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Tips and Advice on Building your House or Reasons to Be Cheerful

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I just thought to offer up some ideas that I've used in my own current house build(still ongoing) in the northern provinces of Cebu. My ideas will be heavily biased towards those folks that have to rigorously budget while, at the same time, try and build the best quality house that they possibly can. But if you building a house in Cebu and money is no object then this post is probably not for you.

For the sake of easier reading and look-up, I'm just going to present my ideas or tips as a simple list with quick explanations in note form. Be aware that in the current build of my house, I have implemented many of my own ideas with a view, naturally enough, to saving a truckload of money. Some of my ideas might surprise some people. I'm also aware that some of my ideas or tips might stir the pot somewhat. All comments are thoroughly welcome.  

The following list is in no particular order.

1.If you want to buy land in Cebu relatively cheaply, then go to the Cebu provinces and try and find a beautiful sub-division or sitio which has just come into being. Land will be very cheap there(at least one tenth of the cost per sqm of land for sale in Cebu city or Mandaue or Mactan or any close city suburbs.

2. Another way of getting a fully built cheap house is to go to the various bank websites i.e BPI, RCBC, BDO, MetroBank etc and find out if they have any houses for sale where the previous house owner defaulted on his mortgage and had to give up the house to the bank. In this situation, the bank usually always just wants to reclaim the mortgage money owed by the previous owner and will not want the fully surveyed worth of the house. And if you want to buy a fairly new car at a cheaper price, just take this same bank route.   

3..Don't buy land on or near a white sandy beach. You will pay 10 times(or more) the cost per sqm for that land than if you buy local ex-agricultural land that has just been recenty declared a sub-division. I bought ex-agricultural land within a newly formed sitio(sub-division). And I'm only about 2 kms from several beaches because I also live near the north coast of Cebu. 

4. Thoroughly research the geography of the area where you are building your house. If you're intending building a new house in the Cebu lowlands then find out the elevation of your land. Is it at or below sea level? How close is the water table to the ground surface. Does it regularly flood in that area?  These are very important questions to answer regarding formulating a proper and adequate plan for the future flood protection of your new house.. 

5. Build your house the Filipino way and don't ever be tempted to build your house the western way. Do not start insisting on implementing Western building techniques when you build your own house. Big mistake if you are on a tight, limited budget and trying to save money.  

6. Avoid the use of low-grade hardwood, soft-wood or coco-wood for all structural use or cosmetic use in your house. There's a huge termite problem in the Philippines(I could tell you some stories!!). In my house build I've only used wood for all internal and external doors(all mahogany) and ceilings(marine wood). That's it. So if I have to replace any of those wooden items in the future, I can do it easily, quickly and fairly cheaply. 

7. If you're building your house in a fairly remote part of the Cebu Mountains, you should take time out to ask around and find out if their are any INLA in your area. The INLA are a communist rebel group of old, who have a tendency to kidnap white men for ransom. I would also perhaps purchase a firearm -- shotgun or hand gun -- for your families protection. If it costs too much in Cebu then just go to Danao city and buy a gun for your Filipina wife there. Danao's main cottage industry is making cheap gun copies. They must be pretty good at their craft because I've also heard that they regularly sell their guns and carbines to both the PNP and the ISIS Muslim rebels. So their guns must be pretty robust and of reasonable quality. 

8. Try to avoid buying any big or major items like doors, windows, baths, beds, showers etc from the larger outlets like Wilcon or Home Builder. Yes, I know they are convenient but I have a short story to tell. When I went to Wilcon to find out how much plastic sliding windows cost I was absolutely shocked and stunned at their prices. One 1m x 1m plastic sliding window cost 12,000 pesos!! In the end I ordered 12 hand-made(to my spec) metal cottage-style windows -- 1.5m x 1.5m -- from a local Chinese window-maker. Cost? It was 3,450 pesos per window with free installation(full weld). These windows each had built in horizontal and vertical security bars that you couldn't see until you opened the window. Always buy your building materials locally if you can -- this strategy helped to save me a ton of money for sure. 

9. When you shop for large appliances for your home like cooker, washing machine, sink, TV, aircon etc you should avoid shopping in SM and Ayalla malls. Their prices will always be inflated higher because malls charge such high store rents -- the store's high rent costs then gets passed directly on to the customer in the form of a much higher price whenever you buy from these expensive mall retailer outlets. You should, instead, buy your appliances in Cebu from either dedicated or smaller retailers(Like Atlantic Hardware, Cebu Overseas Hardware, Asian Homes etc) because its much cheaper. In Dec 2017, I needed a 1.5 Kw aircon for my master bedroom and I was lucky enough to find a new, full spec 1.5Kw Condura wall-type aircon at a local store for only 17,000 pesos(with 10% discount). If I had bought the very same aircon from SM or Ayalla mall I probably wouldn't have got much change out of 35,000 peso. 

10. Unless you can afford to build your house using narra wood or molave, I would always avoid building an all-wood  house(using lower-grade hard-wood, coco-wood or bamboo) and would always build my house using rebarred concrete with metal roof only. There is a well-known and significant termite problem in the Phils. So, on paper at least, a concrete house with metal roof should last and should maintain its strength for much longer than any all-wood house constructed in the native way. Having said that, I really love those all-wood native houses -- because they are so strikingly beautiful and very individual.

11. When you build your house make sure that you land fill your whole foundations/floor area and raise it up so it's at least 4 feet higher the surrounding ground area. This helps to protect your house if your area has flash floods.

12 Regarding electrical house fittings -- you should ensure that all electrical house plugs are placed at least 2 feet or more above the floor level of your house;. In case your house does flood.

13. Always build a house with high ceilings -- 10 ft to 12 ft high. This helps because hot air rises away from the living area. If you come from a cold country where cosy, boxy and small is good, please try and remember that you're in the tropics -- so you don't want heat trapped in your house with nowhere to go except down into your living area. Always cross ventilate your rooms by opening windows on opposite sides of the house or room. This keeps the room cooler. This also helps to keep electricity bills lower(think aircon).

14. In my opinion, open plan combo rooms with fewer walls and lots of windows look more appealing and are far cooler(better airflow) and a better design strategy than smaller, boxy rooms with fewer windows.

15. Always design and self-manage your own house build if you can from start to finish. If you do it this way then there will be far fewer build mistakes, you will save more money and you will get the house you want(because you designed the house yourself). If you leave the design and management of your house in the hands of a local architect then you might not get the house you want and the build will probably cost you alot more. I saved a considerable sum of money by designing my own house, doing all the bureaucratic crap and self managing the build(think quality) myself. 

16. If you employ workers and carpenters for your new house build -- never do this using a contract but, instead, always agree to pay them on a per diem basis only. And pay them on a weekly basis. This will save you alot of money too because some workers and carpenters often get drunk and don't turn up for work the next day.This is really the norm in the Phils so don't get upset about it.

17. For build jobs like putting in the house electrics and contactor box or putting up the roof, do this by using different specialist groups of workers by contract.  And, if you can,  don't pay the full agreed contract amount(wages + materials cost) and always ask for a discount(don't be shy, they will expect you to do this). Hold back some of the money until you agree that the job has been finished in a satisfactory manner.

18. You will have to direct your carpenters very closely and carefully when they install the plumbing for the water, sewage and septic tank in your house. Maybe it was just my carpenters(who were pretty good with all other task) but their implementation of especially the sewage plumbing was not very good(too wacky and unhygeinic). They made lots of mistakes with these simple plumbing tasks so be wary and watchful during this part of your build..

19. Do not use any insulation in the roof of your new house. In cold countries insulation in the roof area helps to trap the heat in the living areas of the house to help lower your heating bills. In the hot tropics the problem is exactly the opposite - you need to let the accumulated heat in your roof area and living areas escape through an unhindered path to the roof area by natural convection. This will also help to save you tens of thousands of pesos on purchasing unnecessary carbon fibre or plastic foam insulation. It also helps to keep your electric bills lower. 

 20. Never use fitted carpets throughout your house. In the tropics, carpets are dust and mold traps.. Use cooler floor tiles throughout your house instead. It's also much easier to clean a tiled floor.

21. Never build a house near a steep mountain or slope. I'm sure most of you have read of the devastation caused in places like Leyte and Mindanao from typhoon rains with high winds that are the main cause of killer mudslides and rock falls in these regions. 

22. No matter how beautiful your plot looks, never buy land right next to a large main river in the lowlands. If you build a house there and that fast-flowing river suddenly floods and overflows its banks then your house will be gone.

23. Try and buy a plot of land on ground that is slightly elevated. This helps to avoid floods in your area. Crops grown in your area are a good indication. If rice is grown around your plot then, chances are that your region will suffer from floods. But if corn and banana plantations grow in your area then flooding will most likely be rare because you are on elevated ground.

24. If you are on a strict budget, try not to buy a large plot that is 1500 sqm or over 1 hectare in size. This is where some people suffer from the "Aaaah...It looks so beautiful" syndrome. Stop and pause for a moment. Be ruthless with yourself and ask yourself the following questions: "Do I really need a plot this size?", "How much will it cost to build a boundrary wall around that large area?" and "What will be the ongoing maintenance costs for such a large plot?". Enough said.  

25. It's really not advisable to build a house near stagnant water. So avoid building near ponds, rice fields etc. Stagnant water is the ideal breeding ground for mosquitos that carry dengue and malaria. I knew a Dutch guy in Luzon who got both dengue and amoebic dysentary in the same year. He survived. I told him to get rid of the two stagnant ponds on his large property. He didn't do this. So the next year he got dengue again. Now he wears long sleeved shirts in his garden but the two stagnant ponds are still there on his property!! :o


Edited by slowsmile
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I'll add one to your list. If you want to live in the country, don't marry a city girl. If you do, she will have no interest in living out in the sticks., and your life will get complicated quickly. Of course, the advise may be the same for those wanting to live in the city and marrying a country girl.

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I agree, country girls are much nicer. Or in my case, mountain girl. But slightly off topic methinks.

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Alfred E. Neuman

Another thing, follow the practical tips of Feng Shui(not the voodoo stuff).

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