Building a House in Costa Rica – Eco Friendly

Building a house in Costa Rica is not as hard as one thinks.

Building a house in Costa Rica is not as hard as one thinks.

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.

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) or call toll free at 1-800-407-9438.

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  1. ElaineWhite says:

    Hi Allan,
    We are also considering a bale construction as there are a few acres of ferns on our land. We have heard that ferns do not rot or mildew, but are coarse to handle, while straw is rare to find and expensive. It is possible to self bale when the material is dry.
    Our understanding is that it is possible to build less than 70sqm without a permit and in theory without an architect or contractor – which is quite small and cosy but good for a test or a guest cottage at least. Once you have built this then perhaps an architect can approve the structure for similar projects.
    We would be interested to hear about your plans and ideas.

  2. Allan Albrecht says:

    Yes, the plan is to build in CR, however I want to build myself as I have an extensive construction history.

    1) I see you went with cinder blocks, which my research shows is quite common in CR. That was my plan as well, however now looking into straw bale and stucco. Any opinions how that will be received by the College of Engineers? Has anyone else done it?

    2) From your notes, I suspect I would have to get an architect &contractor, and work out some labour arrangment with the contractor, or could I go it alone (in respect to building laws)?

    Thanks in advance to any comments given.


  3. Deborah Doyle says:

    I am trying to find out the approximate cost per sq. ft.for building in the southern pacific region of Costa Rica

    • admin says:

      Costs vary depending on location and whether or not utilities are in – but you can figure just for the building between $80-$100 sqft for basic construction. Best to get a hold of Costa Rica Real Estate and either call them on their toll free number or email them from their website

  4. Are you serious??? You put your whole resume in a comment blog???

  5. Tracy says:

    For clarification – what is the new law that was approved? Does it go into effect in 6 months or does it mean something else?

    Another question, while I’m thinking about it. What would you say is a normal $ per sq/m range?

    Thanks, Tracy

  6. Tracy says:

    We are getting ready to build a house in CR (after almost 30 years) and our architect sent me an email that stated that last month a new law was approved for the stamps of the college of Engineers and “it will expedite in 6 months, this means it will be better to wait to submit the permit when you will be very close to sign with the Bank”. Could you explain this in layman terms for me? Thank you.

  7. Jose Robelo says:

    I’m looking for a opportunity to work in Costa Rica, I have 21 years in drywall an a very good experience in residential and comercial, attached you will find a cover letter and resume.
    Thanks in advanced
    Best regards
    Jose Robelo

    Dear Jeff:

    Please accept this letter as an expression of interest in a position within your Company.

    The enclosed resume highlights my qualifications in the Field of Construction. I am hopping to be an asset to your Company, grow with it and be rewarded based upon proven achievements.

    It is my hope that you will allow me the opportunity to meet with you for a personal interview, at which time you will be better able to determine if I meet your standards and objectives.

    Thanking you in advanced for that opportunity and prompt response, I remain,


    Jose E. Robelo

    Jose E. Robelo
    12531 S.W. 264 st.
    Miami, Fla. 33032
    Home Phone #. : (305) -258-8108 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (305) -258-8108      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
    Mobil #. : (786) 499-6262
    E -mail:

    Career Objective: Project Manager or Drywall Superintendent Position.

    Employment Record:
    -02/09-present: Figueroa and Daughters/ Estimator
    Linar Construction/305-824-5030/Subcontractor
    Jobs: Epic Building –Ponte –Gadea Main Offices
    Houses renovations Commercial jobs -LINAR Construction
    Parks Renovation-BMA Construction

    -01/04-02/09: Miami Drywall & Stucco, Inc.
    8360 west Flagler St. Suite #201
    Miami, Fla. 33144
    Ph#: (305) 223-4990
    Working as P.M / Superintendent
    Jobs: Moss-The Mint/ The Ivy
    CMC-The Epic/ The Grovenor House
    Whiting Turner: The Plaza

    -07/03-01/04: Acoustic Engineering Company of Florida
    9330 N.W. 100Th. St.
    Miami, Fla. 33178
    Ph#: (305) 887-1007
    Work as a Superintendent/Consulting
    Jobs: Turner- Accualina -Trump Bldgs.

    -03/02-07/03: Miami Drywall & Stucco, Inc.
    8360 west Flagler St.
    Miami, Fla. 33144
    Ph#: (305) 223-4990
    Work as Construction Superintendent
    Jobs: CMC-The Collection/ Porto vita Condominium

    -11/01-03/02: E&F Drywall Contractor, Inc.
    12201 s.w. 129 Ct.
    Miami, Fla. 33866
    Ph#: (305) 255-1674
    Work as Superintendent/Consulting
    Jobs: Turner-The Continuum @ S. Beach

    -06/99-11-01: Mc. Cann of S. Florida
    2700 Tiger Tail, c. Grove
    Working as a Drywall Superintendent
    Jobs: Mc. Cann of S. Fla.-The Ritz Carlton, C. Grove
    – Dilido Hotel, Miami Beach

    -03/98-06-99: Paramount Drywall, Inc.
    6175 N.W 167 th. St.
    Miami, Fla. 33015
    Ph#: (305) 828-4757
    Working as Regional Manager
    Jobs: Centex Homes-Turtle Point/Pulte Homes-The Brooks
    Mallard Landings.

    -03/97-01-98: All State Engineering
    Six Palermo 37 Ave.
    Coral Gables, Fl. 33134
    Ph#:(305) 444-3510
    Working as Independent Contractor (Insurance Repair Claims)
    Jobs: Different location around Miami, K. Biscayne & C. Gables

    -10/96-03/97: First Dimension Group, Inc.
    10974 S.W. 38th. Terra
    Working as Drywall Superintendent
    Jobs: West Brickell Apts.

    -04/95-10/96: Lopez Plaster & Stucco Corp.
    30343 S.W. 155th. Place
    Working as Drywall Superintendent
    Homestead, Fla. 33033
    Jobs: Fast food Rest. And other Commercial jobs as Pizza Hut,
    Pollo Tropical, Tacos Bell, Long Horn Rest.

    -10/93-04/95: Biscayne Village Homes, Ltd
    9530 S.W 4 Ct.
    Miami, Fl. 33176
    Working as Superintendent
    Jobs: AAA Corp.-Biscayne Run

    06/91-09/93: Working on my own as independent Subcontractor.

    01/90-05/91: E.P.I Realty
    5805 Blue Lagoon Dr.
    Miami, Fl. 33126
    Ph#: (305)262-6100
    Work as Mainte:nance and Repair Supervisor
    Jobs: Residencial jobs

    -11/88-01/90: Paramount Drywall, Inc.
    6175 N.W. 167Th. St., Unit G-30
    Miami, Fla. 33015
    Ph#: (305)828-4757
    Working as Drywall Superintendent
    Jobs: Centex Res. –Country Address-Avalon/Pulte Homes- Renaissance-Mariposa/Triangle Developers-Country Point/
    The Kennedy Group-Terramar


    1992: Miami Technical College
    Computer Business Application Course
    1991: Miami Technical College
    Computer repair Technician
    1987: Corporation Data Center
    Rpg-Basic-Lotus programming Courses
    1981: Central America University
    Chermical-Industrial Engineering 4 years attendant
    1978: Central America School
    Graduated Senior-High


    Bilingual, Conscientious worker, Strong Public Relation Skills, Self Motivated,
    Good Common Sense and Creativity, Engineer Skills, Read Blue Print, Layout, 40 hours OSHA plus other safety courses, Drywall Estimator.


    -Ponte Gadea Group:
    Arnold Castrillo /Operation Mgr. Ph#: (786)219-8635
    -Miami Drywall:
    Oswaldo Ramos Owner- Ph#: (305)215-7520
    Richard Phillips President- Ph#: (305)588-9081
    -Paramount Drywall:
    Arnold Robelo President Ph#: (786)295-2943
    Michael Robelo VP Ph#: (305)336-3470
    -Mc.Cann of South Florida:
    Mark Parello Project Mgr. Ph#: (954)7812611
    Bill Marcello Superintendent Ph#: (954)650-2269
    -William Island Group
    Suku Hdjad Owner Rep. Ph#: (954)294-7991
    Jorge Gonzalez Project Mgr. Ph#: (786)402-3402

    Edwing Perkings Mgr.
    -Whiting Turner:
    Santiago DiCaprio Superintendent Ph#: (954)868-3585
    Related Group:
    Wayne Johnson Owner Rep. Ph#: (786)402-6621

  8. Margarita says:

    Hi Mr.Howell I am very interesting in your green products, can you please contact me at royvalentin10 (at)
    Thank you.
    Costa Rica

  9. stephannie dona says:

    very good article . Thanks for the information i will considering these advices .
    Thank you !

  10. Michael says:

    Dear Robin,
    Is your comment referring to the builder or the company selling septic systems.

    I am the builder/author of this blog. If you are requiring leads or info for home construction/purchasing, please forward your inquiry to:

    1-800-407-9438 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              1-800-407-9438      end_of_the_skype_highlighting and a staff member will be happy to be of service to you.


  11. Robin says:

    Jeff, you didn’t list a phone number. I’d love to speak with you as I am considering moving from LA to Costa Rica within this next year. Please email your contact info. while you are in Malibu.

    Thank you,

  12. Good afternoon. I was just notified of your project and wanted to introduce myself. My name is Jerff Howell and I own Costa Vision Eco Developments S.A. and have been promoting green design, construction, and development, as well as offering a host of green products.

    I am a licensed dealer of Envirolet Composting toilets, and a representative for Siseal energy. We offer a four system approach and are LEED Accredited company. We have worked with USGBC and the newly formed CRGBC.

    I have given several presentation, including our last at the Guanacaste Developers Conference were we spoke about sustainable development, LEEDS, and how to approach building in Costa Rica.

    It feels really good after 8 years of educating, advocating and promoting companies like yours.

    If you would like to get together or want to know more about Costa Vision, just contact me at jeff(at) or call me. I am in Malibu, Ca. until end of April doing a solar job, but should return to Tamarindo in May.

    Go green, change the world!!!!

    Jeffrey T. Howell
    Founder & President
    Costa Vision Eco Developments S.A.

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