‘It’s not the typhoon; it’s the termites!’

Local contractor offers solution for minimizing future typhoon damage

“You see that?” he asks, pointing to the damage to a residence adjacent his property in Gualo Rai. “Typhoon Soudelor lifted the roof and put it over there, but I’ll tell you a secret. It was the termites that made it easy!”

Three months after Soudelor, contractor, Chang Yoon Suk stands on a table and shows me the termite damage to the wooden beams in a still roofless building. “Did you ever see the way the termites eat through wood? It’s very beautiful,” he adds, revealing his artist’s eye for design, then continues our tour, and my education. “A lot of people think that all the damage they see is because of the typhoon. It wasn’t.”

“As a contractor, after typhoon Soudelor, homeowners asked me to visit their homes and give them quotations. ‘What is the problem and how can we fix it?’ they ask me. When I look at the overall damage—how the roof separated from the structure—I realized it’s actually because of the termites. The termites weaken the structure long before the typhoon.  From what I see, if no termite damage, maybe Saipan would have 10% of the damage you see!”

The challenge: (What are we doing wrong?)
Chang describes what typically happens here on Saipan. “People are building their homes with low tin roofs. It’s cheap and fast, but there’s only about a foot and a half  of space—the height of the wooden beams—between the ceiling and the roof, so there is no ventilation—no air moving in between. With the sun shining most of the time, the temperature in-between gets very hot. Once the rain comes, the water sits on the flat roof making it rust. Once the tin rusts, leaks develop, and we get moisture between the ceiling and roof, and the wooden beams inside get wet. Termites are attracted to the darkness, humidity and the damp lumber…easier to eat. The termites eat the wood, loosening the connections, and now your roof is not really connected to your house any longer. With the next strong wind, it can fly away! The whole roof, not a part of it. The whole thing!”

The solution: (How can we fix this?)
“For me, I’ve been working on this idea for quite some time, not just since the typhoon.  I always think about how I can save energy because of high electric rates. I’ve thought about solar power, but it was not practical for everybody here on Saipan, and CUC stopped the “net metering” program [where customers who generate their own electricity can feed it back to the grid and receive a credit], so I had to think about other ways. I looked for materials and construction methods that were economical, easy to use, and stronger than lumber”

“Now, look at this,” Chang says as he shows me his models.  “If you build a higher ‘A roof’ like this, and create ventilation holes on the sides as well as the front [ a Gable vent], you can solve the problem. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but look at all the benefits.”

Less humidity: (What are the benefits?)
“The air flowing through the structure makes the whole house cooler. It cuts down on the humidity in the structure. Less humidity is also better for your appliances. The electronics, wires and metal parts of your appliances are all affected by the humidity. It’s better for the overall structure. For concrete, when reinforcement bars inside the concrete get damp, the rusted bars expand and crack the concrete. And, for wood, it reduces the termites.”

Fast construction: (What is the best way to rebuild after a typhoon?)
“Of course, the fastest is using tin with lumber,” Chang replies. “So, after Soudelor, many people just rebuilt the same structures they had before. FEMA only paid for replacing the same materials, not for upgrading.”

However, for those who can afford it, Chang suggests pre-fabricated [“pre-fab”] panels for the overall construction—roofs as well as walls.  For his projects, he uses a special design imported from Korea that reduces construction time.

“Think about this,” he explains. “A 20-foot by 9-foot concrete structure, made with hollow block, including plastering, takes at least three weeks [without interior/exterior decoration]. The same structure, using pre-fab takes four days!  Four days vs. twenty-one days.  So, with this method, you can reduce construction cost and typhoon recovery time.”

Easier maintenance and repair: (How long will it last?)
“If you use steel for the structure, it lasts longer, but it’s also easier to repair if there is damage. If a steel beam gets damaged, you can cut out a piece and weld in another, but if a wooden beam gets compromised, you have to replace the whole thing.”

“You know, in other climates, wooden structures can last many years. The change in temperature each season from cold to hot to cold keeps the termites away. In Saipan, where it’s always hot, the termites are very happy. Sometimes you’re lucky if it lasts one year!”

Alternatives: (What if I can’t afford it?)
Now, if you can’t afford prefab panels or steel structure, you can still build the same ‘A roof’ structure using tin. Chang shows me his display samples—reduced scale models of roofs—using both the pre-fab panels as well as the tin.  Even with tin, the Gable vent & cooling principle still work, and it’s not much more expensive. [Watch video demonstrations of flat tin vs. vented prefab roof www.saipanliving.com/specific]

(How much more will it cost me?)

Let’s calculate what that actual cost might be. A 40ft x 8ft (container-sized) structure with a 2ft roof overhang all around would require (44’ x 12’ =) 528sq.ft of coverage for a flat roof. Using Chang’s design of a 3.5ft high A-frame instead would require (44’ x 7’ x 2sides=) 616sq.ft. That’s just 16% more tin.  Based on how the tin is sold ($38 for a $19ft x 31in panel; Guangdon), you might even be able to cover the A frame roof for the same cost of materials, (plus labor, and a little extra for additional wood.)

“Many countries are already using these energy-efficient systems. I’m already using the pre-fab system here on Saipan. It’s safe, fire-resistant, energy-efficient, faster to build and easier to repair. This makes it a perfect fit for Saipan, and not only after a typhoon, but any time in the future. Typhoon, tropical storm or hurricane—we’re going to have the same problem again and again because of the humidity and termites. Don’t keep doing this. Don’t keep repeating the mistakes of the past. Spend a little more now, and long term you spend less money on air conditioning, you live healthier, your things last longer, and you’re ready for the next typhoon!”

Later in the day, while driving along Beach Road, we pass an utt. “You see that?” Chang asks. “That same high roof is how the Chamorros and Carolinians used to build their homes. Good ventilation. Very smart.”

Walt F.J. Goodridge (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Walt F.J. Goodridge is the creator of several websites and author of several books specifically about Saipan including Saipan Living, Doing Business on Saipan, Chicken Feathers & Garlic Skin, The Jamaican on Saipan and Saipan Now: a photo adventure.  See them all at www.bestofsaipan.com

Chang Yoon Suk was born in Korea, and was raised and attended elementary and high school on Saipan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Guam, a General Construction license here on Saipan, and an NCCER certificate (National Center for Construction Education and Research) from The Northern Marianas Trade Institute (2013). He is the owner of D. System Construction, founded in 2007, and recently won the bid over six other companies to work on one of the new hotels on island. His interior design work can be found in DFS Galleria, Marianas Eye Institute and other locations. Contact him at dsystemsaipan@ gmail.com. View samples of his work at www.saipanliving.com/dsystem

Walt F.J. Goodridge (Special to the Saipan Tribune)

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