Our first visit to the Caribbean island of Bonaire was back in May 2005. Our friends Scott and Sharon Barlass (full-time residents on Bonaire) invited us down to help stain the floors on their new beachfront home.
I feel compelled to discuss concreting on this 290-sq.-mi. island. What intrigued me was the way the local workers performed their skills with the local materials and tools obtained on the island. I figured I would ask Scott a few questions relative to concreting on Bonaire since he dealt with both the good and bad aspects of concrete construction.
What made you choose decorative concrete virtually throughout your entire home?
There were two factors in our decision to choose decorative concrete. The first was the opportunity to have a unique appearance that was rich and varied. The second was the relative cost difference between decorative concrete and importing tile to the island. We would have had to tile more than 5,000 sq. ft. of surface and the cost would have been more than $50,000. On top of that, there would have been import duties of 30 percent and then shipping costs of $10,000 to $15,000. Also, there is the chance of breaking tile during shipping in the open seas, let alone having to order an additional 20 percent of tile to cover the broken tiles.
How is the labor different from the states?
In the states (Minnesota) we had a lot of concrete at our home. The driveway, pool deck and gazebo area, as well as roughly 2,500 sq. ft. of living space, consisted of concrete. On our project in the states, I recall the concrete supervisor supplied by our concrete contractor not being overly active in orchestrating his team of workers while at the same time doing a poor job of coordinating materials and supplies.
Many of the workers seemed unskilled and had no business being on the construction site in the frame of mind they were in. Some days they showed up and some days they didn't. Not to stereotype, but our experience in dealing with our contractor in the states was not a positive one!
On Bonaire concrete is a way of life. There is very little wood used in construction. Concrete is used on floors, walls and many times (like our home) even the ceilings. The common laborers seem to be inspired in achieving more detailed work such as concrete finishing so they can move up on the pay scales. Any improvement they can make is a great improvement in their lives, which is a major motivator. Skilled concrete finishers on Bonaire make about $11 per hour. A common day laborer earns approximately $3 to $3.50 per hour.
Does the production of concrete installation differ from the states and if so how?
In the states, production seems to be much different because basically the supervisor would call the ready-mix concrete company and it would be delivered in the truck for a quick and easy installation. In Bonaire there is only one ready-mix plant that delivers by truck. Once the truck arrives on the construction site, they won't stand by for long. It is not uncommon for the driver to discharge the load and drive off leaving a reservoir of concrete waiting for its new home.
Most concrete is mixed by hand in a mortar mixer. As far as the raw materials, the cement comes from Venezuela. Much of the aggregate is crushed coral from different parts of the island and has very high salt content. The sand is made by crushing the coral down, and the sand is very coarse and has a high salt content as well. Therefore the workers have to use a large 3- by 4-ft. screen and throw the sand through the screen (their homemade sieve) before mixing. It is doubtful that one mortar mixer load of concrete is the same as the next one. Plastic buckets are used to scoop up material and consistency would not be the same throughout. But they have a good gut instinct for mixing each batch and get very close.
Are you satisfied with the quality of your concrete installations?