Monday, May 30, 2011

More lumber.

I needed to strip more lumber for the door on that little brick building in La Paz. So off to the lumber yard and to my surprise, I got a bonus. I bought 2 cants - one with 3 boards and one with 2 boards.
Those 2 red boards are red mahogany

When the guy pulled them from the stack I told him they were mahogany, he said to take them for the same price. I gave him a little extra for them so now he will save mahogany for me. I asked the guy at the hardware store across the street about it and he confirmed it was illegal but that it happens all the time.

The door will just be a rough "Z" braced door, just enough to keep a mountain lion from wanting to see what I taste like in the middle of the night.
After cutting the boards to length and getting the best fit I could, there are still some pretty big gaps between boards. Well I sold all my tools when I moved to Ecuador so no planner, joiner or table saw any one of which can be used to straighten the edge on a board. I do have a brand new circular saw though. One of the few benefits of being old is that you may have learned a thing or two in your life time.Arrange the boards to best fit - as above. Attach them to stringers perpendicular to the boards, set the blade depth on the saw to the board thickness and run the saw down the joints of the boards where they are closer together than a blade width. Take the boards lose, cleanup the edges, arrange the boards again and continue the process until you have a tight fit.
It works pretty good when you have only a minimum of tools to work with.
It took 3 passes to get a pretty good fit on this door blank. The lumber is about 25% moisture so when it dries it will shrink some but the gaps will be even and easy to put battens on. This is the kind of door you would find in a barn or on an outhouse. Cost $19.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A special thanks to Mary at South of Zero.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mary at South of Zero for her work in keeping me updated on a bunch of blogs of expats in Ecuador. I can't speak for other folks but I can tell you, having access to all those blogs has helped me in my transition to Ecuador and beyond. I don't know much about cyberspace or the technology that supports it but I can just imagine how much time and dedication it takes to read all those blogs and post a summary - every day. It sure makes it easy to click one address and have access to some of the best blogs on living in Ecuador by real people who live here, not some paid advertisement about some pie in the sky hype and misinformation. Thank you Mary and please keep up the good work.

Starting the 1st of June (next week) I will be spending a lot more time in La Paz working on my projects, so the posts will  be about a week apart but I will start getting into the meat of the projects much sooner. Coming up next week - I have some destruction to do before I can start on the construction of the addition to what will become the guest house. Looking ahead a few weeks, I will be building a 6 X 12' entry gate, a potable water system, putting in the footers for the addition and mixing a bunch of cement for a mud slab. Because of the nature of cement products and curing times the projects will jump around a bit but they will all get done in a reasonable amount of time - did I mention I'm old ?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lumber and prices in the Sierra.

In a previous post I mentioned that there wasn't much lumber to speak of in Ecuador. So now I would like to speak of it.  I have to insert a disclaimer here because I am frequently wrong about a multitude of things on a daily basis. This information is based on the information I got when searching out lumber for making cabinets, windows and doors for my projects in Ecuador. As a former sawmill owner/operator there may be more information here than some folks are interested in but it is important to me and the nature of the projects I get involved in here.

There are no commercial lumber companies here but there are a lot of families and individuals that cut trees and different size cants with chain saws. In the Amazon it's all done illegally, mohogany, teak and cedar, cut into cants and floated down the river then exported. Ecuador does make hardwood plywood which gets exported too, and it is the worlds largest exporter of Balsa wood. Now how this all happens when they say there are no commercial lumber companies is beyond me - maybe it has something to do with unprocessed trees or cants that can't really be called lumber. At any rate, here in the Sierra there is none of that, there is just Eucalyptus. Oh yea and bamboo poles. Eucalyptus was imported here when the pine forests were all cut and has become one of the most common trees. Basically used for pulp wood, there are a lot of mom & pops that cut it into lumber. The closest thing to a saw mill in Ecuador is a chain saw with a long guide bar. They use a lot of  debarked poles for roof members along with bamboo poles and basically cut logs into only 8" widths and various thicknesses.
For smaller thickness lumber here is how you buy it - a 3 X 8 cant cut into three. They pack the cut end with clay to maintain the 1/4" kerf over the length of the cut for uniform drying.

These guys take a string soaked in used motor oil and snap it along the length of the cant and cut the line with a chain saw. The long guide bar allows them to stand upright while they cut. There are some dimensional 1bys and 2 bys but that is pretty much it. A local cabinet shop will take this stuff, dry and mill it for use in what they make - these cabinet shops have it all, saws, planners, shapers, sanders and really produce some nice pieces of furniture.
For what I am up to I just separate the 3 boards and stack them to air dry for a little while. These particular boards are 5/8X8X9 feet long, rough cut and about 25% moisture. Price - $2.20 each. I'll be stripping them to 5" for a door frame on that little brick building.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If the driveway ever get cleared out.

I've been clearing the driveway to the house site 2 days a week for the past 3 weeks and it doesn't seem like it will ever be done.
Here is what I am up against.

I don't know what this stuff is called but it has a pretty good root system and big tubers right out of the ground out of which grows a wide bladed grass that will cut you to the bone. For this reason I call it razor grass. It grows taller than me and I am 6 feet.

The reason it takes so long to clear it out is because I have to cut it down with hedge clippers to about 12 inches high so I don't get cut to shreads when I dig it up with a mattock.
It looks pretty good when I get it done though.

The driveway is about 600 feet long and I've got about 150 feet left to clear, so another week maybe. In the mean time I'll layout the front gate and get the footers dug for the gate post, then start on securing the little brick building while the gate project unfolds.

I have scheduled 2 yards of sand, 3 yards of gravel and 200 - 6" blocks for delivery next tuesday. That should get me started. The price of materials in La Paz is a little higher than Cuenca but not enough to justify trucking it 45 miles.

          Sand (arena) $22 a cubic meter.
          Gravel (ripio) = 3/4 minus $24 cubic meter
          Blocks - 6" in quantity 43 cents a piece
          1/2" rebar $20 a stick (20')
          Portland $8 to $10 a cubic foot depending on quantity
          Calcium Carbonate (quick lime) $10 per hundred weight.

As you can see from the above mentioned prices a standard 5 bag mix for concrete will run about $75 a yard, so a little cheaper than the U.S. but you gotta mix it yourself. You know people pay good money to belong to a gym and they don't get nearly the workout these projects will require.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Something old, something new.

I have been here 6 months now and I have a few statistics maybe one or two people might like to see. Preface : We live in Cuenca, for now, in a very nice rented apartment with way more of everything than we need. I put 1200 miles (2000 kilometers) a month on the car running back and forth to La Paz. We don't worry about how much we spent on food, how often we go out to eat, we send our laundy out and if we see something we what we buy it.

Our living expenses run $1100 a month. The building budget is separate but transportation costs are in that $1100 a month. We could very easily live on $600 a month and probably will when we move out to La Paz. If you want to know any more about our budget you'll have to talk to Barb ( ) she knows all the details.

Another interesting mess of numbers comes from the U.S. and the Social Security Administration. There are 79 million baby boomers in the U.S., 10,000 retire every day and that's going to go on for 17 years. Where are you going to go when you retire? Your going to have to live on Social Security, there are no safe investments in the U.S.. Even if you own everything outright can you live on Social Security in the U.S?

One more -  you know that 1200 miles a month I put on the car, it costs me $45 a month in gas.

Yeah, I know this is a building forum, but it is mine and I get to post what I want. In case you didn't know, I am old and not very smart about this computer stuff, so I am exercising my new found verbal freedom.

I'll be going to La Paz tomorrow, so I'll have something related to this blog to talk about then.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Project list.

I have noticed that in starting this blog the profile and - posted by -sections of the blog reflect my wifes information and that by changing it on this blog it changes it on her blog. So I am leaving it alone - my inclination for fixing things involves a hammer or a bigger hammer.

I bought property in La Paz, Azuay, Ecuador about 3 months ago and have been sitting on it until our residency in Ecuador had been approved and all the paperwork and documentation completed. Now that, that is done I can move ahead with the land and get some work done. I paid $35,000.00, after all was said and done, for a little better than 20 acres with water on the property, a small brick structure, long overgrown driveway off of the Panamericana highway and high tension electrical lines pulled to a pole in the middle of the land. Is that a good deal ? Not really. I have learned a few things early on in Ecuador, one is not to use a realtor. I guess some realtors might be honest but even an honest realtor will tag you with a commission, the others will get you at both ends of the transaction and you may not get title to the property. I had a realtor with U.S. affiliations try to sell me land in the Caja National Park. If you follow the rules and the laws of Ecuador and hire a good real estate lawyer, you will pay a little more but at least you will own what you buy. While we are on the subject of buying stuff in Ecuador - no you don't have to have a Cedula to buy property, a vehicle or open a bank account but you better be sure you want to live here before you do that stuff. It's hard to undo once it is done.

As you can see the price of land isn't much different than the Mid-West U.S. but for me the one asset you don't have to pay for makes all the difference - the weather. When I build it doesn't matter what time of year it is, no heating or air conditioning, no insulation. That makes for a pretty good time and cost savings, especially when you are doing it all yourself. The cost of building materials here runs from about the same as the U.S. to a little higher. There is no lumber to speak of here so " while in Rome ...." applies and the building process will involve mostly masonary products. Bricks and blocks are a little cheaper here, Portland runs about the same, sand and gravel run a little higher and steel is way higher than the U.S..

The second project after the front gate to secure the property will be to expand the existing building on the property to be used as a guest house after the main house is built

Here is what we are dealing with, a poorly constructed brick structure that I was going to tear down initally but I need a place to sleep while I work on the property and there are puma's and mountain lions in the area. So I am thinking I will expand on it and use a reinforced stucco over the brick - as long as I keep a verticle load on the bricks it should be okay.

Well we'll see how it goes.

New blog different audience

I have moved from the United States to Ecuador in my old age, mainly because of the near perfect weather here in the southern Andes Mountains - it sure doesn't hirt me any that the cost of living is generally cheaper here too. My wife may have some different ideas as to why she likes it here but the fact is we are here and plan to stay for a yet to be determined period of time.

The reason for this blog is to have a place to send people with questions about real estate and construction in Ecuador. We have another blog ( ) - which is generally used to keep family and friends up to date on what we are up to in Ecuador but I get a lot of questions about the cost of real estate and construction in Ecuador. This will be the place to find out what an old man can do, by himself and how much it cost to do it.