Building On The Beach In Belize

  • Added:
    Aug 17, 2013
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Relax on the beach from day one with a ready built home
Relax on the beach from day one with a ready built home
Photo by Darcy McCarty

Ok it's your dream right? Reclining on a sun drenched beach, palm trees waving in the cool breeze, fringing golden sand, clear blue sea, drink in hand watching the frigate birds soar overhead.

And what is missing? Why your palapa roofed cabana of course, to complete the picture and make it perfect.

So just how realistic is this dream? Can it really be done? On a small budget? I will try to answer both these questions.

First, can it be done? The answer is YES.  But now we come to the provisos. If you are building on or near the beach, your first question is where is the nearest road to bring in building materials and manpower? The further away from a road you are, the higher the cost. If there is no road access the cost will rocket.

One of the key questions is how the house/cabana will be built-cement blocks or wood. This matter is hotly debated by all and sundry and it is true there are pros and cons of both.  Cement blocks last longer, but are heavier to bring in, and more expensive. Wood is lighter easier to replace, and cheaper but prone to termite attack and rot.  

OUR EXPERIENCE: some say brick built houses stand up better in hurricanes.  Don’t worry about hurricane damage. Get hurricane insurance (but don’t wait till the hurricane season, June-November, otherwise insurance quotas will be filled) Whatever your house is built of, a hurricane is going to cause great damage if you are right on the beach. And remember the major damage is not going to be caused by wind, it will be water damage from that 20ft tidal wave coming through. Even if the structure of the house survives everything inside will be destroyed. I built in wood for ease of repair. All that said, Belize does not get many hurricanes, and only one in eighty years down south where I am. So Idid not consider hurricane damage as a major issue.

On a beach careful attention needs to be paid to your foundations. The cabana will be built on piles for protection against high tides, and local storms and rough seas. The underlying geology needs to be probed. This really should be done by a structural engineer but in the real world most people drive a long length of rebar into the ground. If you can get past about six feet-think again about your site!

OUR EXPERIENCE: I used the rebar method. Our house and cabanas were built on a concrete matrix so that all the piles were linked together in a single cement structure, the concrete base being buried 3ft down . That design survived the Monkey River earthquake in 2007 with no structural damage at all.

Next key question : who is going to build the cabana?  This is vitally important. There are all too many people who claim building skills and few who can substantiate their claims. A local recommendation is essential. Non-performance, tools and materials disappearing, misunderstanding of plans and instructions-all these are commonplace. The work should be as closely supervised as possible, far more than you would expect to have to do back home.

OUR EXPERIENCE:  I was lucky. I had an American friend down the beach who had already built his own house. He managed my building project using a local team he knew personally. That worked perfectly.

Overall design. It is best to keep cabanas simple (=lower cost) Don’t build big bedrooms, living rooms etc. But DO have a big veranda/deck. That’s where you will be spending most of your time. Take care to face your house into the normal prevailing wind so as to avoid needing airconditioning.

I hope this has been helpful. Look for my next article will cover offgrid power-do’s and don’ts

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