This post includes information on the product we chose to varnish with in our humid environment, how we built a trap door for fun and function and the decision to use galvanized steel to build a walkway and lean to for the car.
Varnishing in the Tropics
With two existing wood structures on the farm we know the pain of varnishing an entire building by hand. We also have had experience with the varnishes and polyurethanes available in Costa Rica. This is why I found great joy when I noticed that the hardware stores had started selling Marine Varnish. Marine Varnish was made to be more elastic than traditional varnishes and the original intended use was for boats. Wooden boat parts are flexible and need to withstand harsh conditions including UV rays. Our wooden house will need to withstand significant daily temperature changes and a heavy rain can be followed by intense sun sometimes within the same hour.
Varnish, paint and other coatings need to be applied on dry, non-humid days. Wait about an hour after sun has come up to make sure that the dew has been dried up from the night before and stop varnishing a few hours before sundown for best results. You want your varnish to have dried to at least “touchable” before nighttime.
Our friend Caryn was a painter for almost 20 years in Florida before moving to Costa Rica. The conditions there were much like our conditions here and Caryn was more than willing to give us advice to help us get started. She recommended buying a paint sprayer and a compressor. I chose a gravity fed sprayer over a siphon type based on internet research. The siphon type generally uses a higher pressure which leaves more over spray and wastes more paint. Prices for traditional varnish here are about $55 a gallon and the Lanco marine varnish was approximately $32 a gallon so you don’t want to waste a drop. (2013 pricing).
Caryn showing us how it’s done on our back wall. We started with the back wall which will be mostly unseen so we could get the hang of spraying. Keeping everything completely dust free was the biggest part of the job.
Below is an interior shot of a bedroom wall half varnished. The marine varnish leaves a shiny coating when finished. We will not have glass in our windows, only screen so we applied the same finish for both the interior and exterior walls.
Making the Trap Door
We both picked out things that we wanted in our new house, I chose a slide and Barry a trap door. Somehow, only the trap door was integrated into the floor plan. The trap door is built out of the same steel as the windows and doors using the same pattern. It can be secured from downstairs by a lock. We tried using the worn out differential we recently replaced in our car as a counter-balance but it was a bit to heavy. We needed something just a little bit lighter than the door.
We are currently using a corteza tree trunk that was previously a planter outside. It already had a hole though it that was big enough for the rope to go through. We cut off the bark and sanded it to a shine.
Our use of galvanized steel is minimal but most newer houses in Costa Rica are built using this as the frame and then a concrete structure is built around it. Galvanized steel pricing has dropped by quite a bit in the short time that we have been here and I am not sure why. It isn’t manufactured in CR, maybe a trade agreement with the U.S. had something to do with it.
We were going to wait until we were finished building our furniture to see what wood we had left over. The “garage” was going to be the last project. We saved three manu posts and purchased six extra roof panels but were uncertain of what we would use for the roofing timbers or reglas as they are known here. When we started to varnish we realized that we couldn’t work anywhere inside the house because it created to much dust. So we made the decision to spend the extra money and have a lean to and walkway built out of steel. This way we could both work at the same time until the varnishing is completed. It went up in a day which is one of the benefits to hiring out your projects.
We have a garage for the cabin we are currently living in elsewhere on the property. It is wonderful except for the times when it is raining or rainy season. There is no walkway and frequently I leave the house perfectly clean and by the time I get to the garage I am dirty. It is to small an area to justify opening and closing an umbrella. My shoes get mud on them, my notebook gets wet and my purse takes a beating.
So now I have a short walkway. We will make the concrete path later.
* Soldering labor is generally 70-85% of your supply cost. So if you get a good deal on materials your over-all project cost less.
* It pays to shop around. We found a $10 difference on each piece of steel. Our favorite shop couldn’t explain the difference so we went elsewhere.
* When you hire a soldering guy make sure you look around for all possible projects. In our case, we had our water tower reinforced with our extra material at no additional cost.
* Always paint your soldered joints. The sticks used to connect the steel will rust if you don’t use anti-corrosive paint on them. We used black anti-corrosive paint and then covered them with chrome spray paint so it matched.