Techos Siglo XXI
Eco-built Sustainable Homes for the 21st Century
Price is only half the formula + How would we make your new home?
What components would go into making your GREAT Home???
Minimum Architectural Standards:
Please take note that what follows are what we consider to be the minimum standards that it takes to build an economical, yet enduring, eco-home of both world class quality and comfort level for the owner(s). So far we have found no one in Costa Rica who builds to our minimum standards. Plus wherever it is possible, our goal is to eliminate as much building materials that are major environmental offenders. The greatest being concrete (80% carbon footprint) and steel (180% carbon footprint.) Should you prefer to lower these standards below this level, then we simply are not the builder for you. Attempting to take anything out of this formula will only succeed in cheapening the home but let’s not confuse that with making the home more economical at all. Cheap and Economical are not the same thing at all. Cheap will only provide the owner with much more expensive repairs, problems and headaches in the future meaning less than desirable results especially when considering your comfort, enjoyment level as well as good old hassle factor.
We have been meticulously careful in both our material and method selections to ensure that both a home’s construction costs and future costs will be exemplary. These factors especially come to roost when it comes time for resale. False savings in the end provides no benefit to the owner or the builder. Our mission and passion is simple: “To build great homes” and if we cannot assist you in that endeavor then we would rather find something else to amuse ourselves with. Reality is there is tons of second and third rate junk built in Costa Rica by both Tico and worse yet foreigner builders or what I call morons that know better yet behave like bandits. It simply is not our goal to be included in that crowd, nor do we seek clients that will accept such. Just go read our 100+ page e-book to find out all the in-depth reasons and examples from which I draw this most blunt assessment of such.
Total transparency contracting is our only method. This method is basically unheard of in Costa Rica so I shall explain how this works. Once design drawings are completed so that we have the exact details in which to price from we provide you with all of our cost sheets covering what will go into your new home. This will include all of the direct costs, indirect costs, labour, fee for on site management as well as our fees for managing every detail of your home construction for you whether that be to lock-up or turn key, which ever you prefer. As construction progresses we provide copies of all invoices on a weekly basis that reflect our discounted pricing on all materials and services direct to the owner using this cost plus method of accounting for every cent spent in creating your home. We find this method way less stressful when both parties know exactly where, why and how your money is being spent. We also never need to raise prices to cover possible contingencies of changes occurring while under construction. There is a budget set for each item in the home and whenever we spend more or less on each of these it will be reflected in the final billing as well as providing you the option to adjust items as we move through the process. Hence the final result is no big surprises and nothing hidden away!
With any luck, we speak directly to the heart of the things that matter to you in considering the building of your dream home in Costa Rica, so lets just review in brief what all goes into making up a great home….
Note the sections in green text are the dressings that would not be included when purchasing a home only to lock-up.
1. Walls – For main floor or second story of two story homes – 90 mm (3.5”) SIP panels skinned in MgO Corp’s 8mm high density MgO (Magnesium Oxide board) with EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) core with R14 insulation value. First story of two story homes will require a beefed up panel using thicker skins to support the extra weight load. Connecting panels are splined together with 8mm material sealed and glued creating a monolithic skin using Manus Bond SIP Seal. Corners, joining walls, door and window bucks, base plates and header plates are Bitter Cedar, or glu-lam (laminated) Acacia, all sealed and glued to panels. This species are selected as being termite resistant as we have witnessed that insects simply will not even eat the cuttings left in the plantation due to its natural protection.
2. On grade floors – 10 cm (4”) floating slab over 6” gravel base separated by plastic membrane from the 3,500lb concrete reinforced with wire mesh and #3 rebar to reinforce the thickened perimeter of 20 cm (8”). Polished power trowelled finish on all floors. Note: the concrete floor option will only be suggested where there is a tight budget necessitating the savings of $10 per square meter or if we can’t elevate the floor.
3. Foundation Protection – Where ever we encounter a higher risk home location, which means one with a steep drop off as is often found on view properties overlooking the ocean in particular, a foundation protection of pilings will be recommended. For this we use Ram Jack who will install steel pilings (helical coils) which are basically huge screws that are screwed into the ground to ensure that if there is ever any earth movement caused by earthquakes your home will sit up high and dry on these pilings. This is indeed least expensive option when they think this extra insurance is warranted. The point is to be informed of the available options and costs during the budget process and never be able to say “if only I had known!”
4. Elevated floors – will also use glu-lam joists to make up the floor structure with an ultra high density, high fiber content MgO T&G (tongue and groove) floor sheeting product also produced by MgO Corp. This will be glued and nailed down to create a very solid squeak less floor at half the price of any elevated concrete floors. Note a concrete floor doubles to triples in price once it is in the air versus being poured over a gravel base. Worse than the excessive cost the fact is that concrete just does not make a human friendly floor being that such is very hard on knees and feet especially as we get older, plus brutal results befall when anyone falls on such. The hollow floor cavity also provides a dryer floor, a much quieter floor and one that allows us to place electrical and plumbing runs in the cavity, plus it provides much more accessibility for any future maintenance issues that could come about.
5. Floor finishes – Where a tiled floor is desired, porcelain will be the standard finish due to its extreme durability, being way beyond ceramic types of tile. Where a hardwood floor upgrade is desired, the floor sheeting will be eliminated and the T&G flooring will be glued and nailed directly onto the joists. Using this method to upgrade from porcelain is only $10 to $20 per meter depending on the selected hardwood. Such floors will be finished with Tung Oil so as to eliminate all future need for sanding once the floor needs a new lease on life.
6. Roof Structure – In the interest of tropical living comfort our standard roof design always employs a vaulted ceiling so as to give space for the heat to rise to above our living environment. Our minimum roof slope is 3/12 or .25 meters rise per meter of run. This provides both excellent roof drainage hence removes 90% of leaking problems plus a more spacious appearance in the home as well as visual appeal from outside of the home. Rafters will be glu-lam as well with 2 1⁄2” T&G hardwood ceiling installed above these. Where desired bamboo (Caña Brava) can also be used. Above this will be figerblass insulation with a reflective foil which has a combined R40 value when the reflective value is taken into account. This combination provides both a massive heat barrier as well as a noise barrier when the tropical rains start to hammer down upon your roof. A minimum of ½” air space is left between the reflective foil and the roof cladding in order for the system to work to its optimum level of protection.
7. Roof Cladding –The most basic is Metalco ribbed steel roof cladding that comes prefinished in red, blue, green and white enamel. It is reliable and low cost, but be advised it in no way qualifies as an eco product due to the huge carbon footprint at 1.8 tons per ton of metal produced. This cladding requires and is supported by wood strapping every 90 cm (36”) so that it will withstand workers on the roof. The much smarter alternative is a reflective roof panel from our MgO producer which is a 5mm MgO base with laminated aluminum foil then a baked finish in blue, red or white over top of that. Since this eliminates the need of insulation it is lower cost than metal while also not rusting or transferring roof noise. For those wanting the tile roof look there is also a totally recycled plastic roof tile, which is a $13 per meter upgrade. This tile fools most people into thinking it is real clay tile yet without all the leaks, massive weight issues or total destruction in an earthquake. Conversely the plastic is nearly indestructible, easy to transport, fast to install, quiet and cool. Wood shingles or asphalt shingles are other options at the same cost factor as the plastic tile.
8. Eaves troughs/ Gutters – Our own custom designed 18” baked enamel troughs are guaranteed to send any overflows of excessive rain into your garden instead of your home are provided in a matching color to the roof cladding. Down spouts are also included to get those tropical rains away from your foundation. There is also the option of eliminating this method all together to avoid that constant cleaning required by using a ground drain system. This is where the water falls directly from roof to ground where we cut a trench below the drip edge of the roof fill with crushed rock that is surrounding a tube with perforations in it. The water filters down through the rock going into the tube which then carries it as far from the house as is required to ensure it exits completely away from foundations and driveways. Note you cannot put grass or plants over these trenches as roots from such will only invade and hinder the speedy drainage that is so critical in our tropical downpours. Yes it will be visible but it requires zero maintenance.
9. Overhangs – Our standard overhang is a minimum of 1 meter (39”) to provide adequate protection from both rain and sun. Our sun exposure here dictates this as a minimum in order to keep the sun off of the window surfaces. Heat gain throughout the day rises dramatically when this rule is ignored. Our goal is to eliminate any need for A/C when we both design and select materials appropriately for a tropical environment. This is both critical in lowering home operating costs as it is for reducing unnecessary draws upon an overtaxed electrical grid. Where ever glass cannot be shaded by the roof then the much more expensive high tech glass options should be considered.
10. Electrical Service – All electrical components are GE brand. Meter box and disconnect rated for 125 amps up to 10 meters (33 feet) from the main service panel with 1 1⁄4” EMT entrance conduit and #4 cable. Should distance to ICE connection require longer, hence larger cable, there will be an up-charge on cost. 14-circuit panel for less than 80 m2 or 860 ft2 home and 24 circuit panel for greater than. Serge protection and GFI (ground fault) breaker included. Arc protection breakers can be upgraded at a cost of $35 per breaker. Maximum of 8 plugs per circuit using standard Bticino plugs and switches run on #12 or #14 Romex cable circuitry. All electrical WILL follow NEC and IBC codes.
11. Plumbing System – All sanitary lines will use a minimum schedule of Durman SDR 32.5 PVC pipe and connections. All fixtures will have P traps installed without exception. The entire system will be vented as per UPC code through the roof or into the eaves. Any septic tanks runs that are more than 3 meters from house will be an up-charge. Septic tanks are a two unit system with main settling tank and then a bio-digester as a second tank both being constructed out of fiberglass due to its longevity and resistance to cracking.
12.Water lines – All potable water lines shall use Raypoly PEX 5/8” tube with no unions. Stainless steel manifolds and brass fittings will provide a dedicated direct line to each utility with the only exception being toilets that will be teed off from the sink. Where at all possible, running water lines under concrete will be avoided.
13. Windows – Our standard window is a locally produced PVC slider in white or cream-colored PVC, single glazed with window screens included. Upgrades are available for casement and awning windows as well as an imitation wood sash that is quite convincing in its wood look. Nana doors, large sliding doors and wood windows are all available as upgrades for the client that demands more than the basic for both a question of style and functionality features.
14. Paint – All paint finishes interior or exterior will use either SUR or Lanco high quality paints or acrylic stuccos depending on the home style. The durability factor of low-grade paint just does not pay off when the labor component of recoating comes home to roost.
15. Plumbing Fixtures – We have a preferred supplier of good quality fixtures that we quote as standard, however any owner can choose to upgrade if they want more luxury lines of fixtures and an up-charge will be applied above the amount we budgeted. All toilets are low volume dual flush toilets to conserve water and not overtax a septic system’s efficiency. Gas instant-flow water heaters will be included as standard since electric ones cost more to buy and more than double to run, plus they carry a much higher maintenance cost. These will be plumbed with a Pex line along with a BBQ outlet, clothes dryer and stove outlets as well.
16. Electrical Fixtures – The same applies to electrical where we set a budget based on decent quality but the owner has the option to upgrade further according to tastes and budget priorities. We do not assume to be using crap quality at any point in your home but when it comes to finishes, the sky is the limit, as well as the choices possible. All fixtures will be installed with LED bulbs.
17. Cabinets and Counters – Our standard cabinet is a melamine case with a Melina face and doors with standard hardware included. Once again, upgrades are unlimited in scope and options. The standard countertop is a porcelain tile with zero grout line and a hard wood nosing. Very functional and durable but those that desire a higher or more luxurious style (granite) can easily get what they want at an up-charge.
18. Doors and Moldings – All doors will be raised panel Laurel or Acacia wood doors and frames with matching moldings. Various designs are available up to 5 panels per door. Any custom doors can be provided in a number of woods at an up- charge depending on what wood as well as complexity of design. We have access to incredible doors at a fraction of the price as would be the case in USA or Canada. Exterior doors will be heavier with security jambs installed.
19. Energy Self Sufficiency, ideal but optional – Those trying to free themselves from electrical bills can neutralizing such with a Net Zero system. (Bills from ICE end up being zero once what you sold to the grid during sun hours offsets what you took from the grid at night). To economically achieve such you must drastically reduce electrical consumption hence anything with large electrical elements must be replaced. The first and easiest priority is all water heating must go solar. This is also where our house designs and material selections become critical since you must eliminate any need for A/C as it will cause a massive increase in system capacity hence capital input by double to quadruple. High consumption appliances like stoves and dryers also have to be replaced with alternative gas appliances. All such heavy draw items require a massively larger sizing of alternative electrical production hence the budget required to get to Net Zero results grows exponentially if consumption issues are not dealt with.
Also two answers exist here one for on grid homes and those for off grid. Those off grid need to spend a significant amount more for battery banks to store energy for nighttime as well as rainy periods. For those on the grid the best method is to avoid battery banks by sending surplus power to the grid during daytime peak output of solar then take back from the grid during the much lower cost night time hours. Normally being off grid means much cheaper land costs hence those savings can easily offset the higher system cost. It really comes down to a lifestyle election.
Due to the extremely high cost of electricity in Costa Rica ($.25 kwh and ever increasing) along with the dropping cost of PV cells the normal payback on a Net Zero system will run in the 4 to 5 year range hence it is easy to capitalize into the construction cost of your new home even with the lack of any subsidies. A leasing option is currently in the works as well with an 8-year pay back. This system is an up charge to the basic home package so any owner electing this option can expect to pay $6 to $20 more per s.f. of construction but with the obvious expectation of an excellent payback and the lowering of fixed living costs. WE are now working with a supplier who has all the contracts with ICE and CNFL in order to sell back to the grid as well as financing packages with various banks. The cost savings from the system is greater than the monthly payments to the bank so it makes it a bit of a no brainer especially with the rates relentlessly going up. Besides that a truly ecological home cannot actually consider this system as optional. Without it you are talking about an ecological half measure if you remain grid dependent.
In summary I again remind the reader if you want to know exactly why these standards exist then you must go to our e-book to find out the how and why such standards came about from our experiences in Costa Rica. None of these selections have been done lightly all are backed up by experience. Building science and examples from what goes wrong in homes here to point much better solutions. This is what it takes to build a GREEN low-energy, low-maintenance, economical, but stylish dream home in today’s environment. We build with the idea that you never need to call us back to fix something that should have been built right to begin with.
Trevor & Michael