Our Philippine House Project – Floors

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We’re building a house in the Philippines.  This account will show how we’ve constructed our floors; filling, compacting, reinforcing bars, and pouring concrete.

Generally, lots are not filled before the house is built. It’s generally a bad idea to build on fill, especially in earthquake country. We did do some filling of the lot before we built the house, but all footer depths were measured based on undisturbed soil — the footers are set in undisturbed soil, not fill.  If we had one foot of fill and needed to install a footer 1.2 meters below grade, the excavation was 1.2M + 1 foot.

The height of the fill contained within the perimeter walls of the house and supporting the floor is adjustable based on local conditions. It can be as much as several feet.  Our house is located on level agricultural land on Panay Island.  We want the have our finished floors about one meter above the surrounding terrain because we wanted to avoid any possibility of storm water entering the finished house.  We already owned our property when Typhoon Frank hit Iloilo.  We were able to see that there was lots of rain water in the surrounding rice fields but not deep, and no flooding such as from overflowing rivers.

The day after Typhoon Frank

Our lot the day after Typhoon Frank - June 22, 2008

Still, we had to consider that the surrounding land is open to development and that our future neighbors will fill their lots.  This filling is sort of an “arms race” with the loser receiving the storm water from higher filled neighbors. This requires serious consideration.  There are hundreds or thousand of structures in Iloilo City which routinely flood because the lands and roads around them were raised.  It’s easy and relatively cheap to add extra fill before building but a near impossible problem to remedy  once the building is built.  With our high ceilings, I suppose we could add fill and pour a new floor over the top of the old one, but what a discouraging prospect!


The wall is up and filling delivered. The house now sits where the workers are standing.

We trucked in sand and gravel fill to raise the entire lot and the house location even more.  The height of the finished floor was raised even further by filling the area within building walls.  This sandy fill was put in in layers with lots of water to settle it.  The final layer of fill was gravel.  Initial compaction was done manually using the medieval device shown below.

Medival Compacting

Medieval Compacting

"modern" gas powered compacting

"modern" gas powered compacting

Then we were able to rent a gas powered compactor for P450 per day including the operator.  Three days of compacting produced a very, very firm surface.  The next step was installing the plumbing pipes and electrical conduit which will be embedded in the concrete floor.

All electrical circuits embedded in each floor are tested with a continuity tester before the floor is poured. While all electrical circuits are in conduit and theoretically could be rewired, some wires in this room go outside the house to lighting at the front gate, so they could be a little difficult to repair.

Next the reinforcing bar was installed.  We used 10mm rebar on a 60cm x 60cm grid.  Philippine workers are not always careful about positioning the rebar up from the ground in the concrete.  We had the same problem with our footers.  Workers would let rebar lay in the bottom of the footer excavation rather than raise it up into the concrete.  Plastic rebar “chairs” are used to position rebar in the U.S.  but I have never seen them for sale in the Philippines.

Rebar chair

Commercial rebar chair

Fellow blogger Yannic made his own cement “chairs”.  See his excellent house building blog at http://www.pattayaforum.net/forum/showthread.php?7365-Hausbau-in-Bohol-Philippinen

Yannic's homemade rebar chairs

I showed a photo to my foreman and said that’s how I wanted things done.  I suspect that if he was left to his own devices no rebar supports would be used.  Anyway, my foremen supported the rebar grid using scraps of “L” or “J” shaped rebar scrap driven into the compacted fill and wired the the rebar grid.  At first I was dubious, but in fact the fill is so heavily compacted that these supports are probably stronger than the plastic chairs.  My foreman drilled holes in the finished walls into which he inserted the rebar ends.  This provided good support for the rebar at the edge of the room.

Our "chair" from scrap rebar

Our "chair" from scrap rebar


We adopt Yannic's rebar supports

We adopt Yannic's rebar supports

Ready for concrete

Ready for concrete.  Orange electrical conduit visible.

We did not use a vapor barrier under the concrete.  My reasoning was that such barriers are essential in sealed, heated houses in the north to try to keep interior moisture levels under control.  Since we are aiming toward an all windows open, maximum ventilation approach, I could not see the function of a vapor barrier in the floor.  Others disagree.  See comments below.  Now that the house is done and we are living in it we see no problem with moisture coming from below.

Our concrete floors are about 5″ in thickness.  We are using a 1-2-4 mix (one part cement, two parts sand, four parts gravel).  I do not allow any concrete to be poured except under my supervision.  My crew had no problem accepting my mix — generally 1-2-3, but I had many fights with them over how wet the fix should be. Over the months they have gotten much better about that.  Another problem was not allowing enough time in the mixer.  When mixing and pouring concrete my crew gets into a hyper-macho mood, wanting to go really fast.  Concrete should be in the mixer at least 2 1/2 minutes.  Unsupervised, they would dump the mix too quickly.  I have insisted that they slow the pace and do careful rather than fast work.  They really would rather work hard rather than deliberately. After these months of working together, we generally produce good concrete without much fuss, as long as I am there supervising.

Floor layout

Floor layout

This photo shows how my crew goes about floor cement work.  Chalk lines (faintly visible on the right)  show the desired floor level on the walls.  As a first step, a narrow band of concrete at the proper level is laid down the middle of the room.  Then similar bands are laid at the room edges.  These two start to set.  Then the areas between these bands are filled in, starting at the far corner of the room and progressing toward the door. Tools being used are a bamboo pole to “vibrate” the wet cement into all areas, a simple wooden float and an 5′ aluminum bar.

Since the rooms are to be tiled, an ultra smooth surface on the concrete floor is not desired.  While we have our roof on and the concrete is not exposed to the sun, we still keep the floor wet for at least three days.

Electrical conduit converge on panel box

Electrical conduit converge on panel box above, wrapped in plactic

These electrical conduit will soon be buried in the concrete floor.  The genius of this system is that wires can be replaced (if necessary) by pulling them through the conduit embedded in the floors.  For this to work, there can be no shortcuts.  The wide arc elbows must be used. There are no electrical conduit tees.  The blue water system fittings can be used with the electrical conduit but such use may well defeat the ability to pull new wires as the bends are too sharp to pull through.  We used one tee and I regret it!

Kitchen floor being poured

Kitchen floor being poured

The kitchen/living room pour used 41.5 bags of cement 160 bags of gravel and 80 bags of sand – 42 loads mixed in our one-bagger mixer. This took a very full day for our seven workers.  They were really tired afterwards.  We bought them three pizzas and three liters of Coke.

Porch floor

Porch floor

Note the concrete on the right.  The workers are now consistently making concrete with a decent slump — not soup.  The mix is 1-2-4.

Comments (27) Write a comment

  1. Hi, your blog is very informative and helpful. I would like to ask how much water you used for the 1-2-4 cement slump so that it will not turn out soupy?


    • John,

      While we measured sand, cement and gravel carefully, we added water slowly and by eye. I watched every batch. The crew came to know what I wanted.



  2. Hi BOb,
    I hope you don’t mind asking some questions. English is not my native language so forgive me If I write wrong. How tick did you do the finishing? (plaster) And could
    you tell me how many bags of cement you use pr. M2 ? (we use 20kg bags)

    Best Regard
    Erik Andersen


    • Erik,

      Sorry, we can’t be of too much help. Did you take a look at http://myphilippinelife.com/our-philippine-house-project-finishing-plastering/ ?
      The thickness of plaster was not uniform as the plastering was used not only as a finish coat but also to correct any irregularities in the building. In general I would say 1/2″ to 1″.

      I am not sure of the mix of the “plaster”, which was a mix of ordinary Portland cement and screened sand.

      For construction, our mix was 1 cement, 2 sand and 3 gravel.

      I hope this help a little.

      Bob and Carol


  3. Your blog is very informative and helpful, I am currently building a 2 storey house in negros oriental and I’m Wondering if you have any idea on the ideal rebar grid for the second level flooring and also the rebar size.



  4. Pingback: Building our Philippine House – Index | My Philippine Life

  5. Pingback: Updated – Concrete Floors in Our Philippine House | My Philippine Life

  6. One should always use a plastic membrane between the earth or fill, before the cement is poured to create the floor slab. The moist air moving through the house while the windows are open will sometimes cause the floor to become moist, especially if the barometric pressure is low. You’ve done a great job on this house. I’m planning to build a smaller 2 story house in Cebu, on a 500 sq.meter lot. I’ve gotten some great ideas looking at your pictures.


    • Hi Douglas,

      I hope all is well. I am planning to build my house as well in Bantayan Island soon. It will just be a small two two-small storey house and connected by a collonade. The combined floor are will just be around 88 square meters in a 800 sq. m lot area. I would like to learn from you and possibly share my experience as well.



  7. Hi Edgardo,

    Running electrical conduit in floors was new to me too but actually it’s a good system if you stick with using proper electrical conduit, don’t try to put too many wires in a conduit and follow your electrical plan. The conduit uses elbows with gentle elbow bends and NO tees. Generally it’s easy or at least feasible to replace (pull or snake) bad wires from outlet to outlet and panel box to outlet without tearing up anything. Anyway, such repairs should not be necessary as once the floor is poured your conduit is embedded in the concrete and pretty safe. It also is hard to imagine such wiring causing a fire. To me, it’s a much better system than Romex stapled to studs as in the U.S.



  8. Those last 2 pictures kind a woke me up. I’ve done electrical wirings in the Philippines & U.S.A. but I never ran an electrical conduit under floorings. My cablings were pulled over ceilings and through the wall frames. I’ve seen network and ethernet cables under false (raised) flooring in Data and server rooms. I also watched a home improvement TV show where a floor heater was laid under the floor, but then again these were raised floor in New England states and likely to have basement.


  9. Brian, for protecting wood we used Solignum to paint the wood, it is available in dark brown or in clear color.

    For some more informations on water pipes, concrete/cement need, septic tank sizes as well as construction costs and so on you may look at my house construction blog. Just click on my name.


  10. Yes corrosion does occur underground but it is slower. I had a patio back in the states that I had to tear up and replace. There were sections that was all the way to the ground. When I started tearing it up I had found that some of the wire mesh was in contact with the ground on the bottom side. I some of the concrete job that I have worked on we would just us rocks that would life the wire mesh or rebar so that it would be in the middle.

    Great website Bob!

    Corrosion in rebar/wire will cause ‘spalling’ over time, the cement/ masonry will break up into small chips, flakes, or splinters, this is caused by the swelling of the corrosion or as most understand ‘RUST’ if your project is located is moist, damp or wet conditions such as ‘ground level’, a moisture barrier is recommended, even if the rebar is not exposed repeated wetness can seep in and cause corrosion over time. One alterative is to use epoxy coated rebar or a paint on coating. Never leave raw metal (rebar) exposed to wet conditions, and even more so if you live near the ocean. Living in Hawaii, I have seen many of floors go bad do to spalls. It can be repaired but it’s hard to kill 100% of the rust and it’s costly.

    Being married to my wonderful Filipina wife, we often have spend time in the PI and I have some understanding of how they install tile, (much different then the US) I found it hard to find a floor installation that was flat and or level. Spend the time and find someone who knows the trade! As a tile contractor I look forward in seeing your photos of the finished work.



  11. This an outstanding blog. I have been following your progress for the last two months. Informative. We will be undertaking a small resort project next year, as we have just bought a hectare in palawan. although, my girlfriend’s family has built and owned a resort in Boracay for 20 years+ and we have a lot of insight and knowledge into building from friends/family, we are in our 20’s with minimal experience of our own. We will be building a native-style resort, a restaurant, a bungalow or two, we’re also focusing on building a couple bungalow style treehouses.

    I have also been keeping an eye on your cost reports with interest, trying to get a rough estimate for what we will need to build phase 1. We will be mostly building cement foundations, open air restaurant with wood supports, bamboo/hard wood walling for bungalows, bamboo and cugon roofing, etc. We are currently in the design/permit stage.

    Just a quick question or two:

    I know that termite/weather damage is a problem when dealing with woods in this climate, does anyone have any information on the best way to seal/treat wood in this climate to extend it’s life? brands, types, etc?

    When working with your floors, I see you used 5″ of cement. How many bags of cement per square meter would be sufficient? or for instance, let’s say we are planning to have to lay 100sq meters of 5″ cement. any estimates?

    Water System: We are VERY remote. I’m talking no paved roads (as of yet). There is a neighboring barangay that has a system set up from a close waterfall, but to tap into them would be quite a project (i’m sure anyway we do it will be). I was wondering if anyone had any experience setting up their own gravity-system (as we might run direct from the waterfall). The well information supplied here was helpful, as this will be one of the more daunting tasks we have ahead of us (am not sure yet how well a dug well will sustain our water needs). Also, water pumps and pressure systems. If anyone has any brand/model info that has worked for them.

    Septic: We will be setting up individual septics for the planned 4 CR’s. Any ideas about approx size? or any pointers?

    Got a lot more questions, but I appreciate anyone who has any pointers or anything! Thanks again for this excellent, detailed account of your experiences. Will keep checking in!


    • Brian,

      We have not used any termite protection beyond not using hardly any wood. Rafters, purlins, and ceiling joists are steel. Ceiling will be Hardiflex. The only wood will be door casings, doors, cabinets, crown moldings and baseboards. While I don’t want damage from termites, borers or rot I am also deeply suspicious regarding the safety of wood preservatives. I am old enough to have lived through the banning of widely used preservatives which are now known to be toxic; penta, creosote, arsenic etc. I have used all of those but wish I had not. My philosophy is that I rather live with wood problems than chemical contamination. Solignum might be an exception. Your style of building with native materials will just have a finite lifespan but things can be easily repaired or rebuilt. My one suggestion is NOT to use coco lumber for framing. We made that mistake with our bahay kubo guest house.

      Using a 1-2-4 concrete mix we used a little more than one bag of cement per square meter.

      We had a fabulous gravity water system on our farm in New York. Our 1824 farmhouse sat at the foot of a wooded hill. There was a stone and concrete spring house about 1/3 mile above the house. There was bubbling white sand at the bottom of spring which put out about 5 to 10 gallon per minute. The water was the best you can imagine. The spring was built in the later part of the 19th century. At first they put in GI pipe. Eventually that rusted out. We put in a whole new spring line 5′ underground, up the mountain side. It was quite a project but we had great water and great pressure without any pump. I don’t know if such water exists in the Philippines. Much water in the Iloilo area is smelly and/or saline. Our well gives enough water and by local standards is good but it’s nothing like what we had on our farm in New York. The U.S.is really blessed with ample water resources. Of course there are exceptions. In New York huge areas (Adirondack and Catskill Preserves) were set aside in the 19th century to protect water resources. Now these reserves are a real treasure.

      Every hardware and building supply store has loads of pumps, from inexpensive Chinese to U.S. and European. We bought a 1/2 HP Pedrollo which is made in Italy. It cost about P6300. It seems to work fine. We’re going to try to avoid using a pressure tank. Our 500 liter storage tank is quite high so we’re hoping we can rely on gravity from our storage tank.

      Our engineer provided plans for a three chamber sealed (not open bottom) septic tank. Perhaps you should consult your municipal engineer regarding local requirements.

      Good luck with your project. It sounds like a genuine adventure — just what 20 year olds should be doing!



  12. Hi Jeff,

    Sorry that I do not have the materials lists and estimates in electronic form. Each of the professionals developed their own lists and compiled them. I only got a paper copy. Maybe sometime I could create a PDF to share.



  13. Bob, thanks what an honor for me, that you use them.

    Right now I have many problems arising on my project, with the tile installer, with the carpenters and masons. I just could go berserk sometimes…


  14. Yannic, Bill and John,

    My foreman and I yield with appreciation and are now using your concrete “chairs”. Perhaps our house can be a case study in fifty years as three bedrooms have the rebar chairs and the rest of the house will have the Yannic concrete ones. I am not over concerned. The house is on about one meter of sand and gravel fill so not too much moisture should be present. What damage may occur would have to eat its way through 3″ of concrete above and then the tile. This is another example of old guys (speaking for myself), perfectionists, building our houses to last an eternity! The Philippines is hard on buildings — earthquakes, floods, typhoons, blistering sun, termites and now rising seas. A pre WW II building is “ancestral” and historic. A excellent German-built house from the 1970s near us was just torn down. The sea was encroaching on it and the land wanted for a resort. I suspect the builder took great pride in his house but it could not survive. The site is now many feet under an infinity swimming pool! But still, we just keep building well, we can’t help it!


    Be sure to see Yannic’s house building blog at http://www.pattayaforum.net/forum/showthread.php?7365-Hausbau-in-Bohol-Philippinen


  15. Yes corrosion does occur underground but it is slower. I had a patio back in the states that I had to tear up and replace. There were sections that was all the way to the ground. When I started tearing it up I had found that some of the wire mesh was in contact with the ground on the bottom side. I some of the concrete job that I have worked on we would just us rocks that would life the wire mesh or rebar so that it would be in the middle.

    Plus I have something that you can add to the concrete, well that is if you can find it there. In the states they are adding fiber to the mix and not useing wire mesh for the floor slabs. Here is a link to Wikipedia.


    Yannic I like your idea of the concrete risers and they are easy to make. Great idea!!!!


  16. Yes worse in some ways, as there is moisture down there.
    It all depend on the oxygen that can go there, as that is essiential to rust as well.
    rebars in floors are to mainly prevent cracking, and in large industrial floors to take heavy load from trucks and point load.

    In a house it not needed, and even a 80 mm concrete will be strong enought to carry load from a normal house load, without rebars, as long as the underground is stable as its done here.

    The moisture membrane is to control the amount of moisture going through the concrete, and mainly its a problem if you put carpets direct on the concrete, as they can hold back moisture, and get very stincky and filled with poisionous mold and mildew, which is dangerous to humans. But i think you will use tiles on top so nothing will pass through, and mold and mildew wont build.

    Good craftsmenship – tradition is to keep away, or keep in place, things you dont like to go other where. So under all circumstancies it is a good idea to do the membrane.

    Regards from John


  17. thanks Bob for posting my concrete spacers, we just used a plastic pipe, cut it in pieces and filled it with concrete.


    In my opinion the steel rebar should not get in contact with the ground otherwise it can rost and can make a swiss cheese out of the concrete over the years. And under this viewpoint the only logical solution for me was to use concrete itself as spacers



    • Yannic, You raise an excellent point! I’m aware that rebar or other steel should not protrude from concrete because it will corrode and break up the concrete. But, I never made the connection with my foreman’s method of supporting the floor rebar. I wonder if corrosion occurs underground in the same way that it does above ground. Maybe worse? Yikes!


    • Yannic,

      It’s so helpful for me to follow your blog because you are ahead of me in your project (except in spending!) so I get a preview of problems and frustrations to be expected. Thanks for your efforts.

      Tigbauan, Iloilo


  18. Looking good. One thing that I will do just like you are and that is making sure that the cement will be mixed the right way and will not have too much water. I have seen some of the mixes at job sites here and the mix is way to wet or the slump is like a 8 to 10. Not sure if you know about slump of concrete but it is used to too tell the workabilty of the concrete but also can be a good use to tell how strong the cured mix will be.

    Again house is looking good and thanks a lot for keeping the post coming. You have a lot of great info about building in the Philippines and is of great help about how things are done here.


    • Bill,

      I’m not really so experienced with concrete but I always realized that a runny mix was a bad thing. At first I erred in forcing them into mixes which were so “bony” they could not get it to fill forms, but now I think we are getting it about right. Bob


  19. Guide rails.
    Another way is to make these bands lower, and then level a steel pipe on top oof them.’
    A 1 1/2″ is fine and this can be moved as they do the floor.
    In this way rails can be prepared for the whole room using a water level stick.



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