Thursday, January 31, 2008

Its late here, hardley enough time to pound out a post, but I need to catch this blog up pon developments before I let that slide over to yet another day.

First of all, you learn a lot when you are actually doing it. For years I have been interested in green design. There is nothing in the world, however, like actually constructing a place, or trying to teach you how difficult the process actually is. There are so many areas ripe for green internvention. Some of them have obvious imrovements. Others present perplexing problems. This will be a real help with the work on K house begins.

For example, I am learning about PVC, and septic fields. Moving water, or sewage, requires pipes. Pipes are something that I thought little about prior to grappling with the surf shack. Now I realize, there are choices to be made. PVC, which is so toxic it has been pulled off the shelves in UK toys, or copper, which is a heavy metal which can lead to poisoning, lead, see copper, or various other matierals. PVC, it turns out, is only toxic when molded, but is generally considered safe when straight or not superheated. Interesting. well, what about the primer that holds the pipes together? Do I want that in my drinking water?

As I said, so many questions.

Paul and I held a design meeting this Monday to implement the breakthrough of turnign the design along the slope, to decrease the hieght over the ground, and decrease the depth of the house for airflow. This Paul immeditely translated into a simple and really strong design, with one corner of the shack completely open. Paul and Scott also persuaded me to add an indoor toilet. Frankly, a little discussion into which I was ambused by Vera, Pooneh, and Rebecca regarding the prosepct of relieving oneself on a box in the woods was all the prodding I needed to consider more fully a more gentile manner of waste disposal. Problem was, we now need a septic field. Paul and Scott presented a very simple system,a 3 foot pipe with a trap leading to a 50 gallon trash can fulled with water, then a PVC pipe out of the can with a cap and holes bored in that drains into a septic field. Its simple and effective.

Tonight, I had a talk with a one Bob Long, a plumber in Washington state and father of a colleague of mine. He was very helpful in talking to me about our plumbing system, and generously offered to sketch a system out over our floor plan. I will send him the plans tomorrow. In addition, he offered to ask a friend of his who specializes in septic tanks and field for the most basic approach possible. This is extremeley useful since, accourding to his daughter Ash, there are a lot of people in the area who build one room hunting cabins that they use seasonlly. Almost precisely our situation. This is reall wonderful.

And Paul wins the gold star for his work yesterday. I dont know how he did it, but he tracked down a teak seller in Costa Rica, EcoTimber I believe it is called. He then wrote an email explaining our situation, had it translated into spanish, and sent it on. he then began a long series of eamiles with thier sales representative. In short, I think we might, through Pauls efforts, have a commited supply of timber ready and to be deposited to our site before we evern leave. what a relief.

Other interesting things involve tinkering with showers and cisterns. Paul and I went over some ideas to build a resevoir in the drain pipe to provide water for showers and dish washing during the rainy season. This will be useful for imlementation into K house. I think we will need a much larger cistern though, and bury it. Although Guillermo and I discussed a resevoir off site, used for watering the grounds. So far, for the surf shack though, we are totally off the grid. I also saw some solar laterns, going for around 80 dollards which charge in 12 hours and burn for 3-7.

This is so exciting.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The design committee for Plan A is meeting tonight. In anticipation, I took out two books form the on woodworking with power tools, the other on alternative building materials. They both look to be about 20 years old. Paul has his ticket. So do Mike and Rebecca. We all went to a Band of Horses concert last night, marred only by ticketing and towing. Thats my crew though yo, and we are going south to make a house. Dad and Lynn are looking to come down...well its hard to tell when since they dont need to purchase a ticket in advance. Dad still weilds some post avaition benefits.

Nothing happening still on the project. I am waiting, contentedly, under the bhodi tree.

Oh, I read about teak and cedar as building materials today. Really interesting. Teak can be hardened by burying it under ground for a few years. temples in Thailand, over 500 years old, and exposed, uncared for, to the elements, are still standing and the teak is in great condition. I guess Guillermo was right about teak as a building material. Its a great choice. Aparently, the walls of Plan B, and maybe Plan A, are going to age into a silver grey. The roof will be blue. Still not sure that Corten steel is the right product for the tower, but all three proposed materials were red/pink/orange in hue and will be a wonderful counterpoint.

Ok, more later.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What does a structural engineer do? well, frankly, I could make an educated guess, but the fact of the matter is that I did not know anything concrete about the function of one of the core members of the design team. So...I went to wikipedia...there I learned that

"Structural engineers are responsible for producing engineering design or analysis. ..Experienced engineers would be responsible for the structural design and integrity of an entire system, such as how a building in its entirety resists vertical and lateral forces on it without collapsing or failing to function.
The role of a structural engineer today involves a significant understanding of both static and dynamic loading, and the structures that are available to resist them. The complexity of modern structures often requires great creativity in order to support and resist the loads they are subjected to. A structural engineer will typically have a three, four or five year undergraduate degree, followed by a minimum of three years of professional practice before being able to be considered fully qualified.
Structural engineers are licensed or accredited by different learned societies and regulatory bodies around the world (for example, the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK)[5]. Depending on the degree course they have studied, they may be accredited (or licensed) as just structural engineers, or as civil and as structural engineers."

well, so there you go. I suppose that the tower, though only 29.51 feet in hieght, will generate a more aggressive architectural, and loading, challenge than those ordinarily encountered in Nosara building. I am glad that Guillermo reviewed the work of the prior enggineer critically, and I hope that the new one is more creative and competent. I dont actually know the name of the guy we are using, but if his work is good, I will pass it along so that you all, loyal resders, might benefit.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Update: Its the 22nd. No bids are in yet. Guillermo has been diligent in nagging the contractor, who last promised that I would get them by yesterday.

In other news, I have been informed that Guillermo fired our original structural engineer. He felt someone else could do a better job an hired someone with whom he was worked before whose work is more accurate and creative. Good to hear. All the permitting is in place to move forward when the bids come back. Crossing fingers....

Oh yes, and I saw that the interior images were posted on Guillermo's site, look under K house. Note though, if you read the project details, that the house has 3 bedrooms, and it is a zendo the house has, not a yoga studio. I dont do yoga.

Plan A has a green light. Paul has designed a teak one room cabin, with a shower and a small kitchen. Screen doors one one side, a window on the other. The walls are actually a porous membrane, with spaces and screen between the boards. The bathroom would be remote from the site. electrical systems set up for solar panels, and a catchment and cistern system for water. Simple really. The design is intended to compliment K house. The teak cladding certainly echos it, as does the deck. The roof might be a different material, unless I can find the same material which is being used for K house roof.

Does anyone out there know what teak sells for per board foot, and where we could get it? I dont want to use a toxically sealed product, and teak, or cedar, both of which are farmed in Costa Rica, though I am not sure they are native, would be natural protection from bugs and from rot.

Guillermo gave his approval of the project. I think, in the end, this is going to make me a much better client during the building process of Plan B (K House). I bet spending a week on the land will also teach me a lot about the site. I am going to think about how to get a view from the projected height of the tower.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Plan A?

Most of you, my loyal readers, have, from time to time, heard me refer to the building project in Nosara as Plan B. There are two reasons for this...the first is that at the time that I bought the land in 1999, I was working in NY and it seemed that everyone with which I worked had these backup plans..."if this doesn't work out, I am going to be a DJ...If this doesn't happen for me, I am going to open up a recording studio...I am giving this one more year and then I am going into motocross". I tagged this phenomena Plan B, and even used to start conversations with it..."what is your Plan B?" Everyone knew what I meant and thier Plan B's usually told more about thier dreams and desires than what they were currently doing.

When I bought the land, my plan B became "I am going to just uproot and move to Costa".

The second meaning of the double entrendre comes from a time when I was a judicial clerk in Pensacola Florida, dreaming with a buddy of mine on the phone. He and I, over the course of an evening, decided that the property might very well be valueless, so why not assemble the collective manpower, brain power and creativity of my friends and build a surf shack. A trip to Costa in 2005, with Ian and Jmer, pictured waaaay below on this blog, educated me about the value of the land I owned. I decided then to pursue a building project that would maximize the value of the land, and embody a life long dream to design a serene, airy, modern, green home. That dream is what became K House, but it was plan B for me.

Well, I am contemplating reopening Plan A. No, not a return to NYC, but getting my friends assembled, and leaning on thier support, thier brains, their backs and thier friendship to get to CR and build a one room surf shack on EE-25. This would not stop or even threaten Plan B, but K house is taking much longer than I had planned to come to fruition. I had imagined tht being the case, and now, realistically, I need to assume that from now till completion could be a year or more. I have a break now, between jobs, and more importantly, I have great friends with a desire to go to Costa, and a wicked combination of skills.

Paul and Scott and I are getting together tomorrow. I am going to bake some chicken, chill some beer and clear the dining room table. we are going to see if we cannot design a surf shack. Paul is an architect, Scott, amongst other interesting thins, is a real estate developer who has been following his interests in green building. Me...well, I am some hack who loves design, creative solution making, and surfing costa.

Now, there is no electricity on the place, no running water. Further more, we dont have a building permit, but from what I understand, you dont need one in Costa to Build less than 750 sq feet. the land is graded, and we have a thimble full of actual experience between us, but here we go....

So, the opening thought of mine was to dig down into the grade, lay a concrete foundation, and use cinder block construction. Why cinderblock? Well, that what everyone else in Costa seems to use. I wanted to make a sod roof, and partially bury the thing to decrease its visual footprint. Furthermore, I conjectured, by partially burying it, I could use the lower thermal value of the soil to cool the shack.

Paul, and my dad, questioned that approach. They pointed out that we would need a lot of concrete. A lot of it. more than we could make at the property. We would need a truck. Now, I dont know jack S--- about getting a concrete truck to a site in Nosara. Dont know what it costs, who to call, how long it would take. nothing.

So as it stands, we are thinking 150-200 square feet. Timber construction, pressure treated wood for the frame, and teak paneling for the rood and sides. The front would be glass. A small deck. Then, perhaps, an outdoor shower (Cistern driven) and composting toilet, a single light, a full sized bed, 2 burners for cooking, and some chairs, a small table and a hammock. My Dad is a handy and capable fellow...he is going to serve as our foreman. He has the most grey hair so that makes sense. He has a degree in electrical engineering, so he is going to help us add electrical systems to the plans. Furthermore, we are counting on him, and my step mom, to keep the troops on task and the quality of the work high. I am hoping they dont bring a bullwhip. We need a plumber too to add some pipes into the plans. the hope is to add solar panels one day, and maybe lead water from the house. But until then, we are off the grid. That is not hard, since the grid is nowhere near this place.

How crazy are we?

the list of unknowns:

Where do I need to go to find building supplies? There is a huge place in liberia. I am sure that is sufficient. Can I get them in Nicoya? What about in Nosara? What supplies can I get in each.

How on earth do I get the supplies to the site? A truck. I have to rent one. Can I hire one? Can I hire a big one? One that can move glass?

Can I get teak? Is it expensive?

What is available? Could I get a solid glass door set to just drop in? If so, how do I get it to the site? Man, if I could just hire a truck from Liberia to the site, and drop off all of the materials in one go....

Do I need a permit? I dont think so. No water, no electricity, under 750 sq feet.

Composting toilets...what on earth do I know about them?

Are there recycled materials available? Old tires, old wood...anything?

Is teak and wood construction doomed to rot and destruction?

Look, I am in over my head, but not by much. Anyone out there have any advice, or any warnings? Anything would help. I am kinda just jumping in this. I am keeping it as simple as possible. but I can use anyone's guidance.

With thanks.

By the way, this is the exciting part, the roster looks at least this good:

Can you imagine how overwhelmed I am by this? this house will be built by love. It sounds hokey, but this is an old fashioned barn raising, with my goodfriends all becoming part of this forever. And dont worry about us...there is going to be lots of hiking and surfing and touring, and surfing, and sunning and surfing and eating and surfing and...well, you get the picture. Its not all work. We have a very relaxed schedule.

Ok, signing off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Its the 16th. Maybe this date sounds familiar to my regular readers. No? How about the fifteenth. As in "The bids will be back on the 15th". That makes the 16th the-day-after-the-day-the-construction-companies-were-supposed-to-finish-thier-bids. And, in case my dander has not alerted you to the outcome...they ain't here.

I checked. I looked in my email accounts. I looked in the mail. I looked under my couch. Not there. No, the construction company is definitely late.

Yet, I sit here with a state of nearly Zen like calm. How? Easy, I recently purchased US to Tico conversion software. I plugged in the date "Jan. 15th", pressed GO!, and it translated it to "Sometime in February. Maybe. Stop pushing us you anal retentive gringo."

Pura Vida. Pura Vida.

For the record, I in no way blame D0 and Guillermo. Every time line target they have given me they have hit. I know that Costa does not work with the watch like precision of the US. I dont really care, its my own expectations that are causing me suffering. I let them go, and laugh. The process has always had its own time table.

But for the record...Grrrrrr.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 15th.


This is the day I am to recieve back rebids from construction companies. Is anyone else giddy? No? Just me? Well, alrighty then. I am a bit nervous. I know what I can realistically work with in terms of numbers, so this is largely, I think, a binary outcome, going forward or not. I want to go forward, of course, but emotional decisions are seldom good ones. Especially when there is an investment component to the outcome.

None the less, this has never been an entirely rational enterprise. I followed a lot of intuition in buying the land, finding an architect, and focusing on an approach.

I will let you know what I hear back.

Thanks for staying with me on this.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I know. I have not posted in a while. I have...well Guillermo has, submitted our design for rebidding with some reductions in scope and engineering. Cross whatever you can spare that the bids come in low enough for me to move forward. They are due back January 15. I dont know what that means in Tico time. I hope it is actually on that date, so I can make plans to get down there and oversee this project for a little while, or sell if I need to.

Got to give it to Alex Knott over at nosara realty...he prophesied that the one thing that would save costa rica for over development would be soaring prices.

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