Living in San Juan del Sur for the last almost 2 years, we’ve met many builders and know many people who are building or have built a home here. Some of our good friends are builders and we had hoped to use them for our construction.
I really liked the sustainable building products. We had our first meeting with a friend who is a contractor and is knowledgeable about building this way. He was very helpful and explained to us the general processes, things to look out for, and average square foot price for a Expat builder. Unfortunately after talking to him, it became very clear that we were going to have to find something cheaper. We have a very limited budget and were going to have to spend a lot of time shopping around for something within it.
We started looking into Nicaraguan contractors who speak only Spanish. We knew this would make the processor harder and more complicated, but we really didn’t have a choice, unless we were interested in building only half a house. We talked to some friends who created their own contractor team and have done most of the managing of the project themselves. They have done a great job and their home is almost complete, but this seemed like a lot of work and moving parts. It would be hard to maintain our company Señor Coders and manage at this level.
We had heard about Styrofoam building or Insulated Concrete Forms (I know, the complete opposite of sustainable, right?). There are a few ICF products here in Nicaragua, the two we looked at were Cubitech & M2. We started asking around about this product and checking out job sites where we saw it was being used. We heard the homes went up very quickly and it was an affordable way to build. I was hesitant about building a home out of the same product cheap grocery store coolers are made out of, but I guess that does mean the home will stay cool. When we banged on the walls, they were a bit hallow compared to the solid cinder block walls we were used to in Nicaragua, but we decided to continue to look into this type of building and consider it as an option.
We asked around about Nicaraguan contractors using these products and set up meetings with two of them. We met them both on job sites and talked to the owners of the homes they were building. We agreed quickly that the product was much stronger than we first thought. The contractor explained to us that with cinder block, there is a hollow space in the middle. When you use the Styrofoam products that space is the Styrofoam, then they put 3 inch thick cement on either side combined with welded in deer fencing. One of the construction sites we viewed was a large, 3 story home with ocean view. The stairs, ceiling, floors, and walls were all made out of M2. It was incredible walking through the house and seeing how strong it was. We decided we liked the product and wanted to move forward with this type of building.
We had heard that using different contractors for different projects is the cheaper way to go, so when hiring our initial contractor we only wanted pricing on “obra de gris” (grey work) meaning just the foundation, walls, floor, and roof. It also includes the electrical tubing installed (not the wires) and the tubing for the septic system. We would find another team to do the patio, doors & windows, septic system tanks, to do the closets, cabinets, kitchen island, and an electrician.
After our meetings with the contractors we started discussing pricing. As mentioned, we have a very low budget. Using both contractor’s proposed pricing against each other, we got down to a price we could manage at $269 per square meter. This price meant we should have enough money to complete a 3 bedroom home. Some things we’d have to pay out of pocket and not with our 401k money, but it was doable.
We also hired a supervisor for $20 per week who comes by the property twice a week to make sure everything is being done correctly and that the contractors have accomplished everything they were supposed to in order for us to make the next payment.
Contract signed, we broke ground on Jan 2nd, 2016. To see how the building process is going, check out the video my husband made.