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.
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!)
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.)
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.”
“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.