S: Uli Kai Hale in Hawaiian Paradise Park, Kea'au, Hawaii
BC: On February 1, 2010 Scott and I celebrated our first year anniversary of living in Uli Kai Hale!
FC: Uli Kai Hale Blue Sea House An Owner Builder Adventure in Hawaiian Paradise Park Kea'au, Hawaii
1: Once upon a time in a far, far, far away place stood a forest of ironwood trees perched along the beautiful Puna sea cliffs... A chronicle of an Owner Builder Adventure by Susan Tolley Scott and I first saw this beautiful coastline while celebrating my 50th birthday in 2002 on the Big Island of Hawaii! We rented Casa Tortuga, at 15-955 Paradise Ala Kai. It was (still is) a beautiful 1,400 sq ft one bedroom island style house perched on the lava sea cliffs. The weather was great! We traveled around the island! And saw a full moon rise out of the ocean! I was smitten! After returning from vacation, I began my search for Hawaiian land. Scott was not very receptive, but I continued anyway. It was my dream... | By August of 2002, I was actively seeking oceanfront property on Hawaii island. The east side of Hawaii was the only affordable oceanfront land. However, the inventory was very low. As a result, Scott and I wrote letters to several vacant oceanfront land owners asking if they were interested in selling. I think we sent over 30 letters! Sadly, no takers! Only three "over priced" lots were on the market. They were owned by a single real estate agent. We were told that she was not going to take anything lower then her asking price. The price was too high for us! But we selected one of the three side by side lots and submitted an offer 10K below asking. She accepted, yeah! In less than a year from our first visit to the island, Scott and I were the proud owners of a 1/2 acre oceanfront property in Hawaiian Paradise Park, Kea’au, Hawaii! Wow that was fast!
2: We custom designed Uli Kai Hale while in Tempe, Az. I logged hundreds of hours using Chief Architect software and turned over the file to a local drafter, Daniel Bona, to create a set of formal building plans. Architect, Robert Schmelker from Oahu, stamped off the final set of drawings. By the end of December 2007 our plans were with Hawaii County and we received our building permit in January 2008! | The Design - 2005 - 2007
3: Clearing the land was not an easy task. We started "hand working" the site on and off during our vacations to the island. But in November of 2006 we hired a crew to hand clear and chip much of the vegetation. The chipped piles became great soil for the landscape! In July of 2007 we hired a local backhoe operator, David Krall, to pull stumps, move rocks and fill pukas with tons of free rocks we acquired from a local HPP home owner! That was a win-win for sure! The most cost effective, but labor intensive means to remove the green waste was to rent the red roll-off and hand pack it! Scott did a great job filling every square inch of the container!!! Finally, we rented and operated a bobcat to get the base materials spread for the concrete slab. | The Site Prep - 2006-2008
4: Scott and I originally designed the house around a catchment water system. However, more wells were going in along the coast and when we priced compared the two options, it was actually cheaper to put in the well. So after waiting 5 months for a Hawaii County well permit, the father and son team of Diamond Drilling began to drill the well! They hit water at 22 feet, drilled to 26 feet and finally set the pump at 24 feet. A carbon filter and UV system were added to the water line into the house, and because of a higher salt count, we added reverse osmosis to the drinking water. | The Well - January 2008
5: The Contractors - February 2008 | Robert Emerey - Concrete | Jay Coughlin - Framing | Betsy Aronson - Electrical | John Gap - Plumbing | Scott and I acted as general contractor under the Owner/Builder permit. Our major subcontractors were – concrete, framing, electrical and plumbing. In February we sent out bids and conducted interviews. Due to budget constraints we typically took the lowest bid; not always a good idea!
6: The Septic - January 2008 | Rat-a-tat-tat went the backhoe for a few days as Larry, part of Drainpipe Plumbing, removed pahoehoe lava to create a hole big enough for the septic tank! Skilled operators are quite impressive! About five days later the tank was in place and John Gap arrived to inspect the work. The depth of the tank is key to proper flow from the house!
7: The Concrete - March & April 2008
8: Adding the foundation substrate was a huge task and a controversial contract issue with added expense!
9: Proper form layout, dimensions, substrate materials, compaction, placement of electrical and plumbing lines is extremely critical to a successful house slab.
10: March 31, 2008 The First Concrete Pour The morning was cloudy and it looked like rain. Robert Emery, the concrete contractor, recommended against the pour. However, we decided to go forward and risk the rain. We did get a 15 minute downpour! But the sun prevailed!
11: April 7, 2008 The Second Concrete Pour It was a sunny day and lots of hands on deck! But unfortunately a big forming mistake was made and the courtyard sidewalks were pitched towards the foundation! We fired the contractor and completed the concrete columns ourselves!
12: The Columns - April 2008 | We really didn't know what we were doing, but my idea of using craft art foam and rubber cement to attach the artwork to the form worked! We cut out the designs using ordinary scissors. Scott engineered the single form we had to ensure it stayed together over six pours! It was definitely on it's last leg when we were done! | The secret to smooth concrete is the mix and the proper vibrations to release the air! Each column is a little different and one is well shall we say backwards!!!
13: The Framing - April - September 2008 | Framing, the largest and longest task, began April 1, 2008. Jay wanted to get a head start even though the second concrete pour was not completed. He did his plate layout, but the concrete workers had to move them in order to screed the concrete, resulting in some quality issues that had to be fixed later; not to mention he had to re-layout the plates. We should have insisted he wait!
16: The Ohia Poles - May 2008
17: The Roof - June 2008
18: Windows and doors were a quality issue. Apparently our contractor was not an expert with vinyl windows and the 8 foot sliders proved to be difficult installations. In addition, the Milgard product had many defects and we had to call on the local rep. He confirmed the many defects and that the installations were poor. Scott actually re-installed all of the large sliding doors. If we had to do it again, we would have hired an expert for this task or done it ourselves! | The Windows & Doors - June 2008
19: The exterior siding proved to be the most difficult and most hated part of the job! We used 4'X8' Hardie board. Each sheet weighed 74lbs and when cut produced harmful dust! Using the manufacturers recommended nail size - long - proved difficult and problematic. Nails bent or they only went in partially. We and the crew tried everything! Eventually we used shorter nails, but we still had nail issues. Scott and I had lots of “fix the nails” work at the end. The crew was ready to be done with the job (and so were we!). This siding was no fun! In fact our original contractor did not finish the job! He walked away from the job unfinished! | The Columns - April 2008 | The Exterior Siding - July - September 2008
20: Rough plumbing was completed without any sizable issues. There was some discussion on the kitchen island venting, but all is well that ends well Both the plumbing and electrical runs start in the out building, run through the walkway attic and then into the main house. The only draw back with the long copper run is that in the hotter months, the cold water takes a long time to get cold and in the cooler months, the hot water takes a long time to get hot! | The Rough Plumbing - July 2008
21: We passed the wiring inspection. However, the inspector changed his mind once he was back at the office. He wanted us to encase the main electrical in concrete! What code is that?!?! | Because there is no attic in the main house, all of the wire runs needed to go through the framing members, lots of drilling! But Betsy and her team did a great job! Even the inspector commented on the "neat and organized" wiring runs. | The Rough Electrical - July 2008
22: The Drywall - September 2008
23: We were ready for finish electrical by late September. However, we could not locate our contractor, Betsy! Long story short, she and her family left the island! Scott and I were the first to contact Hawaii County with this news and all of her permits were stopped. We hired another electrical contractor to pull a new permit and finish the electrical panel. | Scott spent lots of time tracing every electrical circuit! The good news in all of this was that she had done such a great rough in job that only one outlet did not work, the wires were switched. Finally, Scott and I became the “finish” electricians hanging all of the light fixtures, fans and installing all switches and outlets; hard on the fingers, but it saved us about $2K! | The Finish Electrical - October 2008
24: We installed the KraftMaid cabinets ourselves (mostly Scott). Then procured pre-fabricated granite and hired a granite fabricator to finish and install the granite. Finally, we added butcher block to the island. | The Kitchen Cabinets - October 2008
25: The Kitchen Granite - November 2008
26: We originally wanted to have stained concrete floors. However, there were too many hills and valleys in the slab! So, we hired out the tile floors to a very good quality contractor, Carlton! It was a long job and we were both happy not to have been on our knees for weeks doing it ourselves!!! It was money well spent! | The Floors - December 2008
27: We thought long and hard on the walkway from the carport to the house. Our final design offered us a bit of the "island style"! We used the left over framing wood and purchased some "woven" plywood. The final product is well liked by all... | The Boardwalk - January 2009
28: On January 22, 2009 we received our "occupancy certificate" from Hawaii County Inspector, Doris. We called Doris to see if the county had a checklist to ready an owner/builder for the final inspection. They had none, so we figured what the heck we are ready! We passed the inspection with a two minor corrections. She trusted us to complete those without additional inspections. | Doris did like us and our project. I think it was the inspector-to-inspector discussion I had with her early on in the build... Then on January 28, 2009 the electrical was turned on to the house and we were ready to move in! Oh, but LOTS of work left to do! | The Final Inspection - January 2009 | Visit
29: We received our first visitors in February 2009; Martha, Diane & Ann! We put them to work in the landscape and painting the exterior! Unfortunately, there was a smell coming from the septic system and it would "hang" in the courtyard! | Not good... John Gap said it was because it was a "young septic"! But after the girls left, we found that a screw was loose on the cap allowing gases to escape! Easy fix! | V | The First Visitors - February 2009
30: When we learned that we could not get homeowners insurance without a painted house, we moved that task forward! The exterior painting and caulking was a huge job! On recommendation from our framer Jay, we used Valkem 116 to fill in the seams between Hardie boards. However, the contractor did not do a very good job so that task was almost impossible to do well!!! This was an area where Scott and I actually argued over the best way to move forward. Long story short, I did the faux Valkem seam and nail work and painted the body of the house. Scott caulked and painted all of the white which included eave, fascia and finally trim woodwork. A task we would have rather paid for... PS Our goal was to have a "poor man's" stucco look! I think we achieved that, but with much PAIN! | The Exterior Painting - February 2009
31: Scott built all of the woodwork trim. There was lots to do and accessing the four high windows was a challenge even for Scott! | In addition to painting much of the interior walls and exterior walls, Susan did most of the caulking and all of the interior woodwork painting. My carpal tunnel was GLAD to be done with that task! | The Woodwork - September 2009
32: The Interior Finishes & Decor
34: One of the benefits of building your own home is that you can space plan and we planned the master bathroom to be BIG! In addition to the 4'X5' shower we built shutters that open to the outdoor garden and placed the washer and dryer across from the master bedroom closet! Scott made the wooden medicine cabinet out of mahogany. Nice job! | The Master Bathroom the "garden view - green room"
35: Scott and I both worked hard on the bathrooms. Scott built the concrete benches and shower pans. I tiled both showers and made some concrete "sea tiles" for the guest shower. Each vanity is different but each sports similar "bamboo" doors which we made. We did compromise on the guest bathroom vanity. Unfortunately neither of us "love it", but it still looks good... | The Guest Bathroom the "ocean view - blue room"
38: We purchased a fiberglass, but inexpensive white front door. As a result I spent lots of time faux finishing the surface to look like wood. I was happy with the result except that the final paint never seemed to really "dry"!!! Because it is such a saturated color, I think all of the paint pigment kept the paint "soft". As a result, I was always touching up the paint around the door handles... | The Front Door - April 2009
39: Thinking we had enough concrete around, we decided to use a softer material on the oceanside deck. | Although we knew the deck was exposed to the harsh environment, the use of marine grade Cetol proved satisfactory. Only time will tell how well the wood holds up... | The Ocean Deck - November 2009
40: One of our building goals was to build "green", but with the lack of material choices on the island, that goal was difficult to reach! However, when I saw a solar system being installed on a neighbor's house, I got a card and the wheels began to turn... Long story short we installed a system that Provision shows in their office (picture above)! Although the system was expensive ($18K) we received $9K in tax credits. The system connects to the HELCO grid and over production is credited to the house account! Our first $0 bill was in December 2009! | The Photovoltaic System - November 2009
42: We started working the land as soon as we took ownership and it has never stopped! We were fortunate to have purchased a lot with some soil as a result of old ironwoods. Everyone said the soil would be too acidic, but I had no problems growing most things! It is easy to grow on the rainy side of Hawaii. Plants are easy to propagate. Neighbors share and an occasional snatch or two helps! I became a certified Master Gardener which opened my eyes to the world of weeds, pests, fungus and disease. And we had them all in the landscape. It was an on going battle to maintain a healthy environment. Along with the plants came the hardscape and Scott did a great job of building walls and planters! Our natural lava eruption was the perfect place to start planting and so began the adventure... | The Landscaping - the never ending story...
46: The Memories - July 2007 - March 2011
55: “Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think.” Robert Henri | Opposite page is the view from Uli Kai Hale looking north...
56: "How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean." Sir Aurthur C. Clarke | Opposite page is the view from Uli Kai Hale looking south...
58: The Epilogue: Every winter the humpback whales travel from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands to give birth and breed. By spring they are on their way back to Alaska. These marvelous creatures can be heard and seen from the beautiful sea cliffs that have been formed by lava from the active Kilauea volcano. And it is this event that makes living oceanfront in Hawaii a special place never to be forgotten...
59: The End...