We get a lot of questions concerning the Construction Prices in Costa Rica and are confronted sometimes by very unrealistic assumptions. I will go through a couple here and try to pour light into some of the darkness.
A lot of people think that Costa Rica is cheap and you can built a US standard home for much below $100 a square foot! I saw one website claiming a typical costa rican home can be built for $30 a sq.ft.
First we have to define what US quality building standards are to start with.
Shipping Container Home Construction Prices
Are we talking about a trailer home without heating than yes something like this can be built here for that price. Think about a 40ft container for $3000 used and cut a door and a window in and lets put a bed in. That’s actually already pretty much it if if you don’t what to spend more than $30/sft! At a total Construction Prices of perhaps $10.000 for everything including labour with a dimension of 40ft x 8ft or 320 sf2 we have a price per sq.ft of already $31,25. So even a container home will come out to more than that $30/f2 realistically. So while interesting modern tropical designs can be built with shipping containers not everybody wants to sleep in a hot humid metal box.
Tico Style Construction
Next on the list is the basic “tico style” construction with block or prefab concrete walls and a steel roof. By “tico style” I mean the most common small houses along roadsides you can see in this country. In my opinion not the most beautiful construction compared to the old banana company wood houses. But since the average worker does not make much here – minimum wage is around $350-400/month – that’s pretty much all locals can afford if at all. Actually if you look closely I always felt that the poorest people here and in most other central american countries get the worst for the little money they have. Built usually with expensive, labour and energy intensive block or concrete panels and covered with even more expensive corrugated steel which will rust within 3 years along the coast. Much cheaper and lasting about as long would be a bamboo structure with mud infill and a thatched roof. They problem is that the old building methods are long forgotten and the industry in the country is pushing their products. There are only two producers for cement who can do pretty much want they want with the cement price. The cement price is also the main ingredient in the price for the cinder block. Crushed rocks have to be extracted from the rivers and only a couple have usable hard granite. Environmental problems plus corruption through red tape lead to prices for crushed rocks way above US or European standards. Also the production of cement needs lots of electricity and gas for transport and with Costa Rican electricity prices at the top of world prices price for cement has to be higher than in some low cost areas in the USA. Locals pay between $13000 to $15000 for a 450 Sq.ft concrete panel home so a Sq.ft price of about $35.
Pine Framing Construction Prices Costa Rica
The lowest overall Construction Prices in Costa Rica I think can be achieved with a building method which is the de facto standard in the USA and some northern European countries. Stick frame construction with treated pine plus drywalls with fibrolite or Plyrock in wet areas.The problem is that most of the materials have to be imported since Costa Rica has no local pine. Pine comes either from Chile or from the US in Florida. It has to be pressure treated for the termites here so prices are higher. We import our own treated pine which gets produced to USA standards and they use a very hard central American pine version. That pine gets used all over the Caribbean and is much harder and durable than local Chilean pine.
SIP Panel Construction Prices Costa Rica
Very similar prices per sq.ft can be achieved with a newer method which uses SIP panels. Those sturdy panels have a styrofoam core and magnesium oxide boards on each side. They get screwed together with galvanized steel channels and get then get a similar surface treatment as other lightweight construction methods. This results in a very lightweight, rigid and earthquake proof structure. Another advantage is its high insulation value which is especially important for the roof and the walls for air-conditioned houses.
Also big factors in the total construction costs are the local labour with its inefficiencies and the social security and permit fees. Also infrastructure costs especially retaining walls and parking spaces with drainage can add more to the total than the price for actual house house itself.
One of the main cost factor for building materials is usually the transport. Building materials are cheaper in San Jose the capital but also the transport has to be factored in here. So for example bringing in material per 3 axis trailer is for sure cheaper than buying locally but all those tons of material have than to be unloaded – usually by hand – to a small 4×4 truck to bring it up some of our mountains where most building projects are.
So I would argue that the construction cost will be about the same for the same house built in for example in Florida or in Costa Rica. Usually higher costs for labour and local regulations, insurances and permits in Florida are easily compensated by the inefficiency of the local labour force and the higher material prices and delivery costs in Costa Rica.