The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Ranger Ed on roof

Living in Key West | Part 1: The things no one tells you

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


Ranger Ed is on our roof playing whack-a-mole with the leaks in our solar panels. That’s not a place people of a certain age ought be; yet, here we are. Living the dream of home ownership on a mystical, magical tropical island at the end of the road. A place where, even in our latest iteration of the Covid-19 insurrectionist world, folks are willing to strip bare a bank account to live.

I’m checking ant traps. I scrub every inch of that kitchen; you could (most days) eat off the floor. But, ants. Two kinds by the way, resistant to the borax syrup and appearing in the middle of the counter via a Star Trek  transporter I am yet to discover. I will. Resistance is futile. Don’t suggest a bug service; I’ve got one, a good one. These ants are smart enough to be in cahoots. (I’m seeing conspiracy theories these days; even among the ants.)

Ranger Ed on ladderGrowing up in the sweaty corners of North Carolina and Georgia, I made my peace with creepy, crawly things that live in the house, scuttle across sinks and scare the bejaysus out of you when one steps on them and they go snap-crackle-pop in the dark. Sharing a home with the resident tropical livestock is, well, the cost of not shoveling snow.

Pity, though, the poor mainlanders, fresh from their temperate climes far north. No one tells them as they sign the closing docs on their Key West dream home about the unholy trio of sun, wind and wet with but one mission: Lay waste swiftly to the man-made.

Rust and corrosion. If the packaging says “rust resistant,” feel free to send peals of laughter throughout the store. Everything rusts or corrodes. The chrome on your hot, new motorcycle. The screws in your deck (especially after they pop out, which they will do almost immediately.) The hinges on your wind-impact-resistant French doors. The screws for your hurricane shutters.

And, the big one: your metal roof. Let’s hope you chose the galvanized steel. With the aluminum coating. With screws and washers to match. Even with all that, best check it frequently because leaks from the air conditioner, the solar panels and heaven knows what else you have secured up there can cause rust and corrosion that eventually will mean you’re scurrying for a bucket in the bedroom at midnight in the middle of a monsoon.

When I renovated my kitchen a decade ago, I installed the same gas cook top I’d had in my kitchen outside Chicago. It was a workhorse and looked and worked as well after 15 years as it did the first day. In less than three years, my Key West version rusted through in three places. Why? Because not-stainless-steel.

Stainless steel is no panacea. Even the best of it rusts in our relentlessly destructive climate. Just not as fast. Aluminum hurricane shutters don’t rust; they corrode, which can be a good thing; though that’s a topic of another day. Galvanized steel beats stainless, but unless you’re doing a high-end chef’s or commercial kitchen, those appliances might not be in your budget.

Rot. Wood rot. Brown. White. Soft. All wood rots. Inside wood. Outside wood. Windows. Casements. Decks. Your lovely hardwood floors. The beams that hold your house together.

All wood rot is caused by a combination of water and fungi. There are plenty of “what is wood rot” articles; feel free to Google. They all say the same thing: Wood rots; seek, destroy, fix before your fence, house, deck, trellis come tumbling down.

As for those handful of rot-resistant woods? They’ll give you a bit of extended life, but they come at a cost. Treated lumber? You’re adding harmful chemicals to your raised planter beds or the ground water. (Yes, I use treated lumber.) Cedar, bald cypress, black locust, teak, California redwood, loblolly pine are expensive, often not generally available and not regularly “farmed” for commercial use.

So what about Ipe, the Brazilian hardwood so frequently hyped in local real estate advertising? Well, if yours is the real deal, your Ipe deck is contributing to deforestation of the Amazon rain forests. If your so-called ipe (little “i”) deck is the synthetic kind, go for it, though you’ll be doing one of those crazy hot-feet dances when the sun is bright.

Maintenance and repairs are on every Key West resident’s daily to-do list. Pick up the leaves. Trim the hedges. Replace the rotten wood. Install new hinges. Re-sink the screws and nails. Climb on the roof.

Pray for a dependable handy person.


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