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  • Diego Mendez Arce

4 Important Details to Consider Before Building a House in Costa Rica.

Updated: Jun 30

1. Communication

Good communication is paramount. I can’t stress enough here how important this will be during the process. Yes, you will learn the language eventually. Even if you know Spanish already, you don’t know the language yet.

There is very little room for mistakes. In construction, mistakes are expensive. So good communication with your real estate broker, lawyer, architect, and anyone who will have an essential role in building your home are essential. Those professionals that will assist you in the land purchase and the design - construction process are vital. They have to be exceptionally fluent in your language but also in Spanish. They have to understand, culturally speaking, where you come from (hint: it’s not only a geographical location). They should be familiar with the local culture and live in the country. Also, for the construction process, how does the architect, studio, builder plan on communicating with you? Email? WhatsApp? You don’t just deserve better than that, trust me, you will need more than that to ensure a smooth design-construction process.

2. The Design-Brief

Write down in black and white, your Design-Brief since it is the anchor point of the project and the first step to a successful outcome. Do not think of it as just a list of rooms your house will have; it is something entirely different. This document should answer things like, who are we? what is our life-philosophy? what will we use this home for? What is our lifestyle? Do we love to have friends come over all the time? How often do we have guests spend the night? Do we work from home a lot? What is the minimum life span we expect from the project? Do we have any particular intentions or requirements for the family home? In doing so, you will have more clarity about your choices and expectations of your home and the property it should be located on, once this is ready you can complement the design brief with a list of desired rooms. (Learn more about a Design-Brief)

3. Topo-Survey

Getting an accurate topographical survey that is up to your design-build team requirements is one of the single most important things you must do before you build. A detailed survey will give your design-build team enough tri-dimensional data to calculate the soil cut and fill volumes, which can have a considerable impact on your budget. It will also provide them with a realistic understanding of how water will run through the property. They will make sure that the official property map (“Plano Catastrado”) matches the actual property and that its boundaries and areas are correct. A good topo-survey will also include plenty of additional details, such as water and power hookup points, trees, roads, light posts and other relevant land features. For example, if there is a tree in the property, the details should include the size of the canopy towards the four cardinal sides, the position of the trunk, diameter, height, tree species and, if possible, the root spread. A simple symbol just indicating the existence of a tree is not useful at all. If the survey does not meet the standards of your design-build team, they might ask you to perform a new one.

4. Laboratory Soil Tests

Costa Rica is a seismic and rainy country. There are earthquakes all the time; most are too subtle to notice. The important thing is that they will put a lot of stress on your building foundations. Rainwater will saturate the soil and change its mechanical and structural properties. A septic system (if needed) will perform differently depending on the season. Make sure you get a reliable Laboratory to test the soil before you buy the property; the results will give your design team enough information to foresee budget implications on special foundations and septic systems. Foundation design changes can run in the tenths of thousands of dollars range, specifically when performed within or close to the groundbreaking stage. For more information on designing and building a home in Costa Rica, book a virtual meeting for a free consultation here.


New Penetration Test Machine owned by Castro y de la Torre
New Penetration Test Machine H3

About the Author

My name is Diego Méndez Arce, and I am a passionate, detail-oriented Costa Rican architect with over ten years of experience in the industry. I studied at the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica and The Technische Universität München in Germany. I founded Arkamos Architecture Costa Rica, a company that designs and builds homes. My team and I believe that good design feeds the human soul and has the power to improve people’s lives. We approach design and construction with a highly traceable and precise methodology to confirm that uniquely crafted residential projects are predictable in terms of scope, quality, time, and budget. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with those who are foreign to our real estate market. You can check out our blogswith different topics about design and construction in Costa Rica and its architecture here. If you have questions about how to approach the process of designing and building a house in Costa Rica, you may email me or book a virtual meeting for a free consultation here.

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