Building a Home
If you've looked around and had trouble finding the perfect abode, you may consider building your own. While there are many advantages in designing and building to your own specifications, the experience usually requires a great deal of work and patience.
Most Costa Rican architects and contractors are not accustomed to planning and building up to American and European standards. However, good companies with extensive experience do exist. It is of the utmost importance that you spend the time to research the various companies. Look for an experienced construction firm that can provide assistance with permits and other logistical matters. Meet with them, ask questions, and make sure that you are able to communicate effectively with them.
By law, only architects and engineers who are members of The Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects can file applications for construction permits. Only after reviewing your construction plans and determining that they meet all electrical, seismic and structural regulations, will they file the application. Rates charged by architects vary considerably, but here are the minimum rates of members of the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects:
- 0.5 % of the project cost for a preliminary survey of the plans and permits, which is only necessary depending on the job.
- 4.0 % of the project cost for a full site planning, drafts, review of construction plans and technical specifications.
- 1% to 1.5% of the project cost for a pre-project design.
- 1.0% of the project cost for itemized budgeting.
- 0.5% of the project cost for global budgeting.
- Construction and Project Supervision (3 levels)
- Management: Architect fully oversees the entire project. Cost: 12% of construction costs
- Supervision: Architect visits the job site daily to supervise the project. Cost: 5% of construction costs
- Inspection: Architect visits the job site once a week to make sure that the plans is being followed by the contractor. Cost: 3% of construction costs
When you have agreed on the general design of the property, your architect will draw up the plans, as well as a materials list and construction budget. Your total planning package should include the following items:
- a site plan
- elevation, longitudinal, and transversal perspective drawings
- distribution plan
- roof and drainage design
- plan of footings and supports
- structural plans
- electrical plans
- mechanical plans
- sanitary system
- interior design and construction
Construction permits are required for any house with an area greater than 750 ft². Submit the application to the Oficina Receptora de Permisos de Construccion (Permit Reception Office). You will need to provide them with the following materials:
- Four copies of the construction plans
- Two copies of the property deed
- Four copies of the property cadastre plan
- One copy of your electrical design plan approved by SNE
- One copy of the architect or engineer's consulting contract
- Approval from the water department regarding availability of a water source This application will then be reviewed by the following agencies before a decision is made:
- Roads and Transportation Department (MOPT)
- Electricity Department (ICE)
- Water Department (AYA)
- Housing and Urban Development Department (INVU)
- National Electrical Services (SNE)
- Health Department
- Costa Rican Architect and Engineer Association (CFIA)
- Local Municipalities
Estimating the total cost of building a home is difficult without the construction plans. However, depending on materials and the quality of work, you can expect the cost to range from US$30-50/ft². This is still considerably cheaper than building in the U.S.
Building a home can be a challenging venture, especially in another country. Here are a few things to consider when taking the leap. When construction does begin, try to spend as much time as you can on site to confirm that everything is going as planned. As a homebuilder, you might also consider paying the contractor as the job progresses, in addition to materials up front. A happy crew may be more likely to maintain a high standard of quality. Contractors generally receive discounts on materials, and they may want to use comparable materials that provide them with the largest profit margin. Make sure that they use materials that were agreed upon in the contract.
Costa Rican law imposes strict guidelines on zoning and construction. Along both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, 200 meters inland from the high tide is owned by the government. Within the first 50 meters of this area, building anything is strictly prohibited. However, with permission from the local municipalities and the Costa Rican Tourist Board, the area from 50 to 200 meters above high tide can be leased. This is legally prohibited for foreigners, yet there are ways around the stipulation. Vertical requirements also exist. The ICT discourages building anything over three stories within beach areas. Along rivers, building a house is prohibited within 50 to 100 meters from the shore.