If you are considering building or investing in a home in Costa Rica then you will find these articles both useful and informative. When I first began my primer steps, I searched the internet and papers and bulletins for information to give me direction and was not able to find any unbiased or truth or experienced information.
So as an experienced contractor of 30 years in Canada, USA, and Costa Rica I have decided to inform all who wish to read the procedures, protocols, laws, in building (purchasing) a home in Costa Rica. This “category of construction” blog will walk you through the entire construction entity from conception to occupancy. I will provide you with photos, and please make comments and ask questions and I will try to answer them.
Like any important decisions that you may make, I encourage, appeal, advise, counsel and advocate you do your due diligence before investing in Costa Rica.
Most people believe that Costa Rica is a third world developing country and you do NOT have the same protections, laws, and policing as you do in your home lands. Not True! Costa Rica is very advanced in terms of technology, development and social status, and is boarding on being a first world country. Even if the culture and society is different, you will find a lot of same as you would in North American. In fact, once you get a good understanding of how the process works, and how to deal with problems (which you will have) building a house can be a lot easier than building one in North American.
The house we are going to begin to build is located in the mountains on the pacific shores near Tambor. We will be protecting the natural environment, and be eco-friendly with the terrain, and the original inhabitants consisting of monkeys, parrots, and tropical fauna. This house was designed to conform to the natural slopes of the mountain avoiding changing the mountains terrains.
Our house will consist of masonry walls, floors, and steel rafters, and clay roof, ceramic floors, virgin pvc windows or metal frames. We will be installing a water recovery systems, as well as water purification septic, emergency power plant in case of power interruption. No contaminates will leave this home and filter into the surrounding earth. All green and inert products will be chosen for materials including bamboo, farmed woods for interior doors and cabinetry. There will be a fresh water pool, eliminating chlorine or other harmful gases. All these decisions are made at design stages, when consulting with an architect.
Engineering in northern North America are designed for bearing loads and frost protections. Where as to the southern central and eastern coast the engineering is designed for uplift protection from hurricane and tornado activity, the western coast homes are engineered for seismic or shear capability because they fall in an earthquake zone, and so does Costa Rica.
Choosing materials is additionally important when living in a rain forest. Most of North Americana homes are structurally design with wood framing and/or metal studs to help keep costs down. Even if wood construction is common in Costa Rica, it may not be practical due to the tropical condition and wood also is a food product for many of the inhabitants (creatures). Wood decays a lot faster in Costa Rica even if it has been treated with some sort of preservative. If you are thinking of metal studs, they have to be imported, so the cost is very high. Metal stud construction is used in commercial building, and like the U.S., more of a fire code requirement.
ARCHITECT and PERMITS
Your Costa Rica architect will discuss with you all your options and incorporate all you likes’ and concerns into a preliminary drawing, upon inspection by you and your contractor, you will make all changes at this time. These changes can be due to cost, size, aesthetics, function, or you just don’t like that anymore. Now your architect will draw a complete set of plans that will include structure’s, architectural, mechanical, electrical, elevations, typography, roof design, septic design and details, finish materials of façade and floors, and walls.
He or she will register these plans with the college of engineers and his name is registered as responsible designer.
They will calculate construction cost and file for all permits, and provide environmental, horticultural information’s and pay all fees, taxes. He may even provide you with discount prices at some material supply centers. His duties continue as to make weekly visits to the site and ledger in the inspection book that all work is being performed to spec. This helps when your contractor and architect have a good working relationship.
Unlike the U.S, where there is a building inspection on each phase of construction (foundation, framing, insulation, electrical etc) Costa Rica permit process does not provide secondary inspection of plans or code enforcement. In other words, once a permit is issued, you do not have to deal with the “aggravation” of city inspectors, the architect is responsible that the house conforms to his or her specifications.
Choosing your contractor is paramount of your homes integrity. This contractor should be competent in understand the mechanics of seismic, structural engineering and capable of profiling your lots location, soil conditions, and water deterrents. He should be able to recommend at preliminary stages footing design, and provide soil engineering test.
One of the first things you will learn with doing business in Costa Rica, everything is negotiable and cash talks. Your architects pricing is always negotiable as is your contractor. Negotiated payment schedules should always remain in your favor and avoid overpaying at any given stage of construction. Unless you have established a great credit rating with a bank and/or some big name Costa Rica business, there are no credit accounts at suppliers and all materials must be prepaid before picked up or delivered. On many occasions you are expect to deposit the monies directly into the supplier’s bank account, and then you will be scheduled for delivery.
Article by Michael Pechbrenner, who was a contractor for 30 years in U.S and Canada before moving to Costa Rica, where he is building homes. To contact Michael please email him at, info(at)americanacr.com or call toll free at 1-800-407-9438.