The Construction of Living in the Philippines

I can’t take all the credit. It was my wife’s idea over 7 years ago to purchase a double lot in the barangay (village) where her sister lives. It was also her decision to begin building shortly thereafter. So for several years, we have scrounged and pinched, sending whatever we could afford to her sister, who along with her entrepreneur of a husband, overseen the entire project of the construction of our home. When we arrived here in April 2012 for a visit, it was necessary for us to evaluate exactly where our construction project was in relation to our time-table for retirement. We had held up the construction until our arrival so we could asses what could and shouldn’t be done until we arrived permanently. We found the house at a good point where we could have just a few things done until we got back. As our good fortune would have it, we arrived for our permanent stay just over 1 year later.

Large kitchen area  for cooking and enjoying company.
Two separate kitchen areas for food prep/cooking and cleaning dishes.

For a long time, the asawa (wife) felt that the house should be completely finished so that we could occupy it as soon as we arrived. After getting here, she realized that my entire argument, about waiting to finish the house after we arrive here, had much validity. Although the Filipino can be very talented, ingenious, and be of hard-working character, their concepts of western living standards are literally non-existent. Take for example the standard Filipino kitchen – one small sink, 3 cabinets, and about 3 liner feet (total) of counter space. And a stove? No…more like a two burner gas-fired unit that sits atop the counter which eats up the counter space, leaving not much space to even slice a mango. Then take color schemes into consideration. The Philippines is full of wild, vibrant colors, much like that found in Mexico, but of a differing species of rainbow. Contrasting colors, flowering prints, and eclectic collections of furniture and everyday living items are the norm here.

CR design not left to chance!
CR design not left to chance!

Our personal tastes have been culminated from nearly 3 decades of living in the U.S. and subscribing to cable television ideas of earth tones, neutrality and the idea of comfort and coordination. We did not want to leave all that to the imagination of the Filipino contractor. So, as we found the house at a good stopping point, we put any continued interior construction on hold until our return.

Once we returned here permanently, we were able to make a quick assessment of plumbing changes needed to accommodate our needs for cold & HOT running water, and making sure drainage and septic systems were functionally efficient. I insisted on cutoff valves wherever there was a water supply line and an additional cutoff valve conveniently located outside the back door for emergencies. The idea of a “wet” comfort room (bathroom) never really appealed to me and we made sure we had complete separation of toilet and shower, with proper floor drains located where needed. We also added another electrical supply box as the one initially installed would not sufficiently carry more than a 50 amp load. Not good when we planned on having multiple air conditioning units, refrigerator, stove, and a good many outlets to plug in all our modern gadgets. All in all, we upgraded the system to support 150 amps. I should also note that homes here are not equipped as electrically grounded so we had to make some modifications for grounding our water heater systems and range. Also, you may notice in the kitchen view photo above, the location of the small circuit breaker panel above the counter…right where we planned to locate upper wall cabinets. These are the type conflicts and problems you want to avoid with careful planning. When building from afar, you should expect to find a few WTF’s or three when you do show up.  I cannot stress enough that communication is more than paramount!

Interior designed to be functional.
Interior designed to be functional.

When it comes to decorating, well I’ll just say this….you should wait to choose flooring, back-splash, and comfort room materials, tiles and patterns to your liking, otherwise you are leaving your sanity to chance. You also have kitchen design which I touched on earlier. In our case, we communicated early on that we would have a western styled kitchen with plenty of cabinets and granite counter tops (because I can’t stand tiled counter tops), and in our case, we installed a second sink. Here in the Philippines it seems someone is always cooking and someone is always eating or washing dishes (all at the same time). Hence the reason for the two sinks. Hot water…yes! For each of the two comfort room showers and the kitchen. How anyone can wash greasy dirty dishes in cold water is beyond my comprehension.

Main cooking area.
Main cooking area.

Six weeks after arriving to the Philippines, we found ourselves moving in the day before our household goods shipment arrived. It is a good thing we did what we did or we would still be in a state of disarray, making change-mods (do overs for you non-construction types) to everything while trying to settle in. That can become costly and would be difficult and very trying for most anyone. Except for the exterior colors of the house (sister-in-law’s pick, not ours!), we are happy that we were able to have a hand in all other decorative touches, before we settled in.

Front Terrace and Motorcycle Port!
Front Terrace and Motorcycle Port!

So, if you plan on retiring to the Philippines and want to build a home here, take it slow. There are no strict requirements for timely construction of a residence here, at least in most areas. I can suggest that if you know someone you can trust (a lot), it is never too early to begin building your dream home before you actually get here. Many have done it. The biggest challenge of long distance building will be conveying your ideas and plans to your construction crew, and the literal implementation of those instructions. Most times they will not understand the concepts of why we do things in western fashion, unless you have a seasoned contractor who has previously built homes for foreigners. Now after moving in, my wife’s family better understands our needs and why we made many of the decisions that we made. If you plan on arriving beforehand, you should rent somewhere to learn the lay of the land. Look around and find your spot. Build at the pace your budget allows and never get in a hurry. You might just find that if you plan well and begin early enough, you may wind up with a comfortable home and no house payment. That is a such a wonderful thing on a fixed-income retirement. Now, if I can only get someone to understand what a front door sweep is!

My next Construction article will discuss the actual construction of our compound.


17 thoughts on “The Construction of Living in the Philippines

  1. Awesome post……
    You and your wife are so smart, congratulations, myself and any other person that we are in the process of building a house in PI appreciate all this info and ideas…… well done congratulations

  2. Well Tavo, as it turns out I’m not all the brains that you give me credit for. It seems I forgot to run the cable for cable TV and internet! Oh well. At least that isn’t a great big headache and is one I can figure out from any beach location! 😉

  3. Randy,
    Sounds like you did a great job of planning. We are still deciding exactly where we want to live. We are free to live just about anywhere except Metro Manila lol as she doesn’t have any close family. We will build if we can’t find the house we like already built. We are fortunate to not have budget constraints that would affect our choice of house. Take care and have fun like we are.

  4. very good article. I am really into those DIY shows, remodeling and building so I can really relate with your building project. I agree, the typical kitchen in the Philippines would not be sufficient for any of us Westerners. three feet of work area is not counter space just doesnt cut it and no oven? How can anyone prepare proper meals without one?

  5. I see no need for hot water in the Philippines. I have been here for over 3 years now and just have no need for it. Same goes for air con. A fan will do.

  6. Bibian added an extension on the house in Palompon and drew it om a yellow legal pad. They built it exactly to her specifications. Amazing.

  7. Excellent post Randy…. thanks for these helpful ideas in the case anyone wants to build here. Maybe someday I will follow your dream to be one of my own.

  8. Gary, as many of us know, during the rainy season the water can get downright cold. Maybe the water in Mindanao is warmer because you are closer to the equator! lol. As far as aircon goes, I’ll bet anything you are among the minority.

  9. I don’t understand it either Donna (small kitchens). I’m sure those small kitchens are a function of affordability. We spent good money for a 4 burner gas stove with electric rotisserie and gas oven. My wife loves to bake meals because it is healthier. I say if you can afford the luxury of a nice stove, go for it and don’t cut corners on kitchen size. Let the baking begin!

  10. Hi PapaDuck, sorry we missed connecting up during our travels. Are you still in the RP or have you returned already? I have seen many homes that look like they have been partially constructed and abandoned but upon further investigation, many are owned by foreigners or OFW’s (overseas Filipino workers) and they are just going at it at their own affordable speed. Occasionally though you can find one that can be purchased “as is” that can still be accommodated with western features. The cheapest way is to build yourself, take your time and get it right. It just may be the last home you ever build! Having fun!

  11. After six years of research, planning, and heart set on moving to Ecuador, I am starting over when it comes to the Philippines. I have lots to learn, but my experience in the building, developing, appraising, and sales area of real estate, I want to jump into the fray. Bless all of you.

  12. Color coordination? You can’t expect that in the usual / average homes in the country. They’re for those who can truly afford for interior designers–which is not a known profession, too. 😉

  13. Sorry for such a long delay in responding to your comment, as it seems a Super Typhoon got in the way. You commented on color coordination which is kind of funny as most of our color coordinating was by pure luck. It’s much easier I suppose when you stick with pastel colors. The Philippine color scheme, while not as vibrant as that found in Mexico, is due in large part to limited paint color selection at the local stores. Try to find an Acrylic Latex Enamel here and people will think you are confused or crazy. lol

  14. I am delighted that you are okay. Sure would love to talk with you.

  15. Thanks, but I’m almost sure you are the one that got lost! lol. Haven’t heard from you since your wedding…oh, I got it…sorry! he he What have you been up to these last couple months? fb me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.