Living on an Island

Breaking Ground

Living on an Island

I am excited to introduce guest blogger, Laura Serino, who is currently toughing out a home building project on North Haven island. Laura will be contributing a series of posts, starting with this one about the challenges of building in an isolated location. Leave a note and let her know what you think of her progress so far! – Sarah

Three months after my husband and I signed our lives away on a construction loan to build our dream home on North Haven island, we found out we were expecting our first child. When life gives you deadlines, you have no choice but to crank.

My husband grew up on North Haven and we live here year-round. He is part of the island’s lobstering fleet and I run my own small business and work from home as a writer.  Our closest friends and family live here and our future house is on property that overlooks the water and has stunning sunsets. There really isn’t another place in the world where we’d want to raise our family. And yet, there are plenty of challenges to island living, starting with a lack of turnover in the housing market. (I’ll enumerate more later.) So when a piece of family land became available to build on, we jumped at the opportunity. After moving eight times in the past seven years, we were ready for the next step.

We broke ground during fishing season last spring. Cooper Construction in North Haven poured the foundation and put up the framing and we were feeling good about how quickly things were moving. Things slowed down in the fall, however, when we began tackling the rest of the to-do list ourselves, including: shingling, installing trim, windows, floors, cabinets, countertops, tile, and fixtures, building a deck, and painting the entire house.

It wasn’t until I was five months pregnant and in a manlift trying to direct my husband, who was hanging a large piece of exterior trim, that I realized how little I’d be able to help. I could bring him lunch and do dump runs, but I wasn’t going to be doing anything that involved breathing in dust or fumes or that required heavy lifting. With my husband on his own, the to-do list suddenly seemed a lot scarier.

An aside about my husband: He isn’t a newbie DIYer. In fact, he’s one of the most talented carpenters I know. He can build anything and he’s quick, too. But there are things that are out of your hands when you’re on an island job site. Here are some of the obstacles we’ve encountered:

Running Out of Materials

In the middle of a big tile job in the kitchen, we ran out of grout. We can’t make a quick run to Home Depot, so the job came to a halt. Then there was the day our window order arrived and half of the units were an inch too wide. Rather than place another order, which might have cost us six weeks of valuable time, my husband reframed the undersized openings instead.

No Ferry, No Nothing

All year-round islanders know, in the winter, sometimes the ferry doesn’t run. In those instances, you have no choice but to wait for the winds to subside and hope that truck from Viking Lumber makes it out another day.

No One Wants to Come Out Here

When the ferry is running, convincing people to make the 1½-hour trip from Rockland can be a challenge, particularly in the winter. We constantly found ourselves waiting for a bank representative, land surveyor, or off-island contractor to show up. Most of the time, I can’t even blame them. February ferry rides are the worst. In addition, some vendors don’t deliver to islands, so when we purchased something like a vanity or an appliance, we often ended up driving for hours to pick it up.

Everything Is More Expensive

When our manlift started leaking coolant, my husband had to haul it back onto the ferry and swap it out for another one in town. On top of the rental fee, we had to buy another pricey round-trip ferry ticket just to get a working machine. And don’t get me started on the fees for having something brought out on a barge. Paying that bill made me wish we had just ordered a tiny house and been done with it.

The Rental Market

The struggle for finding a year-round rental on an island is real. Last fall, we had to vacate the only 12-month rental we had ever acquired. A generous summer family has allowed us to stay in their home until Memorial Day — a deadline that is now looming. If we don’t finish our house in time for move-out day, we’ll be living in the spare bedroom at my mother-in-law’s, possibly with a newborn.

Stay tuned to hear what becomes of the two (er, three) of us! I’ll also be sharing our favorite resources for island builds and, eventually (fingers crossed), our finished home.

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