Project Work Dates: Monday 12-23-2019 through Monday 1-6-2020
The projects initiated in December of 2019 were necessitated by the experience learned during July of the same year. Fair to say that the heavy tropical rains and associated erosion were causing ruin to the ground perimeter of the house. There are no gutters on the roof of the house to collect and channel water to defined collection points that would be common to any similar structure in the US. All rain water was just washing down on all four sides of the house and was creating naturally formed erosion trenches on the ground below. Additionally, many of these channels had all merged together into an inter-connected network of one large flow that then migrated downhill on a naturally formed spillway.
By December of 2019 it had been several years (2+/-) since the land had been cleared and the house structure was originally built. By this time the effects of several rainy seasons had taken a toll on the quality of the ground immediately around and near the house. This was unsightly, in addition to being completely not functional for pleasant living during the summer rainy season.
Several months of planning were required for this particular trip. The magnitude of all that had to be done seemed daunting at the time. Therefore, many months before boarding a flight to Costa Rica the week before x-mas 2019, a lot of effort had to be directed to several issues of importance;
- Numerous mock ups of drawings and sketches for the various projects
- Planning around the materiel acquisitions and requirements
- Arranging a pre-purchase of building materials that would be delivered to the property
- Assemblage of tools to bring from the US
- Tools too large or too heavy to bring from US that would have to be purchased in Costa Rica
- The numerous back and forth communications to ensure that we would have a crew assembled to do the actual work
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 very strong and is sold in 50KG bags.
Concrete: A composite material composed of both the base material and the cement mixed together. When mixed correctly with the appropriate portions of base material and cement, concrete can last for centuries.
Cuneta: These are concrete pre-cast forms that have a U-Shape and are used to capture and channel water flows. For Casa Armonía, typically the 8-inch version of cuneta is the most practical size and therefore the most commonly used throughout the property.
Alcanteria: These are pre-cast concrete forms that are a full concrete pipe. Alcanterias come in many sizes, and are used when water needs to be channeled under the ground surface. On the property we typically use the 6-inch, 8-inch or 12-inch versions depending upon the situation.
Costa Rica Work Crew (December 2019 – January 2020)
- Jairon (crew leader) *A tremendous asset for so much that we do
- Jonathan “the younger” *A shy and quiet guy, but always resourceful and dependable
- Carlos Sr. *An old player who still has game
- Carlos Jr. (son of Carlos Sr.) *A very capable artist and craftsman.
- Andrés (grandson of Carlos Sr.) *A tough brute of a young man. Helped me out tremendously while I was recovering from a back injury
- Kenneth *A really cool guy, who never complained about the bottom-of-the totem pole work that he had to do
- Nelson *A funny guy. Nobody could stop laughing whenever he spoke. My Spanish skills are not sufficiently satisfactory to comprehend all of the jokes and metaphors
Significant achievements for the Dec-2019 through January 2020 trip
- Construction of a retaining wall that now encompasses the entire length of the parking area. The retaining wall is constructed out of roughly 800 cement blocks (16” L x 8” H-W). Many people refer to these blocks as “Pre-Cast Concrete Blocks“. Same thing.
- Construction of a smaller wall roughly 12 feet in length and about 4 feet high (five16x8x8″ cement blocks stacked + footer and natural stone cap). The purpose of this wall originated as an idea during the pre-trip planning phase. The idea being that it would be beneficial to have a solid structure in this location to prevent someone from accidently driving a vehicle over the hill. This wall is covered with natural stone and has proven to be a good investment of money and time.
- Construction of Cuneta water collection channels on the east, west and north sides of the house
- Construction of a stone waterfall cascade in the location that was previously a naturally formed erosion channel. All mud and mess during a rainy season. This cascade wall structure is a fortress of raw materials that will hopefully last for centuries. The entire shell is constructed of 16x8x8” cement blocks that are then completely filled with concrete and rebar-reinforced. During the raising of the blocks to a near-level position, a gap formed between the blocks and the earthen wall with maximum expansion to perhaps 7″ +/-. This gap zone void was also entirely filled with concrete. The natural stone was then placed as a veneer on top of this super-structure shell.
- Construction of a stairway that leads from the parking area down to the concrete platform under the house that is used to store the propane gas tanks. The construction of this stairway is simple, made entirely out of pre-cast 16″x16″x1.5″ concrete paver pads. Yet this small component of the entire project is one of the most continuously useful aspects of everything that was completed in January of 2020.
The completion (or near-completion) of all of these projects in this short time frame seems to have significantly changed the property for the better. The removal of so many mud-prone zones and the ability to channel the rain water that pours from the roof into defined concrete formed channels has eliminated any real threat of erosion to the house.
The overall assessment is that much of what was completed in January 2020 has performed fairly well. Some lessons were learned during this trip that will be implemented for all future projects;
- The importance of using a gas or electric powered concrete/cement mixer. This was one aspect of planning that we did not foresee. The situation was quickly realized though once the actual work began. In one of the videos below there is footage of Kenneth, Andrés and Nelson mixing the concrete on the ground. Basically, this requires 2 or 3 parts of aggregate base material per each 50KG bag of hydraulic cement. A small volcano shaped structure is formed of the combined aggregate base material and cement and then water is poured into the center. The rest of the mixing is done by hand with shovels. This quickly became impractical. There were thousands upon thousands of kilos of cement and base material to mix, and this was not the way to do it. A decision was made to rent a cement mixer. This proved to be a good decision, as all of our project goals could be realized and the work crew did not get unnecessarily overworked on doing the job of just mixing concrete.
2. The cuneta channels are capped on the perimeter sides with a wall of natural stone. This is aesthetically more pleasing to look at than just a seam of concrete. But there is a greater functional purpose for the stone perimeter. What we have recently learned is that in many cases the stone perimeter walls that were finished in Jan-2020 were not of sufficient height, and some mud is washing into the channels. This is not entirely problematic, but does end up pushing a lot of earth material to lower levels of the property that has to be cleaned up and removed later. Large quantities of mud can block the cuneta channels entirely, which creates a new swampish-lake environment somewhere else on the property. The solution to resolve this small matter is simple enough, and just requires a devotion of time and the basic materials (stone, concrete and Type-S mortar)