Last week the family headed to my parent’s house on the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii so there was no woodworking. While I was there, I took a closer look at the old part of the house and realized something I had not noticed before.
My parents’ house was originally built in the late 50’s as part of the post war housing boom and used a tequnique called single wall construction wherein all walls were made of tounge and groove planks of redwood with full size dimensional lumber building out doors and windows. This includes both interior and exterior walls meaning that part of the painting procedure is to caulk the joints to keep light from creeping in from the outside.
This resulted in some unique trim work as the lack of air space in the walls means that electrical wires have moulding to over them from the ceiling to the door frame which has a hollow gap to carry the wires to the switch boxes.
This is all pretty standard but what I had never noticed before is that the the only time studs are present are around Windows or exterior doors. There are none at the corners or evenly spaced along the walls. This means that the tounge and groove boards are structural, something I never realized as a kid.
Cheap and easy to build, these houses met the demands of a post war Hawaii that was seeing a population boom thanks to the military buildup. Houses on the windward side have always been built to maximize airflow for cooling and it’s impossible to keep out the critters so the single wall construction worked (fun side note the ceilings are panels of material that look a bit like drywall but are actually make of compressed sugar cane pulp).
Obviously there is a major downside to this construction method as the lack of plaster or drywall eliminates the fire barriers so these older house burn fast. As you would expect, new construction is double wall construction utilizing engineered wood sheathing and drywall; the extension my parents added in the 80s used this method. There is a downside though as drywall does not deal well with moisture and living down wind from the beach means nothing is ever dry. Every horizontal surface where dust can settle ends up with salt, which means damp dust. As a result, many areas in my parents house (particularly around Windows) have suffered drywall rot.