Building my home in Corozal from scratch six years ago… what a learning process. It’s pretty straightforward—it can be fun but also frustrating. Before you finalize your plans, talk to friends and neighbors. Getting their input on what they like and don’t like about the house they live in turns out to be extremely helpful.
Houses here in Corozal typically come in two types: wood and concrete. Wood is less expensive but longevity may be a concern, while concrete block and rebar should last a lifetime.
You may encounter bumps in the road in the construction process. My builder would not start construction until the property was in my name, which can take several months. That alone can affect timing. If you’re the relaxed type, you’ll probably do fine. If you want the work to start right away and stay on schedule, you might be in for a rough ride.
Is the land or lot on high ground? Will the lot need to be filled? There is no right or wrong answer. Before building, you need to be aware of the terrain so if fill is needed, it’s included in the cost of the project.
If fill is needed, it needs to settle for three months. The construction would take another four months, only starting when the fill settled. Keep that in mind if you’re renting. My builder finished in three months, but another builder took two-and-a-half years to finish a big house.
The material used as fill for lots is called mall, which, when settled, is almost like concrete. Foundations are dug in the mall and used as forms for the concrete.
Soil and elevation determine the best foundation for the house. A house on high, solid ground can be built on a floating slab. A house on a filled lot is usually set on piers that are pounded down to bedrock. The houses in my area had piers set down 20 to 40 feet.
A friend was renting a house close to a freshwater lagoon. When it rained, they could hear floor tiles popping and cracking. The house was built cheaply on a floating slab… The builder, now long gone, left the house owner stuck.
Another house was to be built on a filled lot. They went down 80 feet with their piers and never hit bedrock, but 80 feet provided enough soil tension to stabilize the house.
A high-quality builder doesn’t cut corners to save a dollar. You can ask your neighbors about their foundation, but if you don’t have any close by, talk to government land officials about soil in a given area.
High-quality foundations use a lot of rebar to fortify the concrete. The piers, the foundation, and the walls are all tied together with rebar. Ask questions and overlook construction to get what you’re paying for. Make sure the builder is not using sea or brackish water for mixing concrete, as concrete mixed with sea water has poor longevity.
Walls in the States, where concrete blocks are used, are normally 8 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 16 inches high. In Belize, the standard is 6 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 16 inches high for exterior and load-bearing walls, while short-length walls for closets might use 4 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 16 inches high. As far as I know, there are no kiln-dried blocks in Belize—the ones I’ve seen are air dried. You’ll see structures with exposed block walls, but if exposed for too long, they’ll no longer be structurally sound.
Windows can be a real quandary when building. Will you use natural ventilation or choose air conditioning? If air conditioning is the only way to go, solid-closing windows would be best. If natural ventilation is an option, jalousie windows allow the most air through for their size. However, they do not seal tight, so air conditioning is not ideal. If you decide on air conditioning after installing jalousie windows, clear, rigid plastic can be installed in place of the screens for a good seal.
If you decide on natural ventilation, check which way the prevailing winds come from. Align windows so the breeze can flow from one side of the house and out the other. I lucked out and placed the house where I get great flow-through ventilation.
A couple of my neighbors have metal shutters rather than glass windows, which I believe might seal better than glass. I like the glass because even if it is raining, I can see out.
Roofs are subject to preference. Hip roofs are the norm here, and steel or zinc roofs are the most commonly seen in Corozal. Concrete roofs are less common but also used… they need a far more supportive structure but are great to use as an observation platform or the base for an upper story.
As good as mall is for fill, it’s lousy for plants. Six years ago, we dug holes in the mall, filled them with black dirt, and planted trees. Every year I’d lose a tree. We figured out that when the roots of the tree filled the black dirt, the roots could not go into the mall and they would die.
According to locals, to plant a tree right, you need to dig a hole in the mall—wide and all the way down to the original ground. The roots eventually grow into the original soil, which retains moisture… much needed for trees.
My house is on a canal, and I made a fatal mistake for plants and grass. Water is water, right? Not being familiar with living by the sea, I used the canal water to water the yard. The canal is brackish water and I all but killed anything watered.
- Water heater: I like my on-demand water heater. The temperature can fluctuate a bit but is easily adjusted.
- The electric wire is all stranded, not solid core like in the States.
- Local hardwoods are used because of bug resistance.
- There are different mixes of butane and propane. Efficiency and cost are affected by the mix.
- An 80-gallon butane tank is called a pig.