Good Homes volunteer project

Good Homes volunteer projectGood Homes is a great volunteer project for someone, or a small group, with the gumption to raise serious money and do some serious good in Guatemala.

Small trees cut from the jungle with a machete, lashed together and covered with thick black plastic sheets are most Guatemalans’ first home. Sheet metal roofs are an upgrade that usually comes later. Sheet metal roofs in a  tropical rain forest environment is a noisy, rusty, higher carbon impact choice and not something we support.

We’re happy to share complete plans, once your Good Homes project has been properly funded with a minimum Good Homes volunteer project donation of $5,900. Following is a walk-through and rough floor plan of a typical Good Homes volunteer project.

We don’t use sheet metal. We use manaca palm for the roof. A good manaca roof will last just as long as a cheap, noisy, huge-carbon-footprint, sheet metal roof. More than that, on a hot day a home with a good manaca roof can be 20 degrees(F) cooler than any sheet metal roof. Manaca is sustainable and is harvested within a few miles of the construction site.

The manaca roof is nailed, tied and woven onto a lashed raw-timber support system anchored to 16 posts. All the wood needed for roof support system is also sustainable and is ethically harvested within a few miles of the construction site.

Guatemala is known for earthquakes (terramotos in Spanish) and volcanoes. While we don’t have many big terramotos here in Peten, it’s good to know that when the ‘big one’ comes, there is no more sustainable way to build an earthquake-tolerant roof than with manaca and raw timber. As well, all block/concrete is properly steel-reinforced. We don’t want our walls falling down on anyone – a common cause of earthquake fatalities here in Guatemala.

Under the manaca roof sits a raised-area bordered with local rocks and concrete – the vast majority living area floor is gravel. Entering the home on optional raised hexagon-shaped concrete/rock stepping stones, to the right is the cooking area. An additional upgrade is a lorena wood-stove and a concrete prep counter. To the right is the washing area which comes with a hand-crafted double pila.

Lorena stoves are the best fit for our communities. The people in our communities simply do not want to hassle with rocket stoves and their required smaller bits of wood. Lorena stoves are good…

– reducing indoor carbon by 95%, compared to pollotons (3-rock stoves)
– efficiency increase of more than 50%, compared to pollotons (3-rock stoves)

The double-pila enables two people to use the pila at the same time, washing clothes and doing dishes – for example. More importantly the double pila provides the family with a much greater water storage capacity. Water supply infra-structure is undependable. This larger double-pila gives the family a bit of stored water without the need to purchase a huge black plastic tank – one less barrel of oil :)

Continuing on into the structure, we walk across the hexagonal stepping stones to the top of the septic tank. This is where the black water is processed. Inside the septic tank sewage is separated, aerobically treated and turned into fertilizer for surrounding trees. The top of the septic tank doubles as a cool concrete floor for a dining/family/play-area – no stink, guaranteed.

Continuing on, we enter the inner hexagonal block/cement steel home. We enter through a simple wood-framed wooden door. All wood is locally sourced and finished. For a small upgrade, the inner area is divided into 4 bedrooms separated by modular plywood walls. Each bedroom has its own window and can include a raised concrete futon/sleeping platform and shelving. The raised concrete sleeping platforms provides additional thermal mass to keep the inner structure cool for a good night’s sleep in the hot/humid climate of Peten Guatemala.

The top of the hexagonal structure is left open to the manaca roof above. As an upgrade, we can fit the hexagonal structure to later accommodate a second-level inner concrete roof. The concrete roof serves as additional thermal mass and is designed to accommodate rain-water collection and storage. Rainwater is easily collected from the manaca roof with solar electric pumps moving the water to holding tanks above the main hexagonal structure.

Windows contain no glass. We use wood frames with screens and wooden shutters that can be closed for additional security and opened to provide light and additional ventilation.

At the back of the house one door opens to a corridor, one side leads to the bathroom and the other the shower. All grey and black water is properly treated and recycled to the property, as it should be :) The exterior walls for the shower and bath use the same plywood as the optional bedroom divider walls.

Upgrade Options…

+$75 … concrete bed  platform (each)
+$320 … double pila (+water storage)
+$275 … stepping stones
+$350 … wood shelving + divider walls
+$375 … lorena wood stove and concrete counter
+$390 … passive solar water heater + storage tank
+$525 … additional 3,000 liters of water storage tank/s
+$2400 … concrete roof + storage area / more thermal mass = cooler home
+$3000 … off-grid solar power – municipal electricity is expensive+unreliable – energy independence is a good thing :)

Note – while normal first-world ‘Western’ standards may consider some of the above options necessities, that’s not the case here in Guatemala. Our families are happy with any home they receive.

Good Homes Volunteer Project


Frequently Asked Questions

How big is the home?

Large enough for a typical Guatemalan family of 8. Guatemalans usually sleep two-to-a-bed. Total square footage, total live-able area covered by the manaca roof, is ~750 square feet. So there are no misunderstandings, this liveable-area measurement is not written in stone. Some families’ lots are simply not large enough to accommodate such a structure and plans will be scaled accordingly to meet the needs of the family’s lot.

Can you tell me more about the family who’ll receive my home?

Absolutely. The next family to receive a home is Doña Tonita (34), her husband Domingo (48) and their 7 kids: Wuendy 15, Carla 14, Amilcar 12, Clara 10, Omar 7, Abigail 6 and Joel 3. Each morning Doña Tonita collects milk from a neighbor’s cow, loads it into old/recycled corn oil jugs, slides the jugs onto the handlebars of her rusty old bike and  sells it door to door in the nearby barrios. Domingo rides his old beat motorcycle to sell more milk and also goes to the jungle to pile it high with firewood he cuts with his razor sharp machete. Weundy usually stays home to care for the younger children while Doña Tonita and Domingo are out working. Doña Tonita and her family live in a leaky shack of old boards, covered with rusted sheet metal and a dirt floor. Doña Tonita and has a huge heart and works hard to keep her family afloat. We’re honored to support Doña Tonita with her new sustainable home – she’s an amazing woman.

Domingo (Tonita's husband) enjoying his hamaca and kids
Domingo (Tonita’s husband) enjoying his hamaca and kids
Dona Tonita and her family
Dona Tonita and her family


Dona Tonita's current wood-stove and kitchen area
Dona Tonita’s current wood-stove and kitchen area

Doña Tonita is currently cooking on a three-rock stove and does her washing in the good-half of a broken pila. Should you decide to participate in this project, please do all you can to also fund at least two upgrades, a new double pila and the lorena stove. Doña Tonita really needs these two ‘appliances’.

Are contractors/participants/volunteers who assist with home construction paid for their work?

Yes and no. We contract a local albañile, carpenter+mason+manaca expert, as an onsite supervisor/trainer/worker. The assigned albañile supervises all construction efforts. The albañile is paid a fare-fee for their contribution. The albañile will usually have at least one ayudante (‘helper’ in Spanish), most usually an apprentice albañile, who assists with all aspects of the construction. The ayudante is paid a fair daily-wage for their contribution. In addition to the albañile and his ayudante or three, the receiving family will most likely be assisting with construction as well at other members of the community and other Buenas Cosas participants and volunteers.

What exactly does the $5900 volunteer project donation cover?
The family will be given a sustainable home. We encourage our volunteers participating in this project to include the following upgrades: double-pila, lorena stove and hexagonal stepping stones. Upgrades, or not, the family receiving your home will be very grateful.

How long  does it take to build a Good Home?
Time to completion is highly dependent on how the weather cooperates with our construction activities. On average, we budget 500 hours and 4-6 weeks for completion of each Good Home.

Can you supply a breakdown of costs?
Yes – here’s a sample budget.

Will I receive a breakdown once the home is completed?
No – this is a turnkey project. Your Good Home is guaranteed to be delivered for $5900. The costs for this project are very much standard pricing here in Peten. Again, here’s a sample budget. Once the home has been delivered, any excess funds that might remain go directly to Buenas Cosas – supporting the good things we do here in Guatemala.

Do you require a deposit for the Volunteer Project?
Yes, we require $1,500 minimum 3 months prior and the remainder 1 month prior to your arrival. Why? Usually the receiving family needs time to construct a small, temporary home off to one side of the construction site and move over a bit so we can begin site preparation. We also need to cut the timbers at least one full-moon prior and assemble all materials at the construction site, before you arrive. This helps us control costs, maximize your volunteer experience and properly manage expectations on all sides. Yes, we’ll be posting updates to our site so you can see the preparations prior to your arrival.

May I see a Good Home?
Absolutely. Here’s what we started with…

And here’s some previous Buenas Cosas Blog posts from the construction process…

Before, during and after…

Angelica and Volunteer Sharon visiting the house in Belen (2) House in Belen (13)

House in Belen (11)  House-DONE (1)  House-DONE (2)  House in Belen (2)    House in Belen (6)    Stove (1)  Stove (2)

Where do I make the $1,500 Good Home volunteer project donation deposit?
Wire funds to our bank account or use the PayPal button below…


Good Homes Volunteer Project
deposit donation

Good Homes volunteer project (deposit)

Just you? Total volunteers?

Or, having read the FAQ, donate the entire $5900 Good Homes volunteer project donation with the PayPal bit below…

Good Homes Volunteer Project

Good Homes volunteer project

Just you? Total volunteers?

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