It’s not what you expect. Not anywhere close.
HolaEcuador bills its construction processes in terms of their adherence to “North American best practices.” This is what we in the marketing business call bullshit.
There are no “best practices” for North American home construction. Natural Resources Canada offers guidance on energy efficiency, and there are a few professional associations that publish general practice standards on wood-frame construction. But that’s it.
What you imagine, instead, is that your home will be built along the same lines as any other single-family dwelling in Canada. This is entirely delusional.
Get Used to Different
Not to say the Ecuadorian construction is worse, or better, or even the same quality. It’s different. Very different.
First, we don’t have softwood lumber in these parts. Or lumber of any description. So the house is made from rebar, poured concrete, bricks or cinder blocks, and plaster. (Lately, I’ve been seeing a few steel frames going up, but these are still the exception and not the rule.) Rebar and poured concrete form a kind of load-bearing endoskeleton. Bricks or cinder blocks shape interior and exterior walls. Plastering (a technique they call impasto) provides a smooth surface for paint.
Support structures come in a variety of engineering forms, from simple concrete slabs to pile foundations to cantilever footings. Given our region’s loose soil and constant seismic activity, my money is not on the concrete slabs. One good shake and their owners will be waking up in rubble. Our house is built on strip footings. I have read that these behave very well in earthquakes. I hope that’s right.
Plumbing is of the current PVC variety and buried inside the brick and concrete walls. Electrical supply runs through conduits that are similarly entombed. You would think that this might eventually present a maintenance problem. You would be wrong. Ecuadorians pickaxe cured concrete with the same aplomb as North Americans who work with cutters on drywall. I have seen workers move entire narrow vertical windows on finished walls after the homeowner decided they were too close together to accommodate a king-sized headboard. That took less than a day.
Cabinets, bathroom fittings, light fixtures, and other finishing details are of local manufacturing quality. Which is to say: slightly better than Ikea, but not by much. If you don’t watch carefully, workers will install these items with little thought to how they function or appear.
Door’s upside-down? It opens and closes, doesn’t it?
Hot- and cold-water faucets reversed? Do you not have hot and cold running water? What’s the problem?
It’s not that they don’t care. They do, very much. It’s just that Ecuadorians don’t fuss over these kinds of details. And they don’t understand why we do. Even when you point out that a toilet drain in the middle of your living room floor is unsightly and unsafe, they shake their heads and shrug. But they move it, and know better for next time. Or not.
Marc and Sylvie
Of course, we knew none of this when our project started. Each new batch of photos from the construction site raised more than a few eyebrows. We quickly realized that we understood nothing of what we were seeing.
Fortunately, dumb luck intervened. Again.
As anyone who has retired to a foreign country knows, it’s not possible to escape even a single day without endlessly blabbing to workmates about your plans. (Apologies, workmates.) Chantal was similarly belabouring an old military acquaintance when he mentioned knowing a couple – former air force – who had settled somewhere along the coast of Ecuador. Turns out they’re our neighbours at Mirador San Jose. Yes, the world is that small.
After email introductions, and in the grand tradition of the RCAF Family Sponsor Program, Marc and Sylvie Deblois very kindly and without question took us into their charge. Marc immediately urged us to fly to Ecuador to supervise the construction project.
Of course, we couldn’t do this because we were still working. But we agreed to a “grey construction” review. This is the stage at which the concrete shell of the house is complete but the interior finishing has not yet started. Marc insisted that our presence was vital. Imperative. Indeed, mandatory.
I know. That seems a little strong, coming from someone we’d just met by video chat. But you have to understand Marc’s personality, and why we made that trip at his more-than-alarming insistence.
Marc is what you get when you cross a drill sergeant with the Anal Retentive Chef. He’s a fabulous guy; generous with his time, and an infallible friend. But he is also the perfectionist’s perfectionist. He’s the type of person who would devote a whole hour to analyze and then critique, in the most florid imaginable language, the way he put on his underwear that morning.
As we learned, Marc’s own construction project with HolaEcuador had not lived up to his improbably high standards. That, and some nitwit had connected his villa’s plumbing to its electrical outlets. So when you turned on the water… well, you get the picture. His list of offences was long, and a lot of it was indefensible on Hola’s part.
So when he produced a similarly lengthy list of atrocities committed at our construction site, we immediately booked our travel and informed HolaEcuador of our June arrival.
Long Story Short
It was good that we went. In fact, I would recommend a mid-project inspection to anyone who intends to build in Ecuador. If you can stay to supervise, so much the better.
Its not that our villa had been assembled on quicksand or that Hola had forgotten to include space for our kitchen. Far from it. But we did spot a few items in our blueprints that we didn’t like, and we had them corrected. Serge Pouliot, our foreman, did a fine job with his crew. He took our criticisms seriously, and he spent time with us so that we completely understood the construction processes that went into our new home.
We enjoyed the rest of our stay in the company of Marc and Sylvie. They showed us around. They fed us, and they plied us with cerveza and vino tinto. We chatted into the very wee hours and became fast friends. It was a pleasant trip.
Some folks here have had grotesque experiences with HolaEcuador and Mirador San Jose. Some of those experiences made their way into two highly sensationalized and woefully inaccurate stories on Radio-Canada’s La facture. Those stories brought development at MSJ to a near-total halt, from which we have barely recovered.
For us, it all went exceedingly well. Better, even, than the home construction project I had undertaken many years earlier with my ex-wife in Aylmer, Quebec.
Chantal and I love our villa. We love our neighbours. We love our community. We are very happy with our investment.
We named our villa Casa de la luna creciente: House of the Crescent Moon. Those who know us well will know why.