Home Diary – Platanillo

Aug. 6th – 2014 

Ground breaking

March 20th, 2015 – Key Turned Over

Home # 2 near Platanillo, Perez Zeledon

Fantastic Location and Unique, Truly Tropical Design

Come together to make a great marriage…

Rather than us just telling you we build the “BEST HOMES ” anywhere in Costa Rica I happen to think it is far more relevant and educational for you to actually see exactly how and what  we do to make that happen.  Here we shall demonstrate the facts step by step so you as a layman can analyze how it is that we do that screw by screw, nail by nail and glue gob by glue gob.  At the end of this long journey in creating one of our super homes I trust that you will be able to take the above comments as simple fact not just brash bragging.  Please feel free to add comments, questions and even criticism at the very bottom of this verrry long page and I will be only too glad to answer all.

The whole point of this diary is to be in direct contrast to the verrry common statement by other builders and developers when they say “built to American Standards”.  Yet in reality typically when I inspect such homes built under this premise I invariable find that in reality what they have is a pretty pig or should we just call it what it really is BULLSHIT!  A home that could never be considered more than a pig but all dressed up pretty in an attempt to fool the consumer.  Meanwhile they conceal that the fundamental infrastructure of the home could never pass a home inspection in any G20 country due to grave inadequacies much of which simply can never be fixed other than by a Caterpillar.

Sadly I have seen a number of homes sold in the range of $120 to $140 a square foot that are nothing better than junk based on the standards you will see unfolding here.  This only demonstrates how price shopping in this market is sooo pointless when the fundamental standards are all over the map.  The home you see here is delivered at a slightly lower cost yet at a massively higher standard of quality hence the comparable between the two becomes total nonsense or a bad joke on the naive buyer.  None of the guilty parties I use as my basis of comparison here would ever do a diary like this as it would be a blatant admission of guilt.  Transparency is not the mission to put it mildly versus our mission here being to be fully transparent and well as providing detailed education.  

This home does demonstrate our basic architectural standards being applied as per the video on our home page.  Yes more could be done to put in more expensive finishings for those who have the desire and the budget to do so however the fundamental infrastructure is what it is and should not be diverted from in any home.  The basic infrastructure should always be present when your fundamental goal is to build a high quality and low maintenance home.  This is exactly how you avoid ending up with a pig in a dress.  In time you will see other homes coming onto this site in future home diaries that will have higher end finishings and budgets but the basics will always remain the same and NEVER be of lower quality than seen here.

Contrary to common tactics this page, without apology, is verrrry long as it documents the entire building of this home.  There is a massive amount of pictures (211), plus videos plus lots of commentary (16,000 words) covering seven months of work describing all details to ensure you understand exactly what we are doing each step of the way.  This most likely will bore you to tears if you have just a casual interest.  HOWEVER I have written this for those in mind who have an intense interest and want to know exactly how we or you should build a home.  For that reason I am not even remotely attempting to be a fluffy news bite.  This is the full meal deal designed for those who need and want detail and will appreciate my extreme clarity.  For those who don’t appreciate the effort put forth you are not likely ever going to be one of our clients which I have no problem with.  

With that said if you want a reader’s digest version of this build in a video here you go so you can have a sneak peak as to how it all came about.  For those wanting both a more in-depth detail then read on or both of course.

Trevor Chilton


This 164 m2 or 1765 ft2 2 Bdrm Bungalow will be the first home to be constructed in a new project near Platanillo, in the Municipality of Perez Zeledon or San Isidro de General for Larry and Cindy Smith.

Unique features of this home is that it shall have a Dutch Gable breathing roof offering great air circulation so as to avoid any need for Air Conditioning at this comfortable altitude of 335 m or 1,000 ft that looks down on Playa Dominical. This home will have an elevated wood structure floor sitting on concrete pilings so as to offer the driest and most human body friendly floor system there is.  You can read that as a floor that is the most kind as possible to aging backs and knees. This is of course a custom designed home with a great deal of effort from the owners in ensuring that Michael could deliver a well thought out plan that met all their needs.  

From this location it is 20 minutes to the beach or 25 minutes to the second largest city of Costa Rica, San Isidro de General.  This location was very specific to the dream of Larry and Cindy Smith so as to be suitable for their individual needs as well as them as a couple.  This location was selected with a lot of investment of time and thought to provide want they desired in their perfect spot. Part of that was also the interview of four different builders to find what they wanted in a new home as well as to have one that they could actually afford to live in both in cost of construction as well as future maintenance costs.  They were not at all thrilled with the concrete home concept hence after we collided our views and objectives became most compatible to forge ahead.

The Team Bringing this house to life…


This diary shall be a bit different than the first one taken in Uvita not so much because of my greater experience but far more so in that Larry is an amateur videographer hence he is taking way more video than I would ever have done and then massaging it way more than I have the time, equipment, experience and patience for.  I will still have a lot of still photos here but as time provides Larry will be providing me with his videos to add in for much greater detail and dialogue.  It should be an interesting ride to showcase this new home.

 Much cooler and with cooling ocean breezes, what a refreshing change from the beach front.  Digging of swimming pool and site leveling on a rare totally dry day thank goodness.  Setting up batter boards to square up and level the house platform.View over excavationThe early days of excavation work looking down on the site.


Drilling holes for our much bigger bamboo tent poles with the same auger that will be used to dig the deeper 4′ deep piling holes that will support this home. This is a mighty rare tool here that i imported since the typical answer to this need is two Nicas, two shovels and a weeks work later!  They tend to dig huge holes to fill with many tons of expensive concrete then fill back in the same by shovel.  Tedious and expensive for the owner with zero benefit by the way unless you are trying to keep the steel and concrete industry afloat 🙂  Just another example of our reduction of concrete use to the bare minimum.Bamboo ridgeLooking down the ridge pole of the bamboo structure.
Bamboo structure going up quickly (little over one day).  This one has grown in height and length considerably from the first one.  I went into a bamboo clump to select 26 m long poles (85′ foot) to cut into 2 pieces to build the main roof beams from.  As compared to wood or steel these are way lighter and cheap as I paid $41 for 255 feet of pole not exactly something you could accomplish with steel or wood and then needing a crane to lift them.Pulling tarp upThe tarp takes its trip to the top for the next few months of cover.
Meanwhile rainy season continues on with frequent daily showers some of 2 – 3 inches hence access to the site has to be planned accordingly.   The tent has proven to be absolutely critical to full speed ahead construction.
Video # 1
Septic Systems 101
The first video as promised of this educational series on Home Building in the Tropics.
Before we got all the poles up we dug in the septic tanks and field so as to get the dirt work done and as little in the way on site to compete with our tent and to give us a toilet to use during construction.  
Forming in place and compaction of fill under the carport and boatport area of the home and swimming pool.  Another video will show the final stage of preparation for the pour as to how and why everything was done.
Video # 2 – A Lasting Foundation – Concrete Rules to Live By
Another video done by Larry and another fantastic job of helping us to build a Construction University for the new home buyer new to the tropics.
Video # 3
Pilings as part of an Elevated Construction technique.
Before I get into the following details everyone reading this blog knows very well my antagonistic or at least very critical view towards concrete however with that being said there is a time and a place where it is the only practical solution.  We always go out of our way to reduce its use as much as is humanly possible but when we have no choice but to use this product we want it to be high quality concrete and not a substitute for monkey crap as we so often see as SOP.  This all starts with….
The arrival of the first of two redi-mix trucks that carried 11.5 m3 from San Isidro on a beautiful morning Aug. 26th with the road high and dry, thank goodness.  In fact due to my great planning with God it was the driest morning during the whole week. The last truck left one hour prior to the arrival of 3 inches of rain that would have destroyed the finish on our concrete floor had it not been for the protection of our tent.  A $1,200 tent saved $2,400 of concrete from imminent disaster during just one day of construction.  So do you think it a worthwhile investment of time and money?
Absolutely critical tool in action, a vibrator removing the air from the piling
holes that support the swimming pool floor. Pilings full of air pockets hardly
do an adequate job of lending the required support.
First slab for the pool floor poured in less than half an hour.
Where ever possible we avoid the use of hand made concrete like the plague!
Most builders NEVER use it but I would call that a failure in the ability to use a simple calculator.  Redi-mix costs 10% more once you factor in the much higher labour costs of making this stuff.  However in essence you get crap concrete or at the very least that of highly variable quality.  Anyone who uses hand mixers has no idea about additives and the critical role they play in quality concrete.  In most all cases it also says they don’t give a shit to know either!
A) This concrete includes a plasticizer that makes the concrete flow better as well as delays its set up time so that it can travel and be placed without problem in tropical temperatures.  There was not a drop of water added to the concrete on site, as Larry the owner can testify.  Adding water screws with your formula/recipe to the point where your 2,500 lb per sq. inch concrete could well end up really being 1/3 to 1/2 of that.
B) Also included in the secret formula of this concrete is an impermeable additive.  Normal concrete without additives is highly porous hence allows the passage of water through it with relative ease.  Anyone who has had a leaking basement or water tank can well attest to this.  An additive will crystalize in all of the minute pores of the concrete preventing the passage of water.  So lets see we had here a pool floor of 1/10 of the total pour as well as a garage floor yet we put the additive in everything!  Why would I piss away money on treating a garage floor?  Does that sound like buying tickets to a free show?
Well the layman might well think so but here are the hidden facts behind that decision…  Anywhere in Costa Rica during the heavy part of rainy season all concrete structures will wick.  No maybe here!  Meaning they act just like the wick in the old kerosene lanterns.  Fortunately most of you on this list are old enough to know what the hell I am talking about.:-)
Water will carry itself up into any normal concrete making it damp and prone to growth of molds and mildew which will eventually cause destruction to any wood it is in contact with.  However that eventually can be as quick as one year here in the tropics.  In fact these fungi are far more dangerous to the longevity of wood than termites would ever be.  Jose the operator of the sawmill we use has seen hardwood floors laid directly over concrete floors totally destruct in as little as a year.  First off this is not only dangerous as all get out laying wood over concrete without sleepers defeats the entire purpose of a sprung wood floor int he first place.  At any rate correct additives in concrete will provide an impermiable barrier so as to eliminate this prevalent wicking problem.
Just like the basic recipe of the concrete when mixed in small lots the variability can kill your quality as well as getting the right amount of additives in each batch rather difficult.  When we compare that hap hazard process to a plant designed to process redi-mix everything is done why exact weight and ratios hence the quality is there without question or risk as to the results.  The only problem is there is locations in the country that simply are too far from a plant to be able to provide redi-mix to such sites then you are left with the 3rd rate option of hand mixers.
Our day started at 7 am and here you find us at around 7pm under lights still working on the slab floor until 8:30 pm.  There is a double lesson here.  Getting a polished floor from hand made concrete is near impossible as if you spend an entire day making the concrete it is going to cure over the same time period making it impossible for the concrete to be at the correct stage to trowel at the same time hence you would spend another 10 hours troweling it as it becomes ready.  In essence it would become almost a 24 hour shift to pull off these results that is assuming of course that the concrete did not fully set up prior to you getting there in time with the tediously slow hand trowel process which of course has a snowball’s chance in hell of actually happening.
Another rule also very simple…  Without power troweling your floor will suck as every residential floor I have ever witnessed here has.  Hence they tend to hide the mess with tiles.  Well that is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Tiling a floor costs more than the pouring of the floor in the first place and even worse if they just throw down the concrete as they often do.  Hence you will consume 3 to 4 times the bondex (tile cement) as normally required to stick down that tile and at up to $16 a bag this stuff can be hundreds of dollars over a large area like this one which was 54 m2 or 581 ft2.  Now to find this trowel we had to drive a total of 260 miles to get and return such but without it the results simply are impossible unless your middle name is SUPERMAN!!!
Was the time and fuel less than the costs of tiling almost 600 ft2??  What do you think?  Now you know the real reason you see all these tiled garages and carports.  It was not done to be pretty it was done because the base floor was a bloody mess that they are hiding in a very expensive way!!!  Eg. To tile a floor of this size would have had a minimum cost of $1,500.
Funny comment came back from the owner Larry who is in the process of renting a home from a so called contractor and during this conversation Larry mentioned the trowel to which the contractor said, ” you don’t need a power trowel!”.  No you don’t need one but then again you don’t need a good floor instead you could accept second rate crap that within a max of five years it will be dusty, flaking and pock marked with excessive erosion from normal day by day use.  If you have any experience in viewing homes, hotels and B & B’s in Costa Rica you may well have seen the crappy floors I talk about here.  Now you know why and how not to end up with the same thing.  As in all things I bring about on this blog and newsletters the results are absolutely predictable.  No mysteries to be found.
Here is the final result of last weeks pour.  A little hard to tell with the shower on as to the hardness of the finish.  Take note we built this sprinkler system to keep the slab constantly wet while we took our long weekend off.  By the time we return tomorrow the concrete would have been kept constantly wet and hydrating for 6 days in total. This makes for a much harder surface as you DO NOT want concrete to actually dry out once it has set.  In this state it will keep getting harder and harder as will the surface.
Yes if you say, “no one does this”, you would be pretty much correct in the residential field but lets never confuse what most do versus what must be done to get optimal results.  In San Jose in the commercial/ industrial market you will see these practices done as normal but when you go out to the beach it is another world, an often clueless one at that.
Another amusing story came from working on this slab.  I went looking for mesh lifters which are small pedestals of concrete that kind of look like a cupcake.  They are intended to hold the steel mesh up off the base and into the center of the concrete slab. Once again to produce the result of the strongest slab possible where the reinforcing steel must be positioned in the center of the body being supported. In Canada I can find these at any building supply but when I went asking no one out at the beach even knew what I was talking about, must have been my bad Spanish.  No actually the fact was I was asking for Unicorns since no one in Costa Rica actually fabricates these hence we had to make them ourselves on site.  Just another amusing story and example of what is normal in G20 markets versus what is normal in the jungle where we endure to amuse ourselves with many strange challenges.
An example of several of the pilings that will be holding this home up high and dry as well as impervious to earthquake activity.  Back in Canada we just use paper tubes known as Sonotube to pour such pilings. However in another of my Unicorn experiences no such beasts exist anywhere in Costa Rica.  Hence we had to come up with another method which is actually most likely cheaper in the long run.  We cut up 8 inch plastic water pipe to the appropriate length for the out of ground part of each piling.  These will of course last for years of pouring rather than buying new tubes for each job.  
At any rate it worked famously as we had expected.  Each of these pilings go down 4 feet x 10 inches hence it makes your home kind of like a cat with its nails dug in deep to ensure nothing goes anywhere when things are a dancing.  The garage floor is separated from the main house as well to allow for a buffer of movement between the two without any damage occurring or being of any notice what so ever.  This also avoids a large concrete slab which is far more prone to cracking from earth movement than one relatively small floating slab of 54 m2 (581 ft2).  The main floor of the home will be quite flexible being made of glu-lam Melina joists with a high tensile strength MgO tongue and groove subfloor over top of that.  As you shall see…

Pool wall start

Blocks going up to make the pool walls.  Now this is not my preferred method especially for larger pools that are much more susceptible to cracking and leaking problems.  However for a small cool pool such as this there is no risk of that plus we are 8″ block lots of rebar and completely filled with additive enriched concrete.  Logistics and costs of a monolithic poured pool just don’t work at this size nor the volume of concrete being used can’t begin to justify a redo-mix truck coming in.

Pool stairs & bench

All the benches and steps down into pool ready for pour.


Pool - beams and posts

Take note of all the steel used in the corner columns as well as the beam tying together the top of all the walls.

Pool jet plumbing

1 1/2″ Pressure Tubes set in the wall for the jet circulation, later these will be connected by a 2″ feeder line to reduce friction and accommodate the energy efficient pump that will run this pool for a year on $200 of juice.


Penetron for pool cement products

This is the additive used to stop cement products from leaking like a sieve.  

It is expensive at just over $100 a bag hence why you don’t see many using

it but without this you will have leaking no if and or buts.



Vibrating pool benches & block fill

Pouring the  benches will liberal vibrating done to remove all air pockets

super critical in structure and of course pools if you don’t want them leaking of course.



Pouring stairs down to pool

Two days later the stairs can be poured above the now solid pool apron.

Vibrating stairs

Lots more use of the vibrator to make sure the structure holding this up is SOLID!


Molijone Stone forpool deck


This is the Molijone Stone that will be going down on these stairs and pool apron.  

This is ideal as it does not get too hot, it has great traction since it is not polished and it won’t grow mold.

Sewer main feed line

Main sewer line heading to the tank all in SDR 17 tube hence it will never fracture or turn to crystal on Larry.  TAke note all turns are 45′ nothing more so as to keep flow at full speed.  Also note the T at the top of the picture is a vent tube that will head up and through the roof to also assist in the ultimate speed of flow of solids when the system can breath properly.

Sewer Branch lines

Branch lines coming off main line.  Again the first vertical tube is another vent the will go up the wall and out to the roof.  At the very end of the line you will see a clean cap so that if any problem arrises it is easily accessible from the garden but will otherwise be hidden until and if an emergency arrises.

Crapper in MgO

This is our construction crapper parked overtop of the septic tank.  

Take note that MgO is so good we can even make crappers with it

or what I like to refer to as our Whitehouse.


Larry & Cindy



Larry and Cindy wondering how the hell they got themselves in this mess.:-)


Melina glu-lam joists

Our Melina glu-lam beams are delivered to site for building our floor and wall systems.  Take note of the separate post put up today with regards to how to avoid termite attacks as well as to the fact that such never occurs with Melina but none the less we have taken tons of precautions for Larry and Cindy.


Melina glu-lam Header

A perfect example as to why I love glu-lams.  

Perfectly straight and guaranteed to stay that way.

This header is 6 mtrs or 20 feet long and straight as a die.  

These are laminated in an 8 ton hydraulic  press using Franklin industrial wood glue.


First floor frame of glu-lams

First floor frame being assembled with air nails on the garage floor.


First floor section up

Two frames put together to make the first of 3 floor sections.


Laminating support beams

The main support beam of 3 ply is then laminated together under

pressure using the same glue as was used in the glue lams.

Air nailing sub-floor

First row of sub-floor going down with air nailer and Manis Bond glue to hold everything together and ensure that the floor will NEVER squeak.  Note the color of the joists has changed in this picture because….


Varnish & Xilotox

We applied the varnish to both seal the wood to stop the growth of mushrooms and molds but also mixed in with this can is Xilotox that kills or deters insects as part of that finish.

Nailing of sub-floor

Gluing, clamping the T & G subfloor together and air nailing it down.  Absolutely zero of my employees had ever seen a nail gun prior to working with me.


First row of sub-floor done

Here you see the pipe clamps used to pull the sheets together tightly.


track glue down

Track is nailed down to sub-floor in preparation of the MgO SIP panels going up.


Manis Bond applied to track

Liberal application of the Manis Bond to glue the track down to the sub-floor.

Manis Bond spread out on track

Manis Bond spread out in a uniform layer.  This process has 3 purposes.  Manus Bond has a 275% elasticity factor prior to fracturing so in the unlikely event of this home experiencing a severe earthquake it has the capacity to move around or dance in such conditions then return to its original position 2 minutes later.

However more importantly is this removes all possibility of water infiltration  during and severe storms which of course we can get practically daily in rainy season.

The third and finally critical issue is this super rubbery compound seals off the home from all insects who cannot and will not ever chew it and it also seals off anything they could otherwise smell hence they have no idea if any lunch exists here or not.  This army of enemies won’t even wait until we are done the house if they deem it suitable to eat which they do not but better safe than sorry as the tracks were treated prior to assembly the sealed in with this bond after the fact.

First wall panel goes up

First panel goes up for the laundry room.


Laundry room walls

These are the first walls erected to make up the laundry room down at

garage level on a concrete floor.  This will be our tool room as of tomorrow. 

End wall of home up

Kitchen and side entry walls put up yesterday.


View from front of house

View from the front of the home.


Steel added to inferior system

Just thought I would throw this in to confuse you.  Did it work?  This is a perfect example of a system that really sucks and sold by what I could only assess as less than well informed.  This was taken at the new home of someone who found our website too late hence already had an order in for these SIP’s with a cement board skin.  I draw your attention to all the 4″ steel tube set into the walls to hold up a lightweight plastic roof cladding.  The first employees from the company insisted this was necessary for structural support.  Then a later employee came along and informed the owner who had already pissed away all this extra money and said, “oh you don’t need those columns!”  I would have been ready to kill.

The second one is of course right as this structure is just plain BULLSHIT!  Expensive and not green as well.  Sad to see people pushing a product that they really know nothing about as to its capacities or lack there of.  Indeed an embarrassing example of people who know nothing about light weight construction even though that is supposedly their business.  The joints in these panels with their metal clips are all over the place as compared to our track and spline system that goes together easily and straight as an arrow.  The owner admitted he came in after the first wall was erected and made the crew tear it down and start all over again as the joints were in and out anywhere from 1/4″  to 1/2″.  That indicates a far less than ideal system for which the owner will pay for in time and pissed away materials as this photo indicates.  

Just because something is a SIP it cannot be assumed the systems that go with the panels are all equal.  Our system was also designed to work with local hardwood supply and since Melina is low cost, readily available, grows like a weed and is bug resistant it makes for an ideal product.  It also is green of course and provides jobs to Ticos not some steel plant elsewhere!  It is also a way friendlier system and even our guys are new at it we sure as hell have never had to tear down a wall due to low quality of joints!!!

Laminated cedro door

Just took this picture on Thursday when I took one of our new partners over to see the mill and how they make all our glu-lams.  They also have a wood shop where they also do fully laminated doors.  These doors have a core of laminated Melina board with the much more expensive Cedro applied over top of that in a 5/15 to 3/8″ cap.  Certainly not a veneer.  Certainly no sawdust and glue in this product which by the way termites just love.  This accomplishes two things, reduces the amount of semi-precious woods being used and guarantees the door will never warp or twist as solid wood boards are soooo famous for.  World class work and one dam heavy door, bull proof in fact.

Pouring rain & tent

Wed. morning this week we got a perfect example of how rain does not always follow the rules of sunny mornings.  We had a large low pressure system extending down from Mexico hence it decided to start raining at about 5 in the morning hence we arrived at work to find our new home high a dry and work full steam ahead.  Just another example of the cost savings of having a temporary tent roof up over the construction area.

Fun and games when building in the tropics!!!

So does this look like a progressive building method?

Here we are hauling in the last of our critical floor joists via wheelbarrow over 200 meters of muck.  The brilliant developer decided on Tuesday to put a cap of clay on top of the road without having gravel at hand.  I might add a road that had not been causing us any problem at all until he decided to mess with it in rainy season.  After the morning’s rain abated it turned into one big grease ball where it was difficult to walk on it let alone get a 12 passenger van up and down it.  

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper and bull in china shop developer and I had a rather heated exchange as to what is astoundingly stupid and what is not.  According to the wise one, this was of course my fault.  Kind of like the guy that paints himself into a corning then blaims the paint company for slow drying paint.  DAH!

Sad to say but I have found that soooo many developers here succumb to some kind of jungle fever and loose touch with reality not to mention common sense and courtesy after living here a number of years.  It is also why I recommend all buyers keep a 15% holdback on lot purchases in escrow until building is complete in case the developer fails to do or honour something or takes an action like this one that puts a royal acrew into everyone.  Heck why should anyone actually expect access to their home site?  His augment was, “this is a farm you have to expect that” and my rebuttal was the client did not buy a farm he bought a home site to be able to enjoy it which of course just might include the ability to actually build a home on said homesite!  Kind of like having a battle of wits with Laurel and Hardy.  Take note if your developer pulls a stunt like this I AM GOING TO CHARGE YOU for any lost time and expenses incurred as a result of what I deem to be nothing less than blatant sabotage.  Prepare for the worst and hope for the best would be the simple but wise strategy.

Last floor section

Final floor section in place once the famous joists arrived.

Kitchen & living room wall

Kitchen and living room walls up and busy installing window and door bucks.

BAth & guest room walls

Bathroom and bedroom walls started and subfloor going down to complete deck.

Master bedroom view

View of master bedroom and its terrace in front of cool pool.  We’ve been ripping it up this week so now all walls are up as of Sat. Oct. 4th with just a bit left for the first level of panels to be complete.  Roof to start next week.  Certainly a better week this week with no slippery slimy mud to fight with, thank goodness.


Terrace view

View over to main terrace and large 15 foot 6 panel patio door to go in soon.


Back view

View of back of house along with electrical and mechanical rooms set

to back of house and out of sight until needed.

front entry corner

Front corner of house looking into kitchen and front door.


Front view left

Front terrace complete minus header over patio doors to be complete next week.

Double top plate installedDouble top plate being installed which will support the upper gable extensions up to roof one we build it that is.  Take note of the pipe sticking out of the top of the wall to vent the bath and kitchen plumbing connections.

Cutting double top plate laps

Cutting lap joints into top plate with router.

Patio door track

Tracks cut into floor to allow bottom track of PVC sliders to drop down into floor so that it is flush with the finish tile.  Something I have never seen anyone else do I might add.  Just slap it on top and let them trip over it.  Plus I have found with all the typical crap aluminum doors that are installed they never work properly after the first few years plus water and bugs come right through them without problem.  Funny we had a lengthy discussion on Wed. as to how this would be done as well as how the terrace will have a slight out slope to it so that when rain enters it will run off.  Also with the PVC track set down into the floor it becomes a natural dam to stop entry of wind driven rain into the house enclosure.  Then on Friday we had a hell of a wind/ rain storm that drove water all the way into the master bath.  Just like God wanted to prove my cautions to be correct in designing assuming that various times of each rainy season will find you with this kind of rain.  No one wants a lake in the living room such as I have witnessed from less than ideal planning for such inevitability.

Pine window bucks install

Jeffrey installing the pine window bucks that provide us with the base to fasten


all windows, doors and finishing to.  These are of course glued in with Manus bond.

Pine treatment penetration

This is a cross section cut of two pieces of the pine we have used.  Take not this treated pine has been fully penetrated in the pressure tank process as it is the same color all the way through showing its excellent penetration and protection.  Take note that although I call this pine it is nothing like northern pine.  It is harder than many hardwoods and it never looses its knots hence it makes for far better decks as well as long as you maintain it correctly.

GE elec panel

Service line run underground from street and the GE panel is in.

 Note the two of three GFI circuit breakers are already installed as well.  

Note this is a small panel with only 16 circuits but this house has no energy pigs

in it hence way less electrical demand plus LED lights will go in as well.  

No electric stove, dry or hot water heater to suck juice.

MgO into fire

The pyromaniac owner is at work keeping the construction garbage burnt as it accumulates.  

Here to add to this little fire is a piece of MgO going in.  Monday I will pull this out of the ashes to show how fire can’t burn it. 

Burnt Mgo1

So there you have it although broken up the fiber mesh is still in tact and

MgO is still white even after going into a raging fire.

Burnt MgO2

A sneak preview into some of the finishes that will adorn this home….

Guanacaste slab

During a trip up to our saw mill I spied this pile of Guanacaste wood drying.  This top piece 10′ and 26″ and 2″ thick you will see again as it is destined to go into a long desk top in the living room.  I was on another site here the other day and saw a similar piece being offered for a kitchen counter for a mere $3,000.  NUTS is all I can comment to that since we pay $150 for a piece like this.  The front door will have similar slabs applied to it as well.

cut Slate

From our stone supplier you see here one option that Larry and Cindy considered was square cut slate which runs less than $20 per m2 or a bit over $1.50 a square foot.

Verigated Mollijon cut

However the winner was this variegated Mollijon stone that will go around their pool deck and front entrance.  Similar will go into the shower floor as it is slip proof and won’t grow anything and is also reasonable at $20 a m2.  This stone is on the truck on way to us tomorrow in fact.

Stucco mesh

First coat of stucco is being applied to the lower wall panels.  This has a very heavy fiberglass mesh embedded into it to create an all over skin to cover the home and its panels.  This goes a long ways in preventing telegraphing of any joints down the road through the finish stucco.  You do not have to look far to find Tico buildings that used sheet goods where within a year the notoriously horrible cement board product called Fibrolite will show every blessed joint.  This is so bad you can see it from the street, no need to get close up.

Base coat stucco

This is the first coat completed of the terrace wall.

window corners stucco

The stucco coat will wrap around into the window opening that are edged with plastic corners.


front wall stucco 2 coats

Front wall of home has the two base coats applied now and will wait until

the wrap up of the exterior finish when an acrylic stucco color coat will be

applied over top of this double base coat.  Acrylic is horrendously important

in this climate unless you like looking and black and green things growing

all over ever cement based finish.  Next step is exterior molding around

doors and windows that is also headed out to us on tomorrows truck.

You will note in the foreground we have started to build the platform with

tamped gravel that will create the front step to the home.

step corner lock


Lapped corners are locked together to create a frame from pressure

treated pine 4 x 4’s to make the lowest step of the platform.

 3rd tier started


Now up to the upper platform step with first two completed.


Pinning 3rd tier


Driving pins down into the gravel bed to support the wood frame from moving.

Concrete 2nd tier

Laying a thin cap of concrete over the gravel to support the stone steps.

Finish of 3red tier

Driving in the final piece of wood.

Concrete of landing

Concrete cap of the platform laid in.

 completed step structure

Steps completed now waiting for the variegated Mollijon stone to be fitted in. Pool tile wall

First color to hit the home as we start on pool’s Spanish glass tile.  This is set into a very expensive cement that will never let go or yellow and it guaranteed for under water use versus most cements that are used are not designed for this use at all.  A $16 bag of white cement is NOT THE SAME as a $44 bag of specialized tile cement/grout.  As a rule you do get what you paid for.

Pool Floor


We are now 80% complete on this part of the job

.Window mouldings

Started installing the window and door moldings and capping them off with the first of 4 caps of mortar.

first section of skirting

First section of the pine wood skirting that will surround the building platform.  

This purposely left with spacing so that there is good airflow to stop mould blooms and to keep out critters.

skirting sections


Front wall skirting complete with 3 coats of exterior oil finish being applied to the treated pine which unlike northern pine actually shows a lot of grain when oiled like this.


window mouldings

Another wall with window moldings awaiting their final stucco coat near to completion of the project.

pool nosing

Pool almost complete with a large bull nosed edging built into the seats and steps serves two purposes to clearly identify changes of levels as well as to remove the typical square edge.

front step 2 done

First two levels of the front step are now complete with the variegated Mollijon cemented in place.  This has turned out far better than I had even expected with the blend of the pine 4 x 4’s along with the stone.

 edging and bullnosing of steps

Mollijon stone applied to deck and no sings and bullnose edged.

bullnose edge of mollijon

Close up of bull nosed stone edging.


Pool completed


Completion of stone and tile of the pool ready for cleaning and grouting of joints.


interesting ocean view

No its not a shot of our shiny new cement mixer but an interesting view

of the ocean one afternoon where we got to enjoy our environment.

San Juan Dios valley

Conversely here is a view over the San Juan Dios valley as we head to work in the morning often with clouds hanging around, just like this.


ants arrived

The ants have arrived! This we saw this past Friday upon arrival at work the ants were at work prior to us.  In my article on termites and significance of protecting your home from insects I stated that insects arrive to move into your new home long before you.  Well I think this picture more than demonstrates that I did not exaggerate the reality.

pool finish

Pool completed with rock sealed, grouted then cleaned and sealed again with Aqua Mix’s products.

Aqua Mix

molijone finished


A close up to see the colors in the variegated Mollijone rock.  

Needless to say both the owners and I are very pleased with the final result of this election.

steps off deck

Steps off of deck to back yard and outdoor shower now completed.

larry inspecting new walk


Larry inspecting the final outcome of idea versus execution thereof.

base for skirting

Concrete curb added to close up the space from entry of critters.

skirting comp

Skirting of home now completed to a state of rodent and snake proofing yet allowing the all critical breathing factor required in the tropics as well as having such aesthetically pleasing.

We have juggled the order of work while waiting for the completion of our glu-lam rafters and roof components hence we have done a lot of finish work that would often be done later in the process which will then hasten the completion once the roof is complete.  So lets now look at the trip from tree to home…



Bandsaw mill at working slabbing up the logs as they come into the saw mill.

unloading kiln

Unloading the kill after the wood has been drying from 4 to six weeks depending on the species.

10 ton press

Glu-lams setting up in the 8 ton press that takes them from strips of wood to be one piece of rafter.  This press is 20 feet long and here we see what will end up being 5 to 6 rafters after the lamination process is completed. 

drum sandingtablia

After our wood is planed it enters a final process of sanding which is very critical in glu-lams especially since out of the hundreds of pieces of wood half of them will have opposing grains hence will not plane smooth.  A drum sander however does not care and will turn out a smooth product for us to then apply a finish sanding and finish too.  This process is verrrry rare in sawmills here as most of the industry will accept what I would call crude work.  In fact I was the first client of this mill that insisted such had to be done prior to the products leaving the sawmill as it is 25 times longer process to do this by hand than by big machine.  In this shot Jose is feeding 5″ tongue and groove ceiling boards or what is known as tablia here into the sander.  I am standing on the sidelines waiting for this material of 100 square feet that we ran through in less than 30 minutes versus hand sanders that would have taken a minimum of 12 man hours to have done.  

sunset at Cacao


One of our sunset shows as we were wrapping up the day.

rafter arrival filling

This past week the first half of our roof arrived for us to put into furniture grade shape prior to installing them.  First step is filling in any imperfections then sanding those out. This method is massively easier than trying to apply a finish in place as well as providing a far superior finish.


Jeffrey is spraying on a preserver prior to any finish being applied.  This is a water base product hence it by nature raises the grain of the wood so we can then return with a fine finish sanding of 120 and 220 grit paper to remove that fiber effect.




This is the product being used for this purpose.


applying oil

After the finish sanding is complete we apply an oil finish to give the depth of grain and color to the Melina wood.  It has been a real battle to find a good product here to do this job as all the wood stains I have tried have sucked at this job.  Here we are using a Lanco product that is a linseed oil base which is the same product used on the outdoor wood of this home.



sanding sealer

First pass over the oil with a sanding sealer catalyzed polyurethane base which allows us to sand to a fine finish.  This local product is by far the best I have ever used being that it dries very fast leaving behind a great finish.

sanding finish

The double sanding of the finish first with 150 grit then followed by a 220 grit thusly leaving a finish baby bottom smooth.

finished rafters

This is the finished product with the top satin coat applied giving it a real furniture grade finish.  This is a rather critical point in taking the time and expense in producing a high quality finish.  Our whole roof structure is a show piece of the home and there is a lot of it, in this case roughly 6,000 square feet or 550 m2 of it.  So the last thing you want is some rough crappy finish that grabs onto dust which then necessitates dusting frequently in far less than convenient locations.  Obviously there is the aesthetics to having your woodwork looking like a piece of furniture rather than what I call the barn finishes I see commonly applied.  This is a major focal point of our homes as well as a highly functional matter of what makes a breathing roof work, how and why and the effect that brings about in the comfort of a tropical home without any need of A/C.  The first principle is that a green home cannot ever use A/C as it is the worst energy pig there is plus it eliminates any home of going solar due to cost and the huge array of panels that would be required.

This particular roof is going to prove to be a perfect example for our studious clients.  This location has a pretty constant onshore breeze that blows up this valley every day.  This breeze will cool down this house as this roof catches that breeze and cools down the house by creating a low pressure area in the house as the roof traps this breeze as it flows through the upper structure and out the back of the house and on up the hill.  I trust you will find this most interesting to see what is not only a most unusual roof, visually appealing and highly effective in its cooling effect.  It most certainly has been interesting to bring Michael’s design to life and make it all work and look like a million bucks!

morning view

Our view this morning while our tablia was out in the sun tanning between oil and urethane.

Tablia finished


Tablia or T & G ceiling boards after sanding sealer, sanding and a finish coat of urethane.

First Sanding rafters

The big 2 piece center support beam, 3″ x 12″ x thirty three feet, has arrived and now needs sanding and patching any blemishes in order to be finished prior to lifting it into its final resting spot.

6 x 6 posts

In this load from the sawmill we also received our Glu-lam 6″ x 6″ support posts that will hold up the roof over the carport and front terrace.

Patio door structure

Okay here we get into serious roof and structure building.  

There is now just a wide opening of 15 feet for the 4 panel patio door to go into so we need to build a structure around it to support this large wall and gable that will surround it.  Here you can see the 3″ x 6″ glulam beam that will slide into the panel pocket and is supported by a hidden post that goes up the wall and to provide the main structural beam a resting place to carry the weight of the roof over this wide open living space.  Due to the width of this beam it gives a large glueing area to support both the header over the door and the panel that will make up the gable.  In essence creating one large laminated lintel to carry its weight and give the wall rigidity.

Beam supports

Two supporting posts with pockets built into to support the balance of this main structural beam 3″ x 12″ x 33′.


Building the lintel

Patio door beam is now installed with the addition of blocks to support the header.

Panelizing lintel

8 foot header panel is in place set in center to avoid any joints in the center of door opening where the greatest deflection would of course occur.  All of this is either wood glued or Manus Bond is used where a panel connects with glulam structure. 

Header completed

First rafter is set in place to establish the line of the gable.

Gable over patio door

Gable pieces completed again avoiding any center joints in the opening and helping the panels and hidden beam to work together as a unibody structure in carrying the weight over a very large opening.

Gable complete

Gables now finished with the heavy center beam waiting to be lifted into place in the foreground.

Joining large beam

Okay mission accomplished the big daddy is in place and the joint has been glued and is now being bolted together to create one solid structural piece.

Large beam over patio door

Other end of beam as it sits in its nest we created in the front wall.

First two rafters in place

First larger rafters have been installed that will later carry the hips to the lower roof over the terrace.

Beam extension

View of beam from carport as the gable roof extends out into this area where the hips will later be installed.  Yes it is confusing but be patient as the process unfolds and starts to make more sense.

First common rafters

First common rafters have gone up over the main living area.

Installing dutch gable rafters

So if you were confused before this will really do you in as we add the dutch gable to raise the upper part of the roof line.  This is going to be the principle ventilation route or the breathing roof as we call it.  Many people get this wrong in that they think a high ceiling will solve hot air build up in a tropical home. NO IT WON’T!!!  It does half the job like being half pregnant as that hot air will still build up and force its way down into your living space.  The critical issue is to give that hotter air an escape route.  This dutch gable will do exactly that!  Note a secondary rafter has been installed above the basic ceiling line from center point and going up at twice the roof slope as the main roof up to connect to a ridge beam that extends the roof line higher.  This is the critical part that will catch all those beautiful daytime breezes coming up this valley.

Installing dutch gable raftersDutch gable rafters

Now we are adding the false chords that extend the rafter line up to where it collides and joins in with the upper rafter.





View from pool


View from the front of the home showing the upper ridge beam and king post that is supported from the the big daddy beam.


King posts

Placing the King Posts to support the ridge beam that supports this elevated part of the roof.


Ridge beam

Ridge Beam is placed into the socket of the King Posts.

tablia - ridge

Now the Pichote Tablia or Tongue and Groove paneling is being applied to the rafter structure.

Tablia start

Tablia is started at the change of angle of the roof where it changes from a 30% slope to the 60% higher slope that goes up the dutch gable or elevated upper roof.

Front view of rafters

View of the intricate rafter structure from the front of the house off the terrace.

Great room near complete

Tablia goes up quickly if it is well machined as this is so in two days we have most of the great room done and now working over the bedrooms.  The home is rapidly growing in its final style with this unique roof structure capping it off.


Terrace posts 


Posts for the terrace roof structure are now in place waiting for the beams as next step again all of these are flu-lam melina.

Carport posts

Last of the posts are up now completing the balance of the homes structure.  Just two beams to add to these and then full steam ahead with the rafters.

Carport beam connection

Close up of the beam post connections now just waiting to have the screw holes filled with plugs to hide the mechanical fasteners.Dutch Gable up

This is where the roof gets its Dutch Gable name from.  Here we have added a beam to support the normal cottage portion of the roof over the carport and laundry room.  The horizontal beam you see here is at he normal roof slope and the Dutch Gable rises above that at twice the slope creating our breathing roof.  The value of this was especially noticeable yesterday as I worked away at the back of the house where it is hidden from the refreshing breezes coming up the valley.  It had a feeling of a good 10′ to 15′ hotter than in the house.  Quite noticeable now as summer has arrived since we had our last rain last Tuesday.First Hip rafterHere is the first hip installed over the laundry room as it joins in with the beam where the Dutch Gable starts.  The upper area of these walls are the same wood beams that are inside our panels except here to help with the heat in the typical laundry room this will all be screened in to keep good air flow without good bug flow now seeing how much warmer it is on the leeward side of the house this was indeed a good design idea.Terrace postsPosts for front terrace now installed waiting for the beams to go up.Carport hipHip installed over the carport.Carport raftersRafters going up with the tablia (T & G roof decking in hot pursuit.)Carport tabliaCarport nearing completion and rafter tails getting cut to length.Terrace HipTerrace beams up and first hip installed.

Drywall top high wallFirst thing done in the new year was to put the top coat on the drywall process of the panels so that we could do what is referred to a a knock down wall finish.  Larry’s son Tanner came onto site at New Year’s to show the crew the tricks to applying this finish.

Drywall top coatFinishing off all the rafter spaces.Paint kitchenTwo days later walls textured and painted.Paint high wallHip joineryJoinery of the hip rafter, beam and post joints.Terrace jack rafters startterrace from back viewView from back side of home.Jack rafters going up over terrace.tablia going up and dutch gableRafters up and tablia being applied and dutch gable eave above.eave over dutch gableView up through bedroom ceiling to the dutch gable eave.structure of eave over dutch gable

Dutch gable eave nearing completion.terrace view from belowTerrace view from below.New friendI found my new friend here when we were finishing the last of the rafters of as he clung to the side of the corner post.  I flicked him away thinking it was a shaving or something only to find out this dead leaf look alike was indeed very alive and very well camouflaged as well as most proud to have his picture taken.PEX water network connectedPEX network is now installed in the exterior electrical and mechanical rooms that we prefer to keep out of the house and well camouflaged away from eye site yet still easily accessible.  These are stainless steel manifolds one for hot and one for cold that distribute water directly to each outlet.  No fittings are used as in zero elbows  or unions.  The remaining hose you see there is for the gas system to feed stove, dryer and BBQ.rescue from certain deathToday right in front of our warehouse I came along to assist two AyA employees in getting this 3 toed sloth the heck off the road where he was about to get squashed.  Only my second time in 14 years to get this close to one of these guys.  Even though these guys are painfully slow, hence sure death on the roadway, you got to watch out as those 3 claws are like razors.Carport tablia completeCarport tablia is complete.Dutch gable from back viewView of the Dutch Gable from the back looking down on carport.Dutch gable looking outLooking out the front Dutch Gable where the breeze enters the upper roof.Dutch gable front closeClose up of completed front Dutch Gable.Front terrace completeTerrace completed.Front viewView of front of house from lower garden.  Can’t wait to unveil the house without its umbrella.view into dutch gableA close up view into the Dutch Gable.REflect foilA close up of the reflective foil added to the roof for insulation.  Now even with the incredible natural ventilation this style of roof offers don’t think for one second that insulating any and all tropical roofs is anything but critical.
For those that understand R values this provided the equivalent to R42 when it comes to reflecting heat back out to where it came from.Pressure tank for pineA bit off the topic but was at the sawmill to pick up nailers for the roofing while there a load was coming out of the pressure tanks so I thought it worth while to show what a pressure tank is about.  We use no Pine that is not pressure treated and with this tank even the 4 x 4’s in the front step are 100% treated going right to the core of the wood.foil from aboveLooking down on the insulated roof.  The product used here was Canadian.laundry room completeLaundry room is complete with all the security bars installed that for now protects our tools.Laundry doorThe entry door for the laundry is an example of what all the security bars will  look like once installed next week.  The paint used on these cost $300 to do the house as it is a special marine grade epoxy base with a high resistance polyurethane applied above.  Sorry the regular run of the mill paint will have you painting it within 5 years but how do you do that after they are installed?  Toothbrush or quetip hence we elected to go for expensive paint with at lead a 25 year life cycle.  That ocean view does have its drawbacks hence cheap finishes just do not cut it in these climates.  So do it right or do it over!Finishing stucco on front gablePatio door frames now in place and base stucco coat is applied above these.BAck wall stuccoWell here we take on a whole new appearance as she gets to take on color with the acrylic stucco coat.  This is crucial if you don’t want a royal pain in the ass for maintenance as all cement base finishes will grow any of hundreds of molds and likens that will have such looking just plain dirty.  Wheras acrylic grows nothing and of course does not peel like all paint will since the color is in the finish.Terrace close upTerrace is nearing it completion too.Last stucco on carportCarport as it gets the last of the color coat for the house.White stucco going on trimNOw applying the same finish in white to all the moldings.Kitchen window finishedThe final appearance of the completed exterior finish.BAthroom wall tile startedTile work starts in the bathroom.BAthroom wall50% percent done the first day into this phase.

Floor elastic coatThe start of the flooring process.  No we do not have a green affliction and this is not an example of green building what it is is a process that few consumers know about and not many tile suppliers either know or share with you.  The worldwide tile industry does not warranty any tile floor laid directly over sheeting or light weight construction.  Problems is flex in the floor will often break out grout and tiles as well.  Hence you have to put down a membrane that allows the floor to in essence float.  This is the first coat of lactic adhesive being applied to our MgO floor.rolling out floor meshNow the guys are rolling out the mesh membrane to embed in this first coat of elastic which after it dries a second is added on top of that.mesh with second elastic coatFloor is now ready to place tile on top of.kitchen security barsArtistic Security bars are now in place over most windows.roof sheetingOur blue MgO Gecko roofing is complete on front side of home.  We are  using a MgO roofing that has a laminated vinyl covering.  Certainly nothing that can rust plus we can walk on the roof without causing any damage which is most unlike all the low grade metal roofing that is used.  Also MgO has a high insulating factor so does not transfer much heat to the home then add to that the double air space and reflective foil makes this roof very cool and quiet during heavy rains.

guest bath tile and floor prepTile completed in guest bath.master bath tiledTile mostly complete in master bath.Kitchen cabinets assemblyFirst corner of kitchen cabinets is assembled.  Note these are built out of solid wood Melina and Guallavio (Eucaliptus) there is NO PLYWOOD OR MDF FIBERBOARD ETC used as this is an open invite to termite invasions as they just love all this modern low cost crap product.  Oh best shut up don’t want anyone to think I am opinionated!cabinet frame panelsFrame to make end gable of peninsula.Door rail ready for assemblyThis is all the side rails of the interior doors also made out of glu-lam Melina just like the rafters and structural components.  These doors will not warp, crack or separate in a million years.  Take note of the mortise holes in the rails that will receive the tenons of the cross bars as you see laying here.  After gluing and assembly these are pined with a wood dowel ensuring that in the same million years no door will ever separate at a joint.  The door panels are also laminated melina as well.Patio from inside6 panel Patio door installed.Patio door outsideView of door from terrace.Patio exterior2View of front of terrace.Track light patioTrack lighting installed in entire home.Screw paintPainting of screws for the roof using automotive laquer to blend in and eliminate rusting of heads.Paint gutter bracketsSame white laquer spray applied to brackets that will hang the gutters/eave troughs.Roofing east sideGood part of side yard roof is completed.Great room tileThe great roof has most of its tile laid.Tile start in masterTile line extending into the master bedroom.Pressure tank for pineThis is the pressure tank that all the pine material is treated in.Kitchen assemblyKitchen cabinets are assembled.Finger jointerWhile at the sawmill inspecting and advising on the cabinets I took the time to record some more of the equipment and methods as I thought that some readers might like to see what machinery is used to create these world class products.  Above is the finger jointer and horizontal press which is critical for making any glue laminated product.  Each short piece that makes up the glu-lam is finger jointed at each end, then glued and pressed together on a horizontal press of 6 m or 20 feet to make up the layers of the glu-lam.  Each of these layers acts as one piece of wood after it is joined and glued in this way.  Any beam or piece looses 45% to 55% of its load bearing capacity if such joints are not used.  Hence it is hardly optional equipment in the process.Horizontal pressAll those short pieces are then fed into the horizontal press entering on the right side of it.Press outfeedOut the left side comes the fully laminated strips that make up the layers of the flu-;am.  In this case it is Teak wood being laminated for our next project as Playa Grande which you will see on another page as Diary #3.Finger jointed pieces readyThe strips are then moved to the vertical press building.  Here we see a stack awaiting their gluing and stacking into the vertical press.8 ton pressHere you see the press at work in a close up of only half of this 6 meter (20 ft) long 8 ton press that makes the rather large sandwiches.  IT can press up 20 cm (8 inches) wide and 1meter (40 inches) deep at one time.  The vertical metal members are there to maintain a straight sandwich otherwise with many layers they tend to bow out in a curve which obviously is not a good idea.KilnThese are the two kilns in the mill operation.  The small one is being loaded with fresh cut wood getting ready to spend around a month in this large oven at 60’C to 70’C.  The wood stacked up to the right of the backhoe is scrap wood that will go into the burner to produce this heat.  Without have the cuttings from the operation to create the heat the whole operation would be a disaster if we had to use electric heat.  The power used would then cost as much or more than the wood in the oven.  Over to the far right you see the second oven twice the size of its little brother.  It was built almost a year ago as their wood production had exceeded their drying capacity.  This is a super critical issue as you simply cannot get good consistently dry wood in a high humidity environment unless you are prepared to wait 1 to 3 years for it to dry depending on species and thickness.  

Especially in the glue lamination process all the wood must be the same moisture content otherwise different pieces would shrink down to varying thickness hence destroying the structural integrity of the beam.  Our next client just had this experience with another tiny operator who supplied their friend teak rafters that A) were not finger joined and B) after several months installed there was openings between pieces anywhere from 2mm (1/8″) up to 6mm (1/4″). This meant the wood was not properly dried hence after lamination it left huge gaps which A) don’t look good but B) and more importantly with little structural integrity.  Within a year this ugly garbage will develop sway backs and drop 5 cm (2″) to 10 cm (4″) with but one solution rip the roof off and start all over again.  

What you have seen above is an investment in machinery of around $150,000 usd plus buildings and auxiliary equipment hence glue lamination is only really an option for a serious operator with significant investment and wood management know how.  It most certainly is not old school methods!

Also be aware very few builders here have any idea what glu-lams are about or how or why they should be used.  The production of such is increasing but it is hardly a normal method of the typical building industry as it is in North America.  Solid larger dimension lumber is hardly ever used for floor joists and roofing beams due to the fact of warrantee problems associated with such softwoods warping and twisting after it is installed.  Hence in Canada most builders want nothing to do with being responsible for warrantee call backs under new home warrantee programs therefore they invest in higher cost but less problematic materials.  I hope you find this interesting to know just how critical components of our structural system come into being and why.San JuanDios valleyView out of the San Juan Dios Valley taken from just above the sawmill.Roofing east sideSide yard part of roofing nearing completion.  Unveiling is coming verrry soon.View of roof from roadView of house looking down the road with big change coming.toilet paperI took this picture in the bathroom at Boston Acabados Perez Zeledon.

This is a bit off topic as we stopped talking about septic a long time ago in this building process but I just could not resist bringing this piece of wisdom to your attention. toilet paper signTranslation: Here we have a treatment plant so please put your stinky disgusting toilet paper in the waste basket.  Thank you so much for entertaining our whims since we  and/or our engineer are idiots.  

Just wanted to demonstrate how concepts get ingrained in a society even when there is no evidence or real science to back them up hence opinion magically trumps science.  Lets see, they have a treatment plant which uses motors and pumps to move that wonderful stuff around yet fluffy toilet paper is going to somehow harm these even though said pumps can chew up crap without any problem what so ever.  Meanwhile we have brand new luxury finishings building that cost at bare minimum of $1,000 per square meter yet along with that luxury we don’t see any problem leaving unsanitary toilet paper and its wonderful odors waifing around our bathroom not to mention possible pathogens or other nasty stuff lingering in fecal matter.  

Who ever was behind this sign is a moron, the sheer insanity of such an absurd insinuation could deserve no better name.  Lesson as well to you 4 and 5 star hotels that do the same.  Do you actually think there is a reason this is okay in Costa Rica but forbidden in any G20 country.  I would like to see what would happen if Hilton tried this same stunt anywhere else like New York.  How long before the health department would be down their throats?  Sheer bloody nonsense is what this bad habit is.  Any of you medical people out there are more than welcome to add your comments and perspective below.  Rant finished!

Tray dividersTray dividers set in the cabinets.Drawer casesDrawer cases ready to go and of course all solid hardwood with impeccable joinery.Interior doorsInterior doors complete.locking pinsSmall circle is locking pin that welds the mortise and tenon joint together = door will not separate or sag in a mere million years.  Take note the panels are pre-stainer prior to assembly so that “when” not to confused with “if” the panels do their annual expansion and contraction that we don’t end up with ugly white racing stripes and the perimeter of the panels.  Extremely critical in a climate where all wood has extreme dimensional changes from rainy season to dry season.  Massively more so than North America by the way.

Garbage pileBack to the subject of green building.  Do you think under this mandate that the amount of garbage you create has a significance?  This is how much garbage we have left over on the job site with only tile scraps to add to this.Second coat of elasticRolling on the second coat of elastic glue over top of the floor mesh (membrane).Floor mesh on patioThe very heavy mesh is extended over the floor to wrap around the end joist where tile will be applied.Wrapping mesh over stepPhysically attaching the mesh to the end joist as well as applying the elastic to ensure that the tile remains glued down.Front roof completeView of near to completed roof from the front drive just need to cap the hips and ridge.  Unveiling coming soooooon!Back roof completeSide roof also complete now with facia and brackets to hold the gutters.  Also take note of those funny tubes (top right) sticking up out of the roofing.  I call them unicorn tubes since we never see them anywhere in Costa Rica.  Yet we have 3 of them in this modest sized home so one thing you can take to the bank this home’s sewer system will NEVER be asthmatic. Facia completeFacia and hangers across the back of carport.  Take note of the foam used to fill in under the roofing.  We have an abundant supply of birds as you may have heard but way more bats that will make a home in such cavities.  You do not want bats or more importantly batshit building up in the cavity under your roofing.Patio tilePatio tile well on its way.Tile step dropTile as it wraps down the riser of the first step that will lead to the deck.  Take note this corner is cut at a 45′ angle so that the grout will wedge into the void making it impossible to fall out as is sooo common.  You have to make a way for grout to be held in place.  Bad tile work is of course highly common as well as most other deficiencies even though it is used in every home of any price here.   One would think there should be a high level of competency in this type of work but my experience indicates no such thing.Tile baseboardToday we started on the baseboard as well.  Again the top is cut at 45′ so that the grout will stay in place long after we are gone.  Although I prefer wood baseboards reality is that if you hire a maid or house cleaner that are going to slop a mop against all walls which creates severe deterioration of any finish on any wood product.  Hence this method ensures one tough finish to ward off aggressive mops.  Now ready for grouting next week.

Drip line under roofingAmilkar is adding a line of silicone to create a drip edge under the roofing which prevents water from climbing up the underside of the roofing.  When it hits an obstruction of any kind it causes it to drip down into the gutter.Carport guttersGutter installed on carport roof. Two significant issues to mention with these gutters is they are baked enamel (esmaltado) plus my custom design.  I wrote an article “Water Runs up Hill” which is all about the bizarre habits of the industry in Costa Rica.  We pay 10% more for the baked enamel out of the shop however this in fact ends up being actually cheaper once you buy paint and pay someone to paint plain galvanized sheet metal with a brush.  First off the typical paint job royally sucks but worse yet….  False economics!  However what is way more import is the fact that paint never sticks properly to galvanized metal hence you are going to be back painting again and again whereas the baked enamel will outlast it many times over plus bleach out way less under the intense tropical sun.

Now down to function and why I never use the standard profiles offered.  They don’t work unless you call sending water into the roof of your house when they overflow, as working.  This bizarre habit insists that the front edge of the gutter is higher than the back edge along the facia hence when it overflows (not if) the water will enter the roof rather than the garden.  So I direct you to this gutter you will note it is the reverse of that.  Hence in the case of overflowing the garden gets the water not your roof structure.  We use the exact same amount of steel by just  modifying the profile to allow this escape route for torrential rains.Roof with hip capsMetal caps now put on over the hips.  Note here we started with the same baked white enamel metal and we sprayed it with an automative grade paint that sticks very well to the base in order to get an accessory that blends into the roofing color since blue is not an option from the factory.Tile line wallWe are nearing completion of the tile process so I thought I would show some points regarding tile work.  This wall is in full exposure hence a full tile was used as the starter but take note of how straight the wall line is without cutting any tile what so ever.Tile lineWith large common rooms so popular in homes this shows a perfect example of dead straight tile lines carrying from interior to exterior spaces that when not done carefully show up horribly on low grade tile installation.Patio door tilingAs per plan from the day we started this floor we dropped the door track down into the floor as I did not want a patio door track that ends up being a tripper as you stumble out to or in from a terrace. This is normally an after thought, as in, “now we built the home lets see how the heck to actually install patio doors.”  Here as you can see with the level the tile is brought up to the level of the patio door so that it is seamless.  The terrace is sloped out to the deck area so that when rain blows in onto the terrace it will flow back out to the deck once the rain ceases hence dry out must faster and avoiding lakes from forming.  The PVC track also acts as a stop so that not one drop of rain can possibly enter into the living roof when the doors are closed.  Every aluminum patio door I have ever seen lets water flow right through as well as any and every insect waltzes right into your living room.  This fact does not bother most Latinos but something I have had many expats complain about the open door insect program.Dutch gable security barsSecurity bars following the same motif are now installed up in the Dutch Gable so as not to leave an open invitation to entry. VanitiesBathroom vanities are now assembled in the standard of shallower and lower counter heights as is what we would call normal.kitchen cabinetsKitchen is mostly assembled minus drawer fronts being added.drawers full extFull extension drawer slides and cases all of solid wood.Bench pocketsTerrace is near to complete and here you see pockets we built into the floor and tile to accept the legs of a bench and guard rail combination.  This is a perfect example of how built ins are far superior when built as part of the home.  Very difficult to do so after the home is finished.  Any piece of furniture doing the same job would be prone to tipping over.Basebaord 45 degClose up of baseboard with top edge cut back on the tile saw at 45 degrees to ensure the grout sticks well and stays in place.Bathroom complete with groutGrout completed for the final look of guest bathroom.Transition tile to stoneTransition of terrace tile leading down to deck where it meets the stone.Roof ventsTake note of the rubber boots installed around each of the oh so rare vents that lead up and through the roofing.Tarp starts decentDay of the final unveiling of the home FEb. 12th.  

Here you see the ties of the tarp to the bamboo structure coming off.

Front tarp comingFront tarp also coming down as the crew gets into the mission.View from aboveGradually more and more blue comes into view. First front viewTarp is pulled off leaving behind on the pole structure. BAck view tarp downBack view of blue roof in full view. First front view downFront view from street as the crew starts to disasemble the bambooRidge pole supportFront ridge pole is down.Center poles are looongThe very long center pole is lifted out of the hole and moving out of site.Corner post pulledThe rafter pole down with the corners next. Carport pole comingProcess quickly moves onto the carport area as other half of ridge comes down. Back poles nowThe last of the back rafters are next. Last ridge pole downFront rafter poles next.

Last corner postFinal remaining back corner pole is all that is left.  Last pole leaving the siteThere it goes the last pole to be seen around this home. Front view in openTaking a break with the front of the home in full view from below. Back view openView from the side yard of the home. Street view openStreet view of the final character of the home. View from above streetLooking down from the mountain. View of open roof coming down streetThis is now what you see as you come down the street from the entrance into the project with no green obstructing the appearance. 

kitchen cabinetsKItchen cabinets well under way at the shop of the sawmill.Pine deck underwayPine deck structure complete and now adding the decking.Front door asembledLarry came up to me with a design idea for his personal front door months ago.  I have long felt that your front door is your statement hence something that one wants to choose very carefully for your dream home.  I took that idea to the millwork shop and this is what came out at the other end.  This is a bit of time lapse over these few frames to show where it came from and where it ended.Front door in prepArrival on the job site now to polish it up ready for finish.

Front door hingingHinging the front door.  The idea was to have an elegant yet rustic feel to it with the slabs cut from the log with the raw edges showing done in the panel of a glu-lam framed door.  Most significant is once again glu-lam will not twist, warp or crack as time goes by.Front door hung

Now hung in the frame awaiting the lockset.  Prior to that the Tung oil finish needs another 3 coats to maintain this piece of art in its best possible condition.  The other big issue is with this oil the natural look of the wood remains in full depth and contract of natural wood grains.  We will rejoin this voyage in a few frames.Bathroom vanity masterVanity complete with porcelain counter added.Master bath completeView of the whole master bath near to completion.First interior door

First interior door is hung awaiting lock sets and moldings.  The doors also carry with them the theme or method of glu-laminated hardwood hence will never in a million years warp or twist.  No one short of a bull is about to punch a hole in them.Kitchen 1Cindy’s white kitchen is well under way of full installation.Kitchen2Countertops are now being installed made out of MgO as is all the rest of the structure.Kitchen4Peninsula awaiting is covering of tiles.Terrace benchOnce again another use for flu-lams is to make furniture.  This is the bench that was designed by and built by us to insert down into the floor structure to insure its sturdiness as well as to act as a guard rail in preventing anyone from fall off of the side of the deck.Porcelain counter complete

Nearing completion of the porcelain counter tops as well as the tiled face to the peninsula.  There was a long time ago a debate over using granite.  The owners were not sure and were concerned over future resale value.  I countered this with my biased opinion.  A total waste of money on that basis of resale value.  They had no particular interest in granite itself but in their counter being durable and easy to clean.  

Well contrary to what many think porcelain is actually harder than granite, will not stain and is much more resistant to loosing its shiny and easily cleaned surface.  Non grout joint

With that said what no one likes is grout and how it looks after a number of years as it gets greasy and grimy.  To avoid that we have gone with a zero grout line and filled the joint with a black polyurethane that is only about the thickness of a credit card.  This seals the joint making it impossible for anything to get into it as well as water impervious.  The only grout used is just for making the 45′ corner where the counter meets the nosing.

This all leads to my position, if you don’t really want granite and are only doing this to possibly please or impress someone else many years down the road is really total nonsense.  Economically granite costs 5 times what this counter does!  Now if one thinks that building to “American Standards” means stainless steel appliances and granite counters makes such standards then I guess you could believe that BS.

As I told them with what we have put into the fundamental infrastructure of this home to make it stand out, it will sell itself to a wise and discerning buyer one who most certainly would not be making a purchasing decision based on such a flimsy assessment as to what makes real International Standards in a  home.  A granite counter will never tip that scale when compared to the mountain of qualifications this home happens to carry with it.  A perfects example is what is holding up that counter?  Solid hardwood Melina not sawdust and glue that your termite friends will love you for as is the typical example in most countries.PantryJust realized during my last post that I had forgotten to take pictures of the star performer of Cindy’s dream kitchen, the 8 foot wide pantry.  This is all adjustable shelving semi covered by the opaqueness of this aluminum mesh so that the cabinet breaths well.  Remember we can see the ocean here so anything in steel is going to rust like crazy.  As in all the cabinets it is sold Melina hardwood with many coats of white polyurethane.  Certainly not my personal preference but no smart man argues with what a lady wants in “her” kitchen. 🙂Deck supportTake note of the structure under the front deck with the rubber mat placed between the concrete pilings and the wood of the deck.Deck completedDeck is now complete with the stairs to come next week.  The large post you see to the left is to support a shade sail that will going up next week we are just waiting for the final two posts to arrive.  This is a fantastic idea as it provides an escape from that tropical sun but it also will drastically reduce the abuse of the finish on the deck as well when the wood does not have to endure the brunt of the tropical sun for a full day.  Parts of it will get some sun but only for part of the day.Deck clipsPulling the deck boards together plus take note here we used what is called deck clips made of lexan that holds it in place hence no ugly screws or nails.  Instead the screws go through the clip  which slides into a groove in the wood that is then screwed down to the joists.  Very critical here is the amount of movement we experience in wood in this climate, so it is far better the deck actually floats rather than trying to tie it down rigid.  Also if some idiot puts any kind of face fastener through your deck not only is it butt ugly but each of those holes provides an opening for rot to set in down the road when moisture enters that same penetration.  This method leaves no place to conserve that destructive moisture.Deck benchWood bench now mounted in the deck that acts as a guard rail as well as bench just need more material to finish the back rests.  These are tied into the floor structure so as to ensure they are supper solid.Front door insideFront door is now installed with all its moulding inside and out.Front door exteriorDue to the uniqueness of this door and wanting to accent this interesting combination of woods what you see what you see here is my first completed project using Tongue Oil that I imported for special work like this.  This is the result of 5 very light coats of this special product.  Its greatest characteristic is that unlike any polyurethane product (not to mention the no plastic look to it) is that it sticks to itself hence any time in the future that Larry wants to spruce it up it is just a matter of minutes with a sponge and voila he has a new door.  FYI polyurethane does not stick to itself once it is cured so when you want to spruce it up it means sanding it off.  

This is particularly a disastrous route for any hardwood flooring.  This Waterlox product is by far the best on the market even though a bit experimental as it has only been in production for 109 years.  Yes it is expensive but in finishes especially those in the tropics you get exactly what you paid for.  For practicality purposes we used catalyzed polyurethane on all the interior doors but for this special entrance I wanted something special that would really enhance the appearance as well as easy maintenance.  How often it will need re-coating is a wild guess since this is not actually an outdoor product but this door is not really out in the weather since it protected from the sun and will see little rain ever hitting it due to the 1 meter wide eaves as well as the trees that shade this side of the house from the afternoon sun.  Also another reason it received 5 coats of finish. Sunset over San Juan DiosToday’s sunset making the San Juan Dios valley turn to gold.KitchenKitchen completed.kitchen complete 2Kitchen now finished showing the view over the peninsula onto the pantry unit.kitchen complete 3View of the working side of the peninsula.Pool fillingFinally the pool is all connected and filling up for its first use.  This pool is using an Ecosmart system that I urged them to try out so as to avoid the effects of a chlorinated pool.  This uses copper and titanium ions to kill the algae versus toxic chemicals that can have such negative long term affects.  We also upgraded this to a Hayward low energy pump that will pay for itself in roughly 6 months.  So a pretty good return on investment.sunset view over deckView over the finished deck onto the day’s sunset.Evening view of poolNight few of deck and pool marrying up to create the space.  Post in the foreground is there to support the shade sail which is soon to come.Deck completeDaytime view over the deck.deck & poolThe coming together in full daylight.desk in rawAnother long story but last October Larry and I went over to the sawmill to find him a piece of wood for his desk and work center.  We picked out this slab of Guanacaste to dovc that job hence it has spent the last months in the wood shed slowly drying out so as to avoid any squirly behavior when it does this.Desk sawmillLast week I returned to retrieve it from it’s resting spot then up on the roof rack and off to Cacao Ridge.Sanding deskSanding it and polishing it up to be ready for finish.desk mountsASssembly of the custom made mounts to hang it on.desk completeCindy admiring her near complete desk.Desk final viewFinal ed view downy he desk after it’s sixth coat of Tung Oil was applied.Lighting completeAll the track lighting and fixed units are now installed.Shade sale instLast two posts for the shade sail went in on Friday so now good to go to complete the deck area.Shade sale up1View to the west with the first shade hovering over the deck.Sahde sale upAS the sale looks from the deck vantage.  They wanted improved protection to be able to sit outdoors without getting toasted in mid day.  What they did not realize when this idea first hatched was how much more protection this offers the deck itself.  Wood lasts way longer when it is not getting toasted and dried out during the heat of high season here.  Great benefits for both owner and deck.Cristobal deskThis has nothing to do with the house but this is an example of world class cabinet / furniture work as last week when I was at the sawmill Manual the brother in charge of the cabinet shop took me in to show me their latest work a new Cristobal desk for the front office and big brother’s use.Cristobal desk 2Cristobal desk 3A perfect example of both exotic Costarican hardwoods and workmanship at its finest.Cristobal desk 4Gutter drain pipeWe spent near a day installing all the plastic pipe to take the water from the downspouts from the roof out into the natural runoff areas.landscape dirtOn our third last day the dirt for landscaping begins to arrive as well as gravel for the driveway.dirt for landscapingYes all this dirt is about giving the home its final landscape but it is also to ensure that all rainwater runs away from the house and never enters under it or into the carport.  As you all know in our tropical rains this is most critical to control all water flows.last dirt movementThe last of our dirt work where we had to lower the foot of the hill and create a new swale to carry the rain off the mountain around the back of the house and down the runways.Bobcat at workThank goodness for Arlan and the bobcat from the local feraterria for turning days of work into 3 hours of moving around 6 dump truck loads of good old Tico red dirt.Side view after landAfter done in front of the house we have created a natural swale to carry away that rain.pool view after landThis whole back yard was raised and sloped to ensure no lakes form during heavy rains.back view after landview to ocean backNow ready for packing and grass.side yardSwale to carry water around and away from home.closet assemblyJeffry and Amilkar hard at work in the climate controlled closet with tons of safe storage.bench completedBench now complete with back rests getting ready for the party tonight after all of today’s dirty work.Kitchen at workTeh kitchen put to its first test, can four people work here at one time?Desk at workDesk gets its first work out waiting for the video unveiling of the building process and the first time these workers have ever seen their work put on a video presentation.viewing videoAs the show begins.  Larry’s video of the birth of their dream home is incredible and well done.  He describes himself as an amateur videographer but IMHO their is absolutely nothing amateur looking about his productions.  Once he gets done his final polishing it will be posted here for all to enjoy.  He did an incredible job so definitely come back to view that in the next days.  He seems to be rather busy right now moving in and getting to polish up their new home.Larry concertAfter the video is over Larry graced us with a short concert of both his playing and singing skills.  Indeed an evening to remembered by all for a long time to come.front street viewThe party is over but another days work to wrap up the final pieces and odds and ends that go with cleaning up a construction site ready for occupancy.carportThe car and boat port area finally clean and ready to be used.Laundry workshopAll our tools are finally out so we can show you a clean laundry and work shop area.Wrok bench shelvingLarry’s side of the space just ready for his tools to move in officially.This closet is the only closed room of the home as it is climate controlled in that it houses a dehumidifier to arrest the damage that inevitably shows on books and clothing  that does not appreciate being doused in our typical high humidity.  All the shelving is the same Melina glu-lam material that ensures it stays straight looks like a million bucks and will never sag under weight. All the shelving is adjustable less the structural pieces.This little dehumidifier that is plumbed into the drains will easily keep this space nice and dry.closet 3Another view of the clothing side of the closet.cleaning poolLast dirty job to be done was vacuuming the dirt out of the pool for the first time.  A really tough job since it took three to do it! 🙂  

That draws to an end this chapter of home building Techos Siglo XXI style.

I hope you have found this diary to be interesting as well as informative even if a very long page but with 215 photos, plus videos and 15,582 words of description it takes to say the least a good amount of time to follow the complete birth of a world class home under construction.  May we some day have the privilege of performing the same task for you.

Trevor & the Buen Equipo


Home Diary – Platanillo — 21 Comments

  1. Why did the owners choose to build the home with pier and beam rather than concrete slab? That will be a choice I will need to make for my SIP home…

    • Basically this was entirely our lead. With all clients we bring to their attention methods that are often not normal here but none the less have good reasons.
      Fundamentally what spurred this on is this fact, 90%+ of our clients are baby boomers hence they are looking at what old age will bring them. A simple fact is concrete floors are in no way friendly to the human body and that only gets further exasperated when one is a senior. Bad backs and knees do and will take a beating from walking on concrete. You consciously will most likely not feel the give in a wood floor structure but your skeletal system most certainly does. Those of us who have lived in wood homes then gone to work in offices with concrete floors certainly can tell the difference at the end of a day.

      Other issues regarding concrete floors is they are notoriously damp here due to both the climate and bad building practices that seldom take into account this constant effect of what is called wicking. This is where a concrete body behaves just like the wick in a coal oil lamp and sucks the moisture out of the ground and air bringing it to the surface. Also many have been fed royal BS by those that suggest a concrete floor is much cheaper which it is not. Then if you have to elevate it more than a few inches as we would have had to do in this case where it was 24″ then it becomes way more expensive to build than the wood. Then one has to ask yourself do you want a floor weighting tons when the ground is a dancing??? Plus if you put fill in to bring up a lot as Larry would have can you stop it from cracking? Actually the answer is no you can’t unless you build a fully structural floor using tons of steel and pilings or footing going down into virgin soil. In this case the floor cost would have at least doubled to avoid those problems.

      Big Lesson and take away here for those of you who already have a lot that you want to build on or even more important when looking at lots to know what you are getting into while you are still in the negotiation phase. Shoot elevations to be certain how flat it really is and if it is out of whack and it is going to cost to fix then so should go the price. You can literally spend $10,000 in the wink of an eye to fix foundation/ elevation problems. I once had an idiot architect design a client a huge hacienda on top of the mountain at Tarcoles with a 500 m2 or 5,500 ft2 footprint. I told him it was going to cost him at least $250,000 for the foundation or more with no guarantee that it might be even more to pull such an insane stunt off. He did not like the answer as is normal when we respond to really stupid ideas. But back to the lesson, When you look out on a lot on a mountainside all is relative in that your eyes will tell you the lot is flat but is it really??? Larry’s lot looked flat to the naked eye until I got out the laser and we discovered it actually had a two foot slope on the building site. The fault of this actually goes back to the developer and equipment operators when the lot was excavated which should be done with a laser/ transit hence cut the lot to the level line or at least be +/- 6 inches. When we come along years later where they over excavated it is not just a simple matter of putting the dirt back where it should have been all along as now you have fill that you cannot just plop tons of weight down on without causing grave consequences.

      In reality our method saved the clients’ asses here since simple pilings for a light home can choose to ignore such elevation problems as is typical and in this case lowering the back of the lot at least a foot and a half would have really screwed up the driveway entrance. Most fortunate the main goal was to eliminate concrete so this just worked out as a pleasant blessing in disguise.


  2. I really look forward to all your diary and photo updates. Your process is so precise and well organized. Love the meticulous care taken to choose quality yet economical materials that are appropriate for the job. Hopefully after a few more projects you can consider our 2-story in we discussed a couple of months ago.

    • Good to hear from you Jackie and to know you are in the wings watching the goings on as our site and the diaries develop to show people just like you what goes into producing a top quality tropical home.


  3. In Canada, the workers are specialized. (cement work, electrician, Brick layer, etc.)
    What specialized workers do you use?

    I was glad that we met. Let’s exchange ideas about “tiny houses”.

    • Here workers are far more versatile especially since unionization does not exist in the construction industry.
      All of our guys are multi-talented but our one electrician does other work when there is not electrical to keep him busy.
      Oh another big thing is none of them bitch when they are expected to do other things. Actually it makes life way more interesting.
      Even our new guy who is my spare driver of our van when I cannot do so had his first experience with driving our post hole auger as
      his workmates joked with him that he did not have a license for that thing. He of course had never seen one in his life so he wanted to learn
      how to use it. Also our new workers find out they kind of enter a twi-light zone on our projects as they encounter many weird tools.
      They are also expected to learn the right tools for the job in order to speed things up as well as do a better job thereof.
      I also take note that they are eager to learn better and faster ways the only ones who are not are typically the bosses and professionals.

      As an example I recently had to return a cordless Milwaukee Multi-Use Oscillating tool for repair and found that the repair
      depot in San Jose had never ever seen one and of course had no parts hence all had to be ordered in from USA in order to fix it.
      Kind of an interesting testament as to how weird some of our tools are. This particular one is used pretty much every day without fail
      and often for hours per day. This is probably one of the three best/ most useful tools invented in the past 30 years.
      In fact the joints you see on the blog of the hips meeting the corners post would take hours the old way versus less than 5 minutes with
      this boy wonder of tools.


  4. Hi Trevor:
    We are watching the finishing stages of home diary #2 with great interest – we purchased lot #2 (from which a few of the above pictures were taken) in Cacao Ridge last year. The diary is an outstanding story line of the hows and whys and help inform the general reader about building in what is for most a foreign land.
    We would like to someday build a 2 story 4 bedroom structure on the larger building site on lot #2. Knowing that the Cacao Ridge site has wonderful air flow, it is still possible to use the dutch gable on a two story home? Seeing the Smith’s home nearing completion, the outside is very much in line with the style/design that we’d like to incorporate. We are excited to see the interior as it is completed as well. Your goals of going local and green but well built dovetail with our thoughts as well.
    We are planning on taking two weeks next summer to visit the lot and would love to meet anyone we can associated with your company. Maybe even kick around some design plans. Thank you very much for your time and we are excited to see future projects and ideas on this extremely informative website.

    • Darren,
      Thank you for the note and kind comments not to mention it was most interesting to read your opinion with regards to the home diaries. Your input is most appreciates as you are the first to write about how you are really getting my whole intent behind these diaries. To say the least they are no small time commitment now with this one as an example of over 12,000 words and over 100 photos and videos to make up the whole story behind the birth of one of our homes. I am curious how you found the diary in the first place as I understand it you do not actually know the Smith’s? Owning a neighboring lot in a new project would not necessarily lead you into finding it.

      Certainly you can put a dutch gable on a two story but with your location and extra height the wind grabbing capabilities will be even better. However one thing you should consider is this will only affect the top story to as significant of a degree. Hence you may well want to take a serious consideration as to if you really need/want two story as that does create a challenge in cooling of the first story in a tropical climate.

      I will be back here in the zone in July/Aug so keep me informed of your exact schedule. Next we are about to move up north to Playa Grande in Guanacaste as we open up that part of the country to our version of the “best” homes in Costa Rica. We then come back to start what will be a most impressive showcase of our homes in Escaleras. This is south of Dominical about half way to Uvita as you might know from when you were hunting for your piece of paradise. By the time you are ready to build I am more than a bit certain we will throw you a few more curve balls and ideas as to what you want in the home when you are ready. Just be aware you need to be committed to get on our build list for often a year in advance of your ideal start date. This is not exactly the McDonald’s drive through as I trust you can appreciate.

      Thanks again.

      • I also do not know the Smiths either, but we stopped by the house when the builders were there this past March. We are neighbors also who own along the property line of Cacao Ocean View Estates. So just by using Google you can find anything. Hopefully when we come back in December we can meet the Smiths. Thanks for posting this blog, so much information here. The house looks fantastic!!!

  5. Trevor this is like reading an adventure novel of short stories where you can’t put down the book. Your clients decision to put their new house experience on video will be priceless to them. Thank you very much for sharing and doing such a good job of educating us on the building process with the SIP/PEX System. When we arrive in Miramar in late August you will probably be in Escaleras but perhaps we can still be in touch. We were very happy with what you proposed for us per our last conversation. Taking the plunge to build in another country takes a lot of courage & trust, especially when you don’t live there. But your diaries, photos and videos are helping us to gain that trust in your system. The photos, time and effort to keep us updated and informed speak volumes to the confidence you have in your product and workmanship. Much appreciated!

    Many thanks Trevor for your tireless efforts to provide another choice and build a better house.

    • Yes Jackie you have hit the nail on the head the video and blog of the home being built is the digital inspector that any protective buyer can view years down the road to help them decide what home to buy is critical. Fact is the Costarican real estate market is no wheres near as liquid as where all the readers here come from hence it is critical to make your home stand out of the crowd when it comes time to sell it. This is further accelerated by the fact that ex-pats have much less likelihood of turning their property over to their family once they no longer want or need it as compared to if it was back home hence the likelihood of them needing to see their dream home in Ticoland is considerably higher. With the deplorable standards of most homes built here to say the least one of our homes stands out like a soar thumb. This fact affected some of Larry and Cindy’s decisions when they went of in debating putting additional dressings on the home they personally did not care about only for the sake of resale purposes. To this idea I simply said folks don’t piss away money trying to make someone else happy as your home is sooooo far above the normal that the right clients will see that immediately and buy based on that especially with the back up documentation that shows the complete birth of the home. Talk about a mountain of evidence that will make any buyer’s decision an easy one. Then after they buy they can add what ever trinkets to the home they team necessary and let the user pay for them.

      At any rate thank you so much for your comments and you are most welcome for the education. Sadly many think that sharing info. like this will eliminate their jobs however my attitude is
      that most people want to know what is going on and appreciate transparency but do not usually want to actually get in the trenches and compete with me. I realize there is many that will learn from my site and then go do their own thing but they NEVER were real prospects in the first place. At any rate I can live with that just fine especially due to the mountain of business I have ahead of me at any rate.

      The whole idea behind my book and now what is really a university course on tropical home building is to help others ensure that they do not fall into the black hole of Costa Rica construction nightmares. I wish that on no one, friend or foe.

      Thanks for the note always appreciated as well as the interesting comments.


  6. Hi Trevor – just wanted your opinion on the cost effectiveness & use of solar panels in home construction in CR. I understand it’s expensive there.

    • As I am aware these products actually have very little taxes added into their costs so no I do not think they are more expensive than in most other places. However some differences are that Costa Rica in general does not do hand outs and BS subsidies etc. Hence the government, as it should not, is not going to pay you to use solar. The other greater issue is that our electric rates from our grid are extremely high often double of what many pay in North America. This is both good and bad in that it is not fun to pay the power bills however any PV system will pay for itself much faster when the grid costs are higher. MOst systems will pay for themselves in 6 – 7 years which makes them a dam good investment if you can get your investment back in that period of time and have many years of free electricity in essence going forward.

      I have researched this to a fare degree but have not as yet had an owner that was sufficiently interested to move forward. However these are not difficult add ons to an existing home. BUT, oh the famous but, what we do is encourage owners to get the energy pigs out of their homes. WE instal gas networks to get the heavy consumers like stoves and clothes dryers off of electric in the first place. WE only use LED lights in everything we build. First and foremost deal with your consumption then tackle how you are going to feed the home as a secondary issue.

      Also very critical is in the area of Air Conditioning at the beach locations. The high demand of A/C makes it very hard to go net zero (you connect to the grid and put in during peak solar hours then take back at night with the idea of reducing your bill to be insignificant at month end.) With our green homes of course where the owner feels they have to cool off mechanically we drastically reduce consumption by insulating the home in the first place. This is massively important as those who have a pizza oven concrete home with power bills higher than mortgage payments can well attest to how critical home material selection and design can play such a big role in the end results. If you just can’t get by in your location without A/C we can at least cut what would have otherwise been the bills down to 10 – 20% of one of the typical energy pigs we see here. With that said I consider central air to be a totally insane idea versus employing ventilation, tropical designs and materials that reduce any heat build up in the home. At very least reduce A/C space down to a minimum like selected bedrooms to help those sl. Site specifics can drastically vary what can be done here. The home we just finished was located up in the mountains (335 mtrs or 1,000 ft) with great ventilation environment so that was easy to accomplish however someone who elects to live at the beach level or in the plains of Costa Rica or buried in jungle then those natural cooling ocean breezes from a mountain location just are not going to happen so many may find the only solution is to lower temperatures in a mechanical fashion. It will mean you never get to net zero but at very least you CAN diminish power bills and your contribution to grid lock up.


  7. Hello Trevor and Michael,
    The more I see, the more impressed I am with your workmanship. My partner Rene and I are looking forward to the day you start construction of our small home near Parrita. If you can update us on when you might start construction we’d really appreciate it.
    Keep up the great work, and all the best to you guys. May 3rd, 2015.

  8. im building in guantecast now…you are the best in in all of Costa Rica…..im from usa,hey Im shipping some pex and other matrials,bicycles too (from long beach) company says just write a packing list and don’t worry about import tax,or customs we deliver to your site anywhere in CR…they are called Barquero….im thinking of shipping nice vinyl framed windows and pex plumbing system is that smart or would it be better to ship machinery? Bobby, again you are THE Best

    • Bobby thanks for the post and positive comments.
      I am in favor of importing when there is a clear benefit but where there isn’t then it is basically nonsense just a hassle with no payoff.
      Hence I would not import what you are suggesting. Windows are definitely off that import list! First off there is great PVC windows made right here, no need to pay freight, taxes and have warranty problems or breakage in freight that comes with something imported. Also the actually criteria for a window designed for cold weather is NOT THE SAME as for tropical weather. For example in cold you need a minimum of dual pain windows versus in our temperature change that 40% up charge on the glass is tickets to a free show with our very low inside/outside temperature difference. The only benefit is noise reduction which has merit in the middle of busy San Jose however that hardly describes the needs of Guanacaste or any beach rural area. Like do you want to block out the noise from those pesky birds in the morning?

      As far as PEX is concerned I have used it exclusively for the past 3 years yet have not imported a thing. Again the product is already here in a product line that I believe to be better than anything I found in Canada and USA with the big advantage I don’t need to import it or over stock or worse yet run out in the middle of a project. This is a Chinese product which at times can be a problem but as I said 3 years with no problems using brass fittings and stainless steel manifolds has proven this system is incredibly tough and reliable. Not a single leak to plague us in three years. You can see this product in use at our Playa Grande site.

      Hence having been down that road I pick my battles very carefully and only import what is exceptional and/or simply not available here. Just this past week I did a newsletter covering two new roofing options one available here and the other not but both have features and costs unique enough to warrant the effort to acquire in the easiest fashion possible. Yes there is many import options and more showing up all the time who bring containers on a regular basis and I have used such for things like electrical wire and boxes and especially tools of which all brand name tools are a ridiculous price here for no apparent reason. Eg. I bought in a special Bosch saw and paid $750 for it yet at the local ferreteria who amazingly even had it wanted 920,000 col or $1,752. No matter how bad your shipper is or paying the full bore of taxes it just cannot more than double. Bloody impossible so someone in the supply chain is milking Jose latino consumer because they appear to get away with it. Plus I have of course often bought tools you could not find here if your life depended on it.

      Hope that helps prior to digging yourself into a hole.


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