House Building Costa Rica Part 1. After buying the farm we needed to build our house.
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.
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.
This is our lovely new road before the gravel, the second image is the added bonus of garden steps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.