House Hunting in Panama

Mon, 23 Aug 2010

For those of you interested in coming to Panama and looking for a house, you'll find a number of "interesting" "features" here in Panama. I wish I could say the two above-quoted words could be taken in a positive context. But that's not the case.

Now I'm not an engineer, nor an architect, or even a mason, carpenter, or plumber. And I've been told by at least one Panamanian engineer that I'm way too demanding (I was told this after giving the engineer a severe scolding for the work done by the plumber -- apparently, expecting newly installed plumbing not to leak is being too demanding).

Anyway, the shortcuts taken in the construction industry here are absurd. Understand that my standards are higher. The average Panamanian will apparently accept, even expect, very poor quality construction.

Some of my gripes include:
circular driveways with curves and obstructions that only a Toyota Yaris can navigate.
tubing 1/2 in. used everywhere (electrical and communications conduits and water pipes) and communications conduits that are all serialed
lazy electrical boxes
concrete pours without so much as a slump test
floors without rebar
mortar mix without lime
floors off-level and rolling more than the ocean
walls that aren't straight or vertical
roofs that leak like seives
uninsulated roofs
concrete floors with no vapor barrier
insistence on using sumps vice drain fields
doors that can only be opened with keys (making the house an inescapable death-trap), i.e., building prisons and calling them houses
insufficient lighting fixtures and electrical outlets

The above list is by no means exhaustive, although exhausted is what I am after going through one of these houses. Now, some of what I mention may not be understandable to everyone. For example, lazy electrical outlets are outlets that are laying down sideways vice standing up straight. You might ask why is that of any importance as long as you have outlets. But if you look at any appliance (refrigerator, washer and dryer, window air conditioner, etc.), you'll find a molded plug. The plug is molded to plug into an outlet that is vertical (the two blades like eyes and the ground socket like a mouth). If connected sideways, it stresses the now bent cord and will cause a failure of the cord eventually. Also, some conveniences assume a vertical socket, and either can't be used or will not work properly if inserted in a sideways socket.

I can go through all the above gripes and tell you why each is important. Some are just conveniences, like using 3/4 in. communications (telephone) tubes that are not serialed, that is, each box goes back to the telephone closet. This allows you to rip out the telephone cable and put in ethernet cable for computers and SIP (Internet) phones without recabling the entire house. But others, like putting rebar in the floors or doing a twice a day slump test affect the structural integrity of the building. Call me silly, but floors with stress cracks running all over annoy me and speaks volumes of the construction standards here.

So if you come to Panama, either expect to build your own house (and if you really don't know how, bring someone who does), or lower your expectations (standards) drastically. Understand, some things just won't work here. You can either fix it, or live with it.


House Hunting in Panama

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