Coming from the US, we are used to a certain style of construction. In Panama things are often done differently. This house came up for rent in our neighborhood so we stopped by to look in the windows.
Houses here are usually made from cement block with cement floors and metal roofs. Most of the houses I have visited have drop ceilings, and many have tile floors. This house, however, has neither. The walls go up to the roof, and the metal roof is visible from inside.
I think I would be concerned about heat in this house. If the sun is beating down on the roof and heating it up, would it be hot inside, or would the heat be trapped above while cooling breezes flow through the windows? Roofs are usually painted a brick red color. Many thought we were odd for painting our roof white but it helped to keep the house cooler.
Single overhead lights are very common here, but I’m not a big fan. Of course you could put in lamps for a softer look, with extension cords, another thing. Usually there is only one electrical outlet per room. I wondered why the hardware store has tons of extension cords for sale until I started setting up our house and quickly figured that out.
This house may look very basic to most of us, but one could certainly be comfortable there if the roof didn’t transfer too much heat to the inside. You would have a sturdy, functional house in a very comfortable neighborhood.
There is a lot to be said for Panamanian style construction, especially in this rainy humid climate. A friend in the US just had a water heater disaster that filled her house with water and caused all kinds of destruction. Here, there is nothing water can destroy, only cement. Our house has no wood trim, no sheet rock, just a tiled cement floor, block walls finished with a smooth coating of cement, and metal door frames. The interior doors are wood so if the bottoms got wet that could be a problem. The kitchen has lower cabinet doors of wood but they are part of a cement structure and a few inches off the floor, so I think the water would run out under the doors before it would ever get to that height. Maybe our sofa and easy chair could get wet, but the rest of our tables, chairs, shelves, etc and mostly plastic, done to save costs when we arrived but they sure have worked out great in this climate and our lifestyle.
This is another good reason to live here for a while before you buy or build. When we arrived we would have built a US style home because that’s all we knew. Now that we have seen how they do it in Panama, we have totally changed our opinions. Joel’s work in the US was home repairs and remodeling, and he made a lot of his money from wet sheet rock and water damaged wood. It sure makes life easier when you don’t have to worry about water in the house, termites in the walls, or wood and shingles on the roof.
Well. Being in the construction industry for more than 25 years I would say that the house presented is a Low Middle Class house that is built by the owner according to his budget and specifications. In Panama you will find different type of houses with high quality finishes and good architectural design. It will depend on the budget and income of the person buying the house. We agree that the houses are made of concrete blocks in walls that are covered with a cementitious plasters and painted. Floors are of structural concrete and most of them are finished with ceramic tiles. The roof… well, most roof are done of metallic ondulated laminates but some houses have other type of roof like clay tiles, cementitious roodinf ondulated tiles laminates. The portfolio is wide but the house finish will depend on the budget and income of the buyer. In the following link you could find some new projects of houses in Panama from different price ranges and budgets. http://panama.inmobilia.com/es/proyectos/Panama/Panama/todo/Casas-o-townhouses,
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Oh yes, I know there is a wide variety of houses from shacks to really upscale, large, and beautiful homes. But this house is definitely fit to live in and my point for us gringos, this type of construction makes a lot more sense than our US houses with so much wood and sheet rock, all of which can be ruined by water.
Thanks for the link. There are a whole lot of really beautiful houses being built! Are you involved in the construction of some of them?
Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts 🙂
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No. I am not a builder. I do represent US Companies that manufactures products to protect, repair and maintain concrete structures for Central America and Panama. That is why I am involved with the construction industry not only in Panama but in all Central American countries.
Wow, that sounds really interesting but a lot of work. How important though, considering all the concrete that is used for everything. Do you use your English a lot in your work? You write better than many native speakers.
We lived in a similar house when we were in Panama. It was very comfortable. I would build one like it with the exception of ceilings to help hold the heat at bay from the roof.
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I’m concerned about the roof also which offers no insulation from the heat of the sun. If we built a house here we would definitely make something similar but I would like a lot of outdoor living space as well, probably even the kitchen outdoors.
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One wonders sometimes why there are fire departments when homes are mostly cement? Well, we found out when an electrical line broke and a live wire was blocking the road. The bomberos came and moved the live wire until Femosa could get there and repair the line. Our neighbor had a large swarm of bees take up residence in his back patio. The bombers came and removed the swarm.
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Don’t forget summer and brush fires. They come and squirt water on the perimeter of your property.
Speaking of which, in my first summer here there was a brush fire nearby and the next day it was still smoldering in spots, a couple very close to a house. I went to a neighbor in a panic – there is fire there and no one home in the house! Yes, there was a fire yesterday…. No No, there is a fire NOW! She looked at me like I was a bit nuts. I finally realized that they weren’t concerned because there was nothing to burn except maybe a potted plant on the terrace.
Awesome post again Kris. Except for not being furnished that’s the type of place that would work for me. Thanks for the information about what a Panamanian house would look like. The picture gets clearer with each post I read.
We live in a very similar house except it has tile floors and a drop ceiling, and we are very happy with it. Maybe I’ll have to take more house pictures!
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Thanks for the informative blog. It’s nice to see the insides of the house. Our houses on the islands are well made, we have block walls and tile floors. There are wood beams in the ceilings so we have to be aware of the termites. But overall it is a very sturdy house. Our roofs are white so it is cool inside, most of the roofs are white here. I would want a little bigger house and yard, but it would be fine for a retired person looking to downsize.
I’m not sure why the roofs aren’t white here too. Someone said they want to look like Spanish houses with the brick colored tile roofs, not realizing that they are hotter. There are termites here too, so it’s easier not to use wood in construction.
Learning the local building styles is a GREAT advantage before making any decisions about living in any foreign country. When we looked at housing in Venezuela, we were shocked at the disasters that were for rent. Then our agent explained that the owners were willing to do almost any repairs if we gave them a list and signed the contract. Structurally, the places were sound, they just appeared to be abandoned. Their system really seemed to make sense; why spruce up a place with what you think will look good when you can just get a list from potential tenants/owners on what they want? It took a change of mindset on our part but it works wonderfully.
The steel roofs with no ceilings are like Dutch ovens in the sun. The best solution is huge gable ventilation above an insulated, dropped ceiling. The usual daily procedure for living in the tropical heat is to open up the house for breezes during the night, then close up in late morning and turn on the fans. Late afternoon when the sun has heated everything, open up and leave the fans on. The thermal cycle of heating/cooling concrete block makes the system work. Larger homes have a central courtyard area which allows for air currents to rise and draw in cooler air through the windows. Cupolas on steel roofs can work the same.
Termites are still a big issue. EVERYTHING wood/paper/cardboard will be found by these guys and eaten. Nena’s treadle sewing machine cabinet was devoured when left in a back room, we found the machine laying on the floor. It reminded me of the Pink Panther cartoons of the past.
Electrical wiring is done in conduit in the block and is expensive, so most homes are lacking adequate (by gringo standards) outlets. In the past, most folks in Chiriqui did not have many electrical devices so a few extension cords would do. Now with electrical devices (and chargers for them) being more common, the lack of outlets is a real bother. And adding outlets to a concrete block wall is doable, but not easy. You can run the conduit outside the block but it is ugly. Busting the block and cementing over the conduit is the usual method. Since the wiring is often multi-colored and not standardized, making connections is haphazard.
Warts and all, I still love Panama. I married one of its national treasures! 🙂
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Our place didn’t look good when we came either, but I’ve done enough work on houses to see beyond the surfaces. A good cleaning up and repainting made the inside right, and I have gradually made the yard into something other than a weed patch. Like you said, structurally sound, just needed some TLC.
I was afraid a roof like that would be really hot. We have drop ceilings and my husband loves fans. He put one in the ceiling to blow hot air out of the house, and he also runs one at night in a window to pull in the cool air. We visited a larger home that was for sale and it had a courtyard like you described. There was a nice air flow like you said, and I love the feel of an interior courtyard, like your own private oasis in the middle of the house.
We’ve been lucky and haven’t had termites eat anything but I know they are around.
Even putting in electric outlets during construction is tedious. They have to chip a channel out of the block to hold the conduit. Afterward would be even more difficult. It would be nice to have more outlets but it’s not that big a deal. We have extension cords and some of those 6 way surge protectors for our electronic devices.
The warts really are insignificant in the big picture and you are right, the people are the real treasures. I’m glad you have a good life with one of them 🙂
Our style of living is the same in the US — we bought a HUD home 16 years ago!
One of my friends described it as only needing a Harvest Gold refrigerator and we would be right back in 1964! haha
We have spent 16 years doing a project every year so now we have a 16 year old house with a 52 year history. 🙂 The “bones” are what counts, the rest is fixable.
Yes indeed, so true! We had a 1962 house in Florida, and it was probably more solid than many of the new ones. There are a lot of Amish workers there who take real pride in their work. The bathrooms still had the original tiles and they looked perfect. We also did a lot of remodeling and fixing though until we had it just how we liked it.
Great post, Kris. If we were to rebuild in Nicaragua, we would never have wood in the main construction of our house. The termites are ravenous! Our ceilings are high, which enables good air flow as the heat rises. But, I definitely see the advantages of a drop ceiling, especially in the dry and dusty season.
I can’t remember – did you have insulation or anything besides a sheet of metal on the roof? It’s comfortable in your house and with the air flow, we never felt too hot. Something else I didn’t think of – when it gets to raining hard the noise on the roof is deafening. A drop ceiling probably helps a bit with that though it’s still quite noisy.
We don’t have any thing but the zinc roof on the front of the house, and in the back of the house, we have a drop ceiling in the bedroom and terra cotta tiles covering the zinc roof. We never hear anything in the bedroom, and it doesn’t get as dusty in the dry season, but it is hotter than the rest of the house. I think that is because we only have one window in the bedroom and no cross breeze. The rest of the house in the front stays cool because it is shaded and we have ventilation across the top of the wall. But, boy when it rains or the mangoes drop, it is deafening.
Ahh ok, the tiles must help dampen the noise when it rains because I don’t remember it being as loud as in our house. The mangos though… LOL Yes, about jumped out of my skin the first time one hit. Then I figured out what it was.
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