House Building Costa Rica | Road & Septic Cost

House Building Costa Rica Part 1. After buying the farm we needed to build our house.

See Part 2 or Part 3

The process of house building Costa Rica can be fun and time consuming! We have been waiting to build our own house for two years. When we first bought the farm we decided to build a small cabin (which will eventually become a rental) to allow us time to test the waters of both our new lifestyle and the building process in Costa Rica. Neither of us had ever built before. We had plenty of remodeling experience in our old house in the states but never built an entire structure from start to finish. Building the cabin first was the only way we could think of to get a true understanding of what it would take to build our dream house. Our farm had a lot of building grade wood on it so cost wasn’t a deterrent. We were so fresh and green then. What a good thing it was to wait and build the house after two years in country.

Permission

The cabin, for all government purposes, was a remodel. We were building deep within the farm and it is a smaller structure so we didn’t apply for a permit. The house project will be a two-story on top of a hill so we decided it best to start with an engineer and obtain the legal permissions. We took our house design (hand scribbled on a piece of graph paper) to a local engineer, told her we wanted wood on top and a concrete floor on bottom, paid one half of her fee and have been waiting for a few months now. She did an electro-mechanical design and the College of Architects and Engineers in San Jose will check the design for structure flaws and make sure it’s safe enough to withstand an earthquake. They should then deliver a blue-print to the Municipality so it can be assessed for tax purposes. We will then pay for the permission and have one year to build the house.

The Municipality needs:

1.) Proof that we are current on our property taxes and pay into the National health care system

2.) Identification and proof that we own the farm

3.) National Registry document of our farm layout or plano

4.) Insurance Policy for the work site

5.) Proof that we have sanitary water available

The cost varies but our Engineer fee was $600, the Municipality wants 1% of the total value given to the project by the College and two site visits that cost anywhere from $50-$100 USD. Our house will be small so we hope to get through this process paying less than $1500.

While we are waiting – Building the Road

We plan to build the house on top of the hill and need a road to get there. We had two options, we could make the road windy taking two turns to traverse the terrain for an easier climb or the more direct and cost efficient, option of following the natural lay of the land with one sharper curve and a much steeper grade.  We have a big, honking 4×4 so we said lets make it an adventure every time we leave the house and opted for the monster truck track you see below. It was time to call the tractor guy.

Three Projects, One Tractor

We were lucky to find a small tractor fitted with a bucket in our area. This tractor could carve out the road, dig out our septic system holes a level the area for the house. We paid $40 bucks to have it delivered and $30 an hour, which included gas. Isn’t it adorable. It looks like a cross between Wall-E and an amusement park ride with a golf cart top! The colors made it extra special.

Tractor that built our road

This is our lovely new road before the gravel, the second image is the added bonus of garden steps.

Dirt Road to House

The hill behind the cabin which led to the garden area was very steep. A light, misty rain would discourage us from gathering food before dinner because you could hardly make it back up the hill with your hands full. So on the last day when the tractor driver worked 15 minutes into a new hour, I asked him to use up the last 45 minutes to move some rocks around and carve steps into the hillside. It was definitely worth the $25.

Steps to garden House building Costa Rica

The Second Tractor

That little machine that scooped so delicately and accurately needed to be followed up by the Hulk Smash, every little boy wants to sit and watch it for hours, Paul Bunyon sized tractor below. The dump truck would go to the river, load up with material so the big tractor could spread it out along the road. The weight of the truck broke one of our concrete culverts that supported our bridge. We had to re-enforce that before we could start up the road. The big tractor guy had 1/116th the finesse of the first tractor guy. We ended up losing 2 of our favorite trees, our electric pole had to be reset and ceramic tile was broken on the walkway to our cabin. He was on his phone the entire time. We would never want to use this guy again for work but sometimes here in Costa Rica you don’t have a choice who you use because there is only one company. We paid $30 an hour for the tractor and $80 for every load of material. No transport or extra gas cost. In Costa Rica you must also pay for the lunch hour if a full day is worked.

Getting Gravel from Truck House Building Costa Rica

New Gravel Road Costa Rica

DIY Septic System

Our septic system is being built to support two bathrooms for 100 years, or so says our builder. He doesn’t know that we have Burrito Thursday twice a week : ). The 1100 liter plastic tank ($200) is basically the same tank that is used for water here but the holes are cut in different places. The tank is placed in a hole that is very near where both bathrooms will be. The tank must be level and filled half way with water to keep the pressure of the ground from pushing it in. Some people choose concrete tanks for cost reasons. Concrete tanks can break very easily during an earthquake. The plastic tank will have a little more “give”. When building here earthquakes must be taken into consideration, even though they are usually moderate. The long hole that you see after the tank hole is the leach.

Septic Tank Plastic House building Costa Rica

The leach hole is 10 meters long. We placed used tires in a row, very snugly together to create space for the waste water to break down. This 35 tire ($4.00) configuration helps to keep the ground from filling in around the leach tube. The orange leach tube has many holes in it allowing for waste water to disperse over its entire length. The tube is tied inside the top of the tires. It is then covered with a fiber glass material, to allow rain to pass, and secured in to place with a screw on both sides. We will then add 30 centimeters of dirt to cover it.  Tire Septic System

*In our cabin we used the same size plastic tank and the orange tube but we laid it on top of 6 meters of large rocks. We knew that the cabin would not be occupied consistently and that it only had to support two to four people. The rocks are not as efficient as the tires. We have lived in the cabin for a year and a half with no septic problems.

If you have any question feel free to ask. If you have any tips we would love to hear them. We are not professionals only people who love to do it ourselves. I will be posting the rest of our building process as it happens, so check back if you are interested.

33 comments on “House Building Costa Rica | Road & Septic Cost”

  1. Derrick Reply

    I’m wondering where you got the tire idea. After investigating some systems I wondered if it would be a good idea to cut tires in half and place perferated pipe on bottom of soil to allow natural leaching and if it may be a good idea to put geocloth over the tires to keep roots from getting into the paces between the tires?
    A thought for future installations.
    Great idea by the way!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Derrick – It’s a common septic practice here in Costa Rica or rather in the “country” areas of CR. The tires do NOT have any space in between them. The purpose of the tires locking together like they do is to provide a space that will allow the perforated tube to leak out into. It rains so much and so hard here (we just had 6 inches of rain in 24 hours) that the perforations get blocked by mud if not given the proper space. We did place a nursery cloth on top of the tires/system as additional protection against clogs.

  2. firetwirling Reply

    this is so great and helpful thank you so much. what year did you build this? we got quoted $7000 for 200m of road which seems outrageous compared to the costs you state here! how long is your road? we live near san isidro. thanks for all this info

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      That sound like a lot unless there is a bridge involved. We went to a Tajo to ask them the price. A tajo is a company, normally by a river, that uses backhoes and dump trucks to collect larger rocks and material then delivers it to your house. What type of road do you want to put in?

  3. Greg Mayfield Reply

    I was wondering how the septic system was working one year later? We are a septic company in Florida and was wondering how other systems around the globe worked compared to ours. Interesting post. Thanks!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Greg – Funny that you should ask that yesterday because yesterday was the first day that I flushed anything. We have been building the house little by little but are finally finishing up. Check back next year around the same time and maybe I will have more information for you.

  4. Chris Reply

    Dear Kimberly,
    Great site!!! thanks A LOT for sharing your personal experiences & all the great knowledge! May you be blessed with great liberality:)

    Highest Regards,

    Chris

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  7. austin Reply

    You are really brave to take on this task without any previous construction experience,but you surely will have a lot of fun and adventure as I can see already.I am also planning to do some of that adventure in CR myself. Thanks for your experience. The area you are in surely looks very green.
    Austin.

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  9. Cindy Reply

    I enjoy following your adventure, but it is hard to watch wild land being civilized in this day & age.. Tho’ I know you will be a most gentle tenant. I am still guilty for the trees cut down to build my house, have a picture if me on a stump looking sad.. Agonizing over others that are now shading out my veg garden..
    Best of luck w/ your project!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Thanks for your comment Cindy. I know it’s hard, it always reminds me of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. That damn tree just gave and gave. How I live with myself – All in all we have used 24 trees for our projects and we have planted about 200. We did plant native trees with some thought given to habitat renewal. The trees we used for the cabin were secondary forest trees and any of the hardwoods were already fallen lumber. There were little to know transport costs involved and we didn’t take it from another country. So better than maybe someone else who would have clear cut to make room for cattle? I don’t know. Always a dilemma.

  10. Casey Reply

    Nice summary of the process so far. I had to chuckle a little at you calling those tractors big. 🙂 Around here, nothing less than a D-6 cat for our roads.

    The requirement to be on the CAJA for a building permit is a new one. It is, of course, a requirement for residency, too. Sounds like all your fees are the same as what we paid over here in PZ. Next time get my wife to do the house design. The engineers here have zero imagination.

    Pura vida!

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  12. Vince Reply

    Thank you for sharing, someday I will retire in C R so all of this is so interesting to me. Question, would you have been able to get a tractor from a nearby town that might have been cheaper? Or was it a case where they are rare so u really didn’t have much choice? I really love your setting!

  13. Linda Luna Reply

    Im confused,you said there was only one company to use for the machinery?
    Is that just in your area?
    So exited for you to be living this adventure!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Yes, I meant in our area. We have a river close and there is only one company licensed to remove gravel from it. If I wanted to use a different company I would have to get gravel from the Chirripo river which would cost much more in transport because it is so far away. Thanks for the kind words.

  14. carolyn tait Reply

    so interesting! i look forward to see the progress on the house. yay for you two fabulous people!

  15. Marlene & Caryn Reply

    we love reading your adventure, and look forward to each new story!!

  16. Jodie Cook Reply

    we are now in the process of picking a builder and educating ourselves on how business is conducted. I love reading your blogs and find your information invaluable. I’m curious about the gray water. From what we can tell, the gray water doesn’t enter into the septic, but instead just runs off somewhere in the property. This doesn’t seem very “pura vida” to me. It can’t be good for the land or the planet. Can you enlighten us?

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Thanks Jodie. Our gray water in all of our buildings goes through a tube into rocky soil. We do steer it away from the creeks but we don’t worry about it. We use all bio-degradable products including laundry soap and body products. The only thing that may be bad for the soil is when we wash our car but that goes into the gravel driveway not in the water run off.

      What types of things did you have in mind that may be bad for the land?

  17. Joseph Reply

    Haha! Funny!

    Your property looks absolutely beautiful. Excellent work!

  18. Joseph Reply

    Thanks for the detailed and interesting post on home building. I am curious, did the tractor driver apologize and offer to replace the broken tile or damaged trees?

    Also, will the septic tank ever need to be pumped out? Or will all the contents leach out?

    Great info and keep us posted on your progress!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      The tractor driver absolutely did not apologize or offer any discount, restitution or the like. He was rude and didn’t care. Keep in mind though our trees were important to us because of the bird life on one and the medicinal properties of the other.

      The tank could have to be pumped out someday if we started having burrito thursdays more often : ). We use biodegradable toilet paper so we hope that it wan’t need to be pumped for a long time. I’m not certain how to predict the length of time it takes to break down the natural substances. If you look at the pic of the tank it has a lid that twists off so all we would have to do is remove the dirt, twist and remove the kaka.

  19. Pat Reply

    Good Luck with your construction project. We went through the process ourselves recently.

    Best,
    Pat

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