Our Philippine house project – design devolution

Share the joy

Philippine House Design.  Building our house in the Philippines. How the design for our Philippine retirement home evolved.  The original inspiration for our house was a residence we saw in Lucban, Quezon Province.  It was a new house but had a traditional Filipino and Spanish Colonial flair.  Bob worked in the field of hertiage preservation for almost 25 years and has an affection for traditional design.

Excellent new construction on plaza in Lucban, Quezon Province, Philippines

Excellent new construction on plaza in Lucban, Quezon Province, Philippines

When we added some elements we wanted like a second floor verandah, this is what we got:

Perspective Drawing for our Tigbauan House

Perspective Drawing for our Tigbauan House

But we reluctantly abandoned these plans for a rather basic one story design similar to to a plan we had seen at SOS Children’s Village in Zarraga, Iloilo:

Here’s what we have ended up with:

Here are some of the reasons  for our change of of heart as we gave them to a myphilippinelife.com reader:

Thanks for you appreciative comments about the house design. We had been working on it for three years, ever since we saw a similar design in historic Lucban, Quezon but we have to break the news that at the last minute we have abandoned this design and have decided to build a one-story house. I suppose our decision is really a triumph of practicality over aesthetics.

We had lots of good reasons for wanting a two story house. We wanted a perch where we could have an unimpeded view of the mountains and surrounding rice fields. We wanted to reach up to the cool night time breezes. We wanted to have a second floor refuge from any flooding, especially after experiencing Typhoon Frank in Iloilo City. I wanted an upstairs refuge from the family hubbub downstairs. An upstairs bedroom seemed more secure from robbers. Those were the advantages we saw, on top of the instinctive aesthetic appeal of the two story house. Psychologically, it was perching above rather than crouching below. My mother-in-law says there are two types of homes and home owners, “perchers” and “nesters”.

The building of our bahay kubo helped change our mind. As is traditional, the floor of the bahay kubo is about one meter above grade. This makes a standing adult above the level of the top of our eight foot fence. We are surrounded by land which either has already been subdivided or in in the process of subdivision. The pace of development in the Philippines is such that land around us will be developed, sooner or later. Our lot is only twenty-three meters wide. Our second floor would give us a ring side seat to whatever was going on a few feet away, karaoke, TV, crowing roosters and all the other aspects of exuberant Filipino life. If we built a single story house, our eight foot high concrete wall will provide a considerable buffer from whatever noisy chaos eventually surrounds us. I’m a little embarrassed to show how shallow or thinking was, but there you have it!

There are other advantages to the single story design. This is earthquake country. Panay had an 8.5 earthquake in 1948 which destroyed many buildings. Proper engineering for a two story concrete house (most are NOT properly engineered) calls for lots of very expensive 25mm rebar and steel decking to support the second story floor. A one story house is simpler, more or less like our fence with a roof. Our property is unusually exposed to typhoons. We are one kilometer from the sea on a flat, exposed, treeless plain. That gives us good breezes when it’s hot, but the typhoons will really blast us.

We came to realize that our experience with flooding in Iloilo City was not very relevant to our Tigbauan property which is about fifty feet above sea level and did not flood during Frank. Certainly the two story house would survive, but maybe we’d be a bit more comfortable hunkered down in a one story house.

More importantly, we are enjoying having Carol’s niece in Tigbauan, sending her to school here and generally trying to give her a better future. Carol’s sister has also been staying with us. The only story house is less elegant, but gives us another bedroom for another niece or two. Eliminating the stairway and second floor complexity allows us to have a four bedroom house for less money than the three bedroom two story house.  In the end practicality ruled.  We knew the room sizes we needed and basically our home is a box containing these rooms.

We did have a few other design preferences.  We don’t use much air conditioning so we want our house to be comfortable without it. We wanted big windows to let in lots of light and breeze and also to reduce the thermal mass of the cement and block.  Our ceilings will be three meters (almost 10′) high and will have ceiling fans.  We have unusually big windows (2.4M wide and 1.6M high) and hence bedrooms may be hot during the day, but should cool off quickly in the late afternoon.  Three of our four bedrooms have cross ventilation, that is they are corner rooms with windows in two directions.  We wanted a big roof overhang to provide as much shade as possible.  Our overhang is 1.5 meters.  Our porch face north and so will be in the shade most of the day.  The location of our lot in open farm country means it’s very breezy, sometime excessively so during the dry NE monsoon.  We have already planted shade trees to the south of the house – Mango and Acacia.  We will put split air conditioning in two bedrooms.  Sometimes aircon is nice when you’re taking an afternoon nap on hot day.  We are pretty acclimatized to the heat but an air conditioned bedroom is an essential courtesy to for visiting friends and family.

Back to the one story design.  It also can’t be overlooked that the old foreigner who will occupy the house will turn 66 this year and intends to spend the remainer of his years in the house we build.  While one hopes to stay healthy and die peacefully in one’s sleep at a ripe old age, the reality is often grimmer.  The climb to our second floor bedroom might become impossible.  I recommend The Denial of Aging by Dr.Muriel Gillick.  It’s subtitled “Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life and Other Dangerous Fantasies”.  This book gives a good dose of reality about aging, but does it in a way which leads to clear thinking rather than depression.  By the way, my father died more or less instantly at 80 of a heart attack on a Florida golf course surrounded by his golfing buddies — so there are happy endings.

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

Comments (25) Write a comment

  1. Bob,

    Been reading the chapters in your website and would like to see a floor plan of your completed 1-story house. I am currently designing a floor plan for a house I’d like to build here in Cagayan de Oro City on Mindanao and would some ideas on how it should be built. Also, if you still have it, what about the abandoned 2-story design, do you still have a floor plan for it? If so, I’d like tosee that also.

    Also, being a Kano, was you house built on American standards? For example: do the kitchen base cabinets have a toe kick? Are the counters 36″ high (Filipino standard is 32″). Are the kitchen wall cabinets 18″ above the base cabinets? Are the bathrooms big enough to accomodate a bathtub and vanity? Are there plenty of built-in closets for storage? Do you have a water heater or tank so that hot water is available thruout the house? These are just a few examples of American standards. I’d like to know how “americanized” your house is. Looking forward to your reponses.


    • Hi Steve,

      You can see a link to our one story plan at http://sdrv.ms/19tijyw
      The two story plan is at http://sdrv.ms/194LjAC

      Our cabinets do have toe kick. Counters are 34″ (my wife is 4’10’). No wall cabinets yet. No built-in closets. We use wardrobes. No hot water anywhere in the house.



  2. Two-story house is for me more ideal. You could have one with a master bedroom on the first floor and better yet another master bedroom on the second floor. My house, as I am writing this message, is at its 85% completion. My wife, at first, insisted that we have a one-story house built but I am fascinated with two-story houses because they are much more spacious and second floor will give you better views of the neighborhood and will make you decide to have bigger bedrooms than the norm in the Philippines.
    But anyway, I love your house. Perhaps all the money spent is well-worth. And soon, I will be like you enjoying our new lifestyle. I could say that in spite of all the dangers of the neighborhood, typhoons and floods I still love it here and will not exchange it with any other places.


  3. Great post. How much was the total cost of your house? I am buying a small property here in Cavite in a Residential area with golf courses. I am thinking of second floor so we can look around maybe even a third floor patio. Great idea about buying the BLOCK maker. Thanks


  4. I want to ask if the lot outside your wall that some people have their done lanscaping it, to make their house beautiful in front like landscape and then their wall .is that also your property? Is it included yours? Or to government?
    Do other people have right to touch it or is it your private? Please help please please!


    • If I understand your question correctly, is your wall your property and can the adjoining property owner touch it. Our wall was built so that it is entirely on our property so that, in theory, the outside of our wall is still our property. However, I am not familiar with Philippine law on this point. In New York State, there was a whole law book volume on the law of fences! Sorry we can’t be of more help.

      Bob and Carol


  5. I love the design of yr home. I have some floor plans that I’m working on. I would like to know if possible to get just the lay out of yr home.




  6. We come to the Philippines and plan our houses but do not take into consideration the life style here, we plan the front door by the sitting area naturally, much like our home county homes.
    Here in the Philippines the people spend most of their time in their porches which are sheltered against typhoons and sunlight. When they visit they bring their families with them. The large porches that many Filipino have can take all this accommodation and be near enough to the kitchen area so that food and drink can be served.
    At all times they occupy the porches and chat with passes by or see neighbours and perhaps invite them in for chats etc.
    In this respect we intend to move our front door to the side of the house and surround it with a large covered patio. Located next to the doorway inside will be the dining area and kitchen. With typhoon weather I think its best to have a low and oversize roof to the patio. The bedroom and lounge area can be at the front of the house with the bedroom floor raised slightly. In this way the loungeTV and access to the bedrooms will be more private and less exposed.
    Having experienced visitors to both our homes we will have a Filipino style fully tiled bathroom outside with drainer, possibly with a separate urinal for the men. Our guest bathroom will be available for other visitors.


    • Peter, some good “cultural” points you raise. Our property has views to the mountains toward the rear and faces our road on the opposite side. We oriented our house with the front door and the porch toward the mountains, turning our back to the road and the comings and goings in our very rural neighborhood. Our workers arrived and laid out the house. They laid it out completely backwards because they could not imagine the front door not facing the road!

      Further, we built a quite open fence toward the mountains but a solid hollow block on the road side of our property. We essentially walled ourselves off from our neighborhood. This is not because our neighbors are bad. They’re definitely good people. We just highly value our privacy but completely understand that others have totally different and more sociable approach to life in the rural Philippines.




  7. Pingback: Our Philippine House Project – Roof Design at goILOILO.com

  8. Pingback: Our Philippine House Project – Roof and Roofing at goILOILO.com

  9. hi there we are planning to build a super market 4 storys high would be interested in all of your equipment if it is still avialable
    we have 4 sea containers of equipment comming but you can never have enough.
    Regards: Ross


  10. Peter, thanks for the comment. We are putting in 1″ foil faced fiberglass insulation as part of the roofing. We will have the traditional Filipino attic ventilation louvers at the peak, but another person said they had to block the ventilators they put in because rain blew in during typhoons.

    31C — that’s chilly! — we get up to 36.5 in our stuffy apartment bedroom. We do have split aircon in our bedroom. We set it at C30 or C29to save money.

    We are putting in split aircon in two bedrooms of the new house.

    Hopefully we’ll get the chance to find out how our new house works in a few months.

    We are putting in split aircon in two bedrooms.


  11. Bob we just finished our house project here on Bohol. One story with 3 bedrooms. One thing I noticed is that you would rather not have much a/c installed. I tried the same train of thought but ended up putting it in anyway. One thing you could do I did not would be to install good ventilation in your attic space to get rid of the heat buildup there. We have large windows all around but the thermal mass gave us a 31 degree house in the afternoon and well into the evening. A/C has really helped.


  12. I love to follow your blogs! Your house plans seem very sensible and practical, taking into account natural disasters that could wreak havoc to a poorly planned structure. Thank you for sharing the cost, construction materials, and construction method details to your house project. I find your site the most informative, well balanced account of what to expect when settling in Iloilo. My wife and I plan to reside in Oton in about five years. Her family has a 2000 square meter lot, and currently has a single level bungalow type abode. I plan to build a well planned, single level “bahay kubo” type structure in the back of the existing house, where we will spend most of our time. The house will be built with as much natural ventilation in mind , and mostly native materials. The bathroom will incorporate western amenities with native design. A variety of native trees and plants will be a major part of scheme. I wish you continued success in your endeavors, and most importantly I pray for your good health to enjoy a very long life in your adopted land we both love. Once again, thank you!


  13. Hi i have looked at your pictures and also read a lot of your detail , firstly if i may how big is your lot size ,my wife and i have just bought 2 x lots in davoa (samal island ) to be exact and it comprize of 300 sq m . i am like you starting to desighn a home as i am a carpenter here in australia wife has already changed mind more drafting paper sharpen the pencils again , still i have to agree with you we thought about a two storey home almost the same reasons as you but them my mother said about myy uncle in englend when he got old stairs are an older persons night mare so we too have decided on a single story home . Originally i was against block construction as the variances in blocks is apparently vast and reading your article it is but if you have been happy with this company that have supplied your blocks then that says something about standards ,i am a westerner and we work to building codes and have standards for evrything even dunny paper so it is very hard for me to accept the fact that a person can build blocks in his back yard and sell the to a builder ,there are a lot of things i must get used to before i make the transition there , when i was there last i said to an english guy how do you handle this there are no rules to what and when things happen ,his reply was “thats the way we like it ” maybe these guys have got it right and we are the ones who have got it wrong anyway i enjoy following your journey and will keep refering to it for quite some time
    all the best chris


    • Chris,

      Our lot is 1,500 square meters. It’s OK to have a smaller lot –
      smarter really. We bought a “large” lot because that’s what I was
      used to in the U.S. Your land costs are less for a small lot and
      fencing and filling costs too.

      If you are a carpenter in Australia, probably lots of things about
      construction in the Philippines will drive you crazy, as it does me.
      Most of the blocks are very poor quality. The ones we are using are
      better, but still not comparable to what I was familiar with in the
      U.S. Much concrete in residential buildings is also poor quality —
      too little cement, too little rebar, too much water and too dirty
      aggregate. Not much wood is used because of termites. We are using
      mahogany for forms and scaffolding. It’s beautiful stuff, really
      furniture quality. Most wood is sold fresh-cut and wet. If you treat
      them well, most Philippine workers will work their hearts out for you.

      There is a building code which looks good. The permit process
      requires multiple submissions, multiple fees and multiple approvals.
      I don’t know if there’s any inspections. No, there is no lack of rules in
      the Philippines, enforcement is the issue. Driving is an example.
      You can pretty much do whatever you want except run over people or go
      the wrong way down a one-way street. Also you have to keep your
      license and registration up to date. That’s about it. No stopping
      for stop signs, u-turns anywhere, no vehicle inspections. I don’t
      know if I could ever drive again in the U.S., I have acquired so many
      bad habits.

      I love living here but will love it more when the house is done!



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

  15. please post more updates and development of your house for my future reference. thanks.


  16. The simplicity of building a one-story house is a huge boon. Esp. with a big lot like yours there is no real need to build higher.

    Indeed, the age factor is another VERY important consideration. Even if you might not have too much trouble going up and down later, it STILL is much easier to have everything on one level.

    Make sure your terrace isn’t on the south-side, or else it will be quite unusable during the day.


  17. Pingback: Our house project: getting started at last at goILOILO.com

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.