You know you aren’t updating your blog nearly enough when you had time to build half a house since the last update…
Since November, I have been in full construction mode, although the builders took two weeks off around Christmas and I managed to escape all of January and spent a month in Europe. For the past two months, I have had a staff of between 10 and 20 people work six days a week on the house. I generally go on site (about a mile away from my current place) twice a day, to make sure they put all the electric and water pipes, and remember to leave holes for windows, the kind of stuff they’d say “oh, sorry, we forgot”, but which would mean demolishing a full wall to put back in the right place. And while they would work for free to fix it, or better said quote me twice the price to take into account potential mistakes and extra work at the end, I still have to pay for the extra materials they use in fixing errors.
First we built a little storage room, since I am sleeping a mile away, I wanted the materials to be safe at night when no one is on site. It looks a bit buried in the ground, because I wanted it at the same level the house will be, and the land goes down to the beach, so at first, it looks weird.
Now I can sleep soundly without worrying about missing concrete bags.
Now it is time for the footprint of the house. The first floor is roughly 9mx7m plus a 3mx9m terrace, making the two bedrooms and two bathroom upstairs a 10mx9m space.
Again, a lot of earth was moved, which is really impressive as they do it all with little buckets they carry on their back. Unlike the previous house, you could enter a caterpillar and flatten the land straight away, but I guess the contractor prefers to give jobs to his extended family, and they are going pretty fast so I am happy too.
They are now pretty familiar with the stone wall building technique, the same than on the other house, so the walls were built much faster. The full first floor will be stone, safe for that little material hut, which will then become a tool storage, and another 3x4m room for laundry. If I decide to have staff on site, I put a shower in the storage room and there is space for a bed too, so they don’t have to come into the main house and I can lock it when I am away.
You can see the lake in the background, that will be the view from the living room, as the walls take shape under careful supervision of Napoleon. A closed living space is what I want the most, as I just have an open air terrace in the old house, so when it rains or there is wind, I am often inside my room wishing I could have a comfortable couch to curl up and read. Also, the kitchen is in another building from my room so if it rains and I want a snack I have to get wet.
A couple of weeks in, the walls are already half way through, which is when it gets touchy, because you have to put all the electric plugs, switches, as well as the water pipes. The downstairs area will have a small toilet under the stairs, and the kitchen needs a sink. The washing machine, if I ever lay off the maid and stop hand washing, has its own plug as well as 220V for the dryer in the maids quarters, between the storage room and the house (not built yet).
All those orange pipes are left for electric cables or water access.
I left the inside walls as block, this is the kitchen wall to leave a corridor at the entrance door, because stone walls are nice but they also bring humidity. Block walls are cheaper and dryer. I will do the same thing upstairs to prevent my clothes from getting mouldy.
The first hardware store is 10 miles away, and the first decent one, 20 miles away. So I refused to spend my time going back and forth just for one screw, especially since hauling materials can often end up like this:
but the workers had a very hard time telling me what they needed in advance. I would buy 100 bags of concrete and ask them on Monday if they needed more, they’d say no, and at midday, say there was no concrete left and they couldn’t work in the afternoon. While I tried to “teach them how to fish instead of giving them a fish” by not supervising the stocks myself and waiting for them to learn from their mistakes, they also taught me a lot about making do, like whey they didn’t have a reducing joint for the pipes above and without thinking twice cut a bottle of soda to do the trick. It is an electric pipe, not water, so no leaks!
Overall, they have been really resourceful which has helped keep down the costs a lot.
Fast forward a bit, and we are making windows to what is starting to look like a medieval castle. The windows I made on the plans didn’t take into account those big orange tubes which are the water drains from the upstairs bathrooms so I had a reduce windos a bit, but the idea is to have huge windows over the lake, sliding French doors to go out, and then upstairs I will make a safe room with heavy doors so I can store all my stuff when I go away, and people don’t break a $500 window because they saw a $50 ipod dock inside.
This is the living room’s French door and the terrace in front.
After only 6 weeks of work, the walls are all ready and we set up the wood frame so support what will be the first floor’s roof and the upstairs rooms’ floor. That will be the view from the rooms:
I thought about cutting a couple of trees from the 90 acres land development to get the wood, but there were few straight trees, and the straight ones were precious wood that would have been a shame to use a building support. So I hope they treat the wood well so after the floor has dried we can brush it an use it to make doors and stuff.
On top of that goes an iron grid which strengthens the concrete
That is where the roof lights go, so we installed all the wiring and I put some neat little tapes with the name of each cable, but then some people came over Christmas break and stole some of the wires so the whole electricity may be a bit messed up…
Another lesson in being resourceful, since the stairs aren’t built yet, they made a bridge so they could take up all the concrete mix to pour on top of the roof. They just climbed up there running, rolling in 100b of liquid concrete at a time, impressive. I had to watch my steps just to get myself up there. Napoleon refused to climb and cried at the bottom.
Usually they mix concrete by hand, but for the occasion, we went to rent a concrete machine, to save precious hours of work, as you have to work fast so the mix doesn’t dry until it is all poured.
It took all day to fill the grid with concrete.
It will now need to dry for over three weeks, which is what allowed me to go to Europe for a month without worrying about the works. While I was away, they finished a few touches downstairs, like building concrete kitchen countertops and a concrete couch. It isn’t the most aesthetic thing ever, I am with you on this, but in a tropical country where bugs eat the wood and cockroaches and scorpions love to hide in it, it is great to have just concrete, and if it is dirty you get it cleaned with a hose and water. This is the living room/kitchen area once they removed the wood support and started building the furniture.
To celebrate the first two months of hard work, I got the workers… a pig. For them, spending a day together, sharing, telling jokes and eating pig is way more valuable than extra money.
We went to the new public beach which has neat little houses where you can barbecue and spent the whole day there preparing and frying the pig.
Guess who was happiest about it?
Overall, I was really pleased with how things went. It took way more effort than I thought on my side, as I had a friend to supervise at the beginning but then was back on my own and had to go on site 2-3 times a day, but it was smoother than expected. I didn’t negotiate much, the downstairs part came to about $20,000, of which under half was for the builders and the other 60-ish% for materials. So the builders were happy, working fast to finish, get their final check and keep working.
I expect the full thing to come to under $40,000 just for the building, and the land is around $25,000, so for $65,000, you can have a two bed, two bath not so little house by the lake in Guatemala!
Want to be my neighbor? the land will have 4 to 6 similar houses, it’s big!