Building in the Tropics

In Costa Rica, and especially Costa Ballena, we can attest to the significance of the impact of the natural elements in which we live; the salty air tends to rust over any metal over time, the jungle is quick to reclaim anything left behind, and proper water management can be challenging. Time after time, we hear home owners wishing that they would have built smaller in general or with more outdoor living space. To help you get kick started on the learning curve, below are a few points worth mentioning.

Keep it light. Opposite to living in North America, roofs in the tropics need to let hot air escape. Light colours reflect, dark absorb. Lightweight materials will cool down within minutes of the sun’s disappearance, whereas heavier materials may take a while to heat but will take the same amount of time to cool down. Some roofing materials will also require insulation. Be sure to factor in this budget item, as a few extra dollars spent on reflective foil and/or a thermal component or fan, may make a noticeable temperature difference during the heat peak hours of the day. And remember the heavier the roof, the more support it needs, think light, all the way around!

Take a helping hand from Mother Nature. Planting shrubs and flowers close to the walls of your home, but not touching them, will create a cooler micro climate and work wonders towards keeping you cool indoors, as will planting trees around your house to create shade. If you already have trees but need to cut some down, try to keep those that will be located to the west side of your house, they will serve to keep your house cooler in the late afternoon, the hottest part of the day.

Good fences make good neighbours. Clearly delimitating your property upon purchase is a good idea, as is the investment of getting your property lines measured by a professional surveyor, especially if you have a larger property that is situated in the jungle or mountains. Be sure you know, with accuracy, your property lines and that you clearly delimit them by installing a fence, if one is not already there.

Plan for outdoor living. Be sure to plan ample outdoor living area, both shaded from the sun and that keeps dry from the rain. If possible, build facing the direction of the prevailing breeze, and plan bigger than you think you will need, once living in Costa Rica, you will realize how much time is spent living outdoors. Consider a ceiling fan and electrical outlets for your ‘terraza’. If you live near water, you may want to consider a screened in area, as the ‘ankle biters’ (mosquitos) show up at the most inopportune time, sunset that is! You will see, the investment will be worth the comfort.

Building in the tropics has its particularities, it takes years to learn the ins and outs, as always the help and advice of local professionals, well thought out and detailed planning, alongside innovative designs, all work towards helping build a home that will weather the test of time.

In tropical architecture, one of the most important elements of a building is its roof. In regions that are known to receive strong sun radiation and heavy rainfall, the roof is the essential element that makes a house a shelter.

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