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Costa Rica Alternative Homes - Log Homes
Construction options and house styles are as varied as the plot of land you choose and Costa Rica is no exception. I'm always interested in housing designs, especially if they are a bit unusual and individualistic.
Around San Jose, I came across three 'alternative' building systems offering a different construction approach from the more usual block-and-beam style. Although they might not come in that much cheaper per square meter when comparing material costs, all three offer much faster construction timeframes, which in themselves translate into substantial savings.
This fifteen-year-old company started out producing and marketing wood and concrete preserving chemicals before branching into log home construction in 1995. Co-owner Juan Tuk put up a show house along the main autopista between San Jose and Cartago and before it was even completed, a lady driving past stopped, took one look and placed her order.
Since then, Xilo have produced nearly 400 log homes throughout the country among weekend homes, beach hideaways, hotel cabins and gazebos. Although less common, several clients have happily built log homes as their primary residence within the metropolitan area.
Juan also told me about his plans to build a log house community up on some land he has in the hills along the Pan-Americana road towards San Isidro with weekend cabins and shared recreational areas for about six houses with on-site handyman and general overseer.
Costa Rica Log Homes by Xilo
Grupo Xilo will offer a complete construction package for their clients. Their team of in-house experts help to obtain the necessary building permits, carry out the topographical surveys and soil studies, prepare computerized architectural plans and oversee the final finish on the homes.
Their catalog is ample proof of the great variety of styles possible with the client's pocketbook and imagination being the only limitations.
Building with wood is not a new idea to northern residents but log homes have found a niche in Costa Rica. Purpose grown eucalyptus and pine are cut at four years once a 15 cm diameter is reached. After transporting to Grupo Xilo's processing facility, the trunks are debarked and smoothed then dried in special cylindrical kilns in a vacuum and preserving agents are added at a pressure of 12 kg/cm2 to ensure maximum penetration.
The dried, treated trunks will repel insects, fungal growth and sun damage with the chemicals also acting as fire retardant to withstand 420 C, which is kind of useful when you think about those open fireplaces!
The chemical agents comply with international norms (The American Wood Preservers' Association) and are non-toxic. Arsenic is not used in any areas to be used by humans and the company claims the wood is good for up to fifty years.
Log Homes in Costa Rica by Xilo
The main structure is supported on wooden pillars sunk with cement reinforcement between 40 to 120 cms apart. In this way, no major earth moving is necessary, which helps reduce costs. It also means that air flow from beneath helps keep the house damp free in more humid regions and, conversely, cooler if built in the hot lowlands.
Ventilation windows fitted with mosquito netting are set under the eaves for free air flow. The mock-tile roofing is insulated to 10 cm between the ceiling and roof to keep in the warmth for colder altitudes and deflect heat for the hotlands. A cement poured floor is tiled from a selection carried by Xilo, or the client can choose from a retailer of their choice.
Horizontal trunks infill the vertical pillars and the spaces are sealed with a rubber epoxy. Since the wood inevitably undergoes some shrinkage in the first year, subsequent inspection and sealant applications are included in the cost of construction.
Construction time varies between five and ten weeks depending on the complexity of the design. The weight of construction is far less than traditional block housing averaging 35 kg/m2 instead of 112 kg/m2 and the natural, more elastic qualities of the wood absorb earthquake tremors more easily than more rigid concrete and block construction and comply with national anti-seismic regulations
Per square meter of construction, the costs are below traditional standard housing prices, normally costs between $340 - $400 per m2. Xilo homes are about $270 - 310 per m2 including services installation, bathroom fittings, tiled flooring and kitchen fittings and hot water.
XILO Log Homes (506) 279-7985, Fax: (506) 279-3937, www.grupoxilo.com
Written by Vicky Longland - Vicky Longland has spent all her adult life in Latin and Central America originally as head of the translation department for an international human development organisation and currently working as a freelance translator and writer for several national and world-wide publications, specialising in people's issues, the environment and lifestyles.