Our house project: building a hollow block perimeter wall

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Building a hollow block perimeter wall around our Philippine lot.  A first step in our Philippine house building project.

Katherine Boo, writing in the February 23, 2009 edition of the New Yorker magazine makes what I feel are over-politicized theories on fences in the developing world.  Basically she says that electrified fences, walls jagged with broken glass and security gates have gone up as inequality grows, “that however the rich wished to consider the details of the poor, the poor might fully consider the details of the rich.”  The idea is that the rich build walls to protect themselves from a growing revolutionary consciousness on the part of the poor.   In the Philippine context, everyone wants a fence, not to protect themselves from a revolutionary mob, but rather to protect themselves from pervasive ordinary crime.  The poor have as good a fence as they can afford and always a dog to raise the alarm.  If a relative goes overseas and sends money back, a hollow block house and glass-topped concrete wall, may well result.  Read an abstract of Boo’s article (you have to be a New Yorker subscriber to get the entire article) at:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/02/23/090223fa_fact_boo

Now that we’ve defended ourselves and the fence project from political incorrectness, here’s a continuation of our posts on our house building project in Tigbauan, Iloilo in the Philippines.  In this segment we describe building a hollow (concrete) block perimeter wall and digging a well on our lot in Tigbauan.

We described shopping for hollow blocks and well tiles in an earlier post.  View it at /our-house-project-cement-blocks/

Earlier we described buying our property, why a wall is needed:

/our-tigbauan-home/

This narrative will continue until we’ve moved in to our new house.   This post is about building the hollow block perimeter wall itself.  We’ve reconsidered our ideas regarding the kind of fence we want.  In urban areas of the Philippines, high solid block fences topped with broken glass or barbed wire are the norm, but in rural places such as this, we just don’t feel that such a fence is appropriate.  When we traveled through Antique Province we saw that most non-bamboo fences were built with concrete posts about three meters apart, with perhaps one meter of concrete block above grade and the rest of the fence being cyclone wire.  This keeps animals in (or out), allows breezes, does not make you feel as through you are in a penitentiary and, in our case preserves views of the surrounding rice fields and mountains.  However, we’ve recently learned that the land around our lot will be subdivided for residential development we’re going to compromise.  Our wall will be seven feet high.  The first three feet will be hollow block topped with four feet of cyclone fencing.

Job site office and lounge

Job site office and lounge

A first step was building this bamboo “office” for my visits to the job site.

Digging the well

Digging the well

In the U.S. wells are almost always drilled.  Dug wells are a remnant from an earlier era, considered prone to contamination by surface water.  Public health officials generally will not approve their use.  That said we had dug wells at our farm in Essex, New York.  There was a well which must have been dug around 1810.  Then I put in a new dug well using concrete well tiles very similar to those shown above.  In Iloilo dug wells, sometimes referred to as “deep wells” are standard.  Many of them are contaminated and are only used by the affluent for laundry and washing.  Of course the poor have to drink well water.

Down in the well

Down in the well

I was not exactly sure how a 25′ well could be dug by hand, but it’s really not that complicated, at least until water is struck. A shallow hole is dug and the first tile placed in the hole.  The digging team consists of the digger in the bottom of the well, and his helper who manages a pail on the end of a rope.  The digger digs around the bottom of the bottom well tile, putting the dirt in the pail.  Gradually the tile is undermined and the well tiles settle downward.  As the top of the tile approaches ground level, members the other members of the construction crew pitch in to put a new tile at the top and then the digging continues.

We used reinforced concrete well tiles (which are actually culvert tiles) 36″ in diameter and 18″ high.  These are larger tiles than are usually used in the Philippines. The tiles cost P885 each, delivered. We bought ours from the same supplier as our hollow block, Damasco Marketing in Pavia, Iloilo (phone 329-6461). We have been very pleased with Damasco.  So far we have received 4,200 6″ block.  The count of blocks delivered has been accurate and very, very few defective blocks.  Many well diggers have forms to produce their own concrete well tiles on-site.  This can save money.

As of Jan. 30, 2009 twelve tiles were in place, ten below grade and two above.  There was six feet of water in the well.  The well diggers seemed inclined to stop digging, but January is just the start of the dry hot months.  The water table can be expected to fall further.  The original plan, based on local recommendations, was to have a 25′ deep well, with another 5′ above grade but the well diggers stopped digging, cemented the joints, and back filled around the tiles and left.  By April we only had three feet of water and the level was still falling.  We had to bring in a new crew to completely redig the including removing all the tiles which had already been placed.  I’ve made a separate photo essay on the amazing and terrifying work of the new crew.  See /digging-water-well-tigbauan-philippines/

Digging the trench for the hollow block perimeter wall

Digging the trench for the hollow block perimeter wall

At the same time as the well is being dug, the foundation trenches for the hollow block perimeter wall are being dug.  As you may be able to see from this photo, our rice land soil is unbelievably heavy clay.   The mountains in the distance are in Iloilo Province, in the Bucari area.  We decided to back fill the trenches with gravel fill so that we could save the soil from the trenches for use a lot fill.  The gravel fill is better for the fence and the clay soil is better for our future gardens and landscaping.  Later we found out that the heavy clay soil cracks so badly during the long dry season that the crack can cause structural damage to fence and house foundation walls.  The photo below was taken in March of 2010.  There had been no rain since late October of 2009.  Backfilling with gravel can create a barrier or buffer keeping the cracking clay from damaging foundations.  This is a growing problem in the U.S. also as reported in a New York Times article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/garden/04foundation.html

Cracking earth near hollow block wall.  3-9-10

Cracking earth near hollow block wall. 3-9-10

Four foot deep fence foundation trench

Four foot deep fence foundation trench

It’s been a surprise to me that such extensive foundation work is needed for a simple hollow block wall.  The trenches average four feet deep.  One reason may be that the wall will be retaining up to one meter of fill, so it has to have considerable strength to resist the outward pressure of the fill.  Many poorly built walls tip.  They are everywhere.  When we were in Cebu City we saw a huge section (100 feet?) of concrete boundary wall collapse into a stream during a rain storm.  Our lot is slightly sloped so that some wall trenches are five feet deep, some more like three feet.

Pancit Break at the job site

Pancit Break at the job site

On my way to the job site I stopped at Bong’s Eatery in Oton and bought saipao (steamed pork buns) for the worker’s merienda (afternoon snack).  I was completely upstaged by a this neighborhood woman and her son who arrived with an afternoon meal for the workers.  For ten pesos (about twenty cents) the workers get a plate of pancit (noodles with meat and vegetables) along with two or three small pan de sal (wheat rolls).  She and her family live nearby, “over behind the coconut trees”.  She keeps an account book on collects for the meals on each Friday payday.  Eventually I stopped bringing snacks for the workers as I did not want to compete with Mercy.

Rebar columns for fence

Rebar columns for fence

This worker is fabricating steel reinforcing for the concrete fence columns.  The columns are 30cm x 30 cm.  Each contains four 12mm rebar vertically, wrapped with 9mm or 10mm stirrups.  Although the fence will end up being seven feet above the final grade, each column is four meters (12 feet) high —  (a four foot foundation, two feet of fill and seven feet fence height = 12 feet).    The columns are spaced three meters apart.

Vertical rebar is 12mm.  Also shows column footer.

It looks a little like a state prison construction site

It looks a little like a state prison construction site!

February 22, 2009 Update.  A litany of disasters.  The workers had done a great job digging the trenches.  Then a typhoon arrived two weeks ago with very heavy rain.  The walls of the trenches collapsed back into the trenches, almost filling them with mud and clay. They have to be re-dug.  The muddy soil is not a promising base for the footers.

Collapsed trench

Collapsed trench

Lesson: it was unwise to dig all the trenches in advance.  One side of the fence should have been dug, the footers poured, the block laid and the trench back filled.  That would have limited the trench collapse problem.  Why was it done this way?  I suspect (see below) that digging trenches is cheap because it requires only labor — not expensive rebar and cement.

We made other mistakes.  We advanced too much money to the architect-contractor at the beginning of the contract for “mobilization”.  Although we had advanced nearly 50% of the project funds by the fifth week, work was not commensurate and then almost stopped when there were no materials being delivered by the architect-contractor.  The workers had no materials to work with. We suspended payments to the contractor and had to pay the workers ourselves.  We should have known better than to let payments outstrip actual work completed.  This is unwise anywhere.  Mindful that the rainy season is not far off, we have had to start paying workers and buying material.

Because we had to pay workers directly, we became privy to what wages were being paid.  Wages ranged from P170 per day for laborers to P280 per day for the most experienced worker.  Payroll for the week was P9,320.00 for eight construction workers and one supervisor.

Feb. 23, 2009 a basic materials list for our fence project.  This is for a fence of about 180 lineal meters.  The wall height is about 10 feet, four feet below grade and six above.

  • 6″ hollow block – 8,475 pcs – paying 13 pesos delivered.
  • Cement – 1,299 bags – Apo brand, paying P209 delivered
  • 10mm rebar, 6m length – 1,446 pcs – paying P111 delivered
  • 12 mm, 6m length rebar 252 pcs – paying P161 delivered
  • Sand 90 cm – paying P290 per cubic meter
  • Gravel 111 cm – paying P340 per cubic meter
  • Ordinary fill material for back filling the trenches was P170 per cubic meter, delivered in six cubic meter loads.. This is a stony, sandy gravel.  We’ll also use the material for the driveway and underneath the carport and house.

Some of these prices are a bit high for the Iloilo City area but the job site is about 30km outside of the city so transport adds to the cost. The sand and gravel costs seem high.  Soil fill is about P225 per cubic meter.

We have a watchman sleeping on the site along with his family.  Yesterday we had a big delivery of hollow block.  Our watchman, who works as one of our laborers during the day, said he could not work today because he was kept up at night by people trying the steal block and escape with them across the fields on foot.  They must have cursed us for the heavy six inch block!  No block was lost, and in fact two years later we have become dubious about his tale.  This type of theft is routine in the Philippines, although, so far we have had no problems.

March 2, 2009.  We take our son to Boracay, leaving behind instructions that no concrete be poured until we get back.  We want to inspect the placement of the gravel, the rebar and so forth.  We return the following day to find that about sixty meters of footer have been poured.  Explanation of site supervisor, “I forgot what you said”.

Somewhere below is a footer

March 4, 2009.  I return to the site to see that block is being laid atop that new footer, but the block is not on the footer itself but on a hump of stony mortar several inches high.

Detail of how a badly out of level footer is "corrected".  The footer is about 6" below the block.

Detail of how a badly out of level footer is “corrected”. The footer is about 6″ below the block.

I’m furious. A fence which will be nine feet high is teetering on a hump of mortar!  The explanation — the grade of the newly poured footer was not right and the “hump” is to correct the level.  Finally it becomes clear that this crew lacks proper supervision.  Perhaps this is the way of ordinary Filipino building, that all of these problems will be adjusted away, hidden away and that the completed fence will look fine.  The “hump” will be buried with the footer back fill.   If I had not been on site every day, the trench would have been back filled and I’d have never known about this bit of creative construction, unless the fence failed.  When you buy a already built house, or if you are not present during construction of your house, you have no idea how many sins are hidden beneath the finishing.  This could have just as easily been the foundation of a house as a fence.At least we’re learning these lessons on our wall and not our house!

We decided that we had to terminate our contract with the architect-contractor.  Although we had paid advances of almost P350,000, the project was being stalled for lack of material and inadequate attention and supervision by the architect.

We hired a new crew who began work on March 13.  So far we’re very pleased with the work.  Bob and Carol are responsible for buying and arranging for delivery of all materials.  Given the rate at which this big, hard-working crew consumes cement, rebar, sand and gravel, keeping them supplied is a real job.

This shows the column and the .8m x .8m column footer ready to be poured

This shows the column and the .8m x .8m column footer ready to be poured

Concrete being mixed.  The amount consumed is prodigious!

Concrete being mixed. The amount consumed is prodigious!

This shows the wall footer being poured over the already poured column footer.

This shows the wall footer being poured over the already poured column footer.

Pouring the footer, and unending line of buckets of concrete fill the trench.

Pouring the footer, and unending line of buckets of concrete fill the trench.

The new supervisor and crew have made a dramatic improvement in the pace and quality of the work.

Steel rebar and concrete stream into the project site

Steel and concrete stream into the project site

The amount of concrete and steel being used to fence a small lot seems really excessive.  Perhaps this concrete overkill is to compensate for local construction methods. Materials and mixing are not always up to proper standards.  Sand and gravel can be dirty, mixtures impromptu, and mixing done with a shovel. Filipino concrete construction often seems overbuilt in this way, as though the buildings are designed to last forever.  In reality, the buildings are transitory and are often knocked down in a few years.  The New York Times has an excellent article on concrete at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/science/earth/31conc.html?_r=1&hpw

The new crew built a "bodega" to store materials, especially sack of cement.

The new crew built a “bodega”  or store room to store materials, especially sacks of cement.

The bodega is sheathed in "hamakan", thin strips of bamboo.  In Tagalog areas it's called sawali.

The bodega is sheathed in “hamakan”, thin strips of bamboo woven into panels. In Tagalog areas it’s called sawali.  This is taken from the inside of the bodega.

Tall post to receive electric power built into corner of fence

Tall post to receive electric power built into corner of fence

Detail showing electric cable attachment at corner post.

Detail showing electric cable attachment at corner post.

Progress at last!

The east wall (above) will be eight feet above the preexisting grade.  If we add two feet of fill, the wall height will end up at six feet.  The east and south walls are the only walls which will be solid block.  The others will be two or three feet of block topped with four feet of diamond-mesh (“Cyclone”) fencing suspended from a 1.5″ schedule 40 pipe embedded in the top of the columns.  This will allow air circulation and views of the surrounding rice fields and mountains in the distance.

The east wall will be all block because we adjoin an undeveloped subdivision on the east.  There are five five 300 square meter lots along our 65 meter long east boundary so we eventually have neighbors, very possibly owning roosters and karaoke machines.  We were concerned that we’d  lose some of the cool breezes during the northeast monsoon — the Amihan.  We did not have to worry.  We have found that the Amihan is VERY strong here because we are surrounded by vast plains of open farm land.  The solid wall is appreciated as a wind break.

The construction of the wall consists of panels of hollow blocks between 30×20 cm concrete columns.  The columns rest on 80cm x 80 cm reinforced concrete footings.  The blocks rest on a slightly shallower reinforced concrete footing.  The columns are spaced about three meters apart.

Above the footing there are nine rows of filled, reinforced hollow blocks topped by a horizontal reinforced concrete tie or banding beam running the length of the wall.  The rebar for the banding beam can be seen in the photo. Then will come six more courses of block topped by a final tie beam.

Perspective problem

Perspective problem

The above photo should show an engineering problem with the fence.  The lot slopes up about two feet during the 65 meters from the road to the rear of the property.  The footers must be level so the footer trenches so they get progressively deeper as the grade rises.  This means the fence will be somewhat lower in the rear than in the front.

Heavy traffic on the road into our lot. Barangay Namocan is dairy cow country.

Heavy traffic on the road into our lot. Barangay Namocan is dairy cow country.

Our electric utility is ILECO, the Iloilo Electric Cooperative.  Ileco’s power lines run right by our property.  We wanted to get temporary power installed.  Our crew was mostly from Iloilo City and stayed overnight at the project site.  Lighting would make their evenings more civilized — they could see the food they were eating. Power will be essential for welding.

As a temporary measure we bought a kerosene-powered pressure lamp — similar to the Coleman lamps in the U.S. and widely used in the Philippines for night fishing. Lamps and parts available from Senor Hardware, Iznart Street, Iloilo City.

A neighbor suggested we hook up to his power connection and that we could pay him for the power we use.  We preferred to have our own temporary connection so we asked our architect to apply for a temporary electrical permit to the Tigbauan Municipal Engineer’s office.  Although the Engineer’s office had a form for a temporary permit, actually getting the permit approved devolved into an endless, frustrating bouncing back and forth between the ILECO office and that of the municipal engineer’s office.  Of necessity, we capitulated and accepted our neighbor’s offer.  We had power the next day.  It seems that you get your electrical hookup when your building is complete and that ad hoc hookups are normal for construction projects.

Fixing the road in

Like dumb novices, we did not pay too much attention to the quality of the road leading into our bit of paradise, other than ensuring that we had the legal right to use it. We saw the property during the dry season.  The road was rough but very passable.  Of course, that all changed when the rains came.  Access to our property was just about impossible.  Fortunately, it’s only about 500 meters to a fairly solid barangay (municipal) road.  As is typical, our road served dozens of families traveling mostly by foot, motor bike or tricycle.  The road also served a dormant subdivision just beyond our property.

The seemingly inexorable pace of development in the area helped save us from our road problems.  Owners of lots in the subdivision just beyond us complained that they could not access their lots and road improvements resulted.  The improvements consisted of truck hauling in loads of rough sandy-gravel fill and dumping it on the muddy road.  The trucks appeared and then disappeared, the job only partly done.  Still we were grateful and learned how easy it was to improve the road.  We decided to continue the work in a small way.  We filled bad spots with a total of about 25 cubic meters of sandy gravel, using our worker to spread the fill.  This cost us about P6,000 and made our access (and that of our neighbors) better.

We bought this “Dragon” brand hand pump at Senor hardware on Iznart Street in Iloilo city for P2,500.  For many Filipino households, this would serve as the all-purpose wash area; for taking a bath (while dressed for modesty’s sake), doing laundry and dishes.  Even some rich households make their help use hand pumps to save money on electricity and to avoid using “NAWASA” — municipal water which costs money.  Most Filipinos must use ground water, whatever its quality.  They have no other option.

demolish well pad

Postscript.  The well pad shown above had to be demolished after five years.  Reason?  It did not have an adequate foundation and so heaved and cracked.  The clay soils found in many Philippine rice lands expand when wet and shrink when dry.  This effect is strong enough to crack concrete.  So if you are thinking that our fence foundations are “overkill”  keep in mind that many fences in our area are damaged in this way.  Our fence is 100% intact after five years.

The water level -- a key tool

The water level — a key tool

The water level is nothing more than a length of plastic pipe filled with water.  It allows builders to keep projects level.

Neighbor Mercy and her daughter arrive with lunch for the crew

Neighbor Mercy and her daughter arrive with lunch for the crew

Initially neighbor Mercy sold merienda to the crew, but later we hired her to cook a lot lunch for them each work day.  We paid her P200 per day to buy food in the market and P100 to cook and deliver the lunch.  We also bought rice for the crew, a 50 kilo sack lasts about two weeks and costs P1600.

Filling column form with concrete

Filling column form with concrete

We put a short length of pipe in the top of each fence column

We put a short length of pipe in the top of each fence column

We put a short length of pipe in the top of each fence column.  The purpose is to allow us to easily add barb wire to the top of the fence if needed.  A length of rebar can be inserted into the top of the pipe and the barb wire welded to the rebar.  We don’t really like the idea of barbed wire but neighbors tell us we should have it.

Almost done!

Almost done!

This photo shows the fence nearing completion.  The north and west walls are mostly cyclone wire so that we can keep views and breezes.

A last step - installing the gates

A last step – installing the gates. Notice the home made hammer!

Gates are installed by chipping holes in the newly-constructed gate posts to expose the rebar in the post.  The gate hinges are then welded to the rebar and the damage repaired with cement mortar.

Gate hinges welded to rebar in posts.

Truck leaves through new gates after leaving a load of fill.

Truck leaves through new gates after leaving a load of fill.

We put more than 100 truckloads of fill.  We wanted to be sure the house, driveway and carport would not flood.

Concrete molding workshop

Concrete molding workshop

The workers decided that such grand gateposts were not compete without “capitals”, decorative moldings at the top of each post.  An impromptu workshop was set-up to make the moldings.

Finished moldings

Finished concrete moldings – made on site

Filimon Asonda and crew install moldings on front gate post

Filimon Asonada and crew install moldings on front gate post

Saintly project foreman Tatoy checks the work

Saintly project foreman Tatoy checks the work

COST OF THE FENCE: While the fence is not quite complete we can see that the total cost will be about one million pesos including the fence, three gates (two vehicle, one pedestrian), well, pump and fill.  This comes to about P5,500 pesos per meter of fence.

Several factors drove up the cost.  We used better quality six inch block rather than the crumbly four inch block usually used.  The six inch block required more concrete to fill the larger cavities.  Our footers were deep and strong, our columns 30 x 30 cm., our well had to be completely redug because the first construction crew did not make it deep enough for a reliable water supply, and our large downpayment to our first architect-contractor was never recovered.  In general, we erred on the side of doing things right rather than cheaply.  We are well-satisfied with the result.

Still, there is a danger in our approach, especially when it comes to building a house. Being so perfectionistic, choosing the quality  (and more expensive) option for each of the hundreds of decisions when building a house can really drive up the cost.  Speaking for myself, building can be an addiction or compulsion, especially in a place where labor is cheap and the foreigner can indulge every building fantasy.  The foreigner builds his dream home but, if circumstances change, he can be imprisoned in it because he has too much money in the house and cannot sell it except at a big loss.  He may have spent more of his savings than he really could afford leaving him (and his widow) short of money.

Many foreigners are uncomfortable with the idea of living in a walled property or compound.  It is so much at odds with the way life is led in America and modern Europe.  It’s un-egalitarian. Walling oneself off from ones neighbors and community does not sit well, especially when those walls are topped by broken glass or barbed wire.   Generally it’s best to get over those romantic ideas and understand that Filipinos don’t live behind walls because they don’t like their neighbors. The Philippines is not suburban Connecticut.   It’s best to plan on having fences and dogs.  Many properties are very small.  Without a fence there would be no privacy.  Crime is definitely a problem.  Noise is a problem.  In our area roaming chickens, dogs, cattle and carabao would make themselves at home.   A cement wall creates a small island of relative safety and tranquility in a somewhat chaotic (but enjoyable) society.    We could  have surrounded the property with a simple, durable fence of concrete posts and barbed wire, or we could have used bamboo for fencing.  These approaches would have saved money but, in our view, not have been so satisfactory for us. At first we were a bit embarrassed by our walls.  Now we appreciate what they give us.

Finally, Carol and I would like to pay tribute to our construction crew.  Over the years we have read various complaints about Filipino workers.  We were so fortunate.  Our crew consisted of the amazing and indispensable foreman “Tatoy” Fortunato Pornel, 73 years old, and nine to fifteen other workers.  Tatoy has worked construction all his life, all over the Philippines and in Saudi Arabia and Guam as well.  He’s a natural leader and a gentleman who had the respect of the crew and enforced a discipline through example, high standards and constant and good-natured exhortation to the crew.  The rest of the crew consisted of local workers from Tigbauan and workers brought by Tatoy from Iloilo City.  They were a great bunch of workers; good humored, hard working, honest and intelligent.  Nothing was stolen.  When I miscalculated and overpaid a worker.  He came to me to point out my error and return the money.

Carol and I tried to treat our crew well.  We provided a sack of rice every two weeks.  We hired a local woman to cook a hot lunchtime meal for them and paid them a nice bonus at the end of the job.  We endeavored to treat them all with respect.  Carol and I both felt sad when the job was over and these great guys left the site for the last time.  I have overseen numerous construction projects in the U.S.  Our Filipino crew measured up in every way.

Almost done...view into lot through gates.

Almost done…view into lot through gates.

Now on the the next steps, drafting plans, getting permits and building our house……

Read all about our Philippine House building Project at /building-our-philippine-house-index/

Comments (50) Write a comment

  1. Hi!, I’m a Filipina and married to my American husband for 5 years. Me and my husband are planning to build our home in Pavia Iloilo, we bought a piece of lot in green meadows subd. Your blog is very informative and give us alot ideas of what to do. We’re from upstate new York, and the cost of living, high taxes and cold winter made my husband decide to move to Iloilo for good.

    Reply

  2. Great story again. I am ready to put up a cyclone/chain link fence, i can only find posts and chain link wires in suppliers in Batangas but can’t find anywhere that sells the fence hardware such as the end caps and joiner. Any help will be greatly appreciated. I have seen similar hardware used in party tents and canopies but the cyclone fence I saw were all welded.

    Reply

  3. Hi, am very interested reading the information. We are currently building a house in the Philippines it helps to understand what are involved in doing so. Bob and Carol I would like to know how both of you were able to live in the Philippines as I understand you are both from the U.S. This is not all about building a house but would like to hear the process you did to live in the Philippines. I come from Iloilo.

    Congratulations to have a well constructed house/home.

    Reply

    • Georgie, thanks for your kind words. I live in the Philippines with a Special Resident Retiree Visa (SRRV) Carol is a dual U.S./Philippine citizen. We love living amongst you Ilonggos!

      Reply

  4. I’m a licensed civil engineer by profession engaged in constructing residential houses. perimeter fence, commercial and warehouse type buildings.I do design and build cost proposal of buildings of any kind. Prepare complete plans,specification, structural analysis computation and detailed cost estimate. From start to finish of your fence construction, the architectural works is impressive but on the structural parts, i find it very weak. Reinforced concrete wall footings for fence shall have a minimum depth of 6 inches and minimum width of 16 to 20 inches.

    Reply

    • Peace be with you, Engr. Laborte!
      Thank you for sharing some professional thoughts on building perimeter fence. I am actually looking for good ideas on how to build a fence for our small farm because people around are taking our vegetables and fruits that is for our consumption and a little to sell for our livelihood. I hope you could help us.

      Thank you Bob and Carol for the shared ideas. God bless you!

      Reply

  5. Your post is a great one. After having my own experience with (so called) contractors, supervisors there really is no way for a man to do a construction project without putting our own noses on the grindstone. Lapses and lack of craftsmanship and pride in one’s work is very prevalent. I paid descent money for mine to be done and still the results are not to “standard quality” expectation. My grandfather built their houses with them terrorizing the supplier and workers 🙂 it worked then and of course it wont work now. I have worked in shipyards and as far as physical labor is concerned i know how much work can be done by a committed and principled worker. I hope i find one but while i cant i will try to learn the craft on my own. What can a no schooled laborer do that i cannot ? My uncle has a saying when i was taking up flying lessons ..even a monkey can learn to fly given the time. same thing in anything we do 🙂 All the best and thank you for sharing your post.

    Reply

  6. Hi Bob,

    It’s great to see this excellent blog of yours still here. i told my daughter who is taking up Media and Communication Studies at U.P. Miag-ao to see your myphilippinelife.com blog with its many very good photos & excellent write-ups.

    I read in one of your pages that though your home is in Tigbauan, Carol and you do your food marketing at Miag-ao wet market. Lower food prices?

    The importance of this page cannot be overemphasized. Our church council is considering replacing our church back perimeter cyclone fence with concrete-poured hollow block perimeter wall to prevent past burglary incidents again.

    Our church in Bacolod City maintains a youtube chanel – 1991Ebenezer … and a facebook account – Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church.

    Thanks a lot for myphilippinelife.com. Best regards to Carol. Peace and joy to you.

    Gad

    Reply

    • Hi Gad,

      Thanks for the kind words! We do like shopping at the Miagao market. It’s one of the cleanest, best organized markets we have seen. Often we get lower prices on seafood, especially tuna. Full size tuna is P180 per kilo and “baby” tuna as low as P80 per kilo.

      Bob and Carol

      Reply

  7. Hi! I am from Damasco Marketing. We would like to thank you for the kind words. We are happy to have been able to help you in your project. Thank you.

    Reply

  8. Bob,

    I’m getting ready to begin our fence project over and down here in Tagum City. I have two questions – one pertains to permits (see building permit) and the second pertains to fence design.

    Because of additional fill dirt added to your lot, was any portion of your fence considered a retaining wall? I saw no mention, but was wondering if “deadmen” were considered or actually required. Is the front wall along the road parallel to a drainage canal? How much is the wall “setback” from the road?

    I saw some “nasty photos” of your road after heavy rains in FB. Have you or neighbors approached your Barangay Captain about drainage canals to help control or alleviate standing water?

    Thank you.

    Thanks much.

    Reply

    • Hi Ted,

      Our situation may be different. Our lot is along a private road, not public so the rules may be very different. We did have to get a building permit for the fence. There is no drainage ditch anywhere. We have no setback from the road right-of-way. The outside of the fence is right on our property line. Regarding the road, the municipality will not improve it as it’s a private road. I add fill when I have to but it looks worse than it is. I even have had to add fill to bad spots on the barangay road which connects to our private road! Hope this helps a little. Good luck, stay calm! Bob

      Reply

  9. Our company offers a more advance construction technology than the hollow blocks. It is Soild and/or Insulated Poured Concrete Technology. You get 3,000 psi concrete strength.

    Reply

  10. It is great that you took the time to post your endeavors online a it also gave me some insight on the projects I am currently pursuing. We reside in Mindanao near Butuan City. The problem is we never have a problem finding workers that say they know it all, but the truth they are more the jack of all trades and master of none. The one foreman I hired was good at building but would take a short cut anytime he could. Then as we had people coming to sell us doors windows and such we find the foreman going behind our backs and telling the suppliers he wanted a cut or he would talk us out of buying their product. So I did learn but it was tough going. Thanks Again for your post.
    Dave

    Reply

    • David,

      I can really sympathize. I shopped for, paid for and had delivered all my materials so it was hard for anyone on my crew to ask for a “cut”. My foreman too loved shortcuts,even though he knew I wanted him to take his time and do the best possible work. He was sometime just impatient, although he was smart and could do good work.. Anyway — best wishes. At some point it will all be over!

      Bob

      Reply

  11. Bob –

    I would like to commend you on your great insight and wonderful humanity. I am currently building a 280 square meter three story house in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. I only wish I had found your site earlier because it would have but so much into perspective. I was a careerist type-A Amerikano but then “discovered” The Philippines and at first tried to superimpose this kind of management system on my home construction project. I had little understanding of concepts like merienda or people living at the job-site or even the micro-economics of wonderful people like Mercy that did the cooking – first ala-carte and then as a member of the construction team – or perhaps more properly the construction family. In building my house I have learned a lot, albeit sometimes too slowly, about the culture and society I will be living in. Thanks for the inspiration and the insights into not only concrete blocks, rebar and welding but also into the psyche of the Filipinos. You really have to love the capitals they “decided” were needed on the columns!! Good luck to you and Carol thanks for sharing your experiences- this should be turned into a book!!

    Reply

    • Dalton,

      Thank you for your very kind comments. They are much appreciated. On the surface, the Philippines is a great place for foreigners, full of sun and smiles. Underneath there are difficult currents. When you’re involved in business her (and being your own contractor is business) you may have to immerse yourself in things you should otherwise avoid. Now that the house project is over, I do all I can to stay on top, floating on the surface, enjoying the respect and smiles and the bolera girls who tell me how gwapo I am!

      Good luck with your project and your life here, and again thanks.

      Bob

      Reply

  12. I am a recently married man, to a lovely Filipina, and we are looking into retiring in the Philippines in about 10-12 years. I know this sounds crazy to be looking into building practices at this early stage, but I am a man that plans, plans, plans, and then does. I found your construction photos of the wall construction to be very enightening. I will definitely be on-site during any construction now, as I have been worried about the construction of anything without my supervision. I am educated in, but not practicing, Architectural Construction. My wrries about how things could be built without my supervision were reinforced with your story. I’m not done reading your construction story, but will be finishing it today, and book marking it for future reference. I’m looking forward to continuing your story as I finish this reply.

    I’m loving your site, and am trying to read all I can so that when I ask a question, I will not be asking something that has already been answered.

    Thanks for the site, and information for us “Kano’s” coming to the Philippines to relax and live the good life.

    Reply

  13. Pingback: Building a Perimeter Fence – Updated | My Philippine Life

  14. I built a house in Taytay, Rizal also in 2009. I fired my contractor after 3 weeks because he did not deliver all the materials. I paid the workers my self from the start, the contractor wanted me to give him the money and then he would pay. I could not go for that. I did all the purchasing and I am a good shopper. They call me Barat, kuriput. My tagalog spelling is not so good. I also put up a hollow block fence #6, 2 meters high above grade. I also raised the level of my lot by more than 1 meter. Before we put the floor in, my wife told the crew “1 more hollow block” How right could she be? When Ondoy arrived in September, the water rose and rose, finally only about 18 inches from the door, and only about 3 inches more and it would have been inside. We were very lucky that one more hollow block made the difference. Thank you for your story.

    Tony

    Reply

  15. Dear Bob,

    i am looking for land at iloilo area, found your site is amazing.
    basically your are correct but minor mistake. (every body have mistake). you write detail in your post that is good for every body.

    currently stay in singapore, i am thinking to build house in iloilo because my wife from iloilo and i have two kids. for my future…

    Wow…. You can be ,

    * good developer (small project , same like people a way from iloilo and they want to build home) not for money.. you want to enjoy retire life and good social net web.
    * good writer. (for retire life)

    why not….

    we will suport you…

    Reply

  16. Found your site while researching the price of hollow blocks on google last night. Great read, sat untill 4am reading your chronological detailed and well written diary of your building experience; very informative and super photography.
    I built my own house in my home country over a decade ago; no architect, just relying on friends who had considerably more experience than I, and like you, I experienced a steep learning curve in many respects. Now an ex-pat, living here in PI, I’ve often thought it would be a great challenge to build a home here, when funds allow! Sincerest thanks for taking the time to share your experiences; I’m a little bit wiser and somewhat motivated to embark on a similar project sometime soon

    Reply

  17. We have just purchased some land in Bataan and have lots of plans (in our heads). This diary you maintained will be invaluable in our decision making along the way. My wife and I would like to thank you and if we find our way down in your parts (like a Boracay trip) we may have to come by with a pasalumbog token of our appreciation. Name your poison, I’m sure it’s available on the duty-free flight over. Thank you very much. Good job and enjoy.

    Reply

  18. Edgardo,

    You have a good point and it does not just apply to fence hinges, put also running plumbing pipe, electrical conduit and so forth. Often the concrete is pretty weak so chipping it away is relatively easy. Regarding gate hinges, they are welded up from scratch and are in integral part of the gate — not a separate piece.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Bob

    Reply

  19. Everytime I pass though this article on installing the gate, I can’t help but wonder ” why didn’t anyone thought about welding half of the hinges to the rebar of post before pouring concrete. I don’t mean to add anymore to your frustration, Bob. I guessed I was priviledged that my Dad took correspondence courses from “AUDELS” and others after WWII and I grew up witnessing his mastery of the trade. From the age of 13, he tought me cabinet making, framing, masonry, plumbing, house wiring and roofing. And he did everthing on U.S. Codes. I didn’t have a chance to learn drawing/blueprint and planning & estimating, I joined the Navy and left the country in ’72. I would been good at it. But He did had some apprentices (Architect) under his wings. They learned a lot from him, unfortunately, they all left the country, too!

    Reply

  20. You’re doing a great service wiht this site, Bob. Wish I had known about it sooner. I get lot’s of questions about housebuilding in the Philippines, I’ll be sure to send them this way.

    One issue that many don’t think about regarding concrete here is the water … the strength of the concrete is very much dependent on the quality of the water used to mix it … many bad concrete jobs that Americans dismiss as ‘not enough concrete’ are in fact caused by bad water … if you wouldn’t drink the water, don’t use it for concrete.

    I’ve postponed or put off forever a building project similar to yours out in Zambales because I didn’t want to make all the block and process all the water to make the concrete to make the blocks.

    Best of luck to you and Carol on your journey of discovery

    Reply

  21. Pingback: Building our Philippine House – Index at goILOILO.com

  22. hi, Can I use your pictures for my assignements on Installation of Building materials step by step method. I find it to be detailed and very informative. I’m studying Architectural Technologies here in Calgary, AB and was born and raised from Iloilo.

    Thank You so much it would be of so much help.

    Reply

  23. Pingback: Our House Project: Architects and Builders at goILOILO.com

  24. Hi Julie, where is you property located? There are many excellent workers and contractors, but finding them and making sure you are not overcharged is always a challenge. That applies everywhere, not just the Philippines. Generally I think you have to be present for and involved in the construction — checking prices for materials, amounts used, vetoing construction shortcuts and so forth. You get a better job when you are always there looking, questioning. There is an architect-builder I could recommend but it will cost more than hiring your own foreman and crew and buying your own materials. Bob

    Reply

  25. Hi Bob,

    Greeting from Holland!

    Your site is really informative(useful) I am happy to see how you going to build all of your projects. I wish you success.

    I have question, do you have any contructors contact who can be trusted and hard working. I bought a 300 sq.meter ground and I have plan to put a wall surrounding first but I don’t know any constractor to do this project and I don'[t have any ideas about the hollow blocks as you do. Pls. can you advice me or any recommendation? I saw your site seems you have more contacts and lot of experience. Hope you answer me back.

    Wishing you a lot of success.

    Julie

    Reply

  26. Anna,

    For your information, our gates (two vehicle and one pedestrian) cost somewhat less than P40,000 total. P12,000 was for labor. This included materials, fabrication, installation, locks and painting. We are told this is a good price.

    Bob and Carol

    Reply

  27. i saw your site in google,and we are busy making same way as you do,but im happy to see how you going to build all of that,,then we have an idea,,iam from negros occidental,la carlota city,,and iam married with dutch,,now we are in the netherland..but we are busy with our roperties in the philippines,,i have 1000 squares meter of lot..and is now finish,only at the front side iam busy searching in google of a beautiful gates..but not so expensive,,i wish you goodluck in the future with your family and new home to live..
    greetings from holland,
    ANNA,WIM,
    P.S,I HAVE 2KIDS,A GIRLS..

    Reply

  28. Our fence was the opposite of yours. We live in a corner lot with the front facing east, so we have two sides with open views. Our next door neighbors’ houses were too close, so we have the back and one side of the fence with concrete wall all the way.
    For security, maybe you need to have somebody to stay-in and watch your compound between now and the start of your house construction.
    Regards.

    Reply

  29. Jim,

    Thanks for your comments and encouragement. As I noted in the text, I really debated with myself over the solid block parts of our project — feeling that it was like a prison and so forth. Now that it’s done I have to say that I can see the advantages of an all-block wall. Perhaps it’s a peculiarity of my own personality, but I really like going in, closing the gate and having privacy, privacy which with a solid wall would be pretty complete. Perhaps what we did is the best compromise between keeping our views and breezes and privacy and security, but I’m not so opposed to solid walls as I was. As an aside, I was told we should remove our water pump until we live on the property, that our neighbors chased off four guys who were going to steal it and sell it.

    Reply

  30. Congratulations, Bob & Carol. The finished fence sure looks very impressive. I like the rear view most. With a porch at the back of the house on both floors- the ground floor for breakfast and entertaining, and the second floor for the master’s bedroom private use – that’s what I call living.
    Looking forward to your next phase on building your dream house.

    Reply

  31. Hi Natie,

    The red is just a primer, red oxide, red lead or something. The final color will be something more reserved — maybe dark green or black? We want to let the metal weather a bit before the final coat.

    Bob

    Reply

  32. it’s shaping up, bob and carol! that will keep u extremely busy!! how’s your son’s vacation?? cecilia will be home soon, and i hear you’ll have a get-together!!

    Reply

  33. Bob,the fence project is looking good. I’m sure it is very sturdy. With all those steel bars and solid columns, no flood, typhoon or category 5 hurricane can bring it down.

    Reply

  34. Jim Monreal, I agree and “I” personally will never use a Pinoy Contractor again, PERIOD! Even building from ground up with no foresight of that, unless we sell the 5 rentals, soon to be 6 and our house all within sight of each other.

    We did at the get-go with our apartment ideas in building the 2 story. Since, it’s been remolding Pinoy built subdivision house and lots and my wild idea of a bamboo studio rental. LOL

    Your next mode of operation Jim, I hear from many expats!

    The architect we used was a 5th year college grad student using the latest CAD software with a material list, in Dumaguete City. We paid him for his work and he got a grade also. A win-win situation!

    With that, the contractor wanted and tried to short cut because things were not needed, (my design as a 3 story, bulit 2)! In otherwords, I had to be ON TOP of the project EVERY DAY all day and at one point, almost ran the contractor off the “F’N” job!! GRRRRR!!!!!!
    B-Ray

    Reply

  35. Bob sorry to hear about your project. Hope you can find a dependable honest to goodness worker soon.
    Right now I am having some extension done in my Iloilo home. Lucky I have the same carpenter for almost 3 decades now. Someone that I could really trust even being away. Thank God for the technology. Every progress I have my nieces take pictures and send to me for comments and suggestions. Check my blog for some update at http://www.casanipa.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  36. I would suggest, hiring a knowledgeable, experienced and honest supervisor before you start with your house construction. I would also require the architect to show detailed working drawings/bill of materials, and discuss this with your supervisor to make sure everybody is on the same page. These are must things to do. The next time we build our house on the hills of Antipolo, or by the Panay Gulf in Miagao, I will be my own designer, builder, contractor and supervisor. I will only hire the architect to execute my own design on papers.

    Reply

  37. It appears that there is a lack of cement and sand in the footing, (to much rock showing), and weak! The footing should be half again wider then the blocks, (4″ or 6″), used. As to a level footing isn’t a problem as that can be taken care of with the 1st row of blocks, but should be close to level, no more then 5cm out.

    I know that collums are the Pinoy way, but a waste of time to make, from my POV! Taking more rebar within the wall, makes a STRONG, better looking wall! No block fence walls in the States has collums! I do not see anything, (no rebar) from the wall, that ties the blocks to the collums except maybe cement later? That is BAD also!!

    Overlaping by a half block for each row, (as seen), is right on. What I don’t see is how stright the wall is? If it’s like a fish swimming along it’s lenght, that’s BAD!! If it’s not stright up and down, that’s BAD also.

    What Pinoys depend on for looks and stright is a 1 to 1 mix, (cement with screened sand), for finishing over the blocks on both sides. That’s because, basically the blocks themselves are weak and the workmenship installing the blocks is the Pinoy standard “that’s good enough”!!!

    It’s VERY HARD to find Pinoys that takes PRIDE in their work instead of coverup after the fact!!

    Regardless of the materials available, workmenship has/is/will be, my BIGGEST BITCH! And I have been BITCHING for some 4 years here! And I don’t have a problem sending Pinoys down the road kicking rocks, PERIOD! What you pay them to do, you will live with ………. FOREVER!

    BTW, we pay a bit over scale with 2 snacks and a GRANDE lunch each day. My logic is, well feed workers are happy workers and so far, the Pinoys we call on, (down to 2 over the last 4 years), bust their balls to work for us. If it take these two, 3 times longer to get the job done, so be it! Are these 2 Pinoys PERFECT, not a chance! LOL

    You ~~WILL~~ have your hands FULL dealing with the mass majority of Pinoy workers, COUNT ON IT!
    B-Ray

    Reply

  38. Bob, I think you are right. The sand and gravel prices seem high. I wish I had the invoices for the materials when we did our house expansion. Unfortunately, we left them in the Philippines.

    Your idea of having a night guard is a good. You probably need to keep him for the duration of the construction project. He might need a guard dog too to assist him. Good Luck!

    Reply

  39. Hello
    Your project looks nice. Congratulations !
    A few years ago I used to visit this web-site for its incredible number of tropical house building ideas http://beachshack.ai/index.html
    I see that the site is still active, so if you are interested you can find plenty of informations by looking through it.

    Reply

  40. I would fire the contractor if I were you, and recover part of the monies paid to him for the materials and services not yet rendered. You’re better off buying the materials and paying the workers directly. That’s what I did when we extended our house last month. If you have your plans/drawings and bill of mateials, I’m sure you can do it with a good working foreman or supervisor. Good luck!

    If you need help, I can ask my cousin in Iloilo. He probably knew a few good, honest, and hard working people in the construction industry. He is a retired Fiscal. He is from Miagao, currently living in Molo or Arevalo.

    Reply

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