Constructing a home on a tropical island can appear daunting, but the fact is it has never been easier to do so in the Turks and Caicos.
This guide offers a brief general overview of the building process, along with various bits of advice to reduce potential problems.
Probably the most important decision you’ll have to make is selecting the location of your dream home.
Although the Turks and Caicos is a very small country, undeveloped beachfront and oceanfront lots can still be found on all of the main islands.
Largely based on Providenciales, the Turks and Caicos is home to wide selection of architects; a natural outcome from the tourism and luxury market that took root over the last twenty years.
A modern take on the British Bermudian Colonial architecture is the prevailing style for the most part, however, the contemporary Caribbean look is also becoming common for residences.
We highly advise considering a potential architect’s work before committing. The majority of luxury residences on Providenciales are found in one of several distinct regions, so it’s possible to see over a short period of time quite a few examples of work from each local firm.
A common practice is to hire the services of a project manager to oversee construction and sub-contractors. We generally advise taking this route as it greatly streamlines the building process.
Skilled construction labour can definitely be found on Providenciales, however the old saying of jack of all trades, master of none definitely applies to local construction. A good project manager will excel at delegation and the selection of sub-contractors.
If your budget allows, you may wish to utilise reinforced poured concrete for the building structure, including decks and balconies. When properly engineered and executed, poured concrete will generally greatly outlast other common building materials, in addition to being largely maintenance-free.
Custom fabricated stainless steel railings are becoming more popular and are another good choice due to their strength and corrosion resistance. It’s common for standard steel fixtures (such as light fixtures and railings) to rapidly rust in the harsh marine environment of the islands.
Termites are common in the Turks and Caicos. Pressure treated lumber generally survives quite well; most other types of wood, including cedars and regardless of paint or stain coatings, are at serious risk of infestation.
It’s important to be aware of rainfall patterns in the country when planning for drainage. Providenciales experiences about 43 inches (109 cm) of rain per year, and much of this rainfall occurs over two or three multiple day periods. Such significantly heavy rainfalls often overwhelms inadequate drainage, which may be a problem for the lower levels of structures.
In some situations, it’s required by the building code to have a cistern for water storage.
Many of the residential regions on Providenciales are supplied by piped “City Water” fresh water utilities, however not all areas are. For those without utility water, when roof rain collection is inadequate for use water is typically purchased by the truck load from a desalination site. As of 2016, piped “City Water” water rates are about 4 cents per gallon (a little less than 1 cent per litre).
Due to the salinity levels, well water is often not suitable for direct potable water use.
As a tropical destination, swimming pools are a common villa feature in the Turks and Caicos.
Both the typical chlorinated and salt water pools are found in the country. Supplies and maintenance for both are available locally. Heating is not typically necessary, yet when desired, a solar system is a good choice.
Infinity pools, especially for ocean view lots, are increasingly the chosen design style for luxury homes.
Building costs in the Turks and Caicos are expensive, and in many cases it makes sense to select better quality fixtures as installation labour costs are comparatively expensive.
Premium windows and doors are one such example. In addition to the peace of mind, security and storm rated windows simply last longer due to the higher levels of material quality.
When air conditioning will be installed, it’s important to consider the insulation (R-factor) of windows and doors. Moreover, the use of insulation on walls is not very common, as filled concrete-block and poured concrete (without insulation) are common choices.
Although major storms are statistically rare in the islands, Murphy’s Law suggests that the hurricane of the century will strike directly after you complete your home. The design and features of your residence can greatly mitigate the damage and inconvenience from a hurricane.
First and foremost is to consider flooding, both from rainfall and storm surge. If your site is in a low-lying area, consider reserving the bottom level for utilities and outdoor furniture and equipment storage.
It’s a major convenience to have storm or hurricane resistant shutters designed and built into the home. When easy to implement, shutters will tend to be used for more than storms, such as when the house is unoccupied for example.
Many of the luxury residential regions on Providenciales, including areas of Turtle Tail and Leeward, experience road flooding from storm surge during significant tropical cyclones. Roads may be impassable, and even when within wading depth of vehicles, doing so will greatly accelerate corrosion and reduce car life due to the salty ocean water.
Reinforced concrete block, and to a much greater degree, poured concrete, are quite robust construction methods and will typically withstand any storm. Doors, windows and roofs will typically be the weak point.
When selecting material and fittings, it’s important to be aware of the marine environment of the Turks and Caicos. The general high salinity of the air, ground, and tap water will rapidly corrode most metals, including some stainless steel alloys. High quality fixtures are certainly not inexpensive, yet are worth the added cost.
In the case of hardware, locks, and bathroom and kitchen fittings, it’s important to avoid cast zinc alloys and stamped steel regardless of the surface plating as these metals rarely last.
Wherever feasible, we advise using stainless steel screws and nails. Their higher initial cost is definitely preferable to the inevitable future rust staining and failure of steel fasteners. Stainless is certainly not immune to rust, however, light surface corrosion is usually worst case scenario.
Hot-dipped zinc galvanised nails, screws and bolts, when used in the common outdoor setting, will typically begin to rust stain within 10 years, and possibly become structurally unsound within twenty years.
Consider including a vehicle garage or covered car-port. The environment in the Turks and Caicos is quite salty and corrosive, and the intense sun destroys automotive paints and synthetics, yet garages are surprisingly uncommon. Shelter for your vehicle will greatly increase its lifespan.
Be aware that some appliances that carry an Energy Star rating may be imported at lower customs duty rates. Included in this category is air conditioning units.
Sharing and back feed policies with local utilities are quite poor from a homeowner’s perspective.
The local energy company Fortis TCI Limited is the sole supplier of electricity for Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and South Caicos. Electricity is provided on Grand Turk and Salt Cay by Turks and Caicos Utility Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortis TCI. As of August 2016, all electricity is generated via diesel generators.
The ‘2016 Energy Sector Legislative and Regulatory Framework Reform’ is an ongoing (as of August 2016) consultative process which aims to reform the energy sector in the Turks and Caicos. As part of this process, Fortis TCI Limited has instituted two programmes to encourage the adoption of renewable solar energy in the Turks and Caicos: the CORE and UORE programmes.
CORE, or Customer Owned Renewable Energy, are customer-owned solar installations where electricity is fed into the local grid. Unfortunately, this programme requires that 100% of electricity generated is sold to the grid (at a discount), and all power consumed by the customer is purchased at the full price from Fortis TCI Limited. Their programme does not allow one to simply sell the excess electricity from a home photovoltaic setup.
UORE, or Utility Owned Renewable Energy, is a similar programme, but the actual equipment is the property of Fortis TCI Limited.
To save on electrical bills, it’s highly advisable to use a solar water heating setup. There are two basic routes to go: a thermosiphon system or a split system.
Now common throughout the Caribbean, a thermosiphon unit, where the hot water storage tank is located at the solar panel, is the simplest and least expensive option. This system relies on the natural action of rising hot water to cycle water though the panel and is the best choice for most situations in the Turks and Caicos environment.
The more-complex split system has the panels separated from the storage tank, and a small pump circulates water through an exchanger in the storage tank, which transfers the heat to the household water. This setup is the typical choice for regions where freezing may be an issue as an antifreeze may be the liquid cycled through the solar panels.
An optional backup electric heating element in the storage tank can provide hot water for the rare periods of extended cloud cover.
Natural gas is not available in the country. There are no piped gas utilities.
Propane can be purchased locally in volume by truck on Providenciales. Propane will ultimately cost a bit less than electricity for cooking, water heating and clothes drying, however the additional system and complexity may not be worth the power bill savings.
Providenciales is home to an expansive Do It Best building centre, and unlike the majority of retail stores in the country, this complex actually compares favourably to the common hardware chain stores in the United States. Catering to the growing construction market, this store also stocks bulk building materials such as sand, gravel, cement and aggregate blocks.
Quite a few small building and hardware stores are also located on Providenciales, some of which specialize in distinct areas including flooring and tiles, electrical and more.
As to be expected, prices at local hardware stores are higher than at their average counterparts in the United States. It of course varies quite a bit, however prices are typically between 60% and 100% higher than the average in the United States or Canada. Customs import duty (at nearly 40%), freight, and the high cost of utilities largely accounts for this difference.
When building a house, the majority of supplies required will be known before construction begins, and independently purchasing these materials in the United States and importing them by container through a local ocean freight firm will often result in significant cost savings.
There are several nurseries on Providenciales, and collectively they offer a wide selection of transplantable and fully grown palms and trees, including coconut, date, royal and fan palms.
The Turks and Caicos does not experience significant weather changes throughout the seasons, so certain plant pests and diseases are well established. A good example is the armyworm, a caterpillar that devours vines and flowers such as the bougainvillea. If a plant is a variety that is consumed by the armyworm, regular spraying with insecticide will be necessary.
Perhaps due to the low maintenance and initial cost, imported landscaping gravel is the typical choice for groundcover. Grass lawns are a rarity because of the watering requirements and the overall lack of top soil in the country.
It’s a good idea to consider indigenous and low-maintenance plants and trees. The Turks and Caicos experiences very little rainfall, and many introduced types of vegetation, although beautiful, often requires large amounts of water to survive.
A common and significant mistake when clearing for natural landscaping is to simply remove all but the largest trees. Unfortunately, some of the largest and fastest-growing trees are also generally the poorest from a landscaping perspective, yet these are all-too-often the trees left after clearing.
The endangered lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) is one of the finest native trees in the country and can be found in almost all areas. We highly advise protecting and nurturing this tree. Although slow growing when in the wild, the lignum vitae springs up when cleared around and watered. The tree is highly resistant to drought, pests and diseases. When knocked over in a storm, these trees re-root quite well when propped back up.
The silver buttonwood is another good landscaping choice. Naturally common to wetland regions, when the competition is controlled, this tree does very well in most environments.
Several types of smaller decorative plants are found wild, including air plants and a few varieties of orchids (several of which are endemic and endangered), and these tend to transplant vary easily. Before clearing your ground for construction, consider temporarily relocating these epiphytes for future use.
A few professional interior design agencies are found on Providenciales, and largely cater to the luxury villa vacation rental market.
Local sources of furniture are limited and costly, and consequently a common practice is to simply fill a shipping container in the United States with furnishings and décor and import it into the country.
For the finishing touch, quite a few art and design shops can be found in Grace Bay.
Last but not least is villa management. Many owners rent out their vacation accommodations for short-term stays when they’re not in the islands, yet this practice typically require someone present in the islands to prepare the villa and to meet guests. A villa management company can oversee these tasks.
Rates are mainly determined by the location and desirability of the accommodation, and the amount of involvement of the management company (in terms of interior design, maintenance and cleaning.