Monday, May 12, 2008

House Maintenance

I don't care where you live, if you own a house, you've signed on for perpetual maintenance. For us, we also have to deal with two recurring problems.

With one exception, our house is well built. After some research, we opted for traditional Panamanian construction and we have not been sorry. In fact, it's turned out even better than we expected.

The one exception has been the roof, which is NOT traditional. That material is correagua, the stereotypical 4' x 8' sheets of galvanized metal you see everywhere in the tropics. In the worst decision we made in construction, we decided not to go with correagua but to use instead a relatively new roofing material made of recycled plastic. It looks like the old-fashoned roofing tiles. It comes in sheets (hojas) that are, I believe, 4' x 2'. It meant we had to have more cariolas set closer together than with the correagua, but they are not as heavy as the standard cariolas (they don't need to be), so cost was probably a wash. The factory is just outside of David and we were captivated with the idea of building "green" as well as supporting the local economy.

There was a house recently built by a young professional Panamanian couple, close to us, that had this roofing material and we talked with them as well as toured the house. They had already gone through one rainy season, and were quite happy with the roof.

So--we went with it.

The first rainy season--perfect. No problema.

Then came the second rainy season--and we had our first leaks.

At this point, after 3 years of dealing with this stuff, I think the problem is the winds here, which are ferocious especially in January and part of February. I think that they're causing the roofing hojas to move and abrade against the screws, creating minute channels. Plus our builder made a few bad screw installations.

I finally resorted to using silicon gasket-type sealer working from the inside of the house. It is an awful job, since given the pitch of the roof, I have to get up on our 12 ft stepladder and work very close to the ceiling. Let me tell you, that's a hot, dirty job. But it did the trick for all but the worst leaks.

By "worst", I don't mean a leak so bad we have a bucket underneath (although we have had two instances of that but easily fixed). I mean leaks that wind up causing small areas of minor splashes on the floor. Not serious enough to be really dangerous, but annoying and inconvenient.

A month ago, I had our all-purpose construction worker, who is very good, fill the worst of the holes from on top of the roof and also seal as best as he could around the screw heads where they met the roofing material. I also decided to have him paint the screw heads with a siliconized paint that a friend told us stopped the leaks in her roof (she has the same roofing material).

Don't waste your time with that one. Not only didn't it work, but also by moving around on the roof, given the flexible nature of the roofing material, the pressure broke some of the silicon seals on the inside of the house, ones I'd already successfully repaired. The rainy season has started, we've even had aquaseros, and the situation was very clear. A half dozen "new" leaks.

Panamá is not for the faint-hearted.

So this morning, we once again struggled with our heavy, awkward, absolutely essential 12 ft stepladder, and once again rivers of sweat poured down my face as I manipulated the d____d gun, working around electrical tuberias and the cariolas to seal the holes.

If my experience holds true, I'll have managed to seal all but one, and I'll see two more that I need to fix next time. And there will always be a next time.

Oh, well. Keeps me from being bored.


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