Cozumel Construction, Pt 1

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Building a Home on Cozumel Island

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We used to laugh when people warned us about what could go wrong building on Cozumel. They were just trying to scare us into letting them do it for us -- and for a hefty commission, we thought.

Besides, we'd had a fair amount of remodelling experience in the US. And we'd built our own small, wood-framed home in the Blue Ridge mountains with our own four hands. We were hard-working, intelligent, resourceful types, we reasoned. How hard could it be to build a house in Mexico?.

The answer, to make a long story short? Painful. At least for the first few months until we finally stopped the peso hemorrhaging, fired the foreman, and began doing all the things we should have in the first place--before the first cement block was ever put in place and the first peso handed over.

LEFT, close up of the top of a wall in construction. Note the rebar frame reinforcement that tops the cinderblock wall below (known as a 'cadena' or "chain"). Good builders here also reinforce walls with vertical, cement-filled columns. The wooden forms are in place to hold the poured cement to shape around the rebar until it dries.

We've since discovered that we most certainly were not the only ones to have bad experiences with local builder/contractors. As one Swiss friend who built a house here 15 years ago told us,

"You always think you're the only one. And then you find out that almost everyone has a sad tale. And it's not just the gringos. Mexicans have plenty of horror stories, too."

So, now it sounds like we're doing to you, dear reader, exactly what was done to us -- trying to scare the bejeesus out of you. Please let us assure you that this is not our intent atall.

Since those early building days when we arrived on the island $70,000 US in the hole expecting a nearly completed home and finding instead a shell with no electricity, plumbing, windows doors, floors or a staircase, we have come a long way. The completion of our first home, Casa Cascada, turned into what we'd always hoped it could be -- an exciting, fulfilling experience. The end result was a great house at a fraction of the price we would have paid for the same construction in a resort area of the US.

In fact, we enjoyed the experience so much over all that we couldn't stop ourseles and, two years later, built another seperate structure on the front of our large, El Centro neighborhood lot.

We've finally completed an article detailing some of the lessons we learned building our two homes on Cozumel island from the ground up. We wish someone had written this when we first started building. It would have saved us a lot of money -- not to mention physical discomfort and a considerable amount of psychic torture.

We do not pretend that this is an exhaustive dissertation. But we hope it will set you on the right track. If you have questions after reading it, please post these on the Living on Cozumel Discussion Forum where we and other home-building locals can give you more feedback.

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