Oct 30, 2005
Before starting any DIY project it’s important to make advance preparations. Land, equipment, lumber, workers; they all have to be prepped ready for the start of your project.
This project can take anywhere from a day to three weeks to complete depending on your workforce. At the end you’ll be the proud owner of a hut that conforms to the strictest Cambodian construction quality standards.
First you’ll need a suitable plot of land. If you don’t own any land simply take possession of a vacant lot, preferably one owned by a resident of a different country or by a large corporation whose representatives are unlikely to visit the land for the next year or two, as what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
We’re only building a single hut a ground area of roughly 4 metres x 3 metres is all that’s required, however the roof will overhand by approximately a metre at the sides. Basic tools required are a saw, a hammer, a selection of nails and a few large bolts, plus a spirit level and something with both 45 and 90 degree angles marked on it which will reduce the amount of guesswork required at various stages in construction.
Finally, you’ll need a supply of illegal immigrant labour. No skillset of any kind isn’t important only the ability to lift, carry and hammer nails for 10 hours per day in any weather conditions. Cambodians are best, but I’m sure that Mexican or Chinese workers could be substituted without quality suffering.
Step 1 – Mark out the land where your hut will be built, dig six holes roughly 30 centimeters deep these mark the corners of the 3 x 3 metre room plus the balcony area. Place a concrete support in each hole and have a couple of your workers stand around and kick dirt into the hole before trampling the earth down to provide stability. (If you’re not on a tight budget concrete can also be used instead of dry dirt to keep the supports in place.)
Step 2 – Now you need to lay your hands on six wooden poles. One option is to purchase 3 metre lengths of totally unsuitable, but cheap, softwood from your local builder’s merchants, another is to ‘find’ the required wood in a nearby forest or area of outstanding natural beauty. Bolt these supports in place to provide vertical support for your roof. Affix cross beams at floor and roof level.
Step 3 – You’ve now got a frame for your authentic beach hut. The next steps are in no particular order, if the sun is shining your dollar-a-day labourers may prefer to get the palm frond roof up as quickly as possible. Make sure to minimise the number of roof pieces that are required by limiting the amount of overlap to the bare minimum thus providing the illusion of a roof over a guests head but without the protection from the elements that more upmarket visitors would require.
The next step would be to lay the floor making every effort to leave gaps that only the slimmest of mosquitoes can squeeze through. Note that in order to save money, part of the floor is raised. Eventually, a single foam and coconut husk mattress will be thrown on top of the raised area of the floor to provide both decor and functionality to the room.
Step 4 – Walls are next. However, prior to doing this you’ll need several lengths of 1″ x 2″ wood to make a basic window and door frames from. Don’t worry about the lack of support this size of wood provides as it’s not as though the door and single window will contain glass or even solid wood for that matter. Walls, door and window are made from sheets from a type of water reed that has been dried, woven together and pressed to form a board that is impervious to light rain, blunt instruments and gently thrown objects.
All that’s left to do now is to add a padlock to the door and two small deadbolts to the ‘window’. Electricity, in the form of a single line reaching from the nearest building or plug socket, can now be put in. Experience isn’t required as all you’ll be doing is wiring in a single ‘on/off’ switch and screwing in a 40 watt bulb.
Finally, try to recall ever having see the spirit level or set square you specifically purchased for this project in use by your workers.
Now, sweep the debris off the floor, throw in a mattress, hang a mozzie net and you’re in business. Friends and neighbours will never look at you in the same light again with a DIY backpacker hut in your front garden.
Next week . . . . we’ll be looking at the need for adequate sewage and drainage and the Pros and Cons of not bothering at all with it when a simple drop toilet and open gutter will do the job for a fraction of the cost.