Tropical Greenbuilding – Secondary Considerations

Tropical greenbuilding guide for Costa Rica green real estate and ecodevelopers

Secondary Considerations

1. Appearance – Use green and brown stuccos for coloring, and natural wood, or metal painted to look like wood, creating an almost invisible set of buildings that blends into the jungle and looks very luxurious and high-end as a result. A good example of this is how the Florsheims did their “Latitude-10” luxury beachfront bungalows in Santa Teresa. Choose building shapes that create natural shadows and aren’t just big rectangles with flat sides.

2. Grey water treatment – You can use a series of rocks, gravel, and sand ponds that can be part of the landscaping to clean the greywater. This water comes from showers, sinks, and kitchen, and the food particles and other organic material in the greywater can be beneficial to the environment if treated properly. Chemical and chlorine-based cleaners shouldn’t be used for cleaning since these chemicals will go straight into the soil.

3. Solar Power – may be a waste of money and overall isn’t particularly good for the environment. The process of creating solar cells is very toxic, and it requires huge banks of lead batteries that have to be periodically changed and maintained. By using solar, you are essentially cleaning up your local area while polluting somewhere else. I’ve found that even a large expensive system sometimes won’t power a clothes dryer or even a hair dryer. However, tens of billions of dollars is being poured into solar cell research right now by startup companies in Silicon Valley, and in a few years, we may see more efficient solar systems that are made by more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes. If you love solar and want to support the movement to encourage the technology, consider also a solar-assisted energy solution – your solar cells run without battery storage – they’re on during the day to help power the refrigerator and a few essentials, and at night you run power from the lines. This saves you money and doesn’t require all the lead batteries.

In addition, a new type of solar panel from a startup company called Soliant has been recently invented which is promised to be half the price of the best panels today. This amazing invention is supposed to be ready for residential use in 2008. For more information, click: Cheap Solar Panels. Within a couple more years, the company promises an improved model at 1/4 the cost. This makes the use of solar cheaper than regular electricity, and should be a huge benefit to the environment. Using these still requires the lead batteries, but these systems utilize far fewer of the solar cells themselves by reflecting more light onto them. This reduces the toxins created in the solar cell production.

Two good Alternative Energy Solutions to solar power can be obtained in Costa Rica: Windmills and micro-hydro. Micro-hydro will work if you have a small stream running on your property, and has the benefit of providing power 24 hours a day, rain or shine. It’s cheaper and much less toxic than solar power, and if necessary, can be stored in battery banks like solar. Such systems need to be built into a very strong cement/stone box at the bottom of a nearby canyon, because they could be easily stolen.

4. Lakes and Ponds – Build ponds or a small lake bordered by water plants and floating water hyacinth (which has beautiful pink flowers and prevents mosquitoes), stocked with tilapia fish. A lake will bring water birds such as white ibis and roseate spoonbill, jungle animals, and a cooling effect due to evaporation. Lakes can also help maintain the underground water table. Rain cachement systems can be set up to take water from the roofs of the buildings and run them into the lake, so they don’t have to be filled by well water. Ideally, lakes should be built where a natural spring will keep them filled during the dry season. As an alternative, consider a seasonal lake that fills during the rainy season, and slowly evaporates during the dry season. The bottom can be lined with local red clay to help prevent seepage, or partially covered with plastic sheeting.

5. Ylang Ylang Trees – Plant many Ylang Ylang trees, which stay green and flower all year, and have an amazing scent every day at dusk. They also have fruit all year. Having Ylang Ylang trees is like putting out feeders for birds and animals. They will become a destination spot for many rarely seen animals such as Kinkajous, four-eyed tree opossums, parrots, and toucans. Of course the Monkeys and other common species love them too. There is no better tree than Ylang Ylang for this area.

6. Refrigeration – consider buying a Sun Frost or Sundanzer brand refrigerator. These amazing units are far more efficient than normal refrigerators. The Sundanzer is equivalent to a single 60 watt light bulb! Sunfrost or Sundanzer.

7. Lighting – Outside lights should be shielded and oriented in such a way so the bulbs can’t be seen directly, which would otherwise create an eyesore at night and attract bugs. Insects are part of the ecosystem and too much light pollution could have a bad effect on their population. Bugs are annoying in your house, but they are food for many of the other animals in the jungle, and also moths are very important for controlling vines. 70% of moth species have evolved their life-cycle around a single species of jungle vine, and they eat it and lay their eggs on it. Consider using compact fluorescent lighting, which saves money on bulbs because of their long life, and uses far less power. You can buy bulk packs of various sizes of these bulbs at Pricemart in San Jose. Most importantly, design your house so that less lighting is required, especially during the day. Adding skylights and clerestory windows, and using light colored ceilings, walls, and floors to reflect ambient light will make it so that you need few or no lights during daylight hours.

8. Butterfly/hummingbirds – Planting the right type of flowering bushes will not only look beautiful, but will bring many butterflies and hummingbirds to the project. Having an in-ground butterfly garden is a good selling point. Having a lot of butterflies also brings more birds who eat the butterflies.

9. Herbs/gardens/orchards – consider planting an herb/vegetable garden as part of the project, incorporated into the landscaping. Plants that grow very well here are basil, cilantro, chili peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Perhaps add some fruit trees – avocado, mango, lemon, lime, etc Some types of garden veggies, such as lettuces and spinach, will grow well here, but are devastated by grasshoppers and iguanas. You can keep away these pests by creating a greenhouse with walls and ceiling made from screen, and putting some plants above ground on tables. I’ve seen this working well even in the Osa peninsula. The screen also reduces the amount of sunlight, so the plants don’t get burned by the intense tropical sun.

10. Electric Wires – Too many monkeys and kinkajous have been fried on wires and transformers recently. Wiring should ideally be below ground, but this is very expensive and if you can’t afford it, then above-ground wiring should have the TOP (hot) wire shielded with a rubber covering, and the transformer leads should be shielded with foam. This adds extra cost, but not much in the grand scheme of planning a whole development.

11. Nature Trails – Even with all the wild jungle-covered places in the area, there are few places to go hiking. Developers in the U.S. have found that having trails for walking, jogging, or mountain-bike riding are the #1 amenity requested by potential homeowners. Consider building trails that are also suitable for night-hikes, so that people who want to see wild animals can look for them at night with flashlights, when they’re most likely to be spotted.

12. Views – Everyone wants breathtaking ocean, mountain, and valley views, but sometimes trees are blocking these vistas. Instead of removing trees, you can cut them shorter, effectively “banzaii-ing” them – keep them trimmed short and they will grow horizontally. An even better option is to only cut the lower branches off, leaving a high canopy that provides shade. Both options leave the trees’ root systems intact, which hold in the soil and prevent erosion from the hillside.

13. Green Shading – consider using clever and innovative techniques to shade your house, both roof and walls, using plants. One concept is to put a metal grid next to the wall and let vines climb on it. Planting vines such as passion-fruit will give you beautiful flowers and organic fruit to eat. Such a grid can be mounted over the roof as well, and these can be incorporated into the design. Another option is to build a flat roof with a geodesic-dome type structure on top, creating a ceiling of plants and a shady green space underneath. Such structures are also fun because you can easily hang lights and décor from them, creating a very magical rooftop space.

14. Soil Maintenance – Erosion, mulching, chemical free. Steps should be taken to prevent erosion of the soil on the property but making sure there’s a good living ground cover, or a mulch to keep the soil from washing away from heavy rains. A good groundcover is mani (peanut) grass, which also has pretty yellow flowers. Its root system holds tightly onto the soil, and is especially useful in steep areas. Mani grass is available everywhere and can be obtained for free

15. Construction Site – A well-organized construction site will reduce waste. Burning leftover wood releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, so waste wood that can’t be used for anything can be buried, or left in a pile to decompose naturally. Sawdust can be used as mulch in the garden.