.  The build I’m told for a 3 car garage with electric (tapping into the existing service on one of our cottages) but no water (so no cisterns) is 4 months.  This is a simple project, basically all concrete with the exception of the roof.  The same builder is also replacing our crumbling old asphalt driveway with a cement one and had very good references, plus I met with a homeowner that he built a garage for roughly a year ago.  The quality was excellent and that owner gave me some good advice and was satisfied his end product, knowing that no project is without hiccups.  I’m also no stranger to building projects having built 4 homes and this will be my 2nd 3 car garage (and my last major project as I’m now both an empty nester and retired).

If you were to build a home above a garage, you need to add in the design time, from a local architect, which is months plus the construction is going to be greatly extended as we will have basically no interior work required.  A rough guess, 12 months (plus) depending on complexity and bureaucratic delays.  So starting from zero I’d say your looking at a minimum of 18 months, maybe more.

The other caution is building remotely, everyone says that’s a big schedule and cost overrun mistake.  You or someone you trust completely, need to be on site everyday, period.  I’ve been given this advice many many times, enough so that I believe it.  I’m not being negative, only prudent as I have clear expectations.

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Posted : June 8, 2021 2:17 pm
Afriend
(@afriend)
Trusted Member

Beachfront property is always going to be expensive - after all there’s only a finite amount on any given island and short of a volcanic eruption that spews out a lave flow that reaches the sea (and becomes buildable land after a few thousand years) “they” aren’t making any more.

Building beachfront has its own challenges (I speak from 1st hand experience) - those “site plan” expenses I mentioned can easily double do to high water table plus you’ll need to plan for extra drainage during heavy rains and/or storm surges.  And don’t forget about protection from beach erosion - the sea  can be relentless taking away or replenishing sand on any beach.  You can lose or gain sand within hours.

I won’t comment on the relative merits of building (a beachfront) 1 BR/Bath structure then adding on later other than to say you may find the costs will probably be significantly more than you think and by the time you add on the other rooms your overall cost will be substantially higher than if you did the whole project at one time.  You might want to discuss your plan with your architect and GC to get a better feel for this.

I’m not trying to dissuade you but as I eluded to earlier, building in the Caribbean is not for the budget minded.

 

 

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Posted : June 8, 2021 2:29 pm
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Trusted Member

How long, well the home to the right of me is on year 3 (getting ready to pour the main floor), the one below me is on year 2 (floor just poured recently).  There is a small home that was built near Bluewater, cistern & slab on level ground, block wall, bedroom built on 2nd floor about 1/2 the size of the house (whole house is probably 900 sq feet or less) took about a year.

So like they said depends on the builder, where you build and the design.  Then you need to look at Hurricane insurance if you have a mortgage.  I renewed and they suggested 350 sq ft for replacement cost, and at 80% insured value of the house, it's still pretty damn expensive.  I was going to go 90% and that added over 1k to the cost of the insurance.

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Posted : June 8, 2021 2:37 pm
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member

@epo_

I concur with the other responses.

We decided to buy rather than build after seeing the cost overruns and issues others had. We have a friend who started building 3 years ago and he finally had a roof on it (but no windows, doors or interior). The pace of his construction sped up after he moved down full time and went to the construction job daily. They're hoping to get in their house for Christmas (almost exactly 4 years). 

In contrast, we were in our house in about 3 months and have been enjoying it for the last year and a half.

Plan on 1.75 to 2% of the value for insurance cost, depending on type and quality of construction, proximity to the shore, etc. if you have a mortgage.

I'm not trying to discourage you, but do suggest that you also look at small houses or a condo (if the fees aren't crazy) while you're on your PMV.

This would provide you a place to stay dry and safe while you work on your dream house and serve as a rental or resale once your project is complete.

Also, if you work remotely, consider what internet service is available in the area you decide to build - some areas have little to no coverage and you don't want to build your dream house only to find out that is a challenge to work from.

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Posted : June 8, 2021 5:07 pm
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

Maybe as an add-on, who has solar panels installed? Heard it's almost a must have as utilities are fairly expensive compared to the mainland and service can be somewhat spotty. Should one look for a place with solar or is it fairly easy/affordable to buy and install?

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Topic starter Posted : June 8, 2021 7:17 pm
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Trusted Member

@epo_  I have Solar and added to my system this year.  For me it's a no brainer.  I have 28 panels, Lithium Batteries, with a sol-ark inverter. It's a little overkill right now, but i'm adding some additional items to my house that will increase my energy usage, so I'm in good shape and can expand if necessary. I no longer worry about outages and smile everytime it goes out. My wife works remotely and she loves the fact that she doesn't have to worry about it anymore.  Last year she was dealing with outages almost every week.  Take your current kwh usage and multiply by .42 cents.  We've had 2 outages in the last 2 days.  I run my bedroom AC 24/7, it's a Mitsubishi Mini split 1 ton 26 seer and uses hardly any power compared to the window unit that I had previously which only ran just before bedtime.

 

Based on my usage, production of my system will pay for itself in 6-7 years I figure.  The only thing I don't have on it, is the stove and dryer, due to the amount of watts they would draw and don't want them pulling from the batteries as production drops dramatically after 4pm.  I will convert them to propane eventually as they die out. My system is configured that I can add 5.4kw batteries at any time but as of now I wake up with 40-50% of battery left and at 8am, I'm charging and using solar for all my needs again. 

The only thing that has changed is there is no net-metering right now unless you were on the original plan, there is a new plan in the works but really not worth it from what they are suggesting.  

Cost of my upgrade for 14 panels, sol-ark inverter and batteries was 35k, but with 26% federal credit, so 26k.  I had 14 panels on the home previously. 

 

 

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Posted : June 8, 2021 7:43 pm
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member

@epo_

Our house has 12 panels (about 2.5 kw), and we've been 'net zero' on our power bills for the past 18 months through the original net metering program (we're grandfathered into the program). We currently have 10kwh of AGM battery storage and have 21kwh of lithium ion storage mounted and ready to install to replace it (AGM will last 6-8 years on average).

We don't have air conditioning but do have consistent breezes, so we don't miss it except for a couple of hot weeks in the fall. We're considering adding a couple more panels so we can add A/C if we want it later.

We have solar hot water (I believe it's code now for new construction as well) and have propane range and dryer. We've bought two 100 lb propane tanks since we bought the house and haven't needed to replace either one, but probably will replace one (~$85) in the next couple months.

I believe there was a discussion of the different net metering plans on the forum early last year it you like more information on them.

If you can find a house that already has solar, it's definitely worth it if the price on the home isn't inflated - especially if it's in the original net metering program.

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Posted : June 8, 2021 11:29 pm
stjohnjulie
(@stjohnjulie)
Trusted Member

A side note on propane dryers….  I bought one about 7 months ago after not having a dryer for 15 years (always line dried).  I tracked the number of full loads I could dry on a 100lb tank and it came to 98.   Best purchase I ever made.  I just had to convert it from natural to lp after I bought it at Pricesmart.   

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Posted : June 9, 2021 4:18 am
rewired liked
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @stjohnjulie

A side note on propane dryers….  I bought one about 7 months ago after not having a dryer for 15 years (always line dried).  I tracked the number of full loads I could dry on a 100lb tank and it came to 98.   Best purchase I ever made.  I just had to convert it from natural to lp after I bought it

Great to know @stjohnjulie !

We bought our dryer at Royal Furniture on STX - they gave us a very good price and told us that all of their dryers come configured for liquid propane (LP). Many other places (including Home Depot) sell natural gas dryers that need to be converted to LP for use on the island.

The kits aren't terribly expensive (about $20-75 depending on brand), but they're not always available when the dryer is and may take a plumber to install.

I've never been able to figure out why stores on islands without natural gas are allowed to sell gas appliances that aren't configured for the only the available fuel.

This is also an issue for other gas appliances (stoves and water heaters).

Sorry everone for going down this rabbit hole, but it can be a performance/safety issue (besides being really frustrating).

 

 

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Posted : June 9, 2021 6:33 am
Alana33 liked
jaldeborgh
(@jaldeborgh)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @epo_

Maybe as an add-on, who has solar panels installed? Heard it's almost a must have as utilities are fairly expensive compared to the mainland and service can be somewhat spotty. Should one look for a place with solar or is it fairly easy/affordable to buy and install?

We added solar just over a year ago and our house was built in 1970.  We installed 32 panels (9.92 kW) along with an 18.5 kWh battery and a Sol-Arc inverter.  The turnkey installation ran $36K.  We spend about 6 months a year on STX and our electric bills have averaged about $200 a month when we have a full house of guests (often 6 or 8 people total).  When it’s just my wife and I or we’re off island the bills are effectively zero.  We don’t run the A/C when we’re on island (we have great breezes) but set it at 82 when we’re gone.  We’re very happy with our system. 

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Posted : June 9, 2021 12:33 pm
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member

@rewired / @stjohnjulie is it not possible (at all) to get/run an electrical dryer on the island with the outage and the power consumption or can you do it provided you have enough (solar) capacity? How about laundry machines?

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Topic starter Posted : June 9, 2021 2:26 pm
stjohnjulie
(@stjohnjulie)
Trusted Member

No, you can absolutely do that!   I have a tricky electrical Situation.  Although I have t ran the costs.  Im pretty sure the propane works out to be cheaper than electric to operate.  (Unless you have solar)

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Posted : June 9, 2021 3:40 pm
Kim Lucas
(@kim-lucas)
Active Member

@epo_Make sure if you plan on building a garage / apt first, that you check the covenants and restrictions for the lot you're interested in first.  Most waterfront communities will have covenants and restrictions that prohibit that and require architect approval for whatever you build.  

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Posted : June 9, 2021 4:22 pm
Kim Lucas
(@kim-lucas)
Active Member

@epo_Make sure if you plan on building a garage / apt first, that you check the covenants and restrictions for the lot you're interested in before signing a contract to purchase the land.  Most waterfront communities will have covenants and restrictions that prohibit that and require architect approval for whatever you build.  

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Posted : June 9, 2021 4:32 pm
daveb722
(@daveb722)
Trusted Member
Posted by: @rewired

I've never been able to figure out why stores on islands without natural gas are allowed to sell gas appliances that aren't configured for the only the available fuel.

I can answer that. As a manufacturer, the production lines are designed to mass produce a particular product. In this instance, to set up for propane cost wise is not effective and actually cheaper for them to produce the orifice kit for propane and takes about 5 minutes to change by an average consumer then it would be to change this at production.  Propane is a small percentage of their business.  I worked for Lowe's and we sold a lot of natural gas, the next city over was electric, the demand for propane was little and only in sparse areas, so cost wise it wouldn't make a financial sense to produce a product that can be converted so easily.

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Posted : June 9, 2021 5:56 pm
rewired liked
jasona
(@jasona)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @epo_

we would like to be ocean front and sandy beach over rocky beach, so the south side seems to be the better option

Your options are much more limited than you think.  Anywhere west of the oil refinery all the way to Sandy Point is a non-starter for obvious reasons.  And on the south shore of the east end, you are limited to some spots in Grapetree but those are rocky.  Most of the south shore, like Turner Hole finds itself waste deep in Sargassum.  

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Posted : June 9, 2021 6:38 pm
rewired
(@rewired)
Advanced Member
Posted by: @stjohnjulie

No, you can absolutely do that!   I have a tricky electrical Situation.  Although I have t ran the costs.  Im pretty sure the propane works out to be cheaper than electric to operate.  (Unless you have solar)

@epo_

As @stjohnjulie indicates, it's possible to do either. 

Here's a link to a site that will allow you to estimate costs of electric vs gas ranges: https://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/cooking.html

Here's a link to a calculator on the same side you can use to estimate costs of dryers: https://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/dryers.html

For both calculators, use 40 cents for power cost (the closest to the $0.42 WAPA charges) and $0.95 the first per therm ($0.86/lb X 1.1 conversion factor).

You can enter how much you will use either appliance and get a general cost comparison.

In general, the cost of the gas appliances to operate is significantly lower than electric. You can also light most gas stoves with a lighter to cook when the power is out.

You'll also need to plan for electric appliances in demand on solar / batteries and your backup generator sizing if you plan to have them. Gas appliances don't add this extra load, so those things can be smaller (and less expensive) when using gas for fuel.

If you have a strong preference for electric appliances, you can make them work, but they'll cost you more to operate over time.

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Posted : June 9, 2021 10:18 pm
Ed
 Ed
(@epo_)
Active Member
Posted by: @jasona

 Most of the south shore, like Turner Hole finds itself waste deep in Sargassum.  

@jasona, is that seasonal or year round?

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Topic starter Posted : June 9, 2021 10:18 pm
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