Property Upgrades 2022-January

Project Work Dates:        Tuesday 12-21-2021 through Wednesday 1-5-2022 (11 workdays total)

Costa Rica Work Crew (December 2021 through January 2022)

  • Jairon              Crew Leader
  • Jonathan         Sr. Level Multi-skilled craftsman
  • Carlos              Sr. Level Multi-skilled craftsman
  • Carlos              Master Craftsman, Welding projects       *Carlos is 73 years old, and is a skilled craftsman with much experience and insight to offer to the younger guys on the crew
  • Austen             General Labor – multiple skills and projects
  • Yaskyn             General Labor – multiple skills and projects
  • Brian               Basic Labor
  • Sondro            Basic Labor
  • Justin              Basic Labor       *Justin worked on the crew a year previously during January 2021
  • Justin              New Guy Justin – General Labor and Welding
  • Emannuel Basic Labor


Base Material: A mixture of course sand and small stones.  The base material is delivered to the property in large quantities – typically either 6-cubic meter loads or a full truck load at 12-cubic meters.

Cement:  A binder material used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together.  The cement that we purchase locally is sold in 50KG bags.

Concrete:  A composite material composed of both the base material and the cement combined together.  When mixed correctly with the appropriate portions of base material and cement, concrete can last for centuries.

As is now typical with every arrival to the property, there are always countless tasks that need to be addressed, with every available tool.  There are always holes to dig, jungle growth to cut, debris to be raked up and removed, etc…  Aside from these routine and unavoidable chores, The December-2021 through January-2022 trip achieved the following primary objectives:

  1. Construction of retaining wall around the Bodega building and the shipping container
  2. Construction of concrete sidewalks around the sides and rear of the Bodega-shipping container area so that there is no longer any mud between the structures
  3. Construction of mobile wood frame workstations for the Bodega workshop
  4. Welding Projects
  5. Repair of the driveway that leads from the lower lot to the upper-level driveway at the house

Retaining Wall and Walkways

The big objective of this trip was to construct a retaining wall and concrete walkways around three sides of the bodega building and shipping container.  The bulldozer work from previous summer for the bodega foundation had to cut into a hillslope, with maximum height of two meters +.  This wall of mud had to be covered, otherwise the slippage of earth materials will never stop.  A retaining wall constructed of concrete cast blocks (8” x 8” x 16”) and then filled entirely with concrete was the obvious solution. 

The same construction method from the December 2019 – January 2020 project was used for this new retaining wall on the lower lot.  As orientation, if one faces directly in front of the bodega garage doors – the foundation wall on each side is now constructed of a double row of blocks.  There is a lot of stress coming from each of these slopes, and over time a lot of earth material will erode, slip, and fall from the higher areas to the lower areas. 

Behind the bodega the retaining wall was constructed with a single row of concrete blocks.  The slope and associated pressure behind the bodega are minimal, therefore a double row of blocks was not necessary in this location.

The crew constructs a footer of concrete before any blocks are set.  Once the footer is completed, the blocks are the set into place.  There is rebar reinforcement throughout the retaining wall.  There is also a large quantity of drainage holes referred to as weeps.  The weeps are constructed from common 2-inch PVC tubing and are important to allow for water escape valves of the earth material that is now contained behind the new retaining walls.  This earth will always be heavily saturated with rainwater 6 to 7 months of every year.   

Sometime in the future the entire retaining wall will be covered with natural stone.

After the retaining wall had been fully constructed, the muddy walkway spaces that remained between the new walls and the bodega and shipping container were entirely concreted over. 

The building materials required for this project were significant:

  • Roughly 1,600 concrete blocks
  • 36 cubic meters of base for making the concrete
  • 100+ bags of cement (50KG per bag)
The beginning…
Setting the concrete footer
Behind the bodega and shipping container, building stairway access for some other project for the future
Mixing concrete on the ground, something that is a last resort but sometimes unavoidable. In this case the Concrete mixer did not arrive to the property until the following day (Thursday 12-23-2021). Doing this type of mixing is only beneficial for small jobs. In this case, the crew could focus on mixing enough concrete to pour the footers for the wall, and some of these ground mixes were enough to begin the cuneta repairs on the driveway.
Walking the site…
Alexis keeping the property trimmed and maintained.
Pouring a walkway
Pouring a lane of concrete
Screeding the concrete lane

Mobile Wood Workbenches

With the construction of the new Bodega in July of 2021, the property now has a workshop under a roof with electric power.  The on-site Bodega changes everything, as specialized carpentry and welding projects can now be initiated from idea/concept to full completion without interference from rain or simply the darkness of night. 

Before any welding could begin, one goal for this trip was the construction of several mobile workbenches for the new workshop.  During the Summer of 2021 during the construction of the Bodega building, all fabrication and welding of the trusses, support beams and brackets of the Bodega roof had to be constructed entirely outside, with constant interference from rain.  An additional hindrance to progress was the need to construct temporary makeshift workstations that had to be continuously assembled, taken apart again and then reassembled each time that a repositioning was required. These “in the field” workstations had to be created with the things we had, like 5-gallon buckets, concrete cast blocks, Logs and other assorted lumber, etc.… 

Thankfully the summer 2021 timeline chronology was not significantly affected due to so many starts and stops due to the adverse weather.  But after witnessing the hardships caused for welding operations per the absence of an actual workshop environment, this was one condition that was identified for immediate correction for the December 2021 objectives. 

Ultimately three workbench tables were constructed from 2×4 wood beams and standard 0.5” Plywood boards.  *Note that upon arrival to the site, it was realized that all the plywood boards had water, insect, and/or termite damage to one long edge.  To salvage this material to avoid a total loss, 18 inches of the plywood was cut off and discarded, leaving two boards at dimensions of 8 feet x 2.5 feet.  These two salvaged boards of plywood were still sufficient to produce the platform surfaces of two of the workbench carts.  Both of these workbench models are identical and have dimensions of 4 feet in length and 30 inches in width and 36 inches of height, with two platform levels. 

A final workbench was created entirely of 2×4 boards.  This is a heavy-duty bench that has a slightly different dimension at 5 feet in length, 36 inches in width and 36 inches height.  This heavy-duty bench was used extensively by Carlos the welder to complete the various projects. All three workbenches were constructed with 2.5” caster wheels.   Therefore, each workbench is fully mobile and can be moved and repositioned for whatever purposes that inevitably occur in such a workshop environment.

Damage to plywood from water, insects, termites? 18 inches was discarded to salvage 2/3 of the existing board.

Bench #1, partially completed, pressed into immediate use.

Three completed wood workbenches

Welding Projects

The welding projects completed are as follows:

  1. Construction of a secure cage box to surround the two propane gas tanks that are under the house
  2. Construction of five grates (Spanish Parrilla), three squares and two circles, to close off the openings and exits of the water drainage systems from the house and at the front of the property.  These Parrillas are necessary to prevent small animals from entering the subterranean tunnel systems.  These parrillas are also ideal to prevent young children from getting unnecessarily hurt while playing around all the stone walls and drainage structures
  3. Construction of a large heavy duty metal workbench station.  A follow-up project will be to weld caster wheels to this workbench to have the same mobility as the wooden counterparts.
  4. Construction of a cuneta cover (Parrilla) which is now at the crest of slope as the driveway transitions to the same level as the house.  The property has been experiencing significant erosion damage in this location.  The rains are relentless, which causes vehicles to spin their wheels in the attempt to gain traction.  The spinning of tires inevitably causes the lastre cover to be removed which exposes the dirt/mud to the effects of the rain, which further accelerates the effects of erosion.  The hope is that this drainage fix will prevent significant quantities of water from pouring onto the slope.  We will have to assess the effectiveness of this corrective action during the next rainy season which will begin in May of 2022.  This Parrilla is constructed of 1/4-inch angle iron and ½-inch heavy duty round-stock rod.  It’s a well-constructed metal frame, that can absorb the weight of heavy trucks that will be further weighted down with loads of building materials, typically an additional 6 to 12 cubic meters of material weight per load. Cannot quantify the Kilos, but it will be a lot.

Security Box for the propane tanks

When the property was purchased, the propane tanks were just lying in the dirt under the house. The concrete pad was poured in July 2019. Now 2.5 years later, the propane tanks are better protected from theft or other accidental damage. Carlos was provided with a general list of objectives and two door hinges that were brought from the States, and the result is his creation.

Protective Cover Grates (Parrillas)

Heavy Duty Metal Workbench

This workbench came to fruition gradually, after several other projects were deemed no longer necessary. As with the construction of the security box and the parrillas, this metal workbench was constructed entirely of materials remaining from the construction of the Bodega roof in July of 2021. Not having to purchase additional materials and being able to acquire another new workstation (with three tiers) is just an added bonus. In the future caster wheels will be welded to this workbench.

Metal fabrication by Carlos

Parrilla Cover for new cuneta drainage channel at crest of driveway slope

The parrilla that has been constructed specifically for the span where the driveway meets the upper parking lot will be driven over constantly, by vehicles large and small. The idea intent of the concrete cuneta is to capture a significant portion of the rainwater at the crest of the hill, before this rainwater has the opportunity to descend the slope. The primary purpose of the metal parrilla cover is necessary so that car tires do not need to constantly descend into a concrete cuneta ditch for each crossing. The perimeter and support structure of this particular parrilla is constructed of 1/4-inch steel angle-iron. The top is then finished with 1/2-inch round-stock steel bar.

Driveway Slope Repair

The driveway that leads from the lower lot of the property to the upper lot has a significant slope, at 45 degrees+.  The driveway is constructed of the same standard gravel-based materials used for road construction throughout Costa Rica – materials the locals refer to as lastre and cascalho.  In practical terms, the primary road systems and most if not all driveways in the Lagunas area basically resemble the traditional Macadam road.

The slope of the driveway gets pummeled by heavy direct rainfall which saturates the lastre/cascalho down to the clay-mud base.  The parking area behind the house also gets hit with the same volume of water during rainstorms.  The combined flow of rainwater from the top parking area to the slope crest is over-saturating the driveway, which is reducing traction for vehicles.  Tire ruts were being formed in obvious attempts of vehicles to climb the slope, which created deep grooves that became separate erosion channels that were progressively getting worse with each new rainstorm.  This erosion damage has created a difficult ascent to the top of the slope for many vehicles.  Additionally, another unwanted effect of this erosion is that road materials have been breaching the stonewall that lines cuneta trench of the driveway. Much of this road material now resides in the subterranean alcanteria concrete tubing system that crosses in front of the parking area of the Bodega and Shipping container lot.  This is something that must be stopped, as too much has been invested to achieve the goal of moving rainwater cleanly form the top of the property to the bottom.  Everything that can be done, must be done to prevent a silting up of the alcanterias. 

To make the attempt to correct and rectify the situation, three actions were completed on this trip:

  1. The stone wall that lines the cuneta trench on the side of the driveway was increased in height for the entire length of the driveway, in various heights of between 9 to 15 inches.  The intended goal of this investment of time and materials will be to prevent road materials from entering the drainage system, even under circumstances of extreme erosion.
  2. At the crest of the slope, a new cuneta ditch was constructed, by using the same model of 8-inch pre-cast concrete cuneta forms that are already used extensively throughout the property.  The hoped-for result is that this new cuneta system will capture much of the rainwater that hits the parking area and other surrounding surfaces at the back of the house.  If large volumes of rainwater can be captured and channeled prior to reaching the crestline descent, then ideally there will be a significantly-reduced volume of rainwater that descends the slope. One can only hope.
  3. One full truckload with 12 cubic meters of cascalho was added to the driveway slope to repair the damage from the 2021 rainy season. 

All of these actions are beneficial by themselves and even more so collectively in combination.  Regardless, what remains to be seen is if these corrections will have a long-term positive effect. The upcoming rainy season of 2022 will be the test.

Cuneta repair – *Note the height of the eroded material (mud, clay, and gravel materials) that has far exceeded the height of the stone wall that was constructed in July 2019 and December 2019;

Phase 1 of repair is to dig out the eroded debris to form a deep channel, that will then be filled with concrete and stone to form the base level. Additional levels of stone were then added to increase the height of this barrier wall by an average of 12 inches in height from bottom of slope to near the crest.
The baseline trench, step #1 of the repair
First level of stones for the repair

At the crest of the slope when the driveway transitions to a flat plane – the behind-the-house parking area – a new cuneta channel has been constructed. As already discussed in the welding section, a heavy duty steel parrilla was custom made to cover the depression of the cuneta so that vehicles can easily cross.

Moving concrete up the slope, one guy pushes, another pulls with a hook manufactured from discarded rebar. Note the increased height of the stone wall that lines the driveway. Hopefully this will be sufficient to prevent future erosion breaches, otherwise new levels of stone will have to be added in the future.
The finished product. Pay no attention to the black spray paint in the nearby grass.
Cuneta trench, much larger in width than originally planned, and lined with a 3-inch concrete bed that was allowed to partially harden before the cunetas were set and then sealed with more concrete on the sides.
First test of the fit-up of the metal parrilla to the concrete cuneta trench.

The final action that was initiated for this trip to correct the driveway was simply adding another 12 cubic meters of cascalho.  This is a cost that is always preferred to be avoided, which is another driving factor with controlling the erosion on this slope.  As can be seen in the video below, the truck with the material drives to the top of the slope, then starts to drop cargo and then moves backward by reversing down the slope, driving over the material that was just deposited.  They did it, but it’s always hard to conceive how or where such ideas originated after you witness something like this for the first time. The process clearly works, even if the methodology is just a bit odd.

putting down the new road material
The original plan was that a backhoe would arrive to flatten out and compact the cascalho so that a vehicle could then ascend the slope. It all happened rather spontaneously, and ultimately we flattened out the new material, all 12 cubic yards of it, by hand with shovels and a maddock. Luckily for us, this road material was spread out manually by hand, in an archaic style straight out of the movie Cool Hand Luke, as the backhoe never arrived during this trip.