Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction

~~Part 1 of 2~~

Building in Belize, or in many other 3rd world countries, there are not many (if any) building codes to abide by. This lack of regulations gives you freedom, but it also brings disadvantages as labor, such as plumbers and electricians, do not have to be certified, therefore anybody can (and do) claim to be anything they want. Problems may not necessarily arise due to a lack of knowledge, but they will sometimes due to carelessness and ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude.

This article covers many areas involved in the building process; Plumbing, Electrical & Wiring, Roof, Gutter & Down Pipes, Concrete Work , Clearing the Land, Burning, Daily Inspection, Tools & Equipment, Paying the Workers & Contractors, Hardwood House Coating. This post was getting quite long, so I divided it into 2 parts. As best I could, I listed each point in order of the building progression.

CLEARING THE LAND ~ There will be clearing to do, how much depends on where you’re building. In the jungle, it is a very important factor as the forest is very lush and dense due to the sub-tropical rainforest climate. Most guys here are very very good at clearing (chopping with machete) and fast. The problem is that they can be ‘too good’ and cut valuable trees unnecessarily. You must clearly mark the area you wish to have cleared and visibly mark the trees you wish to keep. A good way to mark those trees is by tying white cloths around the trunk at eye level. Don’t just point them out, really mark them clearly!

burning

BURNING ~ Branches, leaves, and even trees are constantly falling throughout the year. Also, your garbage is in two categories; what you will burn and what you will take to the dump. For those reasons, your ‘burning’ area(s) is a permanent feature on your property and should be carefully selected. What to keep an eye on is that workers have a tendency of making piles too big, creating too large a fire. They also love using igniter fluids such as fuel or crude oil because it’s easier and faster! And finally, the best time to burn is at the end of the day when things are dry from the all day sun, but moisture will come soon (once the sun has set) and prevent the fire from remaining or spreading.

CLEANLINESS OF WORK SITE ~ From the start, your work site can get pretty trashy. The work crew will just throw things (bent nails, used saw blades, empty containers or pretty much anything they deem as garbage) everywhere and don’t bother cleaning until the job is done, which is many months away. Be on that from the get go by providing trash cans and explain how easy and quick it is to clean up at the end of each day. Nearly everyone won’t like you at first for that, but as time goes, most will appreciate working in a clean site (especially if there’s a cold beer at the end of the day once in a while!). One major issue is non-burning garbage in the burning pile. I have picked up so many used circular saw blades in that pile! Even after several reminders, once in a while you will still find a metal can from a lunch box! Also provide broom and dust pan to clean sawdust in the house, and have a spare dust pan as they get lost, or break, easily!

concrete

CONCRETE WORK ~ Almost anyone you ask will say; Oh yes, I do concrete! (And I am sure if you ask, he also does plumbing and electrical ♥). An important thing to look out for is the proper ratio of sand/cement/water. Depending on what work you are doing, the type of sand and the rocks content is also very important. The use of rebars and reinforcement is essential for the sturdiness and longevity of pilings on buildings, retaining walls, stairs…

 

PLUMBING ~ Plumbing in Belize is quite simple, using standard PVC piping and accessories, which comes in schedule 40 or 60. Schedule 40, being the thickest one, is highly recommended as PVC will dry and become brittle over time. Also, all pipes that can be buried should be. When your worker is cleaning with the machete, those pipes can be vulnerable as they swing those machetes pretty hard! Also, if a tree or a rock fall, your pipes are protected. In this department, there are quite a lot of things to lookout for.

~ Many ‘plumbers’ don’t use the solvent before applying the glue. In one instance, a plumber dropped a fitting in the dirt after applying the glue, did not clean it and attached it to the pipe!
~ There are two types of PVC glue, one being for hot water pipes. They often will use the basic glue on all pipes.
~ They also are not big in the use of unions in strategic areas. They are a life saver when you need to clear a pipe or drain.
~ Vents on drain pipes are essential for proper drainage, and many guys don’t use them.
~ Another issue is ‘inclinations/grade’. Many guys have a hard time understanding the principle and your drain pipes might not be inclined enough or if at all. This problem of understanding inclinations is also an issue when doing gutters, shower tiles, roadways and ditches.

ELECTRICAL / WIRING ~ The custom in Belize, the Caribbean and Central America is to run wires outside walls and ceilings. So if you want your wires inside your walls and ceilings, don’t take it for granted and keep your eyes open. Unless you are totally 100% confident in your electrician, inspect all splicing as they often mix wire gauge and/or colors. Inspect all connections to outlets and switches as you will probably find some stray wires, unnattached ground wires, and loose screws. As for installing electrical hardware, I was amazed when our ‘electrician’ opened the box for the A/C unit and the first thing he did was trash the instruction/installation manual! Over time, I have found that it is standard practice not to follow, or trash, any instructions they find!

roofing

ROOF ~ Our roof is undulated metal sheets. Installing this type of roofing is quite simple and straight forward, but we did run into one problem. When installing the screws, which have rubber grommets for sealing, one guy was screwing them in so tight that the grommets would get crushed and split. This will sooner than later cause leaks. Once we saw that, we inspected each screw and ended up replacing a number of them.

So this was part 1, and I hope some of those tips can come in handy for you! You can read my 2nd installment, which includes; Hardwood Coating (interior/exterior), Gutters & Drain Pipes, Tools & Equipment, Daily Inspection and, Paying the Workers & Contractors.

TropiCat

Other Posts:

1 ~ Living Comfortably In The Jungle Of Central America!
2 ~ Producing And Storing Your Own Electricity, You Have The Power To!
3 ~ Building Off-Grid In The Jungle, Fun But Challenging
4 ~ Easy Broadband Satellite Internet Access
5 ~ Water Supply Considerations, Off-Grid In The Jungle
6 ~ The Domestic Cats’ Life In The Jungle
7 ~ The Belize Mennonite’s Lifestyle
8 ~ How To Live As An Expat In A Foreign Country
9 ~ The Invasion Of The Flood Flies
10 ~ Living in Paradise! But, Where Is It?
11 ~ Solar Panel Placement & Sun Chart Creator
12 ~ Health Issues When Living Abroad
13 ~ Telecommunication Challenges In A 3rd World Country
14 ~ Fleas & Ticks In The Jungle
15 ~ The Dangers Of The Black Poisonwood Tree
16 ~ To Buy Or To Rent When Moving Abroad
17 ~ Home Schooling When Living Abroad
18 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 2


 

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Solar Panels Placement & Sun Chart Creator

When designing your solar system, there’s a very important factor that should not be omitted, as it can very well make or break the amount of electricity you are capable of producing. It is to figure out the best placement of your solar panels/arrays for maximum performance. Finding out which direction and angle your panels must face will allow you to determine where to locate them, and then you will be ready to decide the type of mount you will need; roof, fixed mount, tracking mount etc.

Making your own sun chart is quite easy and fun. The website I use is by Jürgen Giesen and has great user-friendly tools.

All you have to do is enter your location data, mainly your coordinates (you can obtain your coordinates from a GPS, an Atlas or I believe even from Google Earth), and it creates an easy to read sun map with key information such as the number of hours of sunshine, its intensity etc.

Sun Map for June 24, 2008
Click here to enlarge

Sun Map for December 24, 2008
Click here to enlarge

Above are two charts for my situation, located in the Cayo District of Belize (17º N – 88º W, just North of the equator). I created a chart for June and one for December. With these results I was able to conclude that I needed for my panels to be able to do a full tilt and or swivel since the sun is slightly north in the summer and quite south in the winter.

For the end result, our solar panels are on fixed (bolted in concrete) ‘Belize custom made’ steel tri-pod style base mount with a rack that holds 6 panels and has a manual crank mechanism that allows us to tilt to a 90 degree angle and rotate 365 degrees. In North America, your solar array will be facing toward the southern half of the hemisphere at all times of the year.


Another important factor that will affect the efficacy of your charging power is obstructions. When orienting solar panels, it is a bit like orienting your dish for TV or Internet Satellite; you don’t want anything in their way like branches, buildings, trees, mountains… So that is why our solar system is set up in our 3 acre orchard. It is also important that your solar panels are accessible for cleaning. If your panels are tilted at about 45 degrees or more and it rains once in a while, it’s not too much of an issue. But if your panels are flat mounted, dirt will accumulate and build up far easier.

These are just some of the basic things that need to be considered when setting up a solar system. With some research and talking to your local alternative energy supplier or someone with an existing system, you will be able to obtain more insight on the do’s and dont’s of solar.

TropiCat

Other Posts:

1 ~ Living Comfortably In The Jungle Of Central America!
2 ~ Producing And Storing Your Own Electricity, You Have The Power To!
3 ~ Building Off-Grid In The Jungle, Fun But Challenging
4 ~ Easy Broadband Satellite Internet Access
5 ~ Water Supply Considerations, Off-Grid In The Jungle
6 ~ The Domestic Cats’ Life In The Jungle
7 ~ The Belize Mennonite’s Lifestyle
8 ~ How To Live As An Expat In A Foreign Country
9 ~ The Invasion Of The Flood Flies
10 ~ Living in Paradise! But, Where Is It?
11 ~ Health Issues When Living Abroad
12 ~ Telecommunication Challenges In A 3rd World Country
13 ~ Fleas & Ticks In The Jungle
14 ~ The Dangers Of The Black Poisonwood Tree
15 ~ To Buy Or To Rent When Moving Abroad
16 ~ Home Schooling When Living Abroad
17 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 1 of 2
18 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 2

Building Off-Grid In The Jungle, Fun But Challenging!

First thing first… you have to be there. Attempting to build while out of the country is a BAD idea, unless you have a really good trustworthy manager on site.

Some decisions you will have to make before starting your homework are very important: will I build concrete or wood? What size and type of building do I want? The other million things I will need (hardware, furnishings, etc). Being off-grid, what type of commodities do I want (pressured water or gravity, hot water, electricity…)

Building contractors don’t always provide proper outsourcing for specifics like plumbing, electrical, painters/coaters, inside finishing such as kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Many do, but you have to be on top of everything, as anyone can call themselves plumber or electrician because no license is required in those fields. But did you know that to be a tour guide you must be licensed!!! There are good chances that you will end up having to find those labors yourself in the end.

We went for wood buildings on cement posts. I recommend cement over wood posts (sturdier and longer lasting). The hardwoods of Belize are amazing. I never thought I would need to pre-drill a hole to pound a nail… plus I have never gone through so many drill bits in my life! The entire 1,500 sq. ft. floor is thong & groove Cabbage Bark. The walls and ceiling are a mix of Santa Maria, Red Wood, Mahogany, Ceba, and many others.

The homework for this one is a bit tougher as communication can be an issue. Many contractors have ‘mini’ websites with some information. Email works well with many of them, but you have to be ready to get on the phone or better yet, go down for a visit!

You also have to build in the right season. During rainy season, construction often comes to a halt due to some serious downpours that can last a month. So obviously the dry season is the time to do it. That season is from November to May.

There a 2 ways to do the hot water; solar or butane. We have an on-demand butane water heater (very standard in Europe) and it works great. Those little heaters ignite when you turn on the tap by the pressure tripping the flint. All you need is a D battery for the igniter.

Do your homework on butane. For your own safety, you might want to do your butane line yourself. Once you know how to flange an end correctly, it is relatively simple. Butane is important as it will also fuel your stove, fridge, and a clothes dryer if you chose to have one. What we have found out is that those butane appliances are easy to install and they are reliable… the fridge can be a little finicky until you figure out how it reacts to the weather and temperature changes.

TropiCat

Other Posts:

1 ~ Living Comfortably In The Jungle Of Central America!
2 ~ Producing And Storing Your Own Electricity, You Have The Power To!
3 ~ Easy Broadband Satellite Internet Access
4 ~ Water Supply Considerations, Off-Grid In The Jungle
5 ~ The Domestic Cats’ Life In The Jungle
6 ~ The Belize Mennonite’s Lifestyle
7 ~ How To Live As An Expat In A Foreign Country
8 ~ The Invasion Of The Flood Flies
9 ~ Living in Paradise! But, Where Is It?
10 ~ Solar Panel Placement & Sun Chart Creator
11 ~ Health Issues When Living Abroad
12 ~ Telecommunication Challenges In A 3rd World Country
13 ~ Fleas & Ticks In The Jungle
14 ~ The Dangers Of The Black Poisonwood Tree
15 ~ To Buy Or To Rent When Moving Abroad
16 ~ Home Schooling When Living Abroad
17 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 1 of 2
18 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 2

Producing And Storing Your Own Electricity, You Have The Power To!

The first time you sat at a computer, it was somewhat confusing and a bit intimidating. Then you started and were amazed at how easy it really was. It shows you have a logical mind, which is all you need!

Solar energy stored in large deep cycling marine batteries is the way we chose to do it. Your system starts with solar panels, which will collect the energy from the sun. Through electrical wires, this energy is carried to the batteries and stored. By connecting an inverter to the batteries, the stored energy is converted from DC to AC power and then sent to the house standard breaker box.

Here are the 7 things you need to be able to answer (and my answers);

1- 12v, 24v or 48v System (my system is 24v)

2- Load calculation, decide what electrical items you want or need. You will need to consider not only usage but surge and phantom loads as well. (we bought a “Kill-O-Watt” meter and tested everything)

3- Then, how much total Watt/Amp do I need to generate (in perfect conditions, we produce 2,400 watts per hour with twenty-four 100 Watts panels)

4- How many batteries, and which type, to store the energy I need (have twenty-four 12v/200ah deep cycle marine batteries)

5- Inverter type & size (Two Outback VFX3524)

6- Charge controller or not? (Started without, then had one for a short period, and now don’t)

7- Breaker boxes (for house, power shed, and garage if have one) (standard readily available boxes)

Depending on your location, many Alternative energy stores can do your installation for you.

Now, there’s a 7th thing you’ll need… an expert consultant! Make sure that wherever you purchase your components, they also offer tech support (unless you have someone personally). This support can be via email, but better yet through an online forum or group.

The Outback inverter works awesome. If you get this type of inverter, ‘make sure’ you also get the ‘Mate’. Without it you cannot change the settings of the inverter. The Mate also gives you cool and ‘must have’ info like battery reading, load currently in use, and other very useful info.

Once you have an answer to those 7 questions, then its homework time. Some resources to do your research are;

-Good old fashion magazine to read when lounging in bed!

-The internet, which goes without saying!

-Store catalogs, but those who also include informative sections. There are two excellent catalogs that have been a tremendous help; Backwoods Solar Electric Systems in Idaho and EA Energy Alternatives Ltd in Victoria, Canada.

-Online forums and groups. Read and follow several of them for a while before joining one. This way you get the feel of which one is more for you and your needs.

-Best of all, find someone who already has a system in place. Seeing a system set up and in operation will give you the clearest picture.

While gathering information online, don’t miss visiting an Alternative Energy Store. Nothing will ever replace in person consultation, and some stores might be able to match internet prices.

I am no expert, but from 1 ½ year ago, when I knew nothing, what I have learned is huge and incredibly rewarding. If you do your homework and ask the right questions, you can do it too!

TropiCat

Other Posts:

1 ~ Living Comfortably In The Jungle Of Central America!
2 ~ Building Off-Grid In The Jungle Of Belize
3 ~ Easy Broadband Satellite Internet Access
4 ~ Water Supply Considerations, Off-Grid In The Jungle
5 ~ The Domestic Cats’ Life In The Jungle
6 ~ The Belize Mennonite’s Lifestyle
7 ~ How To Live As An Expat In A Foreign Country
8 ~ The Invasion Of The Flood Flies
9 ~ Living in Paradise! But, Where Is It?
10 ~ Solar Panel Placement & Sun Chart Creator
11 ~ Health Issues When Living Abroad
12 ~ Telecommunication Challenges In A 3rd World Country
13 ~ Fleas & Ticks In The Jungle
14 ~ The Dangers Of The Black Poisonwood Tree
15 ~ To Buy Or To Rent When Moving Abroad
16 ~ Home Schooling When Living Abroad
17 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 1 of 2
18 ~ Tips & Hints On Things To Watch Out For During Construction – Part 2