We have found it interesting to learn how the Panamanians build houses. Everything here is block and cement with tin roofs. There is a lot to be said for this style of building. It’s strong, and there is nothing to rot from water, get eaten by termites, or burn. I’ve taken some photos which I hope make it fairly easy to see how they do it here.
This is a house under construction in our neighborhood. You can see the block construction. They have removed the forms used to apply concrete to the curved window frames, and they are starting to install the roof which is a decorative, reflective tin slightly different from the basic tin that is often used.
This is inside the same house. You can see where they have made a channel in the block for an electric outlet. This looks like it will be a very nice, large house with three bedrooms, and a nice terrace in front and in back.
This is another very large house under construction in our neighborhood. You can see the metal supports for the roof. No matter how large or small, or even if it is a single room addition or just a wall, it always starts with blocks and cement.
This is a wall being built in the neighborhood. This also is block and cement, but here they have covered the block with a smooth layer of cement. This is how the walls in a house are also finished. It’s funny. Sometimes you see the basic blocks (particularly in walls like this) and it looks like a mess, not very straight or neat, but in the end they cover it with cement and it ends up looking perfect! These piles of blocks, cement, and gravel are sure signs that some sort of construction is going on in that house, and are common sights all around our area.
This is our house, a finished product.
This is the underside of our roof, the tin on the metal supports.
There are Styrofoam drop ceilings inside the house, and above them is a large open space under the tin roof. The Styrofoam is fairly good insulation, but the open space means sound carries through the house, and the tin roof can get loud when it rains hard. More upscale houses will have sheet rock ceilings which cut down on the rain noise, and some upscale houses also have tile roofs which are quieter.
Floors are tile with tile baseboards. If you don’t want tile or can’t afford it, you can have the basic cement floor. If you want something fancier you can have wood floors and/or carpets, but in this damp humid climate I think the tile makes more sense.
The kitchen counter is made of cement too! Under the cabinets is a cement floor. The sides are cement, and the sink is dropped into a cement counter top (which is covered with tile). The cabinets are then installed into the cement opening. I’ve seen other houses where there are only shelves, not cabinet doors. The increased air flow may be a good idea for this humid climate.
The bathroom is also tile and cement. Under the pretty blue paint is a cement wall. You need a drill and anchors to hang pictures though! You can’t just tap a nail into a cement wall.
Houses have security gates and window coverings – pretty much ALL houses. Nothing seems to go on in this neighborhood, but people think if they don’t have the security covers a thief might think it’s easier to get in their house so they are vulnerable. Better safe than sorry is the idea.
My next door neighbor has very pretty security window covers. Some, like ours, are recessed so they look like part of the window, and others like these are put on the outside of the window.
Many houses also have security gates/fences around the property. I like ours because it keeps the neighborhood dogs and roosters from visiting our yard. It also defines your living space so visitors will stand in the street and call, rather than walk up to your front door.
My neighbor, however, doesn’t have a fence, only security covers around the house. It is fairly common in this neighborhood to see houses without security fences, even out on the road into the neighborhood where there is more drive by traffic and some really upscale homes.
Some inexpensive homes don’t have glass windows or screens, only the decorative cement blocks to let in air. Very upscale homes may have other features like fancier roofs, floor coverings, and ceilings.
If you empty out our house you could take a garden hose to it and not do any damage except to the wood doors and kitchen cabinets. Even the door frames are metal, not wood. It’s easy to clean with a broom and/or mop. Brush fires are common in the dry season, but no one worries about the houses because there is nothing to burn. The roof is tin and the walls are cement. People thought I was crazy to worry about smoldering brush with a few feet of a house, and sure enough it burned itself out without causing any problems for the house.
If you are thinking of living here, this climate is something to consider. Sometimes people move their wood and fabric furniture from up north only to find the humidity causes problems with dampness and mold. Leather is especially vulnerable to mold. Now I understand why the DoIt center has an entire aisle of plastic bins! If you dry things out and store them in a plastic bin, they tend to stay quite dry. The higher areas in the mountains are cooler but they aren’t any drier. If anything, there is more rain and fog and humidity. So, unless you plan to use air conditioning or dehumidifiers in the house, materials that aren’t affected by dampness are very practical.
This entry was posted in Panama
and tagged construction
. Bookmark the permalink