We are offering modular homes like the 1400 sq ft 2 bedroom/2 bath home below. Sizes start at 250 sq ft cabins and prices start at $55 per square foot
There are many aspects to the words and ideas of Sustainable, Ecological, Affordable housing, that we are trying to attain. We think its important to specify our goals here.
We are trying to make a product that blends modern and ancient technologies where applicable, to make a product that is understood and accepted by the consumer market.
Sustainable, Ecological, and Affordable stands for housing that will be around a hundred years from now, adaptable to alternative energy sources, will provide reliable plumbing systems that are accessible and easy to maintain. Roofing systems that will create a more quiet ambiance, as well as lower energy consumption and increase comfort. Natural lighting to reduce energy consumption and make home an enjoyable place to be.
It means using materials that are locally manufactured when possible to reduce the embodied energy of transportation. Using materials that have low embodied energy in their manufacture and transportation. When possible are less toxic to the environment. Controlling construction waste utilizing intelligent design. With bamboo we using a very sustainable, rapidly renewable, locally grown and processed material. We are fortunate to live in an area where one of the top ten construction bamboos in the world grows naturally and wild.
These ideas support the Community Business Model. For more on this concept see our About Us page.
The home plans below are designs that fit into the parameters above. We have to limit our designs in order to make them cost effective for the customer, and maintain profitability for ourselves. We are planning on doing a few pre-designed “kits” for homes, greenhouses, gazebos, etc. These modular kits can be combined to customize living spaces. The advantages of modular kit construction, is that the components, including most of the foundation forms and structure, can be prefabricated off site, or on site, in a separate area from the construction. Sections can be used to support tarps for temporary storage.
The straw model home below combines several kits. These “kits” represent the modular components of these designs. They can be combined together to customize the design to fit the needs and budget of the client. The center raised hallway is one kit, and this can be used for a front entrance, patio, and carports. There is a half octagon cupola (yellow). This “kit” is fabricated on a full cupola mold and the walls can be extended to use it as a small office or dining area as an addition onto an exterior wall. The back of the house where the bedrooms and baths are located have the rectangular roof sections “kit” that can accommodate the raised hallway and cupola if desired.
And the front, 32 foot diameter Octagon “kit” at the end, is an open floor plan that has the living, dining, and kitchen areas. This octagon is part of a “kit” that can be made in several diameters for one bedroom houses and gazebos. The front porch is a center rectangular Cupola kit that can easily be framed as a patio, entrance, carport, or stand alone gazebo. So as you can see this house is simply a few modular “kits” placed together in this configuration. Other configurations could include a rectangular house (no Octagon) extended center cupola, or no cupola, depending on budget and individual desires.
We want these homes to be beautiful. Affordable does not have to be cheap or ugly if it is intelligently designed. And it should allow for some customization, so folks can have their houses better fit their lifestyles, instead of the opposite: being stuck with fitting into your house. So we are choosing a pre-manufactured, or at least mostly pre-manufactured kit home idea. By combining different kits, we can make different houses with different floor plans, and still maintain the advantages of the kit concept.
The structure is of bamboo, which is light and flexible and stronger than steel for its weight. The ceilings are designed in an open beam design, with the ceiling material above the bamboo structure. For more on how the bamboo is treated, and information on the structural and building characteristics go the Bamboo Treatmentand Interesting Bamboo Facts.
Here is a view looking from the living/dining area to the kitchen
What are some advantages of this modular “kit “ style of construction:
Having done consulting for several years here, there are some typical issues with constructing here:
Contractors here have varying degrees of experience in building homes to foreigners expectations. And like back home, contractors varying degrees of experience in business and project management abilities. This can result in frustration for clients. Some of which are cultural conflicts as well. Many times customers expectations are not in touch with the reality of the local labor experience or the materials being used. This is why we are designing and building modular “kit” houses, gazebos, greenhouses, etc. The client can see the quality they can expect in previous projects.
With the exception of the bamboo, the rest of the house is made of materials well known and accepted by most foreigners. This means there is a much better chance of getting what you expect. We have developed systems that allow us to reduce labor and construction time.
We want to produce a house, of known quality, in a known amount of time, for a known price, that is made of components that have been proven before and will result in happy clients, who will recommend us. We also want these projects done within the time frame and budget, so we can make a profit too. We are aspiring to a Win/Win for client, workers, and contractor! For more on our style of business see the About Us page.
We have already proven all of the concepts here with the building of the Bamboo Cabin Prototype. We are now (November 2012) working on a full scale model of these “kits” as a greenhouse. This greenhouse will incorporate the basic designs and utilize the same forms for producing the columns, and octagon for the cupola. Please check back in the next couple of months to see our new photos.
Here are some advantages
The modular”kits” are standardized, not custom.
Add-on’s are just smaller kits or parts of kits, allowing the customer to customize the floor plan
The builders have done everything before, all most all sections and parts of this can be pre-manufactured.
There are very few custom pieces to cut on site
Plumbing and Electrical layouts are standard
Foundations are prefabricated and standardized.
The whole house basically snaps together
Walls use full size sheets and lengths of sheetrock and Plycem to reduce material waste & labor costs. ($$$)
The house can be “under roof” in a very short time
Systems are designed to be built in inclement weather.
Houses can be completed by a small crew, in months, not years
Quality is a known, not a hope.
Cost is a known, not a hope.
Completion time is a known, not a hope.
Use of quality systems like PEX plumbing, Romex Wiring, Sheetrock and Plycem siding on steel studs, quality roofing systems that save energy and are quieter.
Pre-designed plumbing and electrical systems that will be high quality, reliable.
Use of natural indirect light, unlike skylights, low heat gain.
Modular designs that are customizable to your taste and budget.
Bamboo is one of the strongest building materials in the world, it has twice the compression strength of concrete and roughly the same strength-to-weight ratio of steel. It withstands up to 52,000 pounds of pressure in compression. Bamboo’s tensile strength is 28,000 per square inch versus 23,000 for steel. The hollow tube shape gives a strength factor of 1.9 times more than an equivalent solid wood beam.
Bamboo houses are able to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. Bamboo Living Homes withstood 3 hurricanes with winds at 173m.p.h. in the Cook Islands in Polynesia in 2005. Meanwhile, most of the wood frame houses on the island were damaged beyond repair.
All of the twenty bamboo houses built for the National Bamboo Foundation survived a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake in Costa Rica in April 1991. An earthquake in Colombia in January 1999 also destroyed 75 percent of the buildings in the region, however, the bamboo structures survived uniformly unscathed.
Light structures made of bamboo, or wood, with standard sidings like fiber-cement board (Plycem), or plywood siding and interiors of gypsum (Sheetrock) handle earthquakes incredibly well. They are systems that have been used for generations in the US and Europe, and are well proven. They are low embodied energy products especially compared to concrete block and structural skin panel systems.
The walls we will use to fill in between the bamboo structure will be steel studs with sheetrock interior and a plycem siding exterior. Plycem is a fibercement board made in Costa Rica and throughout Latin America. Similar products are widely used in construction in the US as well. They offer a thin, strong, siding that looks like wood and can be painted and stained. It is impervious to water, rot, and insects. These come in 4X8 sheets or in 8 foot siding planks. Our designs attempt to minimize waste, and the labor to cut and install these materials. These types of walls also allow for some customization to the house. The wall structure allows for the customer to have more choice of windows, doors, exterior siding. We have an allowance for the costs of the windows and doors we chose, but other ones can be purchased for an additional amount.
This system allows us several advantages over local systems of concrete block, or even the M-2 style structural skin panel systems (a far superior system to concrete block).
This system is far lighter, a fraction of the weight of a concrete block or structural skin panel buildings. The walls are hollow, which means you can use romex wiring without conduit, chiseling walls, etc, and you can insulate the walls if you are in a cooling or heating zone. Plumbing is also much easier to install and access.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PLYCEM SIDING AND OTHER PRODUCTS see our Plycem Fiber Cement Board Page
We will be using PEX water piping system, which means no joints in slab floors, and it is much more flexible and durable than PVC piping. PEX is widely used in the US and Europe. It is rated for hot and cold waters and comes in long rolls. It is the only pipe allowed in a concrete floor by code in most of the USA. I have used PEX piping for 20 years in hydronic (warm floor) heating installations in concrete floors. It is a premium system, that is worth every penny extra. Each bathroom will have a minimum of sewer 2 vents tied together to meet one of the 7 US building codes requirements. Sub grade sewer plumbing shall be to US codes, this means all lateral piping shall use Y’s and 45 degree ells, not Tees. Clean-outs installed at easily accessible locations.
These may seem like small details, but these are some of the things that will make these houses problem free for years to come. They are also much easier to install, reducing labor costs.
It is an important part of the home, and one of the most expensive parts of the structure. Roof leaks are not fun, and with up to 20 feet of rain per year, no one wants one, including us, the contractor!!!!
We offer 2 types of roofs for the main body of the roof.
The least expensive of the roofing systems here in Panama will always be a sheet metal roof. These are the most typical roofs here in Panama and they have their pluses and minuses.
On the plus side:
They are easy to install.
They have fewer leak problems than most other roofs if installed and maintained correctly.
They can be painted different colors and there are good elastomeric paints that will seal as well as protect.
You can paint them with light colors, or in hot areas special highly reflective white to reduce heat gain.
On the negative side:
They are HOT! Especially if they are painted a dark color, like red, and have little or no insulation. These roofs absorb solar energy and turn it into an infrared heat wave, which can penetrate even sheetrock to heat everything inside the building envelope. This downside can be managed however with some intelligent design, and extra insulation and light or white roof paint.
They are noisy. When it rains, without insulation, or with only just a little insulation, they can be very noisy. And its not just the noise from the roof above the house, its also the noise from the eves, that penetrate thru the windows. This downside can also be managed with some intelligent design, and extra insulation.
Asphalt Shingle roofs:
Rarely seen in Panama, however they do sell them here. Widely used in the USA, and probably the most common roof in the USA. Product technology has improved so that the warranties are 40-50 years, (or your lifetime, which ever comes first) and they are textured, to look like wood shakes, with a variety of colors and shades.
They are easy to install, and have sealed tabs so they will withstand winds to 120 miles per hour. Much higher than a class 1 Hurricane. They look nice. They are probably the most reliable leak wise. But like everything, it comes at a price.
These shingles have some installation parameters that will make them cost more to install, but some of these parameters also offer significant advantages that offset these costs. The substrate has to be of a certain kind. This means plywood. If we use plywood, it must be treated on both sides using the same treatment we use for the bamboo, (and ecological termite contractors use in the USA) before installation. Cut seams also need treated. See Bamboo Treatment page for more details on this.
There must be a vented air space between the plywood and the ceiling. This can be a crawl space, but we want to enjoy the open high ceilings, so it will be a 1” space between the plywood and the insulation over the ceiling material (whatever that is). This space must vent at the ridges and ends of the roof. This means some simple sheetmetal flashings and ridge vents.
Why does it need to vent? Because if it does not vent (breath) moisture will build up in the plywood and it will rot. This is true in Panama, Florida, Arizona, or Alaska! It is OK to build up some moisture (condensation) during the winter (wet season) BUT it must have a chance to heat up and dry out during the dry season.
This system obviously will use more materials, and labor to install them, but that’s a one time expense, and you get a few rewards for this.
Asphalt shingles are a dense material, so they absorb sound. The plywood is also an insulator, (does not transmit heat well) and its dense so it absorbs sound. The vented air space we created does a couple of great things. It further decouples the noise from the ceiling, making this a relatively quiet roof. It also vents the heat that passes thru the plywood, reducing the transmitted heat thru the (thinner and therefore less expensive) insulation and ceiling material resulting in a cooler home. Lighter colors also help significantly in the reduction of transmitted heat!!
Other roofs, like Ceramic Tile: Too heavy and too costly. Too much weight up to high making structural costs to support not only the weight, but the weight in an earthquake less cost effective. We will not offer this option.
Fibercement roofs: These are heavy, costly, brittle, and unfortunately the only ones we know of available in Panama are made with Asbestos. Sawing asbestos roofing (making asbestos dust) and installing it in peoples homes does not sound good for the employees, the environment, the clients, the community, or the contractors. Its also difficult to make it fit our designs. Asbestos free fiber cement roofing is available in Costa Rica, its made with Polypropylene fibers and is a better product, but expensive and difficult to get here.
The plastic tile roofs, We like these but they are incredibly expensive and in installations have been hard to seal where there is a driving wind, like the mountains of Boquete. So they are off the list.
Flat plycem roofs with taped seams: We are looking into these. On small structures they make sense, on large areas, they would be more difficult to make attractive, so they lose on the beauty scale. Also not proven yet, though we do not see a problem and intend to use them in appropriate areas where they will be cost effective.
A word on Insulation: We live in the mountains of the tropics, Boquete at 3000-6000 feet. There is no heating or cooling loads or requirements. We just open our windows a little bit more or less. Roof insulation here, is more for sound than heat. Wall insulation, practically not an issue. This is one of the relatively rare geographical areas in the world with these climatic conditions!!! But here in the tropics, the closer you are to the equator, and especially to sea level, the more insulation will pay for itself. Especially if you plan to Air Condition. Think 20% per year return on investment (or more). What’s your banker been giving you lately? What if energy prices went up in price?
Insulation ain’t cheap. But its a one time expense! And you only have one chance to install enough! ½” thick, of the roll out foam can cost as much or more than the sheetmetal roofing. And worth every penny!!! And not just in energy savings, but in your comfort and TRANQUILITY!
What we are offering with our kits:
So we are offering the standard sheetmetal roofs with an appropriate amount of insulation as needed for the climate and your budget…. OR
The more expensive system of asphalt shingles with all the above listed advantages and a moderate extra cost.
There are a few ceiling options.
The PVC paneling that comes in colors and wood grain is easy to clean and acts as an insulation and sound absorber. It can be painted so it just looks like siding type panels. It is very reasonably priced. It weighs less so there are some structural advantages. This is what we offer in our package.
A split bamboo product, where the bamboo culm is randomly split and flattened. Looks quite nice and is probably the most affordable option next to the PVC ceiling. A layer of tar paper is placed above so the cracks appear to have a black surface, then insulation on top. This is more expensive and is offered as an option.
Gypsum is too heavy and too difficult to tape and paint on the inside, so its off the list for ceilings.
Lets talk Floors and Foundations:
Its hard to beat a concrete slab floor for price. And the are obviously pretty solid and down to earth. Concrete is not the lowest embodied energy product, but if your building lot can justify it, it’s a savings to put it on a slab and not on a raised subfloor. Our prices are for a slab floor on a level building area. The costs to bring the area to this state are not included, and therefore will change from lot to lot.
And their will be times when leveling a building pad will not be cost effective compared to the costs and or advantages of a raised floor. This is why we cannot include these parameters in our pricing.
We do some interesting things with our foundations and subfloors. The system design is designed to carry the weight to posts, but it also distributes it across the entire foundation perimeter. So our foundation designs are really both a perimeter foundation system and a post and pier foundation. Our designs also allow for a “floating” foundation design, where the floor can easily be modified to be strong enough to support the foundation and literally “float” on the ground. These types of foundations are used over unstable ground, like sand, or fill, where firm ground is either impractical or cannot be reached. Liquefaction zones in San Francisco Bay fill would be an example of an area where floating foundations would be utilized.
When we are able do slab foundations, our design gives us the ability to literally build the entire structure before we pour the floor and 90% of the perimeter foundation. This also has a few advantages, when needed. We can place all the electrical and plumbing in the walls and floors at one time. We can concentrate on raising a roof to work under during the rainy season. The floor gets poured in the shade, which makes for a better pour and cure. We can pour the floor on a rainy day, when we want, not when the weather allows.
Above ground floor framing systems:
While these are more expensive than a simple slab on a flat grade, making a site flat can sometimes be more expensive than framing a floor. Framing a floor has other advantages when used with our building system. Since our buildings are very lightweight (only a fraction of a concrete block building, or M-2) they can be cantilevered over hillsides, similar to houses in Western California. This makes presently unbuildable lots (in much of Latin America that uses block construction), buildable at reasonable prices. Other advantages are availability to plumbing and electrical under floor. Elimination of potential moisture problems of floors built ongrade, allowing installation of wood flooring, carpet with greater confidence.
Some things that are not included:
The prices quoted are for a house built on a flat lot, unfilled. If the foundation needs adjusted for a filled lot, or a sloped lot that will be quoted as an extra, as will all site work.
No septic system or grease traps are included, but we have some recommendations for an approved system that can be used to water trees with the effluent, eliminating the need for a leach field. Location specific.
The Plumbing is stubbed out from the house with a main water valve. The water pipe to the water source is not included. No pressure system is included, not everyone is in need of one.
A small water heater is included. Using a larger instantaneous water heater is of no value, for reasons that we can explain in person. The house is plumbed for hot and cold water.
An electrical panel and breakers is included with the principal conduit stubbed out of the house ready for connection to the main breaker at the utility meter. The run to the meter and wiring from meter to panel is not included. A whole house Lightning protector by Delta is included. (This should be mandatory in every house in my opinion.) This whole house lightning/surge protector COMBINED WITH a plug in strip surge protector(not provided) before sensitive equipment will reduce or eliminate damage from surges. These are one time insurance policies.
These are changes that the customer can make to customize their home based on their taste and budget:
Tile and flooring
Paint colors and qualities
Floor plan additions using add on kit sections.
A note: we are in the construction business, and would prefer to make our money constructing the shells of these houses, not in the final décor. (Tile, plumbing and electrical fixtures, cabinets, fancy paint jobs, etc) We have good control of the construction times, up and until we get to some of the subcontractors, like Tile, Cabinets, Etc. We can only be as reliable as our subcontractors allow us to be. Sometimes there are scheduling conflicts with subs in construction, like several projects that started at different times, finishing at once.
If you want tile, fixture, etc customizations there are two ways to go. We need to charge 20% on top of our costs to maintain a profit margin, pretty standard in the industry. This also makes us responsible for damages to products, so it acts as an insurance policy in a way. And we need top pay 7% ITBM and charge the customer 7% on the marked up price. That’s a tax on a tax.
How the customer can save money:
If the customer wants to take over the project and run the Cabinets, and Tile and Installation of fancier plumbing and electrical fixtures, they can make a significant savings in doing this last part themselves. Being the final details, the customer is in the position of getting exactly what they want. Savings for the customer to purchase and install these parts of the house can be upwards of 25% or more. This can be discussed personally as it is project specific.