San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Get Green: Eco-friendly Options for the Home

It’s not easy being green. And in most cases it’s not cheap – at least, not at first. Still, several companies in Costa Rica can help turn your home into the “greenest” pad on the block without having to use a paintbrush.

The best place to start assembling a sustainable home may be on the roof.

Solar Costa Rica (, 2582-0623), which has been installing solar roofing systems in Costa Rica for 20 years, can help you save electricity and produce some of your own.

“These systems are becoming more and more popular,” said Andrew Zwick, project manager for Solar Costa Rica, based in Santa Ana, southwest of the capital.

“Nowadays people are saying ‘green’ this and ‘green’ that.”

Zwick said the company can install a system to power a home for an average price of $15,000 to $20,000, though estimates may vary depending on the shape and size of the home. The cost includes the roof panels, inverters and all the necessary nuts and bolts to operate a sun-driven system.

Solar Costa Rica attaches the solar panels to a special, thin layer laminate that adheres to the roof and sits flush with the roof level. It can install solar panels for systems that are both tied to and completely off the electrical grid.

The solar panel arrangement comes with a warranty of 20 years, though it should last much longer, according to Zwick, who noted that one of his solar roofing systems can cut down an energy bill by about 30 percent.

Most of the savings comes from the energy the system is able to store in a battery, which reduces grid dependence at peak hours.

Another option is to buy one of the company’s solar hot water systems. These systems run about $3,500 and rely on pipes heated by the sun to carry hot water into a storage tank. These systems will also last about 20 years and reduce energy costs by 20 to 30 percent.

For those who may not want to install a giant reflector on their roof, a homier option is available that is just as green.

Holland Roofing Company (www.holland, 2224-9557) can make the top of a house look like grandpa’s garden. Based in the eastern San José suburb of Curridabat, this green roofing company opened up shop in Costa Rica in 2007 after acquiring years of experience in the United States.

Holland Roofing can install plants and vegetation on anyone’s roof by using a thin membrane and about four inches of lightweight soil. According to the company’s green roof expert, Pieter Hoonstra, this keeps roofs cool and improves rainwater runoff. The metal roofs commonly used here heat up, thus raising urban temperatures, a consequence Hoonstra described as the “Iceland effect.”

Additionally, a normal roof drains water immediately through downspouts, which then pours into rivers and causes water levels to rise. The soil on a green roof absorbs some of the rainwater and delays its return to the ecosystem, which can prevent problems such as flash flooding, Hoonstra said.

Holland Roofing Company installs two types of roofs: extensive and intensive. An extensive roof, which costs about $60 per square meter, is covered with grass and shrubs and is not accessible to people.

An intensive roof, on the other hand, provides all the comforts of a backyard porch. Though it requires more maintenance, an intensive roof allows human access, planting of vegetation, installation of paver stones and space for tables and benches. Because it requires more materials and a heavier structure, an intensive roof costs closer to $80 per square meter. An engineer should be consulted to ensure the construction can handle this type of roof, Hoonstra noted.

Getting down from the roof, it’s important to think about where building materials comes from and what type to use when planning the interior of a house.

Wood is a common material for construction and interior design – but using wood means cutting down trees.

Brian Erickson of Muebles Brieri (, 2710-1958) recommends the use of bamboo for home construction and decoration. While he said bamboo should not be used as the principal building material, it is a great substitute for wood in the construction of columns and posts.

“Bamboo isn’t the panacea for everything, but it does provide a quick, sustainable, low-cost material,” Erickson said.

The benefit of bamboo, he said, is that it is fast-growing. Once planted, this giant grass reaches full maturity in six years. After being cut, it doesn’t require replanting and can completely regenerate in three years.

Erickson’s company produces mainly bamboo furniture, but he thinks people should give more thought to the advantages of bamboo.

“It’s all about being sustainable,” Erickson said. “You need to consider everything, from the systems you have to the type of material you use. The demand for sustainable, efficient living can only increase.”


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