Saturday, March 13, 2010

Getting a Ceiling

Work has finally begun on our ceiling!

In Panama, most houses have a zinc metal roof. It is common that the roof is also the ceiling - it just depends which surface you're looking at. You will see in the shots Les has taken that the metal beams are excellent real estate for bugs and geckos to make a comfortable living. I wish them well, but do not appreciate the mess they make. Assorted insect wings and legs drifting down, along with the inevitable gecko droppings, make for increased demands on the housekeeper. The housekeeper would rather be birding than cleaning up after the indoor wildlife. During the frequent, pounding rainstorms, the noise level inside the house is extreme. Unless we are in the same room, we cannot hear each other speak during these deluges. Also, the cones and twigs from the pine trees, and even the needles to a lesser extent, make a surprising amount of noise when the wind blows them onto the metal roof. For all these reasons as well as the aesthetics, finishing off the ceiling has been a priority for us since before the house was even ours.

The contractor we chose, Adam Haney, has been busier than a cat on a hot zinc roof since we met him last November. He is originally from Canada, so he speaks English, which is of major importance to us right now. Adam lives in Cerro Azul full time, and in January he married Katiana, a native Panamanian. He managed to fit our project into his schedule in March - not as soon as we would have preferred, but it was the best he could do.

In this humid climate, drywall is an option, but a very bad one. We saw one house where the ceiling had been finished with drywall, and each 4' x 8' section had begun to sag with the moisture they had absorbed. The sagging made for a very artistic and attractive appearance, with the slight curving undulations all the way across the ceiling. However - Adam told us that there was undoubtedly nasty black mold growing on the inside, and it would eventually begin falling down, and would be a huge and disgusting mess to clean up before doing things the right way.

So the preferred material is cement board, and the brand we see around is Plycem. It stands up to the humidity, unlike drywall.

After he took measurements of the ceiling, and after a few days of not being able to find a crew to do the work (for 3 days running, the excuse they all used was that it was the first day of school), Adam brought a couple of guys over on March 11th to begin the job. As Les commented, we are all at the mercy of men who do not want to work. We hear that offering higher wages, bonuses, or anything else is of no use - it does not get the desired results.

First step was cleaning the mold and mildew off. One worker used a spray bottle of chlorine bleach to do this. He wore no goggles, mouth, nose or head protection; he just stood on a ladder and started spraying. Mist and drops went everywhere, and even hours after he was done for the day, there were drips falling onto the tile floors or anything else below the beams where the bleach collects. I was not watching the process, but Les said the worker did not wipe the bleach off the ceiling. He would spray a section, climb down, move the ladder, and repeat. I mopped & wiped it up when he left, but there was more to clean up the next morning. The bleaching guy did not show up on Day 2, so we still have only about 50% of the ceiling cleaned. The other guy, Angel, cuts short aluminum pieces to fit between the beams and longer sections to go along the edges of the rooms, where they will attach the cement board. He also sawed several rectangular vent holes through the concrete walls where they meet the zinc ceiling. That process throws up the major dust, also chunks of concrete from pea-sized to almost quail egg-sized. He will have to cut more of these vent holes, so the worst is far from over, although it has begun.

To be continued . . . . .


  1. So where does one find good help there? Find non-natives or what? Interesting story, please keep going with it and I will help you drink a toast when the project is finally completed.

  2. I think this is just the way things are in Panama. It is very difficult for non-Panamanians to get a job (legally) here, so not many non-native workers of this sort, and they would probably charge U.S.A. or European rates. Everything takes a long time. Plans are always changing. Each morning we get up and find out what our projects will be for the day - fending off the leaf-cutters, driving down the hill for supplies or tools for the gardener, repairing this 'n that. We love retirement.