Building at Oceano – How? Ideas. Options and Reality.

July 21, 2013 |

How am I going to Build at Oceano?

This is a question that many people ask and it’s an important one.  At this time, Oceano is 5 miles from paved road and power (we don’t expect to be for more than 5 more years) so how are you going to build there?

After many years of traveling through various countries in Central America I always wondered why there always were an inordinate amount of unfinished structures.  Well, now i think I have a better grasp of it.  It’s due to a combination of poor planning, inconsistent management discipline, cultural differences around accountability and importance around having consistent work, cultural differences around putting weight on reputation, unrealistic planning and in the case of “gringo” abandoned structures, burnout due to all of the above.  That being said, there are good people everywhere and as a foreigner we suggest that, you have to do your homework, get recommendations from other foreigners, and structure your contracts with penalties and bonuses around deadlines and quality commitments.

Be sure to take a look at our “Building Ideas” under, “Galleries”, where all of the following photos in this presentation are stored.  These are not existing structures in Oceano.  They are ideas which would work well though.

tropical luxury palapa rancho all included architecture eco green building wood floors ocean living photo

Originally we had this vision of Oceano being only the greenest of green communities and that we would build it out only with on site adobe or rammed earth , local sustainably harvested wood products, fully “non-toxic”, only off-grid and basically at a green building extreme.  After years in the region and looking into it, it’s become clear that part of being green is using what is local and accessible in terms of materials, supporting local businesses and keeping your brain “green” by just being realistic.  Many products which may be considered to be more toxic, like concrete or styrofoam insulated panels have huge lifespan and practicality benefits.

Initially we did hold to that vision which we still love and have a strong affinity for and actually hope to use when the time is reasonable to do so.  The earth is actually fantastic for various adobe block making methods and we hope to one day, create a small factory to make them with.  What We’ve learned though is that barring that you are 20 something years old and have a team of friends who want to help you, and you are unusually resilient and productive, it’s likely not realistic to go down that road in this environment from the get-go.

There is an adobe earthern style block maker in Chtire which makes a more insulated and earth friendly 6 chamber block which is a healthier and more functional alternative to cinder block.  It’s slightly more expensive but more “green”.  We can’t find a website for Arcitec but here is their contact information. .  Arcitec also produces the Spanish tile roofing material and various other earth ceramic products including tile and they are local.

So, “green” can look different ways and for us it means building to last, utilizing green design concepts which account for our climate and ecosystem, making material choices which lean towards the least toxic and a maintainable and buildable design which is going to keep your brain green, maintenance low, and healthy too.   Our requirements are covered in our Guidelines which you should review before purchasing.  They are wide open actually in terms of freedom and despite being lengthy, mostly just account for gross anomalies that we’ve decided would detract from the value and environment of your home or business site and from your experience of your community.

Outdoor shower tropical architecture bathroom photo


cantilever architecture design photo hot tub pool tropical glass walls

If you are a Builder, here’s what you want to know:

In Las Tablas which is 1.5 hours from the site, there is a Cochez which in our language is a Home Depot style construction store with all the critical lumber and parts.  Additionally, they don’t appear to have a website but there is another store I like the best because they are local but also carry only high quality products which is called Conivan.  Either one of these stores will deliver sizable loads to the site or at least very near, for $100 to $150 a load.

Additionally in Chitre, slightly further away are 2 more Lowe or Home Depot style stores.  One is Doit Center which is actually owned by the Home Depot brand and Spiegle which is owned by the True Value brand.  There are also several smaller hardware stores and even close by, in Tonosi 35 minutes from the site, we can get many standard materials.  Also, in the Tonosi region there are several small local mills where you can pick up fresh cut local woods.  Even in Cambutal there is a local foreigner run mill which is run by an American who costs more but is reliable and will produce your best quality of the local lot.

There are some local builders the most notable of which at this time is Lexi Rodrigues.  I’ve watched him develop his skills over the years and he is our most capable local contractor, from Cambutal and from a good family.  He’s your go to guy in a bind and a great choice for most projects.  Otherwise there are several builders from Tonosi who have completed foreigner homes around Cambutal and should be able to make any set of plans work.  That being said, Latin American work standards among professionals are not what you would expect in the US or Europe.  It is almost essential that you have a foreigner as a foreman on any project to keep forward progress and accountability.  As much as I hate to say it and hope to be proven wrong over and over, you generally cannot rely on your Panamanian Contractor to hold a leadership position consistently on his or her own.  They are great but need you or someone unrelated to their crew to keep the push going.  For many of these crews, only the boss will have a vehicle, so if something is needed like a missing piece of hardware or plumbing or a mixer runs out of gas, the whole job might shut down for the day as everyone goes home early because of the missing piece or fuel.  You generally need someone to be consistently planning ahead and on call to make sure the parts are in place for progress to continue.  If you decide to build we are happy to help coordinate you with local contractors for interviews.

Modular and Prefab:

We are somewhat remote and we have a general lack of available labor in our area.  Although it’s possible to find good reputable contractors and workers, Panamanians are also notoriously on a different protocol in terms of work accountability.  For those reasons we’ve done research into prefabricated or precut options which can make building faster and easier and achievable with a smaller crew.  So, if you’re unfamiliar here’s what I’m talking about and there will be several examples below.  Basically, there are housing products which are either, fully constructed, partially constructed in panels or basically they are precut and drilled and ready to assemble – with all of the parts delivered in a shipping container and/or on a truck.  These should be both a less expensive and a much easier to build.  In most cases, they are built on a factory site and then dismantled to be put together again on your site.  None of the options listed below are fully constructed although we have some friends in the Boquete, Panama area who are in development of a fully constructed deliverable small home.

Here are 3 more local options that we like:

We know of 3 Prefab products in Costa Rica and 2 are in the southeast not so far from Panama.  Because of a free trade agreement between Costa Rica and Panama, we should only need to be dealing with the cost of shipping which we estimate at a reasonable $1500 – $2500 to truck a house down.

The first is Manu Prefab out of Dominical, Costa Rica which is close.  Manu believes, “that sustainable, well-designed tropical buildings should be accessible and affordable to more people. To achieve this we have simplified the building process by choosing a off-site modular fabrication as our means to create beautiful, eco-friendly and truly tropical homes.”  Manu specializes in the engineering, design and construction of high-end, prefabricated, Bali Style post and beam structures.

Manuprefabricated prebuilt bali home wood knock down house container delivered

A second are designs by an architect named Michael Cranford in Costa Rica.  Michael says, “Living in rain forests of Southern Costa Rica, I work diligently towards a carbon negative footprint in my architectural designs.  After studying my entire life, I have come to the conclusion that we must reduce our footprint by copying natures design.”  Three of his prefabricated offerings are listed in the word documents below and he can be found at


And a 3rd new option who we were just introduced to and have been speaking with is: out of San Jose Costa rica.  “Green Build Solution’s current product mix has been carefully selected from thousands of products and represents the finest green building technologies available.  Our initial focus has been on green shell products including slabs, exterior walls, windows and doors, roof, wall coatings, steel framing and trusses.”  We are in talks with Green Build about designing a home or a few homes for our mostly hillside ocean view homesites and have a solid personal reference and connection with them.

The other 2 are manufacturers in Bali who make prefab wood homes which have come recommended.  One is Bali Wood World homes at and another is Tropic Pavilion at .  Both claim to specialize in manufacturing both custom and predesigned prefabricated “knockdown” wooden homes.  Both companies produce Balinese prefabricated homes which are prefabricated, drilled, cut and ready to be re-assembled on delivery.  Look into their websites some more and check out these photos.

prefabricated prebuilt bali home wood knock down house container delivered



We see ourselves initiating building in 2015 or 2016.  We will likely be using one of more of the above service and product providers.  We welcome you to join us.

Thank you from the Oceano Crew.  Michelle, Daniel, Mike and Kent.