WHY ALWAYS COMPARING CONSTRUCTION PRICES?



I recently talked to a potential client and we discussed his project to build his house in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where he had bought already a piece of land.

I commented him a couple of things because I do my main activities in the Central Valley, but I had built in different spots around the country, and he was thinking to consider just local contractors.

The most of these aspects should well known by the most of people considering to move to Costa Rica and live here, but I think is a good idea to pointing  them out just in case.

First, the main principle, here and all around the world, is comparing prices all the time. It is always a good idea to get different bids to analyze. For a much better comparison, the information about the project should be the same for all the contractors, otherwise the bids themselves would not include the same requirements for everybody and the conclusion could be not accurate enough to make a good decision.

Second, the country is small and that is an advantage because well skilled crews can go almost everywhere here to build for basically the same cost. For instance, I have built in locations like Quepos, Esterillos, Limón and San Carlos, besides the Central Valley, and even the most of the times I have hired local people, what makes sense and it is supporting local economy, what is good, but I have found, at least once, it is not always the best choice. In Esterillos, Parrita, continuing the example of my last building there, I asked to local contractors for labor bids and I found they were charging around 50%  more than I usually pay, obviously I said thanks but it was inappropriate to accept it otherwise my client would pay disproportionately. At the end, I took my crew from the Central Valley (6 people), I paid their wages, I paid their food and they slep over the materials shed and the final labor expenses were 50% less than the bid from locals.

Finally, considering than materials are roughly the 65% of project, then labor is the other 35%, the materials prices really matter. What is important to know is that the most of the times the cheapest prices are in the Central Valley. Once again, while building a project in San Carlos, even I bought many materials at local depots and hardware stores, I bought a very good package in the Central Valley and, even paying transportation, the final price was cheaper than if I would have done that in locals. Just one example, the price per cement bag was 2 USD less than buying to locals and I bought around one thousand bags, so at the end the economy was around 10 thousand USD, considering the different kinds of supplies. If the project is not a turnkey one but it is and administration project, as I do often for customers, these clients will enjoy the benefits of these economy.

So, my piece of advice is asking for different bids before making your final decision.


WOODEN HOUSES AND PROTECTION AGAINST TERMITES

If you want your house made all in wood, your architect and your builder must apply a preservative to the material. It is against bugs, termites too, and antifungal.

The method is very important. There are chemicals that you can apply by submerging the wood during at least several minutes in a container with the chemical diluted in water. Just painting the wood with the product could be not good enough. 

You can find the chemicals in the hardware stores depending on the factory and the supplier (a very reliable factory is located in Ochomogo, Cartago).

Usually, following this procedure is the best way to prevent the most of the problems.

PALO SECO


Hi there.

A friend, Paul  Meister, asks for my opinion about the recent situation in Palo Seco, Parrita, because of the eviction that many retired foreigners are suffering there, according to the news on March 28th to 30th, 2012.

Even these people bought land and built a housing project, now the central government, specially the National Register, says Palo Seco is an island and owning properties is not allowed by law. These owners are now suing the local municipality to get an appropriate solution or compensation.

I will try to give my opinion, first in a technical way, then as a citizen, because this problem is mostly legal, and I am not a lawyer.

I am attaching views from Google Earth and from the cartographic map of the area (Hoja Parrita 3344 III). In the Google Earth view, Palo Seco is facing the ocean to the south and a wide estuary to the north. Then, according to the cartographic map, besides that big estuary, called Palo Seco and then Barbural, there is a narrower estuary called Meros, to the northwest that meets the end of Río Parrita.

Considering the strictly definition of an island (a piece of land surrounded by water, see the Oxford Dictionary online), Palo Seco could be considered as an Island, because the water from the estuaries and the ocean is surrounding it. The cartographic map, that comes from Instituto Geográfico Nacional, is offical and says Isla Palo Seco.

Nevertheless, in the Google Earth view, Meros estuary is so narrow that you practically can´t see it. I guess it is not deep either.

In my opinion, considering Palo Seco as an island could be arguable before a court, because the estuary is like a creek, not deep enough to isolate this piece of land from Parrita. In that case, Palo Seco would be a peninsula, as Puntarenas downtown, for instance.

Now, the most important thing is municipality allowed to build in this area in the past. So, there should be approved designs and blueprints with the official stamps from the Muni and the respective document about the permits.

As I commented in another topic about the land use document, from the Muni, if this municipality allowed the constructions in the past, there should be an approved land use for this, too, and because of it the legal procedure before the court should be successful.

Therefore, if you, as the owner of land, have followed the technical and legal processes, you would have the rights to ask for an indemnification, at least.

I suggest to be careful about this subject.

LAND USE


Hi guys !

I would like to comment about land use and its importance.

If you are considering to buy a property, asking the owner for this document, from the local municipality, could save you time and money.

After checking a land, a farm, a house, a building, you could do quick numbers to make your decision. Maybe you could ask your lawyer about any legal detail involved. Then, you could buy it, but you could also get something you didn´t expect.

According to different regulations, there are lands where you are not allowed to build or, if a building is there already, you are not allowed to build an extension or to rebuild the whole thing because the land is in a forbidden zone.

Some of them are protection areas for forests, rivers, creeks, beaches, wells, etc. They could affect part of the property or the entire land.

Let´s see a recent case I know. A client asked me to design and build a new house for him. His father took part of his own property, where the father´s house is, to separate a new lot for his son. The street, close to San Isidro de Heredia, is a well known neighborhood (Calle Chaves); there are many houses built in the area and even some other are still being finished now. My client grew up there and he expected no problems for his project.

Before doing the job, I recommended my client to ask for the land use about his lot, because of the situation I explained, and because it is a requirement for the building permits, anyway. After asking, the municipality in charge doesn´t allow him to follow the procedure for permits because the land use says that the lot is affected by a well´s protection area according to SENARA (the governmental office in charge of underground waters).

Obviously, something is wrong, because the municipality authorized permits for other buildings recently, but the problem is for my client, because he must fight now to demand permits for his house due to Muni allowed to build those houses pretty close to his spot.

Other very common case is lots in agriculture areas. Probably you would be allowed to build a 10% of the land size in just one building, but probably you bought that land expecting to build more, or several buildings in the same farm.

So, the land use would show limitations for building or using the place. I strongly suggest to pay attention to this detail before deciding anything about buying a property.

Hasta pronto. 

ADVICE TO FOLLOW DURING AN EARTHQUAKE


Recently, there were several tremors in certain places in CR, specially in Upula, North zone of the country.

This is very natural in Costa Rica due to we live in seismic region, and we are plently of volcanoes (by the way, one of our main attractions).

Technically, our Costarican bureau of engineers and architects (CFIA in Spanish) and the main universities, have prepared professionals to design and build seismic-resistant buildings and structures all around the country, according to the local seismic risk involved. So, as users, we have an excellent chance to get out of a building without suffering wounds. The structure should resist all the forces while people are leaving the place and even keeping stable for being used over and over again.

In a critical case, the structure would be stable meanwhile people are escaping, even the damage is so important that the building should be knocked down to the ground after the even. In the most of the cases, buildings and houses would be ready to be used right away.

In any case, it is necessary to keep in mind some advice and strategies in order to avoid suffering wounds while we are in the middle of an earthquake.

Even going out is one of the best choices, be careful during the tremor about the windows, specially because of the glasses. Be careful about the electricity lines and trees outside.

It is a good idea to have a plan for evacuating, but sometimes we forget it because we ussually are confused, afraid and even terrified. So, try to stay calm while the event is happening.

I suggest to go close to the bathrooms´ walls, if you have no chance to go out of the building. Why ? Those walls are much more closer one to another than the rest in the house, so its internal reinforcement is stronger than in other places in the house, and it is a safer place than in the large rooms. Also, don´t use the stairs, neither the elevators, while an earthquake is occurring.

The good part is that the most of the constructions in CR are stronger enough to resist the regular earthquakes, because they have been well constructed, according to our seismic reality. But, try to repair any cracks after the events, because the structure resisted the forces but the cracks could indicate it did its job but the resistence could be less than before the event. The most of the times, the cracks are just on the final cement layer of the walls, that is pretty fragile, like an eggshell, but the walls, themselves, are ok inside.

If you suspect there is an important damage (like a crack crossing the wall side to side)ask for a builder´s opinion. Usually you can fix those important cracks locally, it means, cutting the wall where the crack is for adding extra rebars inside, filling the crack with expansive concrete.

BUYING LAND FOR BUILDING


When you are interested in buying land for building, besides the location, price and legal condition of the property, you should take into account other factors. Even the most of them are a matter of common sense, and you probably have thought about them, it is always a good idea to evaluate them while seeking for the land.

1. Evaluating the slope inside the property.

If you have visited Costa Rica for a while, you have noted CR is plenty of hills, so, for lots of 1000 M2, or more, is usual to find little or even big slopes inside the property. Obviously, there are many flat properties, but many of them are not flat at all.

Study the property if there is an important slope (50% or more). If there is enough space inside, you could cut the dirt to have a flat surface for your home, creating small slope areas in one or more sides to avoid retaining walls, because those structures would increase the investment in your house (usually between 20% to 40%); if you do that way, it is necessary to leave at least the same distance far from the slope than how high it is, that is why the top high should be between 2 an 3 meters, being able to have the same distance from the slope, otherwise you should need retaining walls. Well, sometimes, using a good design, you can take advantage of the retaining wall: I did it for a client whose house was built in two levels, the main one upstairs, and the second, for the garage, laundry and guest room, using the retaining wall as part of the supporting structure of the level upstairs, saving some money by using the wall twice at the same time.

By the way, a flat propety shouldn´t be ideal, specially because of rain; if there is a tiny slope in the property to the road (5%), you are lucky because the rain would go out by itself or with a little help from you. If you have a flat property, well, it is very nice, but you have to see if the kind of soil could create little swamps or soft places that could be uncomfortable and, in certain conditions, dangerous (I am thinking about some places in Filadelfia, Guanacaste, with regular floods because of the rain, the river and the flat lands). Then, if you are interesed in a flat property, ask about how the water from the rain in draining in the properties around; maybe you would need internal drainages to collect the rain.

2. Location and facilities for public services and direct access. Some friends of mine bought a nice property, with a good price, several slopes to be honest, 1.0 km far from the main road, and now they are evaluating to invest more money for getting a comfortable access (in this moment neither a four wheels drive car can reach the property, only by walking).

So, even the price is important, distance from services and access should be considered. Otherwise, you could be investing as much as if you had bought a different property closer to services.

3. Considering wind and rain, even sun position.

Some people like open architectural forms for houses. So, it is necessary knowing the usual direction the wind blows and the rain comes, in order to prevent an uncomfortable situation.

For instance, I designed a house for a client with a little covered corridor in the entrance, but the customer decided (the owner is obviously the boss) to have just a sidewalk coming in front, in order to save some money. Well, in the first months of the rain season, when the wind and the rain went in the entrance position, he had a little flood in the living room and even in the dinning room and kitchen. In conclusion, he had to build an extra roof for avoiding the problem.

Talking about the sunlight, we have something pretty similar. Knowing the usual direction of the movement of the sun you can avoid extra heat, specially if your design is using huge windows.

Some people have talked here about air conditioning systems. In order to minimize that use, or even having no need of it at all, considering the previous factors is important. If you have enough windows to allow air crossig the rooms, using mosquitoes screens in windows even in doors, the place would be fresh. Having high walls (9 or 10 feet) would give you good space for the same purpose.

Then, using insulating materials between the roof and the ceilings will help you to have fresher conditions inside. I remodelled a house where all the bedrooms, upstairs, where like ovens; using a coat of an insulating material, pretty cheap, reduced the temperature around a 30% to 40%, giving a nice condition without extra systems.

4. Basic structural conditions of the ground.

Sometimes a lot could have problems about the ground´s capacity for holding the weight of a building. The Puriscal (1990) and Cinchona (2008) earthquakes are examples of damages because of soft terrains and places with landslides complications, specially if there are important slopes close to rivers or roads.

So, ask for usual problems there where the property is located. Otherwise, you should ask for a soil resistance test and then for an engineer or architect opinion about that. If not, you could have problems while building and later, and maybe you should have to invest more money to solve it.

Also, knowing the structural conditions would help your professional to decide the structural system that should be use to achieve a good balance between quality and costs.

In my opinion, building should give you more advantages than buying an already built house, because you can do it according to your likes and without selling charges (for instance, commisions), but one of the main factors that could complicate your investment is having no professional criteria for going ahead. Having a design would allow you to have accurate bids. Let´s remember materials are often a 60% of the whole house cost, so, chosing an appropriate design would save you money when you decide to build your project.

NEW ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SYSTEMS




Building a new home is not only knowing how the process to design and build the project is. The way how we can get energy for our needs is very important, too.

If we find some choices we can apply saving money and resources, we would have a better kind of life.

Some people, including myself, are evaluating new alternative energy systems for sustainable living. I would like to talk about Earth Tube (biodigestor in Spanish) which is, in a small scale, an in-vessel composting system for recycling organic waste materials at the site where they are generated, producing methane gas and compost at the same time.

I think this topic could be interesting, specially for people who are living (or planning to live) in a farm, because this is a source of energy that is cheap and clean, and at the same time you are taking advange of your waste materials, recycling them. Well, indeed any person can take advantage of this system, even he/she is not living in a villa or a farm, but the system is really useful for taking advantage of the waste materials there in order to apply again the benefits in the property.

You can see some sophiticated systems online, that should be pretty expensive, but I would like to consider a system promoted by universities like UNA (Universidad Nacional) and EARTH (Escuela de Agricultura de la Región Tropical Húmeda). Those institutions have several descriptions of the system in pdf files and videos online (for instance, ask for the topic in youtube, using the word “biodigestor”, so you will find “construya un biodigestor sencillo”, obviously in Spanish,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9US5eal0P8&feature=related). EARTH videos show a link, at the very beginning, to another website for translation to English.

According to these documents, you can build an earth tube using a combination of a tubular plastic, some plastic pipes, a plastic bottle (as a safety valve), and some hoses to deliver methane gas to the burners for cooking or for transforming the gas into electricity using an engine or dynamo. The space for the instalation would be around 13 meters (43 feet) long and 4 meters (7 feet) diameter; the tube is partially placed into a trench, so it is around 1.5 meter (8 feet) over the ground.

You can build a smaller tubular system (for instance, 8 meters long, 3 meters diameter), investing around 500 USD in total. Once done, as the videos and tutorials explain, you should get around 20 kilograms of dung, if you are in a farm, to feed the system everyday, or in food waste, too, if you have a food business (for example, a small restaurant, a butcher´s shop). It takes around a month and a half for the system to start producing both compost and gas. The gas should be enough for two burners during 6 to 7 hours a day (depending on the local altitude over the sea level, the main factor involved). Once again, if you are running a food business, it is ideal to save money in cooking energy; if you are in a farm, you can use the gas for cooking and other uses in your property. And the compost could be use for the plantations you have there or just for sale or for sharing it.

Have you known about other alternative energy systems and if it is possible to get them using low investments like this one for earth tube ?

I really would appreciate your comments.