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Part 2 of 2
Mr. McKinney has nearly three decades in construction
in Costa Rica and wrote this advisory at the request of A.M. Costa Rica
Having lived and worked here for 27 years, I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine, and some things you probably wouldn’t imagine, in the line of home construction and maintenance.
I arrived at a time when U.S. standards and supplies were just starting to trickle down this way. Sheetrock had not arrived yet or float-less toilet valves and the fancy washerless faucets that are now available.
The influx of imported cars was moderate and, in those days, the economy was anything but booming. To save money on water heating, people would have an electric shower heater installed. They are still known, especially by North Americans, as suicide showers. Not that anyone was actually electrocuted by these units, but they certainly looked menacing with their exposed electric cables and electrical tape dangling down.
Regular electric water heaters, similar to the ones
They are still known, especially by North Americans, as suicide showers.
seen in the U.S, are manufactured here and commonly used in most homes. Unfortunately, you will find that they are sometimes mounted in inaccessible areas, like in the ceiling over the closet (usually without any provision for the possibility of a high pressure discharge or leak, which can damage the ceiling and whatever is stored below).
Usually, however, the water heater will be located inside a laundry room or bedroom closet, tucked away in the corner. Concerning these heaters, I have noticed that it is rare to see a proper discharge pipe (which should be attached to the pressure relief valve in case something causes the unit to overheat or the street pressure to rise above the high setting of the valve).
Sometimes this pipe can be facing right towards the door, where it would scald someone if it went off. Or the drain faucet, that is there to periodically drain off the accumulated sediment or rust from inside the tank, may be facing towards a wall instead of the front where a hose could be attached. Same thing with the access plates to the heater coils which need replacing every few years.
This is also a region of amazing contrasts. I have noticed a variety of workmanship from child-like cheesy to super posh.
Having seen some pretty crooked buildings over the years, where nothing seemed to be quite square or plumb nor built to any standard door or window size, it was amazing to me to observe workers putting up concrete block walls. They would be stretching out plumb lines, a block at a time high, attached to posts at the ends of the walls and getting the walls up very well this way. They would then cast a well-reinforced concrete bond beam along the top and ends of the wall and set little blocks of wood at strategic points along the top, bottom and middle of the wall to serve as leveling guides for the plaster. I watched as they would plaster 30 feet of wall without a tiny waver in the plumb. You would pay a hefty price in the States for that sort of work, and it is standard procedure here.
While I was tinkering along with a leveling transit these local workers
were stretching out a clear
. . . they would plaster 30 feet of wall without a tiny waver in the plumb.
plastic hose filled with water and getting perfectly level marks from one side of the building to the other in minutes. I was quite impressed and paid close attention to this, among many other little local tricks that seem to beat all the sophisticated techniques in the United States.
It is true that most doors and windows in times past were not made to any particular standard, other than to logical openings according to the layout of the concrete blocks. The reason was that there were not any ready-made doors or windows available to set into a standard opening. This has changed somewhat today, but still not in the way it is in the United States. Most homes have hand-made wood frames with the simple fixed glass panes anchored to it by trim.
The woodwork must be continually revarnished to maintain the weather seal and protect it from rot. The opening type windows are usually the type known here as jalosy. These are 4-inch wide glass
|slats, mounted in an aluminum framework
(sides only) so that these can be opened either by a lever or a crank.
The problem is that wind, dust and sometimes rain can easily blow through
these, and they are often a bit difficult to clean as well. This type of
window in the United States would have an upper and lower sill part of
the frame to seal it better.
There are, however, some excellent aluminum window and door companies here who will install crank-out windows or sliding windows or doors with anodized or natural aluminum frames. But you have to beware that often, even though they are high quality and look great, they will come with fixed screens which cannot easily be removed for cleaning.
Since there is no serious worry about the weather, at least in the mid elevations, there is no concern about insulation here. The blocks, filled with concrete and reinforcing bar are quite sturdy and keep in the warmth in cold areas and the cool in warm areas, but there can be a lot of difficulty with the choice of roofing materials. The typical roof is covered with galvanized and corrugated tin, nailed over 1x4 wooden trusses, with either fiber-cement or plywood ceiling panels installed and trimmed with wood and painted over.
Tin roofs are known to be hot as well as loud, as in a rainstorm, so those who can afford it will use other materials or a combination of them. For instance, in the most expensive sort of roof here, they will place wood furring strips across the tin roof and lay clay or concrete tiles on those. This can become quite a heavy load so it is usually done over a steel structure.
One of the nicer roofing materials, and a lot lighter than ceramic tile or concrete tile, is a kind of fiber-cement called Panelit. It is made in corrugated 4-foot by 8-foot sheets or in shorter sheets that give an appearance of ceramic tile roofing. It is very hardy, rain and fire proof, can be walked on without breaking, and easily replaced if a tree limb breaks or cracks a sheet. It is also a lot cooler than tin and pricier as well, of course. It's nice to know that the same companies that makes clear plastic roofing sheet for tin also make it to match this Panalit material, so you can easily install a skylight over a bathroom or kitchen, etc.
There are some nice surprises in flooring materials here as well. It is not terribly expensive to install real ceramic tiles or composites of crushed marble, or even cast concrete which is stamped with a stone pattern and looks very much like a real stone floor.
Here a wooden floor is made of real, solid wood, comes in a full 1-inch thickness and various widths. I once lived in a home which had Purple Heart wood floors! This is a gorgeous kind of natural purple wood. (I even saw them using this, now rare wood for studs in a house — to be covered over with paneling and never seen!) However, the woods are very quickly becoming rare and the prices are rising steeply. Plus, it is very difficult to acquire these hardwoods in a sufficiently dry state. If not entirely dry they can shrink up severely in a few months.
One can, however, purchase kiln-dried woods now, and even imported wood flooring is available as well.
One of the difficulties that people run into here concerns the size
of the rooms. Often there may be three bedrooms advertised in a house,
. . . the woods are very quickly becoming rare and the prices are
you go to see the place, you find that they are barely large enough to fit a double bed. People are more aware now of including lots of storage space, but often the wood work is pretty rustic- even in luxurious homes. The bathrooms will often be very tiny with barely enough knee room around the toilet or elbow room in the shower stall. On the other hand, sometimes homes here are outlandishly posh. Theyll have huge bathrooms with dual or triple oval sinks in marble-topped cabinets and back-to-back showers with floor to ceiling tiles and gold-plated fixtures!
In summing up, those folks interested in coming to Costa Rica to live will find a generous variety of homes for rent or for sale and will hopefully take note of some of the above mentioned factors to help with their choice.
There are many other details to consider as well, but Ill leave those for another time. Meanwhile, viva la diferencia- Enjoy!
Part I of this report is available HERE
died at age 93
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Robert F. Woodward, who served as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica in the Eisenhower Administration, from 1954 to 1958, has died, the U.S. Embassy reported. A release said the death took place last week.
He was born Robert Forbes Woodward in Hennepin County, Minn., Oct. 1, 1908. After serving as ambassador to Costa Rica, he served as U.S. ambassador to Uruguay in 1958 to 1961 and U.S. ambassador to Chile in 1961. He served also as assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs in the early 1960s.
In addition he was involved in the August 1961 Punta del Este, Uruguay, meeting that established the Alliance for Progress. He also was a member of the White House Cuban Task Force that tried to develop strategies to contain Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.
He was believed to be living in Minnesota at the time of his death.
Argentina says reserves
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The Argentine government says its Central Bank has ample reserves to support the price of the peso when it debuts as a freely-floating currency today.
Presidential spokesman Eduardo Amadeo made the assurance Sunday, amid fears the currency's could plummet against the dollar.
One day earlier, President Eduardo Duhalde harshly criticized what he called "a campaign by speculators" to create economic uncertainty before trading resumes after a week-long ban on foreign exchange trading.
Some economists say without strong international support, the peso could lose value and spark hyperinflation. The currency, which was pegged one-to-one with the U.S. dollar for a decade, has lost more than 40 percent of its value since it was devalued last month.
The Central Bank said last week it has around $14 billion in international reserves. Bank officials say they are optimistic the peso will stabilize in the coming weeks.
The move to float the peso came after the government abolished a dual exchange rate system, which was established after devaluation.
A floating peso is seen as key for Argentina to get additional aid from the International Monetary Fund.
The La Nacion newspaper reports that Argentine officials may seek up to $25 billion in aid from the IMF during talks this week in Washington. Argentine Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov is expected to participate in the talks. In December, the IMF refused to clear a loan to Argentina worth over $1 billion, saying the country failed to control spending.
Ecuador to cut outflow
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Ecuador's government says it plans to cut spending by $200 million, about one percent of the country's gross domestic product, as part of its efforts to obtain new aid from the International Monetary Fund.
Government officials said most cuts will be from infrastructure projects that have not yet begun, and added that social spending will not be affected.
Ecuador's negotiations with the IMF have focused on two issues, fiscal discipline and reforms to increase productivity. Among the measures called for by the IMF are the sale of electricity companies, labor-market reform, and the strengthening of the banking sector.
But the government has had difficulties with implementing the reforms,
because of opposition by labor unions and indigenous groups. On Thursday,
about 3,000 indigenous people protested in Quito against rising gasoline
prices and the planned privatization of the electricity sector. The privatization
was postponed four times last year.
|U.S. wins first gold
In Winter Olympics
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Claudia Pechstein has won Germany's first gold medal at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Pechstein won the women's speed skating 3000-meters race, ahead of silver medalist Renate Groenwold of the Netherlands, and bronze medalist Cindy Klassen of Canada.
Earlier Sunday, the United States earned its first gold medal when Kelly Clark won the women's snowboard halfpipe. The 18-year-old Clark, the event's 2000 world junior champion, finished more than four points ahead of silver medalist Doriane Vidal of France. Switzerland's Fabienne Reuteler won the bronze medal.
Also Sunday, Austrian Fritz Strobl won the gold in men's alpine downhill skiing; Simon Amman of Switzerland captured gold in the opening ski jumping competition; and Samppa Lajunen of Finland finished first in the 15-kilometer cross-country skiing race.
Athletes from European winter sports strongholds took the early lead in the race for gold on Saturday. Veteran Italian skier Stefania Belmondo claimed the first gold medal of the 19th Winter Games, winning the women's 15-kilometer freestyle cross-country.
Belmondo held off her big rival Larissa Lazutina from Russia, who took silver. It was the 33-year-old Italian's eighth Olympic medal, and these Games are expected to be her last.
In speed skating, Jochem Uytdehaage broke a world record as he won the men's 5,000-meter event. American Derek Parra was more than four seconds behind in second place.
The first day of competition also saw Norway's Kari Traa winning the gold medal in the women's freestyle moguls. Her win was widely expected. Traa was last year's world champion. American Shannon Bahrke got the silver, the first U.S. medal.
Native German skier Johann Muehlegg also won gold Saturday for his adopted
country, Spain, in the men's 30-kilometer cross-country freestyle. It was
Spain's first winter Olympic gold in three decades.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
A dissident colonel in Venezuela is remaining defiant after calling for the resignation of President Hugo Chavez.
In a brief public appearance Friday in Caracas, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto says he has the support of the people of Venezuela and that he is fighting against oppression.
Thursday, after calling for Chavez to step down at a public forum, Col. Soto escaped military arrest in Caracas, sparking massive demonstrations for and against President Chavez.
The Air Force leadership says Col. Soto failed to show up for a scheduled meeting with his commanding officers Friday morning and that if he does not report to them before Monday noon he will be considered a deserter.
The country's Air Force commander Gen. Regulo Anselmi also says the armed forces remain united behind President Chavez and that Soto has a personal grudge because he was recently refused a promotion.
Late Thursday, a second military officer, Venezuelan Military Police Capt. Pedro Flores, told a rally near the president's home that many military officers oppose Chavez, and he urged them to come forward and join the rising public discontent against the president. Smaller protests against Chavez were held Friday.
Opponents of the left-leaning president accuse him of acting like a tyrant. In recent months, his approval rating has dropped from over 80 percent to about 30 percent. Soto's outburst also coincided with a visit by a human-rights investigator from the Organization of American States. The investigator warned Friday that freedom of speech was being endangered in Venezuela.
President Chavez, who was jailed previously for a failed coup, was elected by an overwhelming margin in 1998, when he pledged to eliminate corruption in government and reduce poverty.
was retired resident
A man who died of knife wounds late Wednesday in Putarenas was Brian Carter, a retired, divorced U.S. citizen who has family in Detroit, Mich., and may have come from that area, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman.
Carter died in his home in the Charcarita 3 urbanization in Puntarenas, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. However, they could not give a full identification for a story which appeared Friday. Carter suffered two knife wounds, one in the chest and the other in the back, police said.
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