Our cottage in the woods – Building a two-story house on our farm in Limon Costa Rica. We have pictures that show how we hid electrical wires in a single panel wall, how we added decorative, natural supports and our hand-built rock bar.
This is a picture taken a few days ago of our soon to be house. The top-level is crafted from local woods and the main floor is made of concrete and portcullis style iron windows. Our dog, Kimba, photo-bombing you in the bottom right hand corner of the picture was beyond our control.
It is important when building a wood home in the tropics to keep things visible, such as roof support beams and floor supports. These are all things that you want to be able to inspect with some regularity. As I have said before, any nooks or crannies will be filled with an assortment of creatures if you don’t have visual access to those spaces and/or are unable to clean them. Therefore, when building with wood it is hard to have an interior and exterior wall made of different materials. So we chose single panel wood walls.
One part of our house we did not want to see was the electrical cabling. The ceiling wires were easy to conceal. We ran the wires underneath the interior wood ceiling and drilled holes for the fans and light fixtures to connect into. We then had the switch wires hanging down our single panel wood walls.
As you can see in the picture above there is framing on one side of the wall and the cables are stapled together in the corner. We will insert planks of wood, approximately 5 pieces, against the framing horizontally and add a second wood frame to the opposite side to make the wall. The pieces of wood are cut to length accordingly to butt up against the wiring but also to have the ends concealed by the frames, as shown below. Barry then, using the same wood as the walls, builds a wooden box to hold the electrical box and switch plate.
In the first photo in this article, you are able to see stacks of wood. This wood, a tropical cedar, will be used to finish our walls on the second level. The space in which the wood now occupies will become our outside lounging area (think brewsky and hookah). Since it is all open space in that corner, the only support the roof has is from four posts made from an incredible hardwood called guachipelin. In order to extend the supportive capabilities of each post we added a natural, kind-of 45 degree angle. These same angles help to support the canopies of these trees in nature why not our roof?
We used a type of concrete block called split-faced. It is called split-faced because that is precisely what it is. A double concrete block is split down the middle with a big hammer to form two separate blocks that would fit perfectly if placed back together. This gives a rough but decorative exterior texture to each block. Red, yellow and green were the colors available to us. I chose red for two reasons. One, I liked it and two, it matches the color of the soil surrounding the house. Using regular concrete block requires a “finish” to the exterior and interior walls that can get dirty or peel. By using the split-faced block I can simply rinse off the exterior with a garden hose after a hard rain splashes dirt.
Just mix a red tint with the concrete mortar mix to get the joints to match.
We chose a portcullis style for our windows and doors as hopefully a theft proof barrier and as an open air design. The windows and doors are made of angle iron and flat-iron. We bought the material and hired someone to build each window and door based on the size of the openings. We saved money by cleaning and painting the iron ourselves. We hung the windows off of every available rafter to make painting easier. We brushed on a layer of marine varnish to the outsides to add protection from sideways rain.
Living in this climate means never having to close your windows. I will add curtains to add a homey feel to the interior. I had seen this style somewhere in the past and have always liked it. The bonus is that now I can now say “Fezzig, the portcullis!” while reminding Barry to shut the door. We will get screens made to fit in the windows and glass panels will be put in the bottoms of the doors to keep critters out.
Building a Rock Bar
We used local river rocks to build the bar in our kitchen. After the concrete floor was finished we used wood to build up a form that reached out to our wood support post. We curved it just at the end so that it wrapped around. I had been saving my favorite rocks for this project ever since house construction began and it was finally time to use them! We placed the big ones in first, strategically, and then fit the little ones in where we could. We then, level by level, poured mixed concrete in between the rocks so that the structure would be solid.
Our camera broke sometime during the building of this so I don’t have step by step instructions. Sorry. I have asked Barry to make me a herb garden using the same concept so maybe later on this year.
After four levels we reached our correct height and left the bar to dry for about two weeks. We removed the wood form and cleaned the rock face with Muriatic acid. When all the sanding is done in the house I will clean the bar again and varnish the front to make it shine.
The party atmosphere of the bar is enhanced by the straight outta the 80’s “Outsider” boom box! The boom box was lent to us by the ladies so we could have a little music relief while we worked. The bright yellow color of the “Outsider” not only jazzed up the job site but romanced our builder who couldn’t stop talking about how great it was.
Also worth mentioning is this BBQ grill made out of a truck rim. We had the extra rim (from our septic project) and extra parts left over from the windows and doors. We asked the guy with the arc welder to make it for us and he said no problem. It was his idea to make the re-bar into spiral handles so they wouldn’t be hot to the touch.
I will address the costs in my next post including but not limited to the electric (electrician + cabling), plumbing, wood, etc. I have an ongoing spreadsheet that has every single item on it. Are we in within our $30,000 budget? Find out next time.
To see our posts leading up to this one click the building link on the right.