Barbados Wooden Houses: Image Problem or Design Flaws?


Should We Build Wooden Houses In A Hurricane Zone?

Are the new wooden houses too hot? Are they a good design from a liveability standpoint? Are they really as cost-effective as government claims? Will they stand the test of time? Is there a hidden agenda behind why this material and this design was chosen over others?

What other designs and materials were considered? Who made the choice? What was the written design criteria? Why was the design selection process not public? Why hasn’t the supporting documentation been released for all to see?

What is the true cost differential between a hardwood house and a similar concrete block house? How much stronger and safer is a concrete block house in a hurricane?

Is there a political component to the choice of materials suppliers? Is there a political component to the decision to use hardwood and not other wood products?


Nothing Says “Poverty” Like A Run-Down Barbados Chattel House!

Are all the doubts and concerns about the new hardwood homes really just a social prejudice against the old chattel houses? Don’t be too quick to say it isn’t so.

Without Transparency and Integrity Legislation – How Can We Answer Our Questions?

Minister of Housing and Lands Reginald Farley says that critics of the new wooden houses are wrong, and that the “social stigma” of wooden houses is clouding their judgment. Maybe, maybe not – but how do Minister Farley and the government expect to change the “social stigma” against wooden houses without openness about the decision process and all the surrounding criteria?

“The critics are wrong. Trust us.” is not an acceptable response by Minister Farley.

What Do BFP Readers Have To Say About Hardwood Houses?

Our readers are a tremendous resource on any topic. There’s always someone out there who has real, hands-on experience with just about anything we talk about.

How about it, folks? Are these hardwood homes suitable for Barbados? Let’s talk about…

– The design, cost and construction materials.

– Liveability, strength, security, ease of building.

– Other designs and materials.

– The politics behind this design and the choice of hardwood.

– To whom the benefits? Who is making money? Anything unusual or suspicious about the choice?

From today’s Nation News…

Farley knocks critics of wooden homes

WOODEN HOUSES were around at the time of the Arawaks and they will still be around in the time of the astronauts.

Minister of Housing and Lands Reginald Farley made this point yesterday as he blasted some politicians and public commentators who rejected hardwood housing as a backward step.

Farley, speaking at the opening of the Hardwood Housing Factory, Six Roads, St Philip, said “some people started out selling sno-cones”, but this did not necessarily mean they would continue to do this all their lives. He said most Barbadians started out with wood, but within their own time and means converted and expanded into wall houses.

Saying he had grown up in a wooden house back in 1965, which was still standing, the minister asked those in attendance if they were aware that wood was still the main material in constructing the majority of homes in the United States – and there was no social stigma attached.

In fact, one of the main challenges in sourcing hardwood from Guyana was that China and the Europeans were now buying out “entire forests” even before the trees had matured, he added.

Farley said those who could afford more expensive homes should not cry down those who only had wooden houses, since the cost was significantly less and provided an opportunity for families to have shelter at reduced cost.

… read the original article at The Nation News (link here)

– Old chattel house photo courtesy of Barbados Photo Gallery. Fair trade for the link.


Filed under Barbados, Environment

27 responses to “Barbados Wooden Houses: Image Problem or Design Flaws?

  1. Hants From Submissions

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I am transferring some comments about wood homes from other posts.

    Thank you to Hants for getting this topic started.


    Posted by Hants…
    It is stunning to hear a minister of Government supporting the building of wood houses.

    Has he ever heard of hurricanes?

    Prehaps he will show true leadership and live in a wood house.

    I wish Barbados never gets hit by a hurricane again but we all know that it is likely to happen.

    What is wrong with building an 800 sq. ft. concrete block house?

  2. Jerome Hinds From Submissions

    Jerome Hinds
    February 15th, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Good questions, Hants….!!!

    Bigger QUESTIONS….who supplies the wood….???

    Maybe if WE get the answer to THAT….then we will UNDERSTAND…the Economics of it……or SHOULD that be…..the Election Campaign Finance…of it….???

  3. Jerome Hinds
    February 15th, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Hants when you analyse who are the BLP candidates and likely BACKERS in the St. Philip area…..and read today’s nation where these wooden homes were unveiled….St. Philip….!!…then let us begin to solve this MYSTERY together….

    By…GEORGE…(Griffith)….WOOD…(Anthony)…in the EAST(MOND)…MARSHALL ( Trading)….the troops… SEALE ( David)…the BLP fate there….??

    Hants, simply put in OLDE English my friend, the statement should read like this….

    ” By George, Wood ??? Anthony and East(mond) Marshall the troops to Seale the BLP fate in St. Philip come next General Election….??? ”

    But to USE BLP electioneering tactics, THOSE same WORDS…..would APPEAR like this……

    ” Can Marshall and Seale get George, Wood and Eastmond OVER the line in St. Philip…..??? ”

    Hants,….Wood you BELIEVE….East (mond) was there…….to see the houses….UNVEILED…..???

  4. J.Payne

    If I were building in Barbados right now from scratch I think something more importaint that “wood” or “wall”. Is that homes in Barbados that are building now should have full-basements. That is the best place to be in a hurricane.

    Many homes in the Cayman Islands were built to strict building codes and that didn’t save homes there from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Basements would be better off.

  5. ?

    Perhaps we should look at places which are hit regularly by hurricanes and see what has been tried and tested there. Or perhaps we should adopt Richard Hoad’s position.

  6. John

    Read Hoad on building for Hurricanes.

    Remember, we have lived in this island close to 400 years and have seen many hurricanes.

    I think there is an element of logic to his position, as I understand it, build as if it will be destroyed by a hurricane.

    Then build again, the same way.

    Keep costs down.

  7. CostFaktor

    On an island where costs of EVERYthing approach London
    (without the theatres,Museums, Underground system,great shopping for lasting value and Art Galleries)
    ppl build outa wood to reduce the CO$T!

    In an ideal world, yes stone/concrete structures RULE,
    but this is Barbados with its draining economy, and there is no more draining time in one’s personal economy than building a house!

    Yes, BASEMENTS are a great idea, and could/should be a matter of law, such basements also incorporating a water catchment system to collect rainwater runoff for drier times(flushing toilets,gardening,washing cars).
    Every single house-proud Bajan wants to afford a solid stone structure, but the local economy prevents that.

  8. Basements? are you serious? and when the flash flooding comes with the hurricane then what? All those ephemeral streams and rivers we have will be in full flood and best believe those basements will be fool of water. You clearly have a plan to drown people.

  9. Crusty

    How many of you who are recommending
    basements have ever been in one in a high
    humidity environment?

    Mould loves the conditions in basements and
    would cover every organic surface and then some.

    I have a 1.5 metre high crawl space under my
    house here in Barbados and it is a waste of time
    trying to store any perishable items in it. Forget
    about living in it.

    The Bajan / English tradition of block wall
    bathrooms, even in wood frame houses provides
    an excellent small room, usable as a hurricane

    Getting back on topic: Wooden houses can be as
    strong as wall houses if built properly. Conversely,
    it is possible to build in wall badly. Just look at
    the pictures from Grenada after Hurricane Ivan.
    Securing the roof to the walls is a critical factor
    and I’ve seen pictures of roof rafters split at the
    hole where the rebar passed through and was
    embedded in the concrete infill. This is standard
    construction in Barbados. In my opinion, the
    roof rafters should be strapped over top and that
    is easy to do in wood frame construction.

    I suspect there is a lot of uninformed prejudice
    against wood frame construction, perhaps based
    on past usage of non-treated softwood. Tropical hardwoods have an evolutionary resistance to
    termites but that just delays the destruction.
    Treated softwoods deny termites a home – I’ve
    seen termite trails on the surface of treated pine
    as they move to tastier woods nearby. And hard-
    woods are more difficult to work than softwood.
    I’ve also seen mahogany floor joists that became
    hollow shells after the termites consumed the

    I see a classified ad in the newspaper offering
    small wooden houses at about Bd$ 100 per square
    foot and similar layout wall houses for about
    Bd$ 200 per square foot. I’m not convinced there
    is twice the value in a wall house compared to a
    matching wooden house.

  10. Red

    Wood houses have a certain charm and character, and they should be encouraged.

    First, my great aunt has a wooden house by the sea that has survived several hurricanes; her mother went diving in the back yard during Janet to rescue her pumpkins. Wooden houses can stand the test of time as well as any wall house.

    Second, wall houses in Grenada crumbled just as easily as any other structures.

    A problem for the construct of buildings in the region has to do with the design of the roof when considering a hurricane.

    Colourfully painted chattel houses are part of the charm of Barbados.

    What makes a chattel house look substandard is the galvanised sheeting used for or adding on rooms. It is that style that expresses an image flaw.

    Cellars in tropical environments are best used as storage for items that require a cool, dark environment. Wine comes to mind… Other jarred and canned items. But mold is a persistent problem otherwise and wouldn’t make good storage space.

    But a cellar is a good place to make a room for the in-laws (especially if you live in a flood-prone area).

  11. Kathy

    A positive aspect of wooden houses is their portability. If a rich foreign buyer is found for the land they are on, they can be moved elsewhere. Even a rich or well-connected local buyer is acceptable. For example, land at Lower Burneys was expropriated for low-income houses, but now sports Mr. Gline Clarke’s friend’s wall-house and Mr. Clarke’s Mercedes.

    I love wood houses myself, and I think they could possibly handle a hurricane well, but I am a very suspicious person, especially where government is concerned, and especially if they are refusing to give out any information.

  12. Bajanboy

    Let’s face it, the chance of Barbados getting hit by a major hurricane (Cat 3 or higher) are very, very small. A well built wooden house can probably withstand a strong huricane.

    Most “wall” houses built here lack stile and proportion and many of them never seem to be completed. Many wooden houses, however, maintain the excellent proportions of the chattle house and are generally well designed.

  13. I have a suggestion, it may be a bit out of this world but it is happening right now in New Orleans so if for once, people can put their differences aside and realize the value of such an investment in the community and the welfare of homes, why not build an eco-friendly hurricane strength home?

    Meaning wood homes will be more costly to replace on a per-damage basis. How many times can a home be rebuilt for less than a year’s salary? Never. Concrete is ugly but we have made so many advancement in creating concrete that is easy on the eye. What about recycling steel? Steel is stronger than concrete.

    Steel can be used to build the frame of the home if nothing else.

    Just google on Brad Pitt and New Orleans and you will find the organization he is associated with to build economically and enviromentally friendly homes for the lower income producers.

  14. Basement with steel frames and wood sidings, maybe? Best of all worlds???

  15. John


    …. but we have done it for centuries and it worked!!

    Here today blown away tomorrow!!

    We get regular brushes with Hurricanes but not regularly enough to make the concept untenable. That’s probably why it worked.

  16. Velzo

    BFP can do a little digging and get the facts. Start with the statement by Clyde Mascoll within weeks of becoming Minister that he supports the project but its not government funded, “So, bring yuh money and come!”
    Is he an investor? Or getting some benefit? Why would a Minister make such a statement? Was he speaking as Minister of Finance or Housing or what?

  17. Bajanboy


    Nothing in that website leads me to think that the risk of a huricane strike to Barbados is significant.

    Go 50 miles away from the centre of most huricanes and there is nothing more than a sub huricane force winds and some flooding. Any well built house should be able to survive unscathed 100mph winds.

    So what if there is the chance of a huricane once every 28 years? The huricane would have to be strong and pass just to the south of us for there to a serious impact. Of course, for those properties right on the beach it is another matter, for no structure can survive the force of battering waves.

  18. J. Payne

    Barbados building laws are also hard on home builders. E.g. if you knock down the house fully you have to go by current building codes. However, if you build around– the old house structure (or something to this effect — Correct me if I’m wrong.) Then you can leave the house as close to the road as it currently is. Building a house as a piecemeal idea is a bad idea structurally becuase it means a strong foundation wouldn’t have been built as the main house in the middle of the new houses frame gets pulled out at the end.

  19. Re Basements.

    So far as I am aware Town & Country will not approve any house plans which include a basement.

    I trust they have compelling reasons for this as I have always found basements in other countries to provide useful extra space. In tornado areas, a basement is an essential, the only place to be while your house flies down the road.

    For us they would provide good protection in the event of a hurricane. If basements are cut down into the rock and are properly aired, the humidity problem should be manageable, but obviously not in low lying areas prone to flood, as GeoWarrior points out.

    I have always wondered whether Chief Town Planner decides on housing criteria on his own, or follows a package of standards from North America or Europe. He does not seem to be accountable to anyone for these standards, and in the case of insisting on water storage, has imposed a massive extra cost on already expensive housing. Not a bad idea, however, to have people collect what falls on their roof.

    Strange in a democracy that one person should have so much power without any public right to appeal. The Building Code, by comparison, was the product of consultation with engineers, builders and architects, I believe?

  20. Surely I saw a business feature on CBC news this week about a company at Six Roads, Hardwood Homes Ltd or something, which offers 1-bedroom for $38,000 and 2-bedroom for $56,000.

    They are pre-assembled at their factory and built in a matter of weeks. The picture at the top of this post looks very similar to what they offer.

  21. People may be surprised that the standard American frame house is built of wood. Many have brick veneer added outside, but they are still wood houses.Probably 80% of U.S. houses are built this way, with drywall interior walls.

    I went up to Miami after Hurricane Andrew to help out a relative in Kendall, one of the worst hit areas.
    Many of these frame houses, including his had stood up remarkably well, but thousands of asphalt shingle roofs were denuded of their shingles, while the ply roof underneath remained. Peak wind in Kendall was 168 mph!

    Florida building codes have been toughened since then, but their homes still aren’t half as strong as our stone house with their reinforced ringbeam, with rafters cast in. We should still have a greater angle of slope to our roofs to shed the wind sheer, than we do. Low sloping roofs are asking for trouble.

  22. Observer

    How about Bamboo houses?

    Bamboo: Colombia

    The Global ZERI Network participated in the World Expo in Germany in 2000, designing and building a bamboo structure that has become a landmark in sustainable architecture. The pavilion was designed by Simon Velez of Colombia and underwent a series of scientific tests in collaboration with several academic institutions: University of Braunschwieg, University of Stuttgart, and Science University of Bremen. The building was erected first in Colombia, then in Hannover and received 6.4 million visitors during the 5 month Expo.

    ZERI did not embark on the construction of this magnificent building just for the sake of building it. It was a major effort to change the image of bamboo; the majority of the estimated one billion people who use this readily available building material consider it to be a symbol of poverty. The intention of this project was to create a unique structure that would instill pride in and stimulate the use of this abundant, fast-growing construction material. After its remarkable presence at the World Expo in Germany, the pavilion was reconstructed in Manizales, Colombia where it now serves as a symbol of pride for the surrounding coffee farmers.

    In addition to the pavilion, a model farmhouse was also constructed here in the center of the Coffee Region of Colombia that is also in the heart of the Guadua angustifolia, the bamboo species that is preferred for construction. The region is highly productive in coffee, bananas and herbal teas and has already been introduced to ZERI principles with the growing of shiitake mushrooms on coffee waste.


    On no more than 100 square meters, one could harvest every year enough bamboo to construct a two story house with a large balcony and double roof (for cooling) for only US$ 1,750, provided the owner builds it mostly himself. The building is CO2 neutral. The Federation of Coffee Farmers funded this housing project; Simon Velez designed the house in the aftermath of the earthquake which devastated the coffee region in January 1999.

    About ZERI:
    Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives (ZERI) is a global network of creative minds seeking solutions to world challenges. The common vision shared by the members of the ZERI family is to view waste as resource and seek solutions using nature’s design principles as inspiration.

    Future Vision of ZERI: 2005-2014

    ZERI has spent 10 years in the field developing projects that demonstrate how we can do so much more with what nature provides, meeting the basic needs of all species in co-evolution with nature. After much trial and error and the influence of many scientists, entrepreneurs, and educators, ZERI offers a hopeful vision for the next 10 years.

  23. Juliette Maughan

    Call me an impractical loony with my head in the clouds, but I really do like a wooden house particularly as an icon of Barbadian heritage. I agree that we should protect against natural disasters and with climate change and consequent global warming anything is possible.
    (Bajanboy don’t think that it could NEVER happen in BIM)

    However, I believe that with a proper foundation, the right materials and sound architectural plans and practices; chattel houses can continue to stand up against various natural disasters.

    It is a shame to see the decrease of the historical architectural style of our country “go through the eddoes” in favour of wall houses that can be just as unsafe if built improperly.

    With respect to the same natural disasters I like the fact that they can be disassembled and reassembled in a safer area. One never knows when this in itself may be a saving grace…

  24. Hants

    I grew up in a little wood house. When Janet hit Barbados in 1955 my family sought refuge in a hurricane shelter. Fortunately Janet missed my side of the Island.

    While I love that little wood house, I prefer my concrete block house because I believe it is safer than even some Hurricane shelters in Barbados.

    That is why I would prefer the Government to build concrete block houses instead of wood houses.People who live in Concrete block houses do not go to Hurricane shelters and this takes some of the strain off of emergency resources.

    As long as the possibility of Hurricanes exist,I am not going to live in a wood house in Barbados again but it is the right of others to do so.

  25. victor

    While I was helping a friend from Grenada to research how to rebuild shattered houses on his family land I came across this brilliant idea which came out of Hurricane Katrina, called the Katrina Cottage. It still retains all the charm of the chattel house but is built to sustain winds of 140 mph, built on blocks yet can be moved around added to and is not as expensive as a wall house. Here’s the link . There is a better link but cant find it at the moment.

  26. environmental planner

    I love Bajan chattel Houses, they are a huge part of our history and heritage. They also help to enliven the island with unique Caribbean vernacular buildings that give Barbados its “charm.”
    Much research has been done on Hurricane Preparedness and planning. Many of these plans include ammendments to building codes that require certain types of roofing frames to be used in order to decrease roof loss in a hurricane. Roof damage and loss is a major affects of hurricanes.

    So are wood houses less safe than wall houses?
    Chattle houses were built with high pitched roofs called hip roofs that reduced the pressure under the roof caused by hurricane winds. High pitched roofs diffuse the pressure and as a result the integrity of the house is saved. This is why old chattle houses have high pitched roofs and have lived through many a hurricane.