· Tropical Green Building ·
A Tour of the Solar Vistas Houses
To see some photos of houses we found online as inspiration click here: Eco House Photos.
As our name implies, Solar Vistas is a solar-powered community. The house designs and appliances used will be designed to use very little energy, but plenty of electricity is still needed. We intend to use a new solar panel technology from Soliant Energy, or something similar, which promises panels that use a series of mirrors to provide all the power at half the cost of today’s panels. We will provide over-powered solar power systems that will provide a reasonable amount of current even on cloudy days, to make sure you will always have your music and hot water. Read more about Solar Power in Costa Rica.
Hot Room and Recycled Heat
This clever innovation works so well you will love showing it off to your friends. On the side of the house, a room with a transparent ceiling and walls holds your clothes washing machine and solar power system, both of which produce much heat. A hot room in the tropics has the side benefit of being a dry room. You will be able to dry your clothes on a series of clotheslines without using any power at all, even on the coolest, cloudy days. By the way, your washing machine can use one of several locally-available biodegradable detergents such as the “Rinso” brand.
Living Roof for Shade
Most of the Solar Vistas house designs include an innovate dome-shaped trellis to provide a space for vines to grow and provide shade, keeping the house cool. Several vines can be used to provide fruit – Passion Fruit, Kiwis, and Grapes. Also, vines that attract butterflies and hummingbirds can be planted, including a vine that is the favorite of Costa Rica’s famous “Blue Morpho” butterflies. The roof underneath the dome will be painted white, to reflect the light that does get through. Not only is this roof functional, but it’s incredibly beautiful and provides a great environment for meditation, yoga, or just having a morning cup of coffee. Read more about using: Living Walls for Shade
Good eco-design and permaculture principles ask that whenever possible, parts of a house should have a dual purpose. A flat roof on most of our house designs will provide extra outdoor living space for your enjoyment. The roof will become one of your favorite spots, with the best views in the house, an herb garden, chill space, star-gazing, etc. The white color will keep the roof cool and the vine-covered trellis above will create a feeling of great tranquility as well as providing fruit.
Extended shade roofs
A primary consideration for tropical green building is how to keep a house cool year-round. Our houses will have extended roofs and decks to keep the sun from heating up the walls, which then radiate heat into the house. These generous deck spaces are also ideal for tropical living, since you will spend a lot of your time outside anyway. Every house will have a covered deck space large enough to hold a dinner table, hammocks, and space for whatever else you want.
Recycled Roofing Material
We were happy to discover a roofing supply maker who uses 100% recycled plastic for their product. Costa Rica as yet doesn’t have many building products made from recycled materials. We are proud to support this business and hope to encourage others to follow their leadership. Tinted a natural shade of green, these roofs will be lightweight as well, and last for decades. And unlike ceramic tile roofs, they can be walked on without breaking the tiles, making maintenance easier. Also available is “recycled plastic lumber” which is basically boards made out of compressed, recycled plastic, with a binding agent. They are suitable for making decks, trellises, and many other parts of a house.
December through April is the traditional dry season for this area of Costa Rica, and during this time the area has a desert-like climate with hardly any rainfall. Streams dry up and wells in some areas go dry. All of the Solar Vistas house designs include a system to channel all the water that falls on the roofs through a series of gutters and pipes to a large underground cistern. The water that typically falls on this amount of roof in the rainy season is enough to provide all the water needed throughout the dry season. The water in the cistern can be purified by a system using ultraviolet light that kills bacteria. Solar Vistas will have a community well for additional water.
Even though the lots are large, the designers of Solar Vistas want the houses to blend into the natural environment, so the other houses in the area will have more of a feeling of privacy and consistency. To help with this, the houses will be colored in natural shades of green and wood/earth tones, which will also create a lush and luxuriant look. Our intention is to create a community with a feeling of great serenity and peace, harmonized with the natural environment. These colors, combined with the living roof, will make the structures look as if they’re a part of the native jungle.
Chemical Free Walls
A key part of Green Building is to minimize the use of toxic chemicals. We will avoid the “toxic box” syndrome of many U.S. houses that continually out-gas toxic chemicals from plastics, paints, varnishes, carpets, formaldehyde-infused wood, and other materials that are commonly used in ordinary construction. Solar Vistas will work with a Costa rican producer of chemical-free stuccos for both the inside and outside walls of all the houses. Stuccos are also superior to paint because they don’t have to be re-applied every couple years. For the inside walls, we will used a shiny-polished stucco that makes maintenance a snap – just wipe it down with a sponge. An eco-house should also be an easily-maintained house!
Solar Vistas houses are designed to be cooled by natural air flow. Whenever possible, windows are placed across from each other so that breezes can move through the house. The windows will have both sliding glass and screen panels, to maximize air flow when fully open, or to prevent bugs from entering using the screens. Houses will also include ceiling fans for additional cooling and air circulation. In more temperate climates, houses can be more effectively cooled using good ventilation than using “thermal mass” techniques, that is, heavy walls that absorb heat and radiate it back out at night. That’s because at night, the temperature in the tropics doesn’t drop very much. More on airflow is in this article: Airflowandshade.com/air-flow-in-green-building
Using Local Materials
In addition to the materials themselves, we are committed to finding and hiring local crafts-makers to produce the furniture, windows, decks, cabinets, and other things that are needed in a house. Rather than buying a cast metal toilet paper holder made in China, we will make it with a local metal worker, possibly from locally grown wood or bamboo, which will add a nice artistic touch to the house design. When locally made products aren’t available, we will then try to source products at least made in Costa Rica. In a world where nearly everything is low quality junk made in China, we can’t be perfect in this regard, but we will do our best to support the local economy rather than sending our money overseas or to Wall Street fat cats who own the shares of companies such as Wall Mart.
In addition to the materials themselves, we are committed to finding and hiring local crafts-makers to produce the furniture, windows, decks, cabinets, and other things that are needed in a house. Rather than buying a cast metal toilet paper holder made in China, we will make it with a local metal worker, possibly from locally grown wood or bamboo, which will add a nice artistic touch to the house design. When locally made products aren’t available, we will then try to source products at least made in Costa Rica. It’s difficult to be perfect with this, in an era when nearly everything is low-quality junk made in China, but we will do our best to support our local economy and community while maintaining good aesthetics and quality.
Each house will include at least one beautiful garden bathroom. This minimizes the use of expensive inside space, which will house the toilet and sink. The shower, which produces heat and humidity, will be outside. With the already-humid air of Costa Rica, why add to it and encourage the growth of fungus in your bathroom? Indoor bathrooms in Costa Rica inevitably end up musty-smelling and are generally very hot and uncomfortable when you step out of the shower. Chemical-free, biodegradable shampoos and soaps, such as those made by Costa Rica’s own “Bioland” company, can be purchased locally and used in the Solar Vistas community. Imagine the long-term damage that occurs when people dump chemicals into their soil, year after year. In many places in the U.S., soils around people’s houses have so much poison in them, they qualify as toxic waste.
Every house will have its own high-quality septic tank for blackwater (toilet waste). A locally available liquid called “EM” (Environmental Microbes) can be flushed into the toilet and contains bacteria that speed up the process that breaks the waste into harmless matter. No harmful chemicals, especially chlorox and other bleach-type cleaners, should be used in these systems because they kill the beneficial bacteria. Vinegar is a great alternative to use as a cleanser, and so is lime or other citrus. Solar Vistas will have several types of citrus trees growing onsite. Another option instead of a septic tank, is a bio-digestor, which uses the toilet and kitchen wastes in a large pressurized bag to produce methane for an outdoor grill, or even your kitchen.
The average volume of drinking water flushed down an old-style toilet in America with every push of the handle is equal to the entire daily water use of a family in some countries in Africa. To help minimize water use, low-volume toilets will be installed, and low-flow showerheads will be installed. In addition, a water filter will remove excess calcium and other staining minerals from the water in the entire house, which reduces cleaning and maintenance. Green-built houses should minimize human energy use required to maintain them.
Integrated recycling and compost
The kitchen area, near the sink, will have three slots for compost, recycling, and trash. This will make it easy to deal with kitchen wastes and keep them separate. These materials will be stored outside the house, keeping ants and other bugs as well as bad odors from inside the kitchen area. Owners can opt to have their wastes removed by the caretaker for use in the community organic gardens and taken to the dump/recycling center, or they can create their own compost individually.
With smart architectural design, you will never need to turn on a light in the house during the daytime. Each house will incorporate glass blocks mounted in the ceilings and walls to project natural sunlight into dark places, while maintaining structural integrity. Cleristory windows and light tunnels may also be found in some designs to provide additional light as needed.
The light bulbs in the house will of course be long-lasting, low-wattage compact-fluorescents, and they will be strategically placed, with individual switches, so you can have light exactly where you need it, when you need it, rather than wastefully illuminating an entire house or room. Many people who move to Costa Rica find themselves going to bed earlier, and rising earlier as well, following the natural light cycle of the sun, so typically less power for light is needed anyway.
Needless to say, homes at Solar Vistas will not have bug-attracting flood-lights outside to wastefully illuminate the jungle. All ceilings will be painted white, and floors will be light colored to help keep rooms illuminated with fewer bulbs.
Most of our house designs have extra high ceilings to make the living space more beautiful, cool, and light. An additional benefit is that we are able to incorporate a small loft space into some of them. These lofts are great for storage, or even suitable for a spare mattress/bed for guests. Packing more living into a smaller space is a key principle of green building, so less materials are needed to construct the house.
We welcome comments and suggestions about our ideas about tropical green building. We are constantly upgrading, and tweaking the designs to try to improve them. Please contact us if you would like to participate in this. If you’re interested in buying into this community, we welcome your ideas about how to improve your house to make it your dream home.
— Geoff McCabe, Solar Vistas
Costa Rica Eco Village and Volunteer Program – Rancho Delicioso in Montezuma
Airflowandshade.com – Costa Rica green building details such as solar power, bamboo construction, sustainable materials suppliers, green architects, and more.