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New Construction

Lease / purchase

Phase 3: The construction of the remaining 11 residences.

Scheduled to begin in November with completion expected
by January 31.

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Progress Report

Nov. 22-27, 2004 // CONSTRUCTION LOG # 7

Construction

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 barrier.

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.

Werehouse

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

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 over.

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.

Comment

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.

Our lives

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

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