Your Standards versus the Local Standards in Costa Rican construction
Did you know that the standards in Costa Rican construction are probably different from the ones you are used to?
Successful construction of housing in Costa Rica depends on the efforts of hundreds of tradesmen and thousands of building materials all assembled at the right time in the right places. Likewise, the quality of the labor, as well as the proper installation of the specified building materials, affects the overall quality of construction. There are many factors that determine if an existing home in Costa Rica will be sufficient for your needs.
There are many excellent Costarican engineers, architects and contractors here who are capable of building up to your standards. IF they are given a sufficient budget. The problem is that the average construction workers who perform the hands on work are accustomed to building using the traditional local standards. Unless they are constantly supervised, they will do it their way. That is, to the local standards in Costa Rican construction that they are accustomed to.
The architects and engineers who supervise the construction in Costa Rica, normally visit a construction site maybe once a day, for an hour or so. During the course of an 8 hour work day, the on-site construction workers can install many building materials their way. And that may not be up to your standards.
The wrong conduit
A number of years ago I completed a home inspection for a North-American who had purchased a brand new home in the Cariari subdivision in Heredia. There, a Costa Rican builder had installed thin walled conduit tubes. Those are normally used to protect insulated electrical wires, instead of pressurized water tubes. The water tubes leaked inside of the concrete block walls. Additionally, the builder had installed electrical wires. But not inside the conduit tubing and the wires were damaged by the moisture from the water. As a result, all the walls in the home had to be chiseled where the water tubing and electrical wiring had been installed. That was the only way to remove the old and replace with new. Then all the walls had to be refinished and all the rooms repainted.
It can get expensive to upgrade poor plumbing and electrical installations. There are few building inspectors in Costa Rica working for the local communities who inspect each homes plumbing and electrical systems to ensure that building codes are enforced.
In order to understand the differences between the standards in Costa Rican construction and the standards that you’re accustomed. Let’s look at the bath, kitchen and laundry rooms in the typical Costarican home.
Typical Local Bathroom
In bathrooms, you will find quite a few different standards in Costa Rican construction than you are used to:
1. Many times when you go into a Tico (Costa Rican) bathroom you will see a waste basket filled with used toilet paper. The Costa Ricans are accustomed to the local plumbing standards and this is normal here.
2. As a result of inadequate sanitary drain tubes, the toilet doesn’t flush everything down the drain and when it does flush, you can smell sewage odors because they do not install tubes that ventilate the sanitary drainage system.
3. In many cases, the grey water from sinks and showers drains into the sanitary tubes for the toilet, and because they don’t ventilate the drainage system, the sewage odor escapes from the shower drain which is usually just a hole in the floor without a U trap.
4. The shower head is connected to a cold water metal pipe protruding from the wall and a hot water heater consists of a device called a “suicide shower” which attaches to the metal pipe and has wires entering the wall to an electrical outlet above the shower head.
5. The lavatory sink with one cold water faucet is very small and usually attached to the wall with a couple of screws and no base cabinet.
Typical North American Bathroom
- Full size toilets with 4″ drain pipes, so all paper drains with one flush.
- Sanitary drain tubes ventilated to the outside.
- U traps installed for all the sinks and showers.
- All fixtures and control valves are connected using flexible braided metal, not cheap plastic connectors.
- Ceramic tile shower and galvanized metal floor drain with u trap.
- Hot and cold shower control valves.
Typical Local Kitchen
In the kitchen, you will find quite a few different standards in Costa Rican construction than you are used to:
- Not enough electrical outlets. You will find only 1 or 2 electrical plugs in a kitchen and they will have 2 outlets with no grounding outlet, so you can’t plug your three pronged appliances into the plugs. Most electrical plugs are not polarized, so your appliances may not work properly, and if you use adapters to plug into the two prong electric plugs that are not grounded, your appliances will be damaged during electrical surges.
- The kitchen sink is one small bowl that is not deep enough to submerge a half way decent size pot and the bottom is not flat, so glasses fall over when you set them in the sink.
- Sink faucet is short, and combined with the sink that is not deep, it is difficult to get a pitcher or sauce pan under the faucet to fill it up. Only one of the control valves for the faucet allows water to flow because they do not install hot water tubing.
- Smaller cabinets and counters. The depth of theirs is usually six inches smaller so you have less storage and counter top space which minimizes the available area to put the appliances you are accustomed to using.
- Lighting consists of one ceiling fixture with one bulb in the center of the room which makes it difficult to see what you’re doing on the counter tops and in the sink.
Typical North American Kitchen
- Full size base and wall cabinets and counter tops with back splashes.
- Double bowl, stainless steel sink with a faucet that allows hot and cold water to flow.
- 1/2 HP Garbage disposal in one bowl and 1-1/2″ sink drains with U traps.
- 220 volt, 50 amp breaker for the electric stove, with 110 volt, 20 amp breaker for the grounded electrical plugs that are installed above every 36″ of counter space and 110 volt, 30 amp breakers for refrigerator and garbage disposal.
- Lights installed every 36″ above the counter tops and one centered over the sink.
- Exhaust fan with light centered over the stove.
- Cold water line and control valve for ice maker.
Typical Local Laundry
In the laundry, you will find quite a few different standards in Costa Rican construction than you are used to:
1. Big concrete basin, known as a “pila” for washing rags and clothes, and a drain without a U trap to prevent sewage odors from entering the room.
2. Cold water tube sticking out of the wall for the pila, with a hose valve like for a garden hose.
3. Cold water tube sticking out of the wall for a washing machine, but no hot water tube.
Typical North American Laundry
1. 40 gallon, 220 volt, hot water tank.
2. Washer has a 110 volt, 30 amp electrical plug.
3. Hot and cold water tubes for the washing machine and a drain with U trap recessed into the wall and installed 36″ from the floor.
4. Double bowl laundry sink with and a faucet with both hot and cold water.
5. Laundry sink drain has a U trap to prevent sewer gasses from entering the room.
6. Dryer has a 220 volt plug and a 4” tube through the wall to ventilate the heat to the outside.
Please don’t misunderstand my intentions. I’m not trying to diminish the local standards in Costa Rican construction. I have lived in Costa Rica since 1992, I love this country and have respect for the local tradesmen. The local construction methods are adequate for most of the people living in Costa Rica. However, some buyers want the type of construction that they grew up with and are not willing to accept the standards in Costa Rican construction.
Before purchasing an existing home in Costa Rica, you’ll benefit from hiring an English speaking home inspector with years of local construction experience. He will be able to communicate with you and explain everything that is involved to renovate the existing construction to your standards. Feel free to leave your comments on this blog. If you like this article, please feel free to share it on your social media.
About the author: Before you purchase a home in Costa Rica, contact Tom Rosenberger for his home inspection services. Tom Rosenberger is a knowledgeable home and land inspector in Costa Rica with over 30 years of land development and construction experience. He enables his clients to “See Beyond the Obvious” before committing to land acquisition and construction projects. Tom is a legal resident of Costa Rica. He has lived here since 1992, building and remodeling homes and condominiums, along with developing land into building lots.
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