Building a Tropical Beach House.
We are presently in the throes of completing our first beach house in the beautiful barrio of Lucena, North Joao Pessoa. This is a guide to our experiences, our thoughts and how we accomplished the build. It is not a definitive answer to your or any other build, but the techniques, and tips are all relevant.
Most of the plots in this part of the world are 12m x 30m. Some can be bigger, but rarely smaller. We were fortunate in the fact that the plot had 1.8m walls already surrounding it. This was partially due to the plots on either side already having houses built on them. It was only therefore a matter of building the front and rear walls, inserting a gate and the plot was secure. This was probably done by the previous owner.
The land here is an old raised beach, created when the local sea levels fell 10 to 20,000 years ago. Approximately 1.5 kilometres behind this beach area, we encounter the red clay cliffs, which are so typical of this part of the Brazilian coastline. These will help deliniate this area as a future quality beach resort, and thus avoid extensive holiday settlements being constructed behind the beach area as we have seen in Spain, Europe. The topography is flat, with some small localised standing water occuring after a heavy rain storm. Due to the good draining nature of the underlying sand, this never lasts long. The soil here is a sandy loam... more sand than loam, with coconut trees well established throughout the area. Rough grasses and scrub vegetation cover the untended areas. This particular plot is well endowed with coconut trees. There are approximately 7 of them scattered around the edge of the plot and a Guava tree at the rear. As we keep telling our Brazilian builders, it takes 20 minutes to cut down a tree, but 20 years to grow it. For this reason, and twinges of conscience/conservation due to our European backgrounds, we decided to retain all the trees, and build around them. This has given us a unique landscape/garden, and lots of shade and fruit. We were also pleased our builders quickly grasped our wishes and provided solutions when the trees clashed with the build.
Planning the site.
In a tropical environment, we have found the number 1 priority to be wind. This provides a cooling relief from the hot sun. In our part of the tropics we have the unending South East trade winds. Originating in the antartic, they flow all the way up the south Atlantic until they reach the coast of N.E. Brazil, and Joao Pessoa. It is vitally important to build in this natural, free cooling factor when you are planning your building. It will also reduce your future air con bills dramatically. Be aware that the north facing areas of your building will not benefit from these cooling breezes and plan accordingly. For us, the bedrooms are areas where we like to benefit from the breeze, so all these rooms face south as much as the plot will allow. We have located our lazer area (this is the Brazilian word for an outside area of relaxation, such as the swimming pool, BBQ and outside bar!) where the breeze first hits the plot. As a result of this, the car parking area where there is little or no wind and therefore hotter because of the building's walls has been located at the rear of the site. You might have different priorities (Brazilians do love their cars) but now you can understand the reasoning behind our decisions.
As mentioned previously we are building on an old beach area, which at best is 3 or 4 metres above current sea level. In order to allay any future problems with rising sea levels, and also to overcome short term problems with rain storms and the associated local flooding, local planning guidelines allow you to build up your ground floor to a level of 1.5m (This is worth checking out with your local planning officer as it can vary). To do this you will need to import fill, but this can be done after you have built your foundations and the initial walls.
Wells and Septic tanks.
Now is also the time to plan where you want to place your well and on the opposite side of the coin, your septic tank. It is best to site your well as far away as possible from other residents septic tanks, so that the risk of polluted ground water is lessened. Likewise site your septic tank near to other septic tanks, this helps reduce the impact of these necessary facilities on the environment. Your well constructor will also advise you taking the above points into consideration. In general it seems the wells are placed to the front of the plots, with the septic tanks to the rear. If you have inclines on your plot, please take note of them as you can use gravity and slope to good effect. That means place the well at the top of the site and the septic tank at the bottom. The yellow X shows where we located our septic tank and the red X indicates the well location.
Most wells in this part of the world are 8m deep. This provides a good supply of water for general use, but not of drinkling or swimming pool quality. We have found it pays to dig a deeper well of say 25m plus as this will give a higher quality supply of mineral water. We would still not advise you drink it, but your swimming pool will be clear and sediment free. Our 8m well gives us a red iron deposit which is unslightly both in toilets and the swimming pool. Using city water is a way around this problem, but it is not always available and can be extremely expensive... R$300.00 per month is not unusual.
Once your well has been dug, you can put down a concrete base around it. A small well house can then be built to provide protection for the pump and electrical supply. Make sure you can access the well pipework easily as you may have to make repairs in the future. Also note pumps are a very stealable commodity as nearly everyone needs one.
This is an important part of your leisure area so should be planned in advance. Size, depth and access to the verandahs and balconies of the property are important concerns. We have located all our rooms to look out over the pool, as sparkling clear water always conveys a sense of wellbeing and calm... ideal for the holiday atmosphere. However, if you have a large build on a smallish plot, you may have to take the location left to you by your building plan. Other points of note are the swimming pool pumphouse which contains the filtration equipment etc, water supply point and of course your drainage for pool maintenance, out of season care etc. Also remember the construction of the pool will give you a lot of fill material from the excavation and this can be used to infill your floor areas to bring them up to the new floor levels of the building. This also applies to the septic tank construction. Remember if you are building in sand or loose soil that this can easily collapse when being dug out, so it is best to get your walls and base built quickly.
To Be Continued!!!!