Building your own home in Belize is cheaper than buying, especially if you act as your own general contractor. As a broad construction rule, you will get more for your housing dollar in Belize by building rather than buying a completed home. You’ll often get a lot more home. However, you’ll also get a lot more headaches. If you can put up with construction hassles you can build a house with details such as built-in furniture, exotic tropical hardwood floors and ceilings and custom-made mahogany or rosewood cabinets that in the U.S. would be found only in the homes of multimillionaires.
Another option for the expat building in Belize is to purchase an abandoned or half-built home at one of the government or bank auctions, and then finish construction yourself. This is not recommended unless you have expertise in buying foreclosed homes.
The secret to building your own home in Belize on, or under budget, is to find the right architect and contractor. The best way to do this is to take your time and spend time researching contractors. More often than not, you can find the right contractor by word of mouth. And the best way is to talk with locals and expats who have successfully built their home here and listen to who they recommend.
Home Construction Costs In Belize
Construction costs vary depending on factors such as the cost of transportation of materials to the building site, the terrain and quality of work. Construction costs are higher on the coast and cayes, because of the need to use hurricane resistant construction. In the case of the cayes, it costs extra to transport building materials out to the islands by barge or boat. Building costs also are higher in southern than in northern Belize. Inexpensive building materials are more readily available in northern Belize since some can be imported from Chetumal, Mexico.
Labor in Belize is less expensive than in the U.S., with carpenters and masons typically getting around US$25. to $40. a day or less. Unskilled construction workers may only get US$15. to $20. a day.
While labor may be cheap, construction jobs usually take longer in Belize. Workers may be skilled at construction techniques common in Belize but may lack knowledge about building in the American or European style. Outside of urban areas, it is difficult to find qualified craftspeople such as electricians and plumbers. Building materials vary but are mostly no cheaper than in the U.S., except for locally produced items such as tropical hardwoods.
Overall, building costs in Belize range from around US$30. to $150. a square foot, not including the cost of land. At the low end, that would be a simple Belizean-style concrete block bungalow house or frame construction, and at the top it would be high-quality concrete construction with hardwood floors and trim and with many custom details such as hand-made doors and windows. Most commonly, you’d expect to pay about US$50. to $90. a square foot, so a 1,500 square foot home would cost US$75,000 to $135,000 to build, not including land. That’s about one-half of typical costs for construction in the U.S.
Regardless of where or how you build, you need to be on the site to manage and oversee the construction, or pay someone you trust very well to do that for you. Expect that the process will take roughly twice as long as you expect. Eight to twelve months, or longer, to build a house is not uncommon.
Especially in rural areas or on the coast, a lot of the cost of building is underground – foundations, pilings, cisterns, septic tanks. You may need two or more septic tanks for a large house. Cisterns for your drinking water cost roughly US $.50 cents to $1. a gallon to construct. But it is cheaper and faster to simply buy poly or steel water tanks and drop them on a concrete pad.
Types Of Home Construction Suitable For the Tropics
In areas at risk of hurricanes and tropical storms, you’ll have to put in deep pilings and raise the first floor above ground level to avoid water damage. Depending on the area and the depth and type of pilings, these can cost as much as US$3,000 to $5,000 each. A medical doctor who recently finished his house in the Belize City area told us his foundation and pilings ran him U.S. $100,000. – or a third of the cost of his modest home, and this did not include the cost of the lot. Belize City is an extreme example as the terrain is swampy with a peat moss underlay.
Reinforced concrete is the preferred construction for house foundation slabs and walls, topped off with industrial galvalume roofing resting on pressure-treated wood, or metal beams. Hurricane straps and rafter ties are inexpensive protection against having the roof blown away. For utmost security, a concrete roof is preferred. But this can be expensive because of the load on walls and foundations, and extra attention must be given to the aesthetics of your property. Reputable insurance companies in Belize no longer cover traditional thatch construction, and some also will not cover wood frame construction if the house is on the coast or cayes. Inland, environmentally friendly earthbag home construction is an option.
Insurance if available at all will vary with the construction: Wood frame construction on coastal or island areas will incur annual premiums of up to 2 to 5% of value, whereas steel construction will see premiums of around 1.25% of value and reinforced concrete about 1.5% or less.
In the past, the only building codes in Belize have been those imposed by local municipalities. Rural areas had no codes at all, and builders often ignored any existing codes. The country has developed a national building code calling for nation-wide standards of construction. By law, only registered architects and engineers in Belize are allowed to submit plans to the Central Building Authority (CBA) for approval. If you bring your own plans from outside Belize, you will still need to engage a local architect to review, modify and submit this plan to the CBA. Hiring a reputable Belize architect makes a lot of sense as these professionals can design home and buildings to fit the local environment and save you a lot of money by incorporating green home features with sustainable and environmentally friendly technology.
Article by M.A. Romero Chief Information Officer (RET) and Luis Ruiz, B. Arch, MSc. LAR Consulting Architects.