Decreasing the carbon footprint of new home construction in Costa Rica. Part 1


Carbon Neutral Projects


Green Construction in the beach areas of Costa Rica is a doubly demanding task as the weather conditions reach two extremes for a considerable period of time depending on what part of the country you are in. In the dry tropical rain forest in the Province of Guanacaste the rainy season and the dry season are on full throttle roughly half the year each. The green minded builder must plan for 6 months of torrential rain and high humidity, but must also keep an eye open for 6 months of almost desert like conditions of high heat and little to no moisture. In Central Valley and Caribbean locations moisture is a year round issue. Fortunately many techniques used for cooling in a hot climate also apply to humid conditions. Natural ventilation is the key.

The most important phase of any green project in Costa Rica is planning and education. It is imperative to understand the conditions one will face and equally important to study the materials and resources close at hand. Remember, transport and material construction uses energy so we might as well begin this journey attempting to save energy here. Also remember that being socially conscious means thinking of the local environment. Use local craftsmen and local fabricators whenever possible, you will not only be supporting the local economy which has positive social and environmental benefits, you are conserving energy in the transport and manufacture of the materials used for your home and enriching the local community. Fortunately for the person contemplating such an adventure a lot of groundwork has been laid and we are here to lend a few tips and some creative and interesting ideas on how to plan execute and ultimately enjoy an eco sustainable project and existence in Costa Rica.

Starting at the architectural and planning stage is crucial to success. Get to know your site, understand prevailing breezes, suns position through the yearly cycle, and attempt to use any natural shade to help cool your home. Get to know your local materials and resources. What is available? What materials are least impactful to the environment? Are recycled materials available?

Cooling your home.

Setting up as many windows as possible is the best way to ensure cross breezes and good ventilation. This also doubles as a protection from mold and mildew and as a cooling method during the dry season. Knowing where the breezes are coming from can make a big difference. Large windows with screen coverings to allow air but to protect from bugs need not be terribly expensive but can be crucial aid in drying and cooling your home without large carbon footprint devices such as air conditioning and de-humidifiers. Designing the interior with high white ceilings contributes greatly to airiness and ventilation. Awnings over windows are helpful in blocking the heat from direct sunlight. One should consider a wrap around patio on the south, east, and west facing sides of the house. This not only protects the interior from the sun it also provides a wonderful living area with less material and less expense. Remember heavy walls that are effective in northern climates and which absorb and then radiate heat back out at night are not as effective in the tropics because the temperature does not drop very much at night.

Local and recycled materials:

A keen eye to the environment and a study of local materials both manufactured and natural goes a long way in Costa Rica. One of the best all around materials that satisfies the requirements of being beautiful, strong, versatile, and easily replenished in nature is bamboo. Bamboo has evolved in to many amazing products. Not only is it capable of being used for eye appealing structural support it is also being used to create beautiful flooring products and finishing material in a wide variety of forms. The uses of bamboo are seemingly endless; From rugs to fencing, thatch to garden borders, beautiful furniture and artistic accents , bamboo is a wonderful tool as it grows very rapidly in Costa Rica and is extremely durable .

The use of wood harvested in Costa Rica has become somewhat complicated in recent years due to legislation prohibiting the harvesting of native tree species. The construction and furniture industries demand has become dominated by non native hardwoods cultivated in Costa Rica. Melina has become the predominant non-native wood in Costa Rica – with a 35% market share, followed by 19% for Laurel, 16% for Pine, and 16% for teak. The increase in demand for non-native species, primarily Melina, to supply national and international lumber markets has been established and is growing. Melina is a fast growing, strong, light-colored, even-grained wood that is naturally insect resistant, easy to work, and which accepts stains and finishes well.

Recently the use of renovated containers has become a popular use of recycled materials. This Tamarindo home pictured above is a wonderful example of two containers braced by bamboo support beams. The light color and high ceilings contributes to a sense of airiness and space.

In part 2 of this series we will be focusing on efficient lighting strategies including strategic placement of glass blocks and lighting wiring and placement. In addition we will discuss solar power ideas as well as waste and heat management strategies.