Remodeling Projects

Remodeling, Repairs & Problem Solving

Construction Consulting & Inspection Services

This is an area where our services keep expanding especially since we are often called in on what I call rescue missions where owners have had proverbial problems with both their homes as well as those who they have had working on them with less than ideal results.  I will document cases here where I have witnessed other constructors who have blatantly ripped off the owners prior to our arrival as well times when the owner bowed out due to lack of confidence in the competency of who they had either hired or were considering to do so.  I find it quite inexcusable where the first problem exists and I most certainly do not mince my words  when I witness clear and obvious abuse of the owner and their funds.  The second is relatively excusable from a standpoint that many in this industry do not have both the experience to resolve problems or the necessary education to do so.  Sadly this often comes along with a closed minded in their approach to different as well as often more modern and worldly methods that the client may be seeking or demanding.

I quite frequently have clients commenting that their contractor wants to do everything his way and won’t listen to the fact that the client possible has more unusual or exacting standards than what they are accustomed to delivering.  Often the guilty parties fail to even recognize that in construction there is usually a multitude of ways to skin the cat even when those may not be in the contractor’s repertoire of both imagination as well as skills.  It all comes down to listening and learning.  This is not an age issue it is a mental attitude one.  I have often run into guys much younger than me who know it all and since they know it all they cannot learn anything new.

Michael and I have over 65 years of combined construction and architectural experience which far from makes us new kids on this block.  Yet even with that experience behind us one thing we pride ourselves in is our flexibility and constant quest to keep learning and progressing with the times.  Materials and methods are inevitably changing as the industry and times progress so to be on that cutting edge we MUST ALWAYS be open to new and creative ways of working.  Besides life is a whole heck of lot less boring when you are constantly learning, changing and evolving.  This attitude is our single greatest asset not our experience in reality although it sure helps to sort out the fact from the fiction when you combine both of these.

When I go out and inspect homes of clients I am constantly in a world of wonderment as to how and why a lot of work was ever done.  Let’s first understand remodeling is a beast of its own, it is not easy nor simple in fact it actually challenges the builder a great deal more than building new.  It is way harder to fix problems long after they came about hence it often demands way more know how and a lot more imagination and a way bigger bag of tricks to find workable solutions.  This is particularly so when you approach any renovation with my mindset and end goal in mind.  I am always looking to make a renovation never apparent.  I never want anyone to be able to take a look at one of my projects and say in an instant this was a remodel job.  The entire intent is for the repair/remodel to blend into the home and appear as original as close as is possible.

It somewhat puzzles me as to why construction work is so often obviously flawed when you know anything about the subject.  I constantly see this in work that I can only describe as stunts.  Like how did they ever think this would work?  But I think this is rooted in a fundamental concept to where those working in this industry seldom take a long term view.  In truth they do something that they full well know will never survive the test for long however  I suspect such is done with a “create work mindset”, in that they secretly delude themselves into thinking that the owners will have them back in a few years to fix what they screwed up the last time.  Personally I think this concept seldom ever works but I guess it helps keep me quite occupied when I am the one asked to come in to clean up such messes and fix them once and for all as well as making the final result blend into the home as best as possible.

I will be adding extensively to this section as time provides and as new examples of learning experiences come about as I inspect homes but in the meantime if you have a question or concern you can most certainly post it at the bottom of the page and I will respond to all inquiries.  Or if you prefer you can phone me at 2100-1616 or 6041-0718.  You can also subscribe to our newsletter to follow the problems and solutions as they are documented here.

Projects:

 

A Pagoda Roof is Born in Santa Ana 

A client contacted us and wanted to cover in her back terrace with a pagoda roof.

I showed her what laminated acacia rafters would look like for such an application and she fell in love with the style of the beams.  As a builder I love them because they come straight and true and stay that way forever.  They will not crack as is often the case with solid timber which also all too often will twist and crown on you as well plus the laminated ones are twice as strong.  Elephants could dance on this roof if you wanted.

Post supporting ridge beam and rafters

Post supporting ridge beam and rafters

 

Concrete Pedastal to support center post and planter.

Concrete Pedastal to support center post and planter.

 

Concrete base for corner post

Concrete base for corner post

Ridge Beam going in place

Ridge Beam going in place

 

Mounting wall beam with anchors

Mounting wall beam with anchors

First Rafters going in place

First Rafters going in place

Running Lag Screws into the final Rafters

Running Lag Screws into the final Rafters

Rafters in Place waiting for plastic roof

Rafters in Place waiting for plastic roof

Plastic Roof finished and stone planter around support column

Plastic Roof finished and stone planter around support column

Close up of laminated acacia rafters and plastic roof covering

Close up of laminated acacia rafters and plastic roof covering

 


Comments

Remodeling Projects — 16 Comments

  1. 07/01/13

    Dear Sirs: I live in Santa Ana in a four house community.
    We share a cesta/basket for garbage out front that needs a tapa/lid. I was wondering if you could give us an estimate about the cost of a lid that will keep the cats from foraging and making a mess. My address is
    #30 Calle Lajas. Santa Ana. Numero por telefono es
    2582.1321 Thank you.

    • Sure we can I have to come out to Santa Ana to price out some materials so will call you when I am coming to get directions and access to make measurements.

      Trevor

  2. Today’s message is about finishing hardwood products, shipping into Costa Rica along with an attitude to push the envelope in construction methods/standards.

    This subject centers around Tung Oil and how it deals with the brutal Tropical Climate. I doubt very few if any who read this will have any idea of what I am talking about, yet. We have two things that can dramatically affect the appearance/beauty of a tropical home. First off we have incredible hardwoods both those that are exotic like Ironwood, Rosewood, Tamarindo, Almand etc as well as plantation grown woods like Teak and Acacia. All are great woods to dress up your home to make it more elegant as well as a pleasant environment however anything that has any exterior exposure is in for a real battle to combat the affects of the tropical sun with it’s monstrously high UV factor and rain effects. To minimize damage as well as excessive maintenance one most certainly does not need to swear off the use of wood but it sure does require careful consideration for how you shall treat and protect such. Although all of our hardwood in Costa Rica is dramatically cheaper than anything like it in Canada or USA it still is a significant cost in a new home and one that we want to protect while maintaining the natural beauty and character of wood.
    In that respect for exterior purposes any varnish, marine or otherwise or typical polyurethanes all of which not only do a dismal job of this they enslave you to your woodwork from the day the can is opened. I have seen such products destroyed in less than a year leaving a bleached out peeling mess so if you take but one lesson from this report just know enough to stay away from any product of this nature. Anything that is cheap (less than $60) will be a total disaster. So lesson one is if you are planning on applying a cheap finish from the typical paint department or store then do not even consider wood in the first place. I have only seen two products stand up here and that is SUR’s Laro Tek natural oil made from a linseed oil base. After two coats of this you then apply their wax top coat. It is this wax that will wear away with the weather in six months to six years depending on the degree of exposure. However the issue is if you keep on top of this you just rewax it when the wood is loosing its water shield and water no longer beads on it. Even if you completely let it go and the oil starts to deteriorate you can just reapply the oil since the finish is in the wood not on top of it there is nothing to peel. The draw back to this product is for decks as it has little resistance to foot traffic since you are walking on a wax which does not make a harder surface than the wood itself. Hence maintenance and caution is utmost in keeping the wood looking good.

    The other product I have seen stand up on windows and doors is a polyurethane base made by Sikkens however this product is like $90 gallon so that would explain its higher resistance to our weather than anything cheaper. In fact this is exactly what is on the wood windows you see I recommended in my chapter on materials. This you can get a number of years out of prior to it needing a refresher coat. Now here is the problem with polyurethanes in general they add a more plastic look to the wood in the process of trying to shield the base wood from the weather hence there is a trade off in appearance for any polyurethane in the first place. Now cheaper versions of this line of products just simply will not get you through the year so I implore you DO NOT go down that path as it will be an abusive relationship as you become a slave to the wood you put this stuff on.

    The second problem with polyurethane is that it turns white when scratched or starts to wear through. The third and bigger problem is that you can not do a decent patch since it will not stick to itself unless well sanded so you just cannot make a patch of a damage or wear area or it will stick out like a sore thumb. These natural characteristics make this line of products less than ideal for any kind of wood floor or deck but it is often the only solution offered or known by the home owner.

    In the process of digging and constantly trying to find better methods and materials I was researching for better solutions of how to deal with a sun deck we are about to build so I was out researching other options. In the process of doing research on the Sikkens products that the window producer uses, since that is the only thing I have seen stand up, I stumbled upon an uncommon product called Tung Oil. I had used this product many years ago in my cabinet shop to coat wood bread boards with since it is natural and non-toxic where as all the other finishes just are not. However I did not know that the same base product was produced to do large projects like flooring and entire houses. I stumbled upon this brand called Waterlox. It is however a bit experimental as the Chinese have only been using this product since the 1400′s to water proof their wooden ships. Well you can’t get much uglier service than a ship can you? This particular company however is just a new kid on this block as they have only been producing their formula for 103 years in Cincinnati. The base oil comes from the nuts of the Tung tree hence it is indeed quite a natural product along with various resins to top off the formula. Now I have long had a love for oil products as in general all of them produce a massively more deep, rich and natural look to any finished hardwood by enhancing the appearance while protecting it. However all the other oils that I am familiar with provide little protection especially for a floor. Contrary to that scenario Tung actually protects yet is flexible so it moves with the wood as it goes through its natural gyrations that come about as the weather changes. That is the key, it moves along with hence stays stuck to the wood as it needs to be. That is exactly why a marine varnish is such a disaster as it is hard as a rock hence it is only going to peel when the wood under it moves with the seasons.
    When a typical polyurethane or varnish finish goes bad you have but one choice sand it off and start all over again since new coats do not stick to old finishes. In the process of sanding the old finish you also remove wood along with it so your floor will typically only survive two sandings during its life before you are faced with replacement. Here is the huge key to this story…. Contrary to that Tung oil sticks to itself and in fact it is required that it not be sanded at all. Music to my ears. You simply clean and reapply a new finish once the old is getting tired which can only be predicted based on the amount of traffic so that could be five years or fifteen years all depends on the traffic. At any rate it is a simple and easy process. Also since it does not require sanding you can patch up an accident without it showing or dictating a full sand job. To say the least this is priceless in both creating the new floor and maintaining it through many generations of traffic from your family and heirs.

    So the bad news in this scenario is that this product is expensive without a doubt but considering what it is doing in protecting your investment in a beautiful floor it becomes I guess a bit of a mute point. If you want a true natural look not a plastic finish, you want an easy clean finish and you never ever want to have to rip your house apart and throw out part of your floor with the next sanding then I would suggest this is the price of the insurance for a floor that will last into perpetuity. Our cost landed in Costa Rica along with 37% in taxes is $115 a gallon or $7.65 per square meter. This is easily double the price of any urethane but the appearance alone of the two products immediately dictates to most people just what they should use. Most who invest in real hardwood floors do so because they DO NOT WANT A PLASTIC LOOK. If they wanted that look they could by plastic crap phony laminate floors instead. You already know my view on that stuff. Also worthy of mention is that is a very very old method of protecting wood yet for all our new technology we have not been able to beat the natural characteristics of this finish. Yes expensive when done the old way but the results. I have used tons of modern finishes like the polyurethanes and laquers but none of them will do what this product does

    Now with this being said the only reason I was able to get this price down to this level for a product manufactured in Ohio was by bringing it into Costa Rica by ship in a cube container along with other specialty products that we import. Any kind of land freight would add another $20 to $50 a gallon plus any air freight options aside from being atrociously expensive are not even an option as such products are not permitted on planes in the first place.

    This is what I referred to as pushing the envelope. It is all about going out of our way to do the research and finding unique and superior products that are proven to improve both the quality of your home as well as the ease of maintenance of such. Just as critical is to also know how to expedite such at as low of a cost as is possible. Hopefully some day I will be able to demonstrate to you the big difference between such finishes in person.

  3. I am extremely inspired with your writing skills and also with the layout in your blog. Is that this a paid topic or did you modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s uncommon to see a great blog like this one these days..

  4. AFTER THE 7.9 EARTHQUAKE I NEEDED EXTERIOR STRUCTURAL SUPPORT FOR ROOF OF THE HOME, INTERIOR STRUCTURAL REMODELING AND EXTERIOR PERIMETER SECURITY FENCING DONE. I IMMEDIATELY CONTACTED MY CONTRACTOR WHO BUILT TWO HOMES AND A STABLE FOR ME IN THE PAST AND I WAS EXTREMELY HAPPY. I ASSUMED HE AND HIS CREW WOULD BE DOING THE WORK. HE SUBCONTRACTED OUT THE WORK WITH HIM OVERSEEING THE JOB. LONG STORY SHORT; IT WAS A DISASTER. MOST IMPORTANTLY. THE RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS PAST WORK, THE COST AND THE OBVIOUS POOR WORKMANSHIP DUE TO LACK OF SUPERVISION.

    I HONESTLY DIDN´T KNOW WHICH WAY TO TURN OR WHO TO TRUST. BY FREAK ACCIDENT I WAS STRAYING WITH AN ASSOCIATE WHEN I WAS INTRODUCED TO TREVOR AND MICHAEL. I TRUST MY ASSOCIATE THEREFORE WHAT MORE DO I HAVE TO LOSE BY HIRING THEM TO REPAIR!!!! AND FINISH THE JOB. BY THIS POINT THE JOB NEEDED TO BE COMPLETED BY A CERTAIN DATE WHICH WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. TREVOR HAD HIS CREW AT MY HOME IMMEDIATELY. HE HAD A DIFFICULT JOB TO COME INTO A STRUCTURAL REMODELING, ASSESS WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL PROBLEM, TRY TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE PREVIOUS CONTRACTOR WAS DOING AND HOW HE COULD POSSIBLY RESCUE THE PROJECT.

    I COULD CONTINUE TO WRITE A SHORT BOOK TO GIVE YOU THE WHOLE STORY BUT I WONT. HE AND HIS CREW STAYED THROUGHOUT THE REMODEL TO HAVE IT FINISHED ON TIME. I AM A DIFFICULT PERSON TO PLEASE. VERY DIFFICULT. AFTER MY EXPERIENCE WITH TREVOR YOU CAN REST ASSURED THAT OUR NEXT CONSTRUCTION TOGETHER I WILL NOT QUESTION ANYTHING. HE IS THE PROFESSIONAL AND KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING. HE WILL NEVER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CREATING MORE WORK THEN NECESSARY TO GAIN MORE MONEY. IF ANYTHING HE WILL SAVE YOU MONEY. HE CARES ABOUT THE CLIENT AS MUCH AS HE CARES ABOUT THE QUALITY OF WORKMANSHIP HE GIVE YOU.

    HE HAD A TOUGH STRUCTURAL AND INTERIOR REMODEL TO FIX THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS. I RESPECT HE AND HIS CREW AND THANK THEM FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART FOR SAVING ME AND RESTORING TRUST IN ME. THAT IS WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD. I ALSO WANT TO APOLOGIZE FOR ¨BEING A DIFFICULT BITCH¨ AT TIMES.

    AGAIN THANK YOU SO MUCH, LISA

    • Lisa,
      Thank you for your comments and referral. Yes you are a demanding client but demanding is not a problem unreasonable is though and that you never were. Unreasonable clients or those that won’t listen to experience telling them what needs to be done when they don’t like the answer and those are the ones that I do and have fired. We will gladly work with you on your next project what ever it may be.

      Trevor

  5. THIS IS LISA AGAIN TO ADD TO THE LAST POSTING.

    THE REMODELING WAS DONE ON MY FARM IN SAN CARLOS. THE HOUSE WAS ORIGINALLY A MONASTERY FOR MONKS. THE ORIGINAL HOME IS ONLY A LAYER OF CONCRETE ON TOP OF GROUND. ANY WORK DONE ON THE HOME MAKES IT THAT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT.

    SECONDLY, I WOULD LIKE TO MENTION THERE WAS SOMETHING THAT I WAS NOT HAPPY WITH. THEY ARE A MESS IN THE KITHEN!

    • Well I can live with that if our worst sin is the kitchen duty of the guys.
      Kind of like your worst sin is writing in all caps that make reading much harder.
      Trevor

  6. We just had Trevor and his crew complete extensive repairs on our Guanacaste home that unfortunately had major construction defects. One of the major items was our lack of insulation combined with poor quality tin roof that heated the home daily to unbelievable temperature. Trevor and the crew laid down insulation and reflectex heat barrier that has cooled down the house to very liveable standards. Any thought of not properly insulating a Costa Rica house is a huge mistake.

    Another major repair item was completely replumbing the house. We had inferior PVC tubing for our pipes and within several years they were leaking and causing major problems including mold. Trevor is an authorized agent for PEX tubing, which is a wonderful product for new plumbing installations now in use in all 50 states here in the U.S. PEX is far less expensive than copper pipling and for more reliable than any PVC piping. Our entire house now has great plumbing!

    Trevor is a great communicator and sent us daily pictures and emails to the progress of things. The list of repairs made and nice custom work they on this project did goes on an on. I recommend Trevor Chilton highly. Contact me at any time for a reference or to discuss more. Bill Drewes, in California, william.drewes@gmail.com

  7. You may not have heard this but apparently water does indeed run uphill in Costa Rica. Well if you took lessons from the roofing and eaves trough practices that are so common you would come to this same conclusion, if you walk around on various roofs as a common practice as I do. Damage to roofs, ceilings and soffits is a very prevalent problem yet I can only shake my head when I see what has been done. It was as if the workers and fabricators did indeed think water runs uphill. However the evidence is to say the least no surprise and quite contrary to some pretty bizarre habits all leading to results that are not pretty. I inspect and repair homes where there is regularly hundreds to thousands of dollars of damage all because of bad design and practices that are mighty strange. Plus all of these are quite easy to avoid when living in a tropic climate with a minimum of 2 meters of annual rainfall. Not conditions under which one would think that so many bad habits would continue to exist. Here are three simple rules to follow to avoid getting caught in a money pit of a roofing system.

    1. Do not build a low slope roof (under 3/12 or 25% slope) that is the first welcome mat to constant leaking problems. Get that rain off the roof as fast as possible where as low slope lets rain lay around to find less desirable exits.
    2. Avoid the very common zinc teja (metal sheets bent to supposedly look like a tile) as this stuff just does not fit together well and is rarely installed correctly which makes a bad product and even worse one plus straight flashings just do not fit with curved tin. The pieces that would be required to make this actually work just aren’t made hence it is just much easier to not make this mistake in the first place.
    3. EAVESTROUGHS are all horribly designed or should I say not designed at all.! Never accept a standard profile as they are all done wrong. Yes that may seem incredible but thus far I have as yet to find a single one that is designed correctly. These are the single greatest offenders to water running uphill concept. Since the outside edge of the trough is built to go higher than the inside edge when a trough gets full of water as is sooo easy to accomplish when we get our downpours the water has no way to go but into your eaves and on into your house. Alternatively if the outside edge is lower than the inside where it attaches to the facia of your house then an overflow goes off into your garden rather than into cause damage in your home. Yes very easy to fix at design and installation stage but once on your home the only way to fix this is throw it in the garbage and start over again especially if you have bad trough and a bad roof cladding like zinc teja in a deadly combination.
    4. Never use galvanized materials since such only saves you 10% as compared to buying the much superior baked enamel finish metal that lasts way longer everywhere but especially so when near the ocean. If you go to paint galvanized, as most people do after the fact, this paint is quite expensive so much so that your cost of metal and paint will end up being 20% more hence no saving at all! All that only to end up with a seriously inferior product requiring much more future maintenance.

    Since this is such a pervasive problem with most renovations that is why there is a chapter in our e-book dedicated to Tropical Roofs.

  8. Pingback: Elimination of Steel in a Costa Rica Home Structure

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    • Yes we can do that product alone however what often happens when new clients come to us they often stumble upon one of our unique products that catches their attention and priorities at the moment. However normally we find that as we enter a conversation about the real and total needs of any client there is always much greater requirements in any one project hence we can and do supply other products or take over the job entirely. EG. OUr first complete home contract started from Jason looking for a special Broan ventilator that I import since none exist anywhere I have found. The interesting curve in the road came when we got into his project we ended up advising them and educating them on how a total home package and design and permitting process would serve all their purposes much more effectively. Funny thing is he never actually bought the ventilator as we changed the design of the entire home and especially the roof to instead build a breathing home of true tropical design that creates its own constant flow of air. Better yet his new home will not require any electricity to ventilate it God/nature/laws of physics will do it way better without using any electricity or having any parts that will wear out like a fan would. I joke with them that they bought the worlds most expensive ventilator house included as a bonus.:-)

  10. Trevor, reading your blog I wish there were more contractors like you. Do you work Guyana. We are having the same problems with contractors over there. They are very closed minded, they don’t listen to their clients especially if female. They always try to tell you you do not need what you are requesting. The toilet application you mentioned, happened in my parents home. Oh what a mess.

    • I am assuming you are talking about the country of Guyana?
      If so then the answer is most certainly not as I am spread more than
      thin just in covering Costa Rica.
      Now we can supply some materials that are economically viable that are
      no doubt not available but you have to find someone who wants to learn a
      better way of doing things then they can come here for a crash course as
      such.
      Most interesting the women are treated there very similar to here.
      Machista is much more prevalent in Central and South America as compared
      to up north.

      Trevor

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