Building a Dream: A Residential Construction Project on Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Located just off the coast of Southport at the confluence of the Cape Fear River Basin and Atlantic Ocean in Brunswick County North Carolina lies Bald Head Island.
A testament to its unchecked natural Beauty, Bald Head is home to the Largest Loggerhead Turtle nesting sanctuary in the United States. Replete with a teaching conservancy and endless pristine Beaches one feels as if they have arrived in an untouched land of Green Sabal Palms and White Beaches.
Our team recently finished an extensive residential construction project on the island, and we are excited to share our story.
In this blog, we will discuss all aspects of the project, including the unique challenges of island construction, essential architectural and design considerations, and the rewards and lessons gained along the way.
Unique Challenges of Island Construction
Island construction comes with unique challenges and obstacles. Building on Bald Head Island is no exception. Much of the allure of Bald Heads lies in the fact that it is mostly inaccessible. The only means of transportation to the Island are by private Boat, Ferry or Contractor Barge. There are no land bridges, Tunnels or Airports. Oftentimes, the Ferry and Contractor Barges are delayed or not running at all due to inclement weather and/or high seas.
The following were some of the most noteworthy challenges our team faced when planning and building this new home:
- No land bridges or tunnels: The absence of these transportation options meant that all materials had to be delivered to the island via contractor barge. We solved some of this by relocating a 25 ft Parker outboard from Deale Maryland to Safe Harbor Marina in Southport, about a 20 minute boat ride away to the mainland. The use of our private watercraft saved countless trips on the Ferry and served as a conduit for smaller deliveries and personnel to the Island.
- Contractor barge unpredictability: The use of the contractor barge brought additional obstacles, including unpredictability and availability due to changing weather conditions and hgh demand.
- Reliance on Mother Nature: Throughout the year, Bald Head Island receives between 8.4 and 19.1 rainy days per month, which can create delays that interfere with construction deadlines. High wind days will shut down the Contractor Barge leaving no alternative means of bringing larger deliveries to the job site.
- Limited local resources: There is only one small local Hardware store on the Island, making access to basic building materials and supplies challenging. Without proper planning a framing crew can run out of nails and fasteners which can result in wasted labor resources causing additional costs and delays. Planning several days ahead of the critical path construction schedule is essential to success.
- Trash disposal: In the same way that it’s difficult to have materials brought to the island, it’s also difficult to remove and haul construction debris. Barge reservations must be made in advance with the Trash hauler giving ample time for removal and replacement of containers. Additional fees for transport make for the necessity of efficient use of Dumpsters in order to save costs.
- Limited vehicle access: No passenger cars are allowed on the Island as the preferred mode of transportation are golf carts, bicycles, and/or trams. Internal Combustion Engine Permits or ICE Permits are available for Contractors for an annual Fee and a Contractor Lot acts as a Lifeline for keeping Vehicles on Island and at the ready. Transferring Company vehicles to and from the Island can be accomplished for a fee and reservation on the Contractor Barge. Trucks oftentimes find themselves marooned either on the mainland or Island as periodic late afternoon storms will shut down travel for the day with crews and their vehicles left to fend for themselves.
Building Regulations and Environmental Restrictions
Bald Head Island has strict requirements and restrictions that residents must abide by when constructing new homes and buildings that speak to the Architectural Coastal vernacular of the Island.
The island’s Architectural Review Committee (or ARC) is tasked with reviewing all home plans and administering design guidelines. The group handles numerous reviews per year for home plans, landscaping changes, and renovations.
Protecting the Island’s Ecosystem
One of the most critical factors that the ARC takes into account when approving or denying architectural plans is the preservation of the island’s ecosystem.
Bald Head Island contains four distinct ecosystems: Beachfront, Dune Ridge, Maritime Forest, and Marsh. It’s home to a wide range of wildlife, including everything from Alligators, Sea Turtles, Sharks, Stingrays, Deer, Coyotes and a wide range of Bird species. Hamilton, a tagged Great White Shark has been known to traverse the near shore waters on his way North to his Winter feeding grounds.
Known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic the waters off Bald Head contain hundreds of shipwrecks as Frying Pan Shoals extend as far out as 32 miles into the Atlantic.
A teaching Conservatory resides adjacent to the Shoals Club on South Beach and is tasked with maintaining strict Island Protocol when it comes to ecological preservation.
Along with environmental concerns, builders also have to take into account the volatile weather on the island. For example, all homes must be built on pylons to protect against floods, increase stability, provide sufficient ventilation, and minimize the house’s overall footprint.
Homes must meet a 150-mph wind rating. In the last 30 years, maximum wind speeds on the island have increased dramatically, and all homes have at least some risk of wind damage as a result. The island faces an increased risk of hurricanes, which architects and engineers must take into account when selecting materials. Structural and building methods, such as the use of Hardy Shear Walls, Hurricane Straps, Tie Backs, and Plates, are all integral parts of coastal construction.
Logistical Aspects of Construction on an Island
Speaking of planning stages, more planning than usual is required for building on any island, including Bald Head Island.
Because of the challenges related simply to getting to the island — remember, it’s only accessible via ferry or private yacht — our crews had to take extra steps to ensure they could get to and from work with as little stress as possible. We also had to limit the number of people we could bring to the island at a time because of the ferry schedules and capacities (the ferry’s maximum capacity is 150 people).
Few transportation options on the island, naturally, create a risk of getting stuck overnight, which is something no crew member wants to deal with after a long day of labor.
Bald Head Island is quite humid, with an average humidity rating of 74-78 percent year-round.
High humidity levels create challenges for construction crews.
For example, excess moisture in the air can cause mold growth and cause the cement to cure improperly. It can also lead to corroded metal, improper surface coat drying, adhesives that don’t work correctly, and premature deterioration. All of these obstacles, in turn, can lead to extra costs and labor as teams repair and rework damaged elements of the property.
Crews must take additional steps to prevent humidity-related damage, such as using dehumidifiers to counteract the effects of moisture on materials and tools. Proper storage of materials can also help to minimize moisture exposure and subsequent damage.
Bald Head Island is no stranger to severe weather, including rainstorms and hurricanes. Crews and construction managers must take these weather-related risks into account when planning projects to avoid delays and damage.
Paying careful attention to the weather reports and storm predictions is an essential step for these professionals. They must also secure structures and equipment using materials like rope, sandbags, ground anchors, etc., and shield materials with plastic sheets and other protective coverings as needed.
These practices can mitigate storm damage, prevent slowdowns, and reduce the need to rework parts of the project affected by inclement weather.
Attractive Features of Bald Head Island
There are numerous reasons why people want to build homes on Bald Head Island.
From its natural beauty to its impressive ecological preservation efforts — including the loggerhead turtle sanctuary and conservancy — to its easy access to fishing and other water-related activities, there’s something for everyone here.
Many residents also appreciate the prohibition of gas-powered vehicles and the positive influence that prohibition has on the island’s air quality.
Permitting and Compliance
The island has specific building codes that everyone must abide by, including one stating that nobody can construct any kind of building or structure without a permit.
The Architectural Review Committee must grant all permits and approvals for island construction. The approval process is multifaceted and includes an in-depth online application and payment submission.
Environmental Impact Mitigation
Many people relocate to Bald Head Island because they appreciate the commitment its residents and leaders have toward protecting the environment. Naturally, they want their construction crews to have that same commitment.
Builders working on residential projects here must take several steps to minimize the environmental impact of construction.
For example, they are required to use silt fences for soil retention and limit tree removal as much as possible. They must carefully control construction lay-down areas, too, to minimize the disruption caused to the island’s ecosystem and the myriad creatures that call it home.
Architectural and Design Considerations
The ARC’s design guidelines are compiled in a 168-page book, which includes everything from porches and paint colors to staircases and landscaping.
For example, a porch’s length must be at least 50 percent of the total first-floor conditioned wall at the building’s perimeter, and it must have a depth of at least eight feet. Building applicants must have their paint colors approved by the ARC, too, to ensure they match the other structures on the island.
All homes should include hurricane-resistant shutters and or windows, as well, to mitigate damage caused by storms.
Bald Head Island has limited resources, including fresh water and waste disposal services. Because of these limitations, our team had to plan in excruciating detail to ensure we efficiently used the resources we had access to and didn’t take away from the needs of the island’s residents.
We also had to plan carefully to ensure we had sufficient supplies readily available on the island since they have to be transported via barge (and there are no hardware or lumber stores easily accessible).
Collaboration with Local Authorities
We appreciate all the local authorities and inspectors on Bald Head Island, including Stephen Boyett, the island’s Development Services Director. We were committed to collaborating with all authorities to ensure we were carrying out this project safely and efficiently — and without putting the island’s ecosystem or other residents at risk.
Our planning process also included careful strategizing regarding bringing equipment, supplies, and skilled labor to the island. The island itself does not have a large population of skilled craftsmen, meaning we had to bring individuals with the necessary experience and talents to the island from other parts of the state.
These people’s transportation required sufficient planning to ensure we could get them on and off the ferry at the proper time — and it was non-negotiable that we bring them to the island, as their skills were crucial to completing this project according to the client’s wishes and the ARC’s specific requirements.
Building any kind of structure in a coastal climate also requires careful planning and preparation. We were aware throughout the course of this project that we would encounter storms and, potentially, hurricanes.
In addition to keeping the materials off the ground, we took additional precautions like checking the weather report regularly and keeping sufficient numbers of protective materials including but not limited to plastic sheeting, dehumidifiers, and more on hand so that we could protect materials and the project as a whole.
Timeline and Budget Considerations
The island has specific timelines that construction crews and other workers must keep in mind when planning and taking on new projects. For example, there is a one-year limit for major renovation projects (from the time the building permit is granted) and a two-year limit for new home construction projects (also beginning from the time the building permit is given).
Because we knew about this two-year deadline before we started the project, we were able to plan carefully to ensure we completed the house on time and on budget. We built contingencies into the plan as well to account for potential workdays missed or delayed because of rain, severe wind, etc.
Rewards and Lessons
Our team gained many valuable lessons from working on this project on Bald Head Island.
We loved working with the skilled artisans who helped with various aspects of the home, from painting to shutter design.
We’ve also gained a new appreciation for the challenges associated with building on an island, particularly one that restricts the use of gas vehicles and is only accessible by ferry or yacht.
Our team members have enhanced their skills regarding building in locations with high humidity ratings and frequently changing weather patterns, too.
We were thrilled to learn that the homeowners were pleased with the final result of their residential build on Bald Head Island.
They expressed their appreciation and satisfaction with the project, stating that it met all of their needs and specifications. They were particularly pleased with the efficiency with which we completed their home, too, especially with the weather delays we faced along the way.
Building a new home on Bald Head Island was no easy feat. It required rigorous planning, and we had to take extra steps to ensure we were abiding by the island’s strict environmental protection and design regulations. Despite the challenges of the project, we are proud of our work and especially happy that we produced a residence that our clients can call home for years to come.