The 4th in our super home series started it’s road to creation on Nov. 30th, 2015 as our team moved back down south to start a most unique home in a spectacular location in the Escaleras area south of Dominical in the South Pacific of Costa Rica. This home has a lot of firsts going into it to add to our home portfolio. The first of which is it has acquired its own name brought about for two reasons. Shortly after our arrival on site we discovered a sloth or Peresozo has claimed this property as her domain. In cutting one tree down we even knocked her out of her tree but she did not leave the site instead just very slowly crawled back up another tree and went back to sleep. That big ball of fur hanging in center screen is our three toed sloth.
To add to that during the second week of January we noticed she had given birth to a baby that would easily fit into the palm of an adult hand. In light of this surprise I suggested to the owners we name the home after this mother and child for three reasons. What can be more Costarican than a tree sloth? Secondly not many people can say they have a sloth living in their tree tops, so that is indeed a most unique circumstance for what is going to be a verrrry unique home. To add to that this is a vacation home or a place for the residents to come to to chill out so how much more appropriate of a name and ambiance to take on than one taken from the sloth or in Spanish Peresozo, which means slow or lazy. A place to come to, to “slow down!” A perfect example of this is when Ticos drive by a work crew leaning on shovels or hanging around a work site they say, ” what a bunch of Peresozos. As you will come to see this theme will be woven into the tapestry of this house as it comes to life over the next number of months. In fact even though we are still digging in dirt and rock the first finishings are already being planned as to how that theme will unfold.
This home has had a very long gestation period as Rick and Barb bought the land back in 2007 then started looking for a designer/architect and builder about 2011. They even got so far as to contract an architect that months later presented them with a home they did not like at 70% over budget hence not too surprisingly he was fired. They contacted us in April 2014 about picking up the ball and running again as Rick’s first words were, we had almost given up in finding someone who would fit our reality and design and build us a most unique home. This story in of itself, which I will write more interesting details about as the story unfolds, is indeed a good lesson for others as what to watch out for in contracting a designer and builder. At any rate we are full steam ahead now in grooming this crude, incredibly rocky and steep sloped mountainside into a spectacular home and mountain environment.
And here finally a face shot of mama.
View out over the future pool area.Looking up the property line to the street beside the neighboring house.The mountain of rock a dirt left at front of lot from the road building eons ago. Diamond in the rough!
Some of the wild area after hand cutting waiting for the heavies to come in.
Mixed in with excavation work we are installing a perimeter chain link fence. This site is wide open to a busy public street that even though this area has many expensive homes in it, it has absolutely zero security. Hence it is a wide open invitation to thievery both during the build when tools and materials are everywhere but just as important after the build to protect property from invaders. Late in the game this will become a smart fence with a perimeter security system from Southwest Microwave out of Phoenix. This ensures that no one can get over, under or through without alerting the residents in advance of anything actually happening.
Here the bottom corner post has been concreted in to establish a perfect line.First row of posts done alongside the side yard to the lower neighbor’s lot.Structure complete with chain link added.All this is welded together rather than just clips and connectors as is done back in Canada. The chain link is also pulled very tight kind of like a drum skin as it is critical for perimeter security since the fence acts as sounding board for the sensor cable so uniform tightness is needed to maintain the sensitivity so that the computer can read spikes in the vibrations from the fence. There is millions of feet of this system installed around the world much of it surrounding things like airports and nuclear plants. In essence a highly proven system one that offers quiet security and far cheaper than trying to secure a home especially one like this one that will have a lot of folding and sliding doors which always present a security issue. Then we are always faced with those that want to put bars all over the windows and make the home look like early jail cell which aside from being but ugly also is way less effective and more expensive. That was not exactly our vision for this special home. Plus the idea is to get a warning prior to anyone ever getting to the doorstep. In essence offensive security rather than defensive.Part of the street clean up removing all the dead or sick trees.
Driveway slope now cut to carport entrance.Posts along front street mounted. Out of the 70 posts installed we were able to use our power auger exactly ZERO times due to the proliferation of rocks.
Fence structure complete on upper property line.Welding the chain link on street front.Fence painted and street front filled in to create a future planting bed. The paint is for two purposes A) to blend in better but more important B) also to extend the life of the chain link drastically when in such a high salt zone.Concrete pad poured at the corner of the entrance for a utility shed that will house the electrical service, LPG gas tanks for easy access and safety of being as far away from house as possible, and a garbage container also well away from the home since garbage starts to stink very quickly in this climate you don’t want it close to your nose areaHere is a very simple yet critical piece of plumbing system hardware that needs to be installed. The PEX waterline feed from meter with critical pressure regulator to stop pressure spikes in the middle of night coming along and blowing up your plumbing accessories. On a mountainside especially like this, this is a very common problem. The PEX itself is rated for 175 psi way more than all other typical lines especially the junk PVC water lines. However nothing you hook to this water system can survive much more than 60 psi hence when the pressure spikes late at night toilets, filters etc etc start to blow up. Versus spending $45 on one of these pressure relief valves is to say the least cheap insurance. You will note this one is set at 45 psi from the factory but can be adjusted but going over 60 psi is one reallllly bad idea.Batter boards in place to establish the floor levels in this case one of the bedroom modules or cabin if you prefer.
Cleaning of vegetation from pool area .Starting to delimb the last and largest tree that we thought we could incorporate into the design but it just was not possible as it ended up blocking the entrance to the home. This a good sized lot but much of it is not buildable hence our options were very limited as to where this special home would actually sit.
The base was so heavy that the back hoe can’t pull it only drag with the hydraulics.Almost out of the way now.It’s resting spot for now until I figure out a way to dispose of it as we cannot lift it up into a truck with a standard backhoe.Last of a big wood pile we pulled from the lot.
Our new freeway going down the hill to access the lower part of the site.
Cutting down the hill for the front of house to sit down into.We had done our whole design and plan around a topographer’s site levels which proved be very inaccurate. Once on site with our own measurements we found amongst many inaccuracies that we had a huge gully under our carport area. So rather than just put it up on columns we cut it down to firm ground and created a space for extra storage room or bodega as it is called here.The orange flag was one of the topographers markings we maintained. Digging the first holes for the footings to support columns. This was mostly done by hand to be able to feel where we were going through the upper soft clay and enter the sold base down below. A backhoe cannot begin to tell you when you move from one soil zone into another of greater density as we require to put our footings down onto. The issue was rock hell that we had to deal with so removing little guys like this was to say the least common practice as many holes had 3 and four rocks impeding progress.First nine column holes in process of digging however two were not successfully done by hand.Here we had to call Luis in to remove the bigger monsters.Here is one that we could not pull by hand. Thank goodness we had Luis who is an incredible operator as this was no job for an amateur to dance a machine around this site and deal with the rocks, different levels and not literally dig yourself into a hole you could not get out of. The backhoe is parked on top of what will soon be the septic field.First steel cage and footing in place ready to pour. Note the small concrete pedestals it sits on to ensure the steel ends up where it needs to be elevated to in the 8″ thick footing.First footing poured.Here a perfect example of pouring around the rocks.Cutting the platform for the base of the pool. Yefrin using the laser and sensor to get our levels exact.Now leveling the final pool area and compacting any loose soil left by backhoe.BAck hoe has hauled in gravel base that is now being compacted ready for the pool construction to begin.At the same time and process the area for the bodega floor under the carport was also prepared for building upon a sold base. This level was established as where we were able to hit firm ground under the whole area which happened to be an 8 foot drop hence a full height bodega will be the support for the carport floor. This carport was priced out by our predecessors at $43,000 but even with this surprise additional we are a long ways from that kind of cost!Additional trench cut to join pool wall with bedroom footing.Now that pool is prepped we have to install the septic tank, bio-digester and field as we have to work the backhoe out of here as it can never ever get back to this area of the lot. Luis assures me he does not have a wing attachment at home to put on his Caterpillar backhoe.Shovelling the crushed rock around the tankTjips to fill in the void and provide a cushion between compacted clay and fiberglass tanks. The only Imperative with light weight tanks is they must always be full of water to prevent floating during heavy rain conditions. Here the tanks were put in the hole and filled within a couple of hours.This is the cavity filled in and in this case it was larger than normal due to removing rocks to create an open hole was considerably more difficult than normal.After the main settling tank was installed and filled the periscope was installed that takes the overflow from the settling tank down the periscope which then feeds it into the bottom of the bio-digester. A two compartment tank is massively inferior to this as it does not allow the same aerobic processing in the tank. Also take note of the shape of the settling tank. It is long and narrow so as to have a long run so that solids have lots of opportunity to settle out of the effluent. Anyone who tries to sell a round tank has not the slightest clue as to the fundamental requirements of a septic tank system. Yes all the plastic tank suppliers here make them but all of them are a really bad idea that fundamentally do not work and of course if you put them underground they will fold up like a beer can. This bio-digester is filled with washed crushed rock to create all the aerobic apartments for your billions of friends that will live here and process your wastes. After it is processed in this digester then it heads out to the field or irrigation system.Distribution barrel set in place here to line up our locations of field lines as well as an outflow to another barrel for pumping effluent from. These are recycled chemical barrels that will last underground for an eternity. I have found no supplier in Costa Rica that makes these hence we fabricated what was available and cheap and easy to work with.
This is a shot of the PVC pipe we use to build the field. We drill this ourselves as there is no pipe here made for this purpose. What you see here is the downside of the pipe with holes drilled 5/8″ in size on each side of the pipe so that it will still behave as a pipe until it fills up with effluent then it weeps out of these holes into the rock bed evenly throughout the field.Looking down the pipe from the inside you see the lines of holes clearly. Note the thickness of the wall of the pipe!Conversely I shall return to the neighboring house to pick on it once again or the builders of it at least. This is the junk pile I found under the deck. The junk pile around any construction site tells me much of what I need to know. This is not just a junk pile it is not just left overs it empirically proves what was used in this home and all of it is crap product NONE OF WHICH YOU WILL FIND US USING. First wrong is the orange weeping tile or french drain as many know it. This is what the typical builder who knows little to nothing about septic principles will use because it is easy! Only one problem with that easy cannot be confused with correct. The very narrow slits you see in the pipe create two problems first off they plug up in time since they are just too tiny and second they are everywhere as in all around the pipe so what happens the effluent floods the closest part of the field and starves the rest. The idea of our carefully placed holes is to ensure the pipe behaves exactly as that a pipe. It distributes the effluent over the entire field and only when the level rises above the holes does it start to weep out everywhere hence avoiding flooding and stressing part of the filed while starving other parts.
Also in this pile is PVC water line another really bad idea if you don’t just get a kick out of constantly fixing leaks especially 5+ years down the road when it starts blowing up or breaking to bits from seismic activity.
The third crime witnessed in this pile is sanitary grade septic pipe = absolute crap that will end up having someone up to their ying yank in crap someday down the road. NO way of knowing when just that it will happen as this thin walled junk that would not pass code in any G20 country is delicate when new! But come back in five years it is like plumbing with crystal. Hence why I say everything I found in the junk pile is exactly that JUNK not suitable in any high quality construction let alone in homes of this value. I am far from done from commenting on this home stay tuned there is more to come for the curious minded.
This is a shot of the weeping line at the end of its route coming up to surface level so that one can inspect the line below visually should there be any questions way down the road. Note it is protruding from the bed of crushed rock that surrounds it.Over the top of this bed you will note me holding the geotextile that we placed over it. This is a breathable membrane that allows water to pass through as well as air but not to let the fines from the soil above to go through a plug up the field. Taking note this is aerobic action so we want air to be able to get into the field. Finally upon completion of the field our outhouse is placed over on of the manholes to the settling tank for the duration of the construction phase.The back hoe came in to help us with this big cave where the four center columns of the home must come to rest to support this large cottage roof. Here Josue is cleaning up by hand to find us a nice solid base to mount all this to.Dug out, then gravel filled and compacted with the steel in place to pour the footing as well as the steel for the concrete columns tied into the footings.First large house column poured.Footing now poured with the four columns formed up and placed in the exact location to receive the wooden columns that will pass through the floor up to support the hip rafters of the roof.Poured now waiting for us to move up another level.Upper right corner of house column poured.First tie beam is formed with steel cage in place ready to pour.Tie beam poured that will support front walk down to storage as well as the upper right house column.Tie beam along the creek side of house between first two columns. These are getting progressively longer as the hillside drops way down below the main level of the home.Upper left tie beams now poured.Columns are getting rather high as we move to the deck and master bedroom.Another two high columns are set in place in the footings are for the bridge that will head up the hill to the third bedroom or cabin in the woods. The fist of these is along side of the creek.Forming the the lower tie beams for the main house as they head down at a rather noticeable slope.Poured the next day.Carrying concrete by bucket to the tallest columns.Yefriz vibrating the tallest of all the columns at 5 m tall. In fact we left the top section of form open so as to make the pouring easier in the lift of the buckets.Next day form stripped and moved onto a shorter location.Several done with other waiting to be poured.Shorter deck columns in process now with the ones for the bridge in the foreground.
So what do you do on the 7th day?
Building the retaining wall that will make the stairway down to the laundry and storage below the carport. This came about after we arrived on the scene and found a huge hole that was not on the topographical plan right under where the carport had to go. Hence we elected to make useful space out of this hole rather than just columns holding up the carport.
So now I am caught up to real time progress now just now get through all the video that I had not had time to edit and compile. Things have been very busy with the move back from Guanacaste to the south country and doing a couple of renovations in between while waiting for plans to be ready for this build. Several other builds in planning stage as well as in permitting stages and two more containers of materials one landed here with zero problems especially after last years nightmarish one and another due here in late Feb. I have always said that reporting on what we are doing has to be second to doing and keeping the worksite moving forward as efficiently as possible.