San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ecofriendly Building

YOU can begin helping the environment and saving money in your home before you even move in. Environmentally friendly building systems can help a home to function efficiently, reducing energy consumption and impact on the environment. From solar energy to gray water treatment to rainwater harvesting, the options are many for those who want to build a home with the environment in mind.Environmentally Friendly Architecture Architects with knowledge of the environment can design your house to take advantage of benefits provided by nature while minimizing harm to the environment.Luz de Piedra, a division of the nonprofit Tropical Architecture Institute, has architects who work with home builders through each step of the process, from drafting plans to inspection.Determining the ideal spot for a home on its lot is key to reducing impact on natural soils, said Luz de Piedra architect Pietro Stagno. Many houses in the Central Valley are built on hills, he explained, and can easily erode and interfere with the natural water table if they are badly positioned on the land.A house should be situated to take advantage of wind, which cools the interior and reduces the need for air conditioning. Angling the house to allow for entrance of natural sunlight is another way to reduce energy consumption and the need for artificial light.Choosing environmentally friendly materials is another important part of the planning process, and environmentally aware architects can recommend suitable options for each house. Builders should make sure they choose wood from trees that are being reforested. And prefabricated materials, newly available in Costa Rica, can replace metals such as aluminum and iron.The benefits of hiring an environmentally aware architect will show when homeowners consume less energy, save money and enjoy a house that’s in sync with nature.Contracting the services of the Tropical Architecture Institute costs 10% of the total value of the house, not including the lot. This can be paid in installments over the course of the building process.For more info, call 256-5638 or e-mail Rainwater Harvesting Collecting natural rainwater for use in your home rather than depending on municipal water has several advantages, according to Jim Ryan, president of Agua Solutions International, S.A.Rainwater is pure, naturally softened, clear and odorless, which makes it ideal for home use. Because it does not contain chlorine or dissolved minerals, it won’t clog pipes with mineral deposits or harm surrounding plants and vegetation. Harvesting rainwater, a sustainable resource, reduces dependency on diminishing groundwater sources, as well as erosion, flooding and runoff resulting from heavy rainfall.Systems are composed of a water catching area on the roof, gutters and a “first flush” system diverter that allows initial rainfall to flush dust and bird droppings from the roof and gutters and diverts this contaminated water into the garden or sewer. The remaining water flows into a cistern that stores it until a pump pulls it into the tap. Additionally, a purification system that works using ozone, an ultra- violet lamp or reverse osmosis cleans water along with a filter.Rather than attracting mosquitoes and other insects, the system has downspouts with a “rain head” device that prevents them from getting in. Because water is stored before it ever hits the ground, there is no standing water, which can become an insect breeding ground. This helps reduce the spread of dengue and water-borne illnesses. Rainwater harvesting systems can cost anywhere from $5,000-20,000, depending on size. After this initial investment, homeowners will enjoy free, clean water.To contact Agua Solutions International, call 365 6438 or e-mail EnergyTaking advantage of the sun’s energy can save money and reduce a home’s reliance on energy produced by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), a state owned monopoly.Solar-power systems use panels to collect the sun’s energy, a converter to transform energy from its direct current (DC) form into adaptable current (AC) form for home use, and batteries to store the energy.A variety of options are available for using solar energy, ranging from installing one panel to a complex, multi-panel system.To choose the best solar energy option, home builders must take into consideration how much energy they want to save on energy bills and how much they want to invest, said Carlos Oreamuno, president of Consenergy S.A., a San José-based company that installs Shell solar-panel systems. While each case is different, Oreamuno estimates homeowners can install $9,000 worth of solar power equipment, including a 25-year warranty, to cut the use of ICE energy in half. This would save about $64 per month on energy bills and would pay for itself within 12 years.Other options are available, and Consenergy can work with those building homes to determine what’s best for them. For more information, call 290-0668.Gray Water TreatmentMany homes in Costa Rica depend on septic systems, which require emptying at least once a year, to manage sewage and water waste. A natural alternative is a biological filter that mimics nature’s management of waste using plants and rocks.ATF S.A. creates biological systems in home gardens. The system is composed of an underground tank that collects all wastewater draining from a house and removes solid waste, said ATF engineer Luis Fernando Rojas. This tank must be cleaned every two years. Once free of solid wastes, the water passes through a garden made of plants with strong roots and volcanic rocks that absorb water. Any leftover water goes back into the garden to water plants.As opposed to a traditional septic system, a biological filter system does not consume energy, Rojas said, nor does it require much maintenance. A homeowner or gardener can easily care for the plants and rocks without undue effort.The entire system costs about $700 for a 15-square-meter house; the price increases incrementally with the size of the house. For more information, call ATF at 292-7162 or e-mail

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