Responsibilities of Home Ownership in Costa Rica

The recent rains we’ve received here in Central Valley have reminded me to accelerate my summer construction projects of roofing, fascias, soffits and rainwater drainage systems.

Because Costa Rica is located less than 10 degrees from the equator, exterior building products deteriorate from intense ultraviolet penetration and water infiltration occurs in cracks and where contraction and expansion of the exposed surfaces has occurred.

I’ve been building and inspecting housing and buildings in Costa Rica for 18 years and from this constant exposure to construction materials and different installation methods, I can tell you that 95% of the dwellings I’ve inspected have roofing and flashing problems that allow rainwater infiltration into the exterior overhang structures and the fascia and soffit finish materials that are attached.

Depending on the construction materials that were used to construct a dwelling, there are a variety of possible problems and solutions that should be addressed, before the heavy rains begin.

Up until about eight years ago, most soffit construction was finished with wood strips and the fascias were finished with Fibrolit, cementitious laminates. These construction materials reaction time to water infiltration is much longer than modern imported materials such as Densglass and green drywall that require plastering and finishing according to the manufacturers proprietary methods.

In North America, most roofing and exterior overhang structures are designed and built with construction materials that entirely enclose the structures and do not permit air or water infiltration, except where the design professionals have intentionally provided for ventilation; such as vents on the underside of soffits or attic ventilators.

Here in Costa Rica, even in expensive housing, 95% of the time there’s no flashing or other materials installed at the roof edge where the gutters and fascias are located. This opening between the roof laminates the fascias is where most water infiltration occurs. The infiltration of water ends up inside the overhang cavity soffit and initially causes damage to the soffit building materials in the form of mold, mildew and deterioration.

After a period of time, the unsightly cosmetic damage graduates into building materials deteriorating from moisture infiltration and then replacement inevitably becomes necessary.

After 18 years of working with Costa Rican tradesmen, architects and engineers, I can tell you that their attitudes continue to be that annual repairs and refinishing of damaged exterior building components are part of owning and maintaining dwellings here. I’ve suggested to them that there are locally available building components that can be utilized to avoid these continuing problems, only to be told; “that’s the way we do it in Costa Rica.”

Even though, building materials deteriorate annually following the dwellings exposure to the rainy season. It’s customary here for home owners to paint the exterior surfaces of their dwellings every summer. If you’re looking to purchase a home or condo during the summer months, most of the problem areas have been cosmetically covered up. Only an experienced construction inspector with a trained eye can detect the problem areas once they’ve been covered up.

I’ve recently been involved with a condominium building renovation project that was necessary because previous water infiltration had damaged the fascias and soffits. Removal and replacement of the damaged soffits and fascias was the first step and because of the height of the two story buildings, this work was complicated by the need to work on scaffoldings which involve a more dangerous and much slower labor process.

On one of the buildings, which was built about twenty-five years ago, some of the tongue and grooved wood strips; (tablillas) on the soffits (aleros) had deteriorated and the 1″ x 2″ wood supports (reglas) that the wood strips were attached to, had deteriorated as well. In addition to the wood soffits, the fascias (prescintas) made of Fibrolit cementitious laminates that were attached to the same wood structure, needed to be replaced.

The first work to be performed was the removal of all the obvious deteriorated wood on the soffits and laminates on the fascias. Once the overhang cavity had been opened, other areas of deterioration were visible and at that point the owners needed to be advised of the extent of the damage that was not visible until the initial demolition took place.

Because the wood structure and soffit wood strips were saturated with moisture, insects were attracted to this moist and dark environment and pest infestation was obvious from the holes in the wood where the insects had bored into the wood supports. Additionally, the insects had bored into the thicker main supports as well and had caused structural damage to the entire roof structure.

Upon further inspection inside the attic, where the overhang structure was now visible, the extent of damage to the structural supports was exposed. Because of the age of the wood structure and the amount of deterioration, the owners decided to remove all of the wood structure and replace it with metal, which will not deteriorate like wood, if properly sealed with anticorrosive products.

Based on the size of this building, I needed to have a structural engineer design the new roof structure and specify the size and configuration of the new metal components. From previous experience with designing metal roof structures, I suggested to the engineer that we should utilize thicker gauge, C or H type metal components versus square metal tubing.

The most important part of protecting metal construction materials is to protect them from corrosion with anticorrosive products. The C and H type metal components are open on all sides and the anticorrosive products can be applied to all exposed surfaces. When square tubing is used, the inside of the metal tubes are not accessible and anticorrosive products cannot be applied inside the tubes, where moisture causes corrosion and deterioration.

The first phase of protecting the metal structural components is to clean each piece with paint thinner and then apply an anticorrosive primer. I prefer to use a red colored primer (minio rojo) and a finish coat of white anticorrosive paint, like SUR, Fast Dry. By utilizing the contrasting color for the finish coat of paint, the entire surface of the metal is exposed to insure complete coverage with the final coat of paint.

Following the anticorrosive paint application, the metal components can be assembled, welded and installed. Following the installation, another application of primer and finish paint should be applied to the surfaces where the metal was welded and or scratched during installation. By covering 100% of the metal surfaces with the anticorrosive products, corrosion will not occur.

One other important step to insure that new metal roofing components are sealed properly is to ship the metal tubes to a well protected and dry location. The anticorrosive protection products need to be cleaned and painted and the metal should be welded together to make the trusses in a clean and dry environment to eliminate moisture and dirt during application of the anticorrosive products.

When purchasing existing housing in Costa Rica, it’s important to know what type of roof and soffit structure the dwelling has and to find out if moisture or pest infiltration has been causing deterioration prior to closing the purchase. Your dwellings roof structure cannot be overlooked because it protects you and your personal possessions.

If insect or moisture infiltration has been deteriorating the structural building materials, you need to know this before paying the seller the asking price so that you don’t end up having to foot the bill for an entire roof replacement. Your attorney can utilize a construction inspection report to escrow sufficient funds for the roof to be replaced, and then you won’t end up with an unpleasant and expensive surprise down the road.

Remember, the pride of home ownership comes along with responsibilities and all dwellings, residential and commercial, require consistent maintenance in order to maintain the exterior surfaces. The extent and nature of maintenance will depend on the size and exposure of the individual buildings. It may be a good idea to make sure that the following basic maintenance tasks are completed before the rainy season begins:

  1. Wash down exterior surfaces.
  2. Re-apply exterior protective paint and caulking that have deteriorated during the summer.
  3. Maintain the exterior surfaces and connections including joints, penetrations, flashings and sealants that may protect against moisture infiltration.
  4. Clean out gutters, downspouts, blocked pipes and overflows as needed.
  5. Clearance between the bottom edge of exterior walls ground where it comes into contact with ground cover should always be kept clean and prune back vegetation that’s close to or touching the building.

Remember, our pride of home ownership and level of comfort aren’t fulfilled by waiting for the inevitable storms to pass. “Hasta mañana” is a local tradition that most foreigners have been exposed to. However, in order to survive down here in the jungle, property owners need to learn how to deal with Costa Rica’s unique climatic characteristics and how they impact our dwellings. Consistent preventative maintenance will go a long way in protecting your property investments.

Written by VIP Member Thomas Patrick Rosenberger of With more than 28 years of homebuilding experience, 18 of which have been in Costa Rica, construction consultant Tom Rosenberger knows the ins and outs of building and remodeling a home in the Central Valley area of Costa Rica. You can contact Tom using his Contact Us page here.

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