Stair Building, Taming the Rain and Our Dirty Little Secret

Making the bridge from downstairs to upstairs, installing the gutter system and the back side of our house.

Step by Step

Building stairs can be overwhelming. You can’t exactly go out and find, much less pay for, the huge pieces of wood that are needed for the stringers (the large side supports). You must measure everything 800 times and cut once. For this reason, Barry had been putting off the project for some time. We watched Youtube video’s (most were crap), called his Dad multiple times and set up small stations of concrete blocks that were pseudo steps to test for height, ease of use, etc.

Then one day while we were contemplating the project the craziest thing happened, a German angel appeared. A scruffy, bearded, 6 foot 5 inch German on a huge KTM motorcycle appeared at our house. I’m being a bit dramatic here but it did feel like he appeared at the perfect time and he instantly seemed like an old friend. He wasn’t supposed to be here on a work for food program but that is what ended up happening.

Barry and Tobbe worked non-stop for 3 days, measuring, cutting and sanding. We don’t own a router so Barry had to cut out the grooves for the steps with a circular saw and Tobbe cleared the wood slices with a chisel.

building wood stairs

They tacked in the steps temporarily to make sure that the steps fit into the grooves of the stringers. One of the stringers had a slight bow so they had to un-attach the steps and insert each step individually from top to bottom. In addition to the steps fitting tightly into the grooves, they used thick bolts on the board that would be against the wall and two screws from underneath, at an angle on the presentation side. They wanted to use bolts on both sides but I couldn’t live with the showpiece of our living area pock marked like a teenagers face.

Wood Stair Project

They put the stairs in place, made a few adjustments and …………..

wood stairs

TA-DA!  No more ladders! One nugget Tobbe left us with was saying “I like your house. In Germany everything must be perfect and straight”. No comment. 

stair building complete


This year is the first year that I have seen manufactured putty in our hardware stores. We have previously used wood dust with glue to fill in the cracks. Using wood glue makes your sanding disks gummy and you must change them out more frequently but you always get an exact match for the wood you are using. Packaged putty is hit or miss and $5.00 for a small jar. We found that

Cedro = Cedar, Pilon = Mahogany, Laurel (light) = Oak, Laurel (Dark) = Walnut, Manu = Walnut & Gavilan = Mahogany

Make sure that you test this for yourself.


To ensure the integrity of the foundation and to keep heavy rains off of the house we installed a gutter system. We chose the Colonial style, PVC gutters. We had the choice between PVC, two styles, and galvanized steel. The PVC’s are kind of bulky, ugly and white but we could install them ourselves. The galvanized are handmade to meet the specs of the house but they require expensive soldering and painting by a welder. The total cost for our gutter project was $600 in material.

Our Dirty Little Secret aka The Backside of our House

Comments and e-mails from people following our progress led me to post this unsightly truth. Many people leave kind comments such as “Looks like hard work, keep it up” or “We are rooting for you”. Even people that are just twitter connects cheer us on. Then there are the people who feel the need to leave a 3 paragraph comment describing how they have done this, that and the other for 40 years in such and such a state and they would never have done xxx the way we are doing it. They never offer any help and only criticisms. I often tell them that they are free to come and help anytime they want.

One comment that did strike a chord with me though was “If that is what your electric looks like I can’t wait to see your plumbing”.

So here is a picture of the back outside wall of our house, our service wall. We have a lot of visible pipes that run from the water tower, from the bathrooms and from the gutters. The entire second level is made up of single paneled wood walls so we didn’t have a lot of places to hide pipes. Plus, we had never done acrylic stucco before and neither had our builder so we told him to start with the back wall first. It was a good thing too because he didn’t mix it properly, he added water to it and then applied it with what appears to be his hands. We ended up hiring someone else to do the interior walls but what’s done is done outside.

I don’t like that there is an ugly side to our house but I’m not concerned with what Better Homes and Gardens would think anyway.

water pipes wood house

Thank you to everyone that communicates with us during this project.


18 comments on “Stair Building, Taming the Rain and Our Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Rob Reply

    We’ve been doing a huge reno on our house in Canada for five years now. Having lived in CR I can imagine the extra challenges you face. Keep plugging away. I wanted to find out what your dirty little secret was and was underwhelmed – that isn’t bad at all. Like others said, you can box it in someday.

    On the other hand, the stairs? Nicely done!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Hi Rob. Sorry to let you down. We have other DLS’s! Here’s one…sometimes we roll up our Golden Retrievers ears and call her “Colonial Kimba” then she decrees what we shall have for dinner! Another is when I cleaned the outside brick of the house I couldn’t get all of the dirt off (even after scrubbing & pressure washing) so I sealed the blocks with some of the dirt still on it. I then tried to convince myself that our dirt had stained the block just to make myself feel better!

      Ok, I think that is it. Thank you for the kind words & good luck with your reno, 5 years is a long time on one project. Feel free to send pic’s and tips!

  2. Jhonn Balance Reply

    Stairs look awesome! A couple questions: did the loft count in your total square footage permit-wise? How about any covered porch type area? I heard recently from my municipalidad that I can build 30m2 or less without the construction permit but they don’t seem to know if a second floor counts, or if an outdoor porch counts into that 30 sq. meters.

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      If you heard that from your municipality that is good news. We were told we were not allowed to build anything without paying. We were told that everything counts for space, anything covered. Which municipality are you in?

      • Jhonn Balance Reply

        I’m in the Montes de Oro area. It’ll cost 250 colones for the permission to build less than 30 m2, and I’ll put an external wraparound porch on afterwards. And a separate bath-house to reduce square footage devoted to that.

        • Kimberly Beck Reply

          Great news. It has been our experience that once you have the permit they don’t care what you build. Our first cabin has 42m2 including the porch but the inside has almost 30m2 and we have a full bath, kitchen & sleeping area in it. Let us know how your project goes.

  3. Cindy Reply

    The appearence of your German helper at just the right moment tells me the universe is on your side! I enjoyed your responses to comments.. This twitter connect says bravo and is in awe of your talent and perserverence!

  4. Sue Borah Reply

    Are you open for business yet? I have two friends here in Myrtle Beach who are planning a month in Costa Rica in January. They have not decided where to go so I would like to pass your name on if you are taking paying guests yet. Love you

  5. Marlene Paul & Caryn Schmitt Reply

    we stand in awe of you two every step of the way. YOUR ugly wall is not ugly, it is the intestines of your body!! Every living thing need a way to excrete waste, and your home is no different. I don’t know about growing vines on the pipes, to me it will bring ants and critters up the wall to the second level. Maybe someday if the wall becomes your bane of contention, just paint the pipes to match the walls?

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Painting the pipes is a great idea. If I used stucco it would hopefully last more than a year. Thank you ladies for all of your help and free-ness in loaning us stuff!

  6. Art Sulenski Reply

    One thing about your plumbing is that after you have completed your home you can fall back and redo the plumbing if you weren’t happy with its looks. Also you can box it in a race way which hides it very nicely. You can do the same thing with exposed wiring. A piece of wood run thru a table router can be channeled to cover now exposed wiring, even use the same wood you have for the walls, neat and easy. You were very fortunate to have such a good fellow help you with your stairs, they look awesome. We settled on a 7″ rise as my wife has had both knees and hips replaced. Doing as you did getting the rise you wanted not just doing what is common is the way to do it, it is your home, it is there for your comfort and use. I do not like the texture of stucco, as we repaint our home the sand texture is being removed via a belt sander with a rough belt. Not good for the sander but it looks and feels so much better to us. I bought an airless paint sprayer just to repaint the house. It will get used a lot, the total roof (wish we had bought the painted panels as you did), the total exterior and the interior. The airless sprayer is the closest to a brush but way much faster and in the long run the paint goes future paying for the sprayer. Oh, it will handle very thin things such as stain and also some types of poly paints. Keep on keeping on!

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      Yeah, I keep trying to think of different ways to box it in. It sits right next to the outdoor shower so maybe some kind of towel rack. We too just purchased a spray gun to apply the varnish. We have 3 wood buildings now so it made sense. Will you post a picture of your project for us to see?

  7. Alex Reply

    gorgeous! I would be very tempted to start a flowering vine and hope it wouldn’t cause other problems. Or paint a vine. But then you would hide all your hard work.

  8. carolyn tait Reply

    wowee man, you guys are truly building a palace! and we just gotta love angel tobbe <3 . it's so very fun to watch this wondrous project evolve. the day will come when i'm down there witnessing in person….

    and hell yes i'm rooting for you two! just think, you could be fighting rush-hour traffic every day, going to the mall, griping about the neighbor's lawn mower on a saturday morning…. think of all you're (not) missing! =)

    • Kimberly Beck Reply

      You keep saying the day will come, the day will come…I won’t be able to use the darn steps by the time you get here. : )

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