Building the dream

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It's A Process Not To Be Rushed



What? not rushed?

What I mean by this is the design of the structure needs to reflect how you want to use it, but also, work well in your site. There are so many factors that could be considered when developing the overview of your project. I use formal engineering based brainstorming and logic tools to identify and process these criteria... but even without those formal tools anyone can make lists and pare them down to define the design that meets their needs and this step is so important to perform BEFORE you start further down the path so that not only you save time and effort, but your end result is inline with your dream you started with, for both you and your family. The "not rushed" mantra carries over to all subsequent stages of the project as well... most of us know that life happens at a much slower pace i nthe Philippines than where most of us originate.... I think it is one of the reasons we are here, right? Well, embrace that concept, expect that of the resources you will need to interface with and do your best to not allow it to frustrate you. How I deal with it is to have as many different aspects of the project running concurrently as possible, so that when you hit a wall, say, "sorry sir, no cement today"... well, you have rebar bending to do, or excavations or woodwork.... with a solid plan in place, you can efficiently run so many more aspects of the project in parallel and before you know it... irreguardless of the obstacle, you and your team reman productively working towards the goal.

A long process for us

If I were to think back to when we started this process of building a home in the Philippines... I think it would take us back 4-5 years ago. At that time, my wife and son were celebrating their first anniversary of arriving in to the USA. They were still like kids in a candy store, enjoying all that life had to offer. My wife was getting her first job in the USA, our son now knew more English than Visayan (the preference was he would stay bi-lingual, but that did not happen) and was loving kidergarten here. In general, there was no reason to think about leaving our comfortable home in Oregon anytime soon. We knew we would eventually end up relocating, but for now, life was good. We had plans in the background to use our annual Philippines visits to lay the groundwork for an eventual retirement in the 2015-16 timeframe... plenty of time. My wife actually was torn on the decision as everything in the USA was still so exciting for her.

A Turning point, like no other

Well, for those that suffered through it... 2008 is about when all hell broke loose in the US economy and depending on where you were in the food chain, it was more likely than not that sometime in 2008, your livlihood would be challenged. We, like many had saved for that rainy day, but when the layoff happened, we never imagined we would need to dip into those reserves. Hell, in my entire life, I had never been unemployed, or disabled nor ever collected any sort of aid along that way.... this year would be different though. Month after month, no interviews.... no responses to the countless resume's sent out... when the responses did start coming in a sad reality was about to set in... I was facing sparse opportunities after 8 months of unemployment, that were on a pay scale less than half what I had worked my way up to. You think, this cannot be.. .impossible, a fluke... then another and another.. same... it seemed a new baseline for my skillset was being structured and it was nothing like before. Of course, in the end, we all know now this was not like any other recession and a massive reset was underway throughout most every aspect of the economy, on a global level. All along, my wife was also going through an unexpected experience of her own... this grasnd land of opportunity was fast becoming a wasteland of despair.... friends she had made were losing their houses, bagging for help from everyone and anyone... she came in to the USA, experienced all the glory of the "good life" and then witnessed the downfall that so badly affected so many of her friends and their families. What a ride it must have been for her.

Form here, it can only get better... right?

My career up to this point was in industrial manufacturing and factory automation.. a very competitive and fast paced world which required alot of my time and dedication.... well, I was having a hard time with the dedication part following an uncerimonious cutting after years of "dedication". I finally got an interview that changed alot.... I signed on as a contractor with the Boeing Co. Yes, it was a 5 hour drive north, but hey, it paid well and seemed to be enough of a change in pace that I could rally myself around and ... well... re-dedicate to it. Now I was away from home during the week, but the income was getting us back to where we needed to be..... then the aerospace industry caught up with the rest of the world's economies and in 2009 I was again cut... damn.. I liked it there too. Faced with again, bleak prospects, we made the decision to sell our home (worst time in history to do that) and get the hell out before we went down that road again. Who could know how far things might go? So we made the decision that changed everything and in 2010 we arranged for all our belongings to be containerized and shipped off to Cebu as we started our new adventure in life. Having seen the good and the bad of the western world, all in a very short time frame my wife was all on board for returning to the land where, as she says, "you can survive without work".

Establishing a baseline

All this time out of work and looking... gave me time to also break away and work on our house design. So many considerations needed to be factored in, but as I brainstormed what I and my wife were looking for on every level. One area of focus was on how the house would function not only as our home, but with extended family everyplace... how would it function with that dynamic? I had lived in Asia for 10 plus years at that point and been around the Philippine family for weeks at a time and I knew, the "what's yours is mine" mindset would be a challenge for me to handle. My wife had also expressed some concerns and so that was the basis for the start of our design... we knew, we needed to have three distinct "regions" of our home. A region for utility use, ie: laundry, workshop, helper residence/CR, etc. A region for us three.... private, not accessible from other regions, safe and a place where if we put something on a shelf it will be there a year from now without worries. (you simply NEVER know what some people may think they deserve) and a third region for what is inevitable, entertaining extended family and friends especially during holidays or other family occasions. withthese basci criteria, we arrived at a three level home and on a slope so that each of the three levels were accessible from a common EXTERIOR stairway.

With a solid foundation, all else proceeds

Once this concept had been arrived at I had months of floor planning, then electrical and plumbing design, material selection, etc. Many construction mthods and materials avaialble and readily used in the Philippines are different than those which I am accustom to in the USA. My overriding mentality was efficiency in every possible way. Using every resource until it could not be used again, ie: water, from grey water recycling to extensive rain water collection, solar and wind energy.. etc. The months turned into years and in the end, I have a completely detailed set of engineered plans for our home. We made extensive use of the most commonly available materials, reinforced concrete, we integrated dual voltage electrical provisions, plumbing is designed such that we have a grey water system separate from the black water system. The grey water system exits the structure through a sand/bacteria media filtration "scrubber" before feeding into the garden irrigation system. We will collect as close to every rain drop that hits the structure as is possible and have large capacity for storage of this resource. We use the slope of the property to every possible advantage and one of these ways is through rainwater collection to the highest point practical so that a natural gravity feed is in place for rainwater useage.


Throughout my design effort I knew I needed to seek out and adhere to Philippine building codes wherever possible. In MOST cases, as it applies to structural requirements, I found that the code in place for the Philippines was antiquated, however, very strongly based upon older USA standards. More modern and robust methods and design practices exist and were applied to my design. Now I know what many of you may be saying... WHAT? building codes in the Philippines? Why care as clearly nobody else does... well, one thing ... one important thing for you to remember as a foreigner..... you are, often times, not viewed as "everybody else" and if you want to avoid the potential of showstopping issues down the road... you have to remember that at some point you may be held to a higher standard.. .so be prepared for that. As I go into the permit application stage, I want my design to be without reproach as city engineers review it for approval. (Also a quick note, I have a different floor plan, than the actual build plan, that I am submitting for permits, as I do not want my actual floorplan available to the general public)

The Permits

The first actual step we will perform once on the ground in Carcar is to apply for a fence permit. Construction can begin as soon as the application is filed and fee paid. From there a couple weeks later we should have that permit and then we apply for the house construction permit and follow the same process.... timing is not an issue as we have alot of excavating and layout work to get through before the first footing is poured. We are all about doing these things above board, but to ensure reasonable processing speed, we will take my Autocad drawing files and provide them to a city engineer, who will doctor them up as required (mostly, add any localized notations etc. that I may have overlooked) and walk them through the submission and approval process... a small fee for engineering services will get us an expiditing through the approval process and more importantly, an ally in the city offices should we need anything expidited in the future. Networking is a very important component of the business world and even moreso in the Philippines... it really is "who you know"... and if your reputation in the local community is a good one, then people will want to associate with you, which is of course a very good thing in many cases.


Up in the mountains, our community water supply is a co-op that consists of a distribution system form a bnatural spring fed source higher up the mountain. As with anything in the Philippines... this system suceptible to corruption. As I learn more about the situation, I learn that we need to make an attempt to have the water service run to the lot with a meter BEFORE I show up. Even then, the ongoing distribution of water and associated rates are candidates for ways to separate me with more of my cash, unfairly. We knew this early on, hence the extensive rainwater collection integrated in to the design. We will make an attempt to get this water service installed as more of a plan "B", with rainwater and bottled water to be our plan "A" as it has been all along. When situations like this are encountered... I have had far greater success in the Filipino approach of avoiding confrontation... so if we are extorted either at the onset or at a later stage.. .we simply will decline installation or if later, stop using... no problem. I will not succumb to blatant extortion based on my race. Earlier I mentioned that I will make use of some minor engineering services to pace my permit applications through the process... this is in reality graft... but there are some services rendered and it is not expected in order for the permits to be approved.... this level of corruption is consistent with what I will end up complying with, like it or not, but blatant pay me because I have something you need???? No thanks, I will find a way not to "need" what you control. Again, patience is something that can go a long way and eventually, they may come around and if not, then their loss.

Closing out this post I want to remind folks, this post is located within the "Pre-planning" category as all I discussed is still all about our thought process in preparation for the work to start. An insight into the many aspects of the project that were considered, reserached and deliberated upon during the various stages of planning. Clearly, alot to consider....

Thank you for reading! :thumbsup:

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Hi Jake,

Yes, I have reviewed this material and gone as far as trying to get a "per sq. meter" cost estimate as a guideline from this source. I was quite interested in the product and quite turned off that they will not release the product without them doing the engineering work themselves. So let's see, some of the factors that have steered me away from this as a material for my project are:

Flexibility regarding change to the design. Once you involve an outside firm, they will then control a portion of your project, in terms of schedule and cost and I do not favor that in the land where schedules are not too important. That said, this is only one factor.

Cost: I tried unsuccessfully to get an extimated per sq mtr cost from this company... while they most likley are accurate in their claim tha tthe "cost" of the wall panels is "a little higher" [ dfefine little?] They sell this material as an engineering package of which I do not need... I engineered my structure myself, and they offer no flexibility to accommodate others doing the engineering work. Given the weight deltas, yes, there are ancillary savings that carry through the entire structure, however, not nearly on the "25% less" track as these ancillary savings are not linear to the weight reduction estimates.

Usefulness where used in my design: I will use hollow block in the following areas of my project: Perimeter fencing, retaining style wall, exterior structure wall, interior walls. No way is it useful to put these panels in the perimeter fence so not even a consideration. Interior walls would not realize the full benefits of the insulation value of the panels as they are interior, weight reduction, yes, so that was a consideration. Exterior structure walls, most benefit realized here... however, when I take a look at my structure, I am NOT designing for aircon... I have a very open air design so the insulative value is not as important, particularly given my location is on a mountainside near the coast and airflow is most always at a good clip.

Risk to project schedule and cost: This factor is huge to me as when the schedule slips, someone foots the bill and having negotiated countless agreements pertaining to hidden costs resulting from such scheule issues, I know that I would be the one feeling the costs of not only schedule, but mis-communication errors. Yes, they are a reality even in the higher business levels in the Philippines. When considering the use of these panels, even if I did hand over engineering work to them, where does that engineering work end??? Doors and window sizes need to be coordinated with the panel builder now, who loses if that coordination does not happen correctly?

In the end

Cost, weight, and risk is what this all boils down to and for me... .the risk of integrating a resource into the charter of responsibility for so much of my project was too great. IF I could specify and purchase the panels myself... this would be a much different story... but they are adamant about their involvement in the engineering work so it is a no go for me. I simply saw a coordination nightmare facing me with every instance of handing over coordination so the risk turns out to be the most significant issue for me and my method

That all said, if someone is looking to build and is NOT doing their own engineering work... then this company certainly looks like a capable source, but I would seek out some past customers and take a look into how closely they hit their estimates when the project was completed, and why they went over budget if that is the case. Just perform a due diigence evaluation, as you would ... or should... with any sub contractor.

Side note: I am not a fan of their cavalier attitude in their marketing statement.

"If you want to test whether your architect/contractor is really as smart as he think he is;

ask him why he build with hollow blocks?

Hollow blocks have a high thermal mass; they store the heat of the day and during the evening they give that heat back to you... not smart to use in a Tropical country is it..?"

My rebuttal if I was to allow my sarcastic side to escape for a moment:

"If you want to see how smart your supplier is, ask him why he will not increase his sales through the direct sale of such a superior product, without being involved in the project as more than a material supplier and you will likley learn that gaining control of your project is a big profit generator for the supplier and the panels are only the ticket in to your project." my 2 centavos on it.

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