Nov. 22-27, 2004 // CONSTRUCTION LOG # 7
We have now laid about 95% of the blocks required for the
7 houses currently under construction. The maestro de obra
tells me that is about 10,000 blocks. This was done in 2 week's
of work. In addition to the blocks being laid, the concrete
reinforcing columns have been poured in the equivalent of
three houses. The remaining columns and "collar ties"
will be poured this next week. The carpenters have built most
of the forms for the columns which are rotated as columns
are finished to new columns yet to be poured. The same method
will be for the collar ties. In addition, they are building
the arches for the windows and main door (a change from the
previous 5 houses). The OSB board I brought from Canada in
the container is proving useful as I anticipated. After the
columns and collar ties are poured, the resulting surface
is roughed up by hammering it until the resulting surface
is very irregular. This allows the "repello" to
adhere well. This is a laborious process but considered necessary.
The forms for the columns and collar ties, are held in place
by nailing to the block and by wiring the two sides to provide
a form which is true and not splaid. The wire required is
twisted. To get this wire, they stretch out two lengths, tie
off each end, place a weight in the center and manipulate
it such that the weight ends up twisting the wires together.
A marvelous method useable anywhere to solve a problem.
As soon as the block work was done, in a section, the rough-in
wiring was started. In our case it will be done as per the
previous units with only a couple minor changes. Having the
valence really makes running wires a dream. The channels for
the plastic conduit and boxes is cut into the surface of the
block walls and then patched back with the "repello".
All wiring in concrete is run thru plastic conduit. The location
of boxes -not too close to the doors such that interfere with
the molding, of equal height around a room, at the proper
height for a wall fixture, etc. is a constant issue. Fortunately,
I dealt with most of these issues last time so it hasn't as
much of an issue this time -at least not yet. We had cross
sections of the kitchens with heights clearly indicated, and
the use of door case molding (not the norm here) had to be
understood such that the doors were framed right (with "returns"
on each side) and the electrical boxes located such that the
two wouldn't interfere with each other.
Before the footings are backfilled with "lastre"
(compactable gravel like mixture) we are putting on a foundation
coating to waterproof the footings and walls below grade.
This is not usually done but that is one of the differences
between what I'm doing and others. (In fact, a few years ago,
I saw a very expensive house being built by a N. Am builder
who wasn't sealing the hill side of the house and did not
put in any drainage pipes. I went to his previous completed
house and the entire wall would mildewed and whole lower level
was musty and this was just after it was built. Moral -just
because the builder is a N. Am., don't assume he knows what
he's doing.) The interiors of the units are being built up
to the level at which the concrete floor (5") will be
poured. This build up is done with the lastre which is watered
down and compacted with the "jumping jack". In some
cases the depth of this lastre is about 18 in. This is a lot
of wheel barrows full. However, there should never be an issue
with moister. In addition, we will also have a plastic vapor
barrier up the walls and under the floor slab as an added
Also before the footings are backfilled, we will install
the rainwater leaders to which the downspouts and rain gutters
will be connected. These will be connected into the main rainwater
drainage line we installed in April of this year. Now we take
advantage of that installation. The entire roof runoff will
be directed into the drainage which is a lot of area but the
culvert will be large enough to handle it. The rough-n plumbing
will begin next week.
One problem developed that had to be dealt with: The front
entrance for #115 wasn't right. For some reason, is was not
symmetrical becasue it wasn't framed right. I could have spent
more hours trying to figure out exactly what wasn't right
-it worked on paper- but opted to deal with what we had and
to make it o.k.
The renovation work on Unit 105 was not progressing as well
as it should have been. On Wednesday, I instructed
the maestro de obra to assign a dedicated crew with a lead
hand and move the work along. That happened and it is now
progressing in it's own right. We are feeling our way a bit
and while the work done to each unit will be slightly different,
the process will be largely the same. We will reuse the kitchen
from the current 123 which will be torn down to make way for
the new construction. Unit 105 suffered from a number of shortcomings-poor
roof design and ventilation (common to all the older units)
and the living room/dining room were very small, the bedroom
had very limited closet space. Now the terrace which was added
last year is becoming an office/den, a new room which will
be the living room will be added to the back and a private
terrace will be created and the remaining back yard area will
be landscaped. The bathroom will be modified slightly to create
a linen closet and the bedroom closet will be enlarged substantially.
New windows, a ventilating cupola on top, an insulated roof,
a redesigned kitchen, and the additional living space should
make this one bedroom with office/den a very desirable unit.
We took possession of about 1/2 of the cana brava we will
need, some 2500 pcs. The maestro de obra estimates we will
need around 5,000 pcs each about 8 ft. long. It is partially
cleaned, and now needs to air dry and then a final cleaning,
and processing. I believe that cana brava is actually from
the grass family although most people would call it bamboo.
We are using it as an architectural detail for the underside
of the terraces. We priced it from 130 Colones per each to
70 Colones per each, the cheaper price being from the place
we purchased it before. We get it in advance of the time we
need it because it has to dry and having it is the only way
to ensure that. Processing involves a final cleaning -removing
all the loss "bark and fibers" which is a laborious
task -I'm going to see if I can make a device of an electric
motor and wire brushes to speed up this process.
We also took possession of 34 -- 5"X 5" X 8'"almendro"
(almond wood) posts which will be used for the columns on
the front terraces. Again, we got them before we need them
as they have to season. They will be installed before they
are fully seasoned and will finishing seasoning in place prior
to finishing them. Almendro is a beautiful wood, fine, straight
grain, very dense and strong, a naturally beautiful color
and takes stain well. And best of all, the bugs don't like
it. We paid about $42 each for these. I'm not sure where this
wood came from but most amendro (I'm told) now comes from
Nicaragua -Costa Rica has wiped out its forests.
About 300 bags of the substitute "repello" are
now on site. We should get to this stage perhaps at the end
of next week -after the columns and collar ties are poured
and roughed up. When the collar ties are poured, we can begin
working on the roofs.
The rainy season is not going away without a few reminders.
We've had varying amounts of rain each day or night of this
week. I didn't affect our progress and was actually useful
as it slowed the curing of the concrete.
The construction and materials warehouse was dismantled,
moved, and reassembled and reorganized. It is now in the place
which was intended for it -near the center of activity and
within easy access to deliveries. All materials are checked
into it, recorded, and logged out as required. It's the way
we maintain some semblance of inventory control. Valuable
things -light fixtures, door hardware, faucets, fixtures,
etc -which can get lost, broken, stolen, opened and parts
mislaid, etc.- are not placed there; I keep them separate
and under my own key until they are to be installed. Reality
on this construction site is no different than in N. Am.
-if it can go missing or get broken, it will.
The gate advanced to the point where it is now installed
and ready for wiring which is scheduled for Monday.
Most gated communities have a 24 hr. guard. This person controls
the gate or is suppose to. He is suppose to keep the bad guys
out (if there are any) but as it frequently happens, he sometimes
let's them in. I've decided not to have such a person and
will rely on design and electronic security. On entering,
owners will have a remote entry controller. Guests will use
the intercom to call their host. We also have a person only
gate as well as the car gate. Each gate can be controlled
by the phone system by dialing a code. Gates are common here
but they don't work when the power is out. Then the gate has
to be operated manually and with no on site "guard"
it presents a problem. I had purchased the components for
a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) in Canada and this system
will be installed and connected to the gate motors -this will
eliminate the power outage and gate will be operational regardless.
The inverter I purchased and the battery bank should operate
the gate for a number of hours. I haven't yet decided whether
to make this system automatic or to require a manual switch
One frustrating problem which took five trips to resolve
was the INS insurance -the equivalent of workmen's compensation
insurance. For reasons I long since stopped trying to figure
out, we couldn't do it the same way we did it last time and
finding the eye of the needle when you don't know the rules
resulted in a lot of wasted effort. Nevertheless, we were
finally successful. While we hope we have no accidents, we
need to plan for the possibility. Last time we had three minor
accidents consisting of cuts each requiring a few stitches...
We're still trying to tweak the wireless system such that
the signal is evenly distributed. We have on site, a person
who knows some information and he is helping. As much as anything,
it's a bit of trial and error. I hope that we will soon have
it such that we can forget about it, that the speed and reliability
issues are history. I think we are making progress.
While I make the strategic decisions, priorities and schedule
and keep the money and materials flowing and provide a constant
vigil on the quality of what is being done, the countless
decisions made by the maestro de obra, the crew bosses and
the laborers make my job much easier. I've heard people say
that construction here isn't very good and that the workers
are not very good. That has not been my experience and I will
take issue with that assessment. I would suggest that perhaps
they didn't get proper direction and guidance or that they
didn't have the information they needed, Yes, there is the
odd "mistake" but no more so than in my N. Am. experience.
Materials are delivered when we want them and placed where
we want them. I am continually amazed at how hard these people
work, how well they work together, and it continues to be
a pleasure to work with them.
The accountant continues to be in disbelief the we can accomplish
as much as we do; that still doesn't know how we will ever
get close to the goal of completion by May 31. Others continue
to be amazed as well but I hear less and less the standard
phrase: "but this is CR, it can't be done here!"
Phoey!! Any one who has watched commercial construction projects
or larger residential projects here, knows it can and is done
all the time. What hasn't happened is that the assessment
hasn't yet changed and that people use"this is CR"
as an excuse for other shortcomings.
We have organized a "Thanksgiving Dinner" for 2pm
Sunday afternoon with all the trimmings. I searched
for a "Butterball" turkey but couldn't find one
(previous years they were available) so settled for some other
brand -we'll see. I got the 2nd. to last one at the market
and while I was there, the last one went. At 20lbs I hope
it's good. We'll have our dinner around the large pool; each
of the guests will contribute something. I believe we are
expecting around 25 people. Lita put the parrot face to face
with the turkey and said "that's your dad and could be
her future if she doesn't shape up and be good." The
parrot was quiet for about 5 min. before returning to her
normal, mean self.
Hugo has spent much of the week stoned. I brought with me
a "scratching pad" into which catnip is poured.
He's been hugging it all week, eyes wide glazed and very "tranquilo".
I've considered painting the scratch pad "green"
so he can pretend he's scratching the living daylights out
of the parrot.
Lita has "sold" to the workers a number of the
watches she bought in Canada I say "Sold" because
she actually gave them to the people for an extended payback
-she's there at payday to get her payment. And because she
can't see who the "purchaser" is, she gets the gardener
to call the name and collect the week's installment. At her
current rate, she might get the full amount by the project's
end -provided the worker lasts that long. It's her business.
Her sunglasses bombed out so far; no one wears them here -strange.
And now it's time to focus on the turkey.
Brian, Lita, Hugo, and squawky Vicka