Building Costa Rica – Building with Wood

Why are we Building with Wood? Part 2 Building Costa Rica.

We chose to build our home with both wood and concrete. Wood will be our supports, buried directly in the ground, and serve as the material for the entire second level. Wood provides a cooler environment inside the house and reduces the likelihood of mold growth. Concrete is more porous and seems to retain moisture for longer periods of time, this moisture can be very rough on interior and exterior wall finishes, causing bubbling and flaking. Wood is a renewable resource and we are lucky enough to have enough space to re-plant all of the trees that we are using (plus some). We only had to take down three trees the rest was already downed timber. In addition, the wood is all from our local area which means that there was no shipping cost involved (oil & its pollutants). The only cost are the carrots that we gave the horse for bringing it down the mountain.

Wood Stair Project Gavilan

Tropical Hardwoods as Supports and Floor Joists

This is a list of the woods we are using to build with:

Pilon (Hyeronima alchorneoides) – We are using pilon (Pee-long) as our floor boards due to its insect resistance, long life and beautiful color. We retrieved a lot of the pilon from within our very own forest. Before we bought the farm someone had come in and illegally cut down a large pilon tree. They carried out what wood they could but left large pieces of timber just lying on the ground. Barry almost broke his back but he carried out every usable piece that he could find. It had been lying on the forest floor for 10 years and is still usable. It is an incredible hardwood.

Manu Negro (Minquartia guianensis) – The most resistant wood to environmental conditions and therefore an endangered species. In fact, had the wood not been already cut and laying in someone’s front yard we would not have used it and substituted concrete posts for support. We often see Manu timber for sale in the front yard of homes in the mountains. One theory is that the trees fell with heavy rains and the other is that many people cut down their Manu trees right before MINAE, the Ministry that hands out permissions to cut down trees, added Manu to the restricted list. Regardless, the tree were are using had already lost its life. *See our support posts in the pic below.

Gavilan (Pentaclethra macroloba) – This durable wood has been used by South American Indians to cure the bites of poisonous snakes. The bark and dust from cutting this wood are toxic and can cause extreme allergies in humans. The last time we sanded gavilan posts we all got sick later that evening with nausea and vomiting. That same toxicity makes it a good wood to build with because termites won’t eat it. So we are using it as floor joists. We had a large Gavilan tree fall earlier this year right after a big storm. We were very lucky because most Gavilans grow many skinny trunks to form the tree but this particular beast was very thick and we got our floor joists and a tabletop and six chairs out of it.

Guachipelin (Diphysa americana) – If you are familiar with Live Oaks in the U.S. you will get the concept of Guachipelin. It is a beautiful tall tree with a yellow heartwood and yellow flowers in March. The branches grow as thick as the trunk and you can cut the branches off to use as posts without killing the tree itself. We are using Guachipelin for the inside posts because of its grain and color.

Drying Wood in the Tropics – Building Costa Rica

When driving through Costa Rica you will almost always see wood in this configuration along the side of the road. It is how wood is dried here. A long wooden or bamboo pole is nailed up in between two trees and the wood planks are placed at an angle, alternating sides. This configuration allows for rainwater to drip to the bottom and also allows for easy and complete spraying with a termicide. The old way to protect the wood from insects was a mixture of penta and diesel. We chose a termicide that is biologically friendly (so says the label).  We will have to re-spray every year. *The wood pictured is a portion of our pilon floor planks.

Wood for building Costa Rica

Planing Wood – Building Costa Rica

Planing Wood is done on site. Our builder brought his planer in the back of our Trooper and we paid based on the amount of inches that were planed. Our price was 50 colones ($.10) per inch. We supplied the electricity. Keep in mind that this work is being done by a private person in Limon Province, prices are a bit cheaper here than in other parts of the country. Barry also did some hand planing to get nice flat surfaces.

Wood Planer Costa Rica

The sawdust that we didn’t use for mulch was bagged and sold it to a local chicken farmer as bedding. He paid 200 colones per bag. Its not a lot of money but every little bit helps and it is now out of our way. Some of the cedar chips we kept to use with our Outside Grill/Smoker.

Sawdust Bags Building Costa Rica

These are our Manu and Guachipelin Posts. The Manu is cut square and each one is about 12 feet long. These will go directly in to the soil and support the floor. The Guachipelin posts are shorter because the will be placed into the concrete bottom level floor and on top of the second level to support the roof. Neither has been sanded yet. It is best to do that right before sealing and varnishing.

Manu posts

Our house will measure approximately 900-1000 square feet.


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