Pedro de la Montaña’s small slice of heaven in Costa Rica

One of the improvements you’ve been asking for at Small House Style is more images of “the dirty dishes in the sink.”  Many of the small houses we have written about do not address “real living.” Your concerns are not lost on our ears. That is where Pedro de la Montaña comes in.  With no experience as a builder he carved out a little slice of heaven on top of a mountain in Costa Rica.

Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven

750 square feet
$16,000 US in 1997

With a narrow, steep strip of land to build on, this small house design had to incorporate three levels or one end would have been 20 feet off the ground.  According to Pedro, this was a quick project due to being born under a lucky star – it seems that things usually don’t go as smoothly for other builders in his neck of the woods.  Under budget and on schedule including a month for the wood to air dry (at that time, and maybe still, all wood in Costa Rica was delivered green; no kiln drying because the demand was so great.)  Pedro chose wood over cement blocks not only because it was cheaper but more attractive in his opinion (ours too!)  

Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven

The house sits on pilings for ease of construction.  Pedro was also told that it would be better protection during an earthquake – usually one little quake a month and 2 big ones per year.  He chose tin for roofing material (again earthquake protection) but if you look closely it looks like tile – he’s an artist.  No need for insulation kept the costs down (it is always in the high 70’s.) Same goes for a heating system – no need.  Hot water comes from an on demand system and he cooks with gas in case the electricity goes out (which it does from time to time.)

Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven
Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven
Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven

All told it took 3 months from stakes in the ground to move in.  “I must say I was very lucky. Most North Americans I have met here who have built have nothing but horror stories that go beyond ‘over budget’ and ‘it took forever to get done’.”  Pedro has his disaster stories but they don’t really compare to those of his “neighbors” – “neighbor in these here parts does not mean close by.”  

Pedro de la Montaña's little slice of heaven

“The closest I came to a disaster was after my kitchen cabinets had been installed and were ready for painting. A painter had been brought in; I imagine because he owned the spray gun and compressor. I have to admit that he did a great job. Every layer of paint was the right thickness, no runs or drips. The only problem was he knew nothing about masking or laying newspapers on the floor. When he was done there was white paint all over the tile, floor, counter, and the window slats. I had to hire another guy (he owned a razor blade) to clean it up. At least the two days he spent cleaning it up didn’t interfere with the rest of the finish work. Damned if it didn’t add another 45 dollars to the cost of the house.  But my stories are mild compared to the stories of others.”

Word to the wise: Make sure you are on site for much of the construction and that you are very clear with your GC or foreman – it could make or break your small house dream.  

If you have any comments or questions for Pedro, post them in the comments – he’ll respond!

Pedro’s last word? “Viva la casita! (Long live the Little House!)”

PS Check out Pedro’s artwork – he is 3 inches taller than Picasso.



Add yours
  1. 1
    Steve Minkler

    Hi Pedro,

    It looks like you made great use of limited space. Your scenic surroundings are beautiful – it almost seems like a treehouse. Costa Rica sounds like a fabulous place to live. I sure wish that the San Diego building department made things easier for people wanting to build here. There are way too many restrictions and regulations in California. Congratulations on your beautiful home!

  2. 2
    David Yeats

    Hello Pedro,
    I’ve been looking for examples of small efficient wood houses built in Costa Rica. I have been taking high school students from the US to Costa Rica for the last 11 years. I’ll be there from late October through March. I have property in San Carlos, as well as a remote piece on the Tenorio River in Guanacaste. We are ble to produce most of thewood we need to build small houses, and being from Idaho, have a strong preference for wood construction. I like that your house fits it;s site, and blends in nicely with the surrounding community. I’ve built one house for my students, and another for visitors, and am ready to build one for myself. Do you ave additional information you could share about how you went about building your tri-level? Did you have to go through expensive permitting process? I have a great local carpenter who can build anything, and is ready to go. We’ve been harvesting standing dead trees, and have enough wood ready to build something the size of yours next dry season. Looks like a project my students could help with as part of their learning experience, and lesson in living lite on the ground. Any input appreciated. Do you have more photos or plans? Our propert is above La Tigra, between San Ramone and La Fortuna. Look forward to hearing from you. Dave Yeats

  3. 3

    Thanks to both for the nice comments.
    My stories can get a bit long so I will give the short answer to your two questions.
    Plans. What are those?
    Permits. What are those?
    Maybe not that simple but darn close.
    More fotos of my house at:

    and Dave…keep in touch and drop by and see what can be done on a shoestring. Hoping to hear from you.

  4. 4
    John Strebe

    Hi Pedro,
    what a beautiful house I am from Canada and looking around to semiretire in a couple years I and my wife have not much money but would like to have a small heaven like you. Where did you get all the plans for the house and material?You sure have abeautiful spot it looks like heaven.
    John and Betty

  5. 5

    Hi John and Betty,
    Thank you. As a former Vermonter I can understand your desire to retire to a country that doesn’t have heating bills. The plans for the house was a few scratches on a piece of paper, the rest was winging it. I am sure you and other posters have a lot more questions. I’m still to much of a technofobe (?) [can even spell it!] to figure out a better way to respond. If you’d like more in depth information you can click on the link to my art work. On the info bar click on ‘contact’. There you can send an e-mail directly to me and then I will have you e-mail address without making it public. Hope to hear from all of you soon.

  6. 7
    Tom in Portland, Oregon

    Dear Pedro and your wonderful family:

    Thank you for sharing your photos of your house. It is exactly what I want for my own place in Valle de Orosi, Palomo, Cartago! You house is designed on a small footprint I am impressed with your eye for details that make you home look so comfortable! Do you mind if I take a few ideas for my placing that I will start to development when I visit my property in September?

    Several questions please, does the deck side sit on the edge of either a valley or mountain giving you a view?
    Did you ever think of adding two bedrooms on either end of the house for paying guests with their own bathrooms? (I was sort of thinking that paying guests would have to come down the deck to reach the deck door to get into the house for their breakfast.)
    Is the whole frame steel welded to the uprights posting in your foundation holes? Finally, since the outside logs seem so handsome, why did you decided on plaster board?
    Finally, did you apply the plaster board directly to the outside log walls without needing a stud frame?

    Tom on a budget in Portland, Oregon but someday soon Palomo, Costa Rica!

  7. 8
    Bev Nicholson

    hola Pedro
    I am interested in seeing some photos of small homes.
    Do you construct homes in the Uvita area in Costa Rica?
    What is the usual price per sq ft when building a smaller home?
    Thanks for your time.
    Bev Nicholson

  8. 9

    Hola BEV,
    Sound like you have the notion that I am some sort of builder. Sorry if that is a disapointment but I’m not in that business. I hope you find what you need and have as great a life in costa Rica as I have found. If any otther questions I can answer let me know. But it would be helpful if I had your e-mail. Not sure how we do that thru this site. Anyway. lots of luck.

  9. 10

    hola pedro, me gustaria conversar contigo. escribeme a tengo un terreno en puerto caldera y hay una casa vieja que hay que remodelar o sino ver que otro tipo de vivienda se pudiera hacer ahi. un saludo orlando

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