The 3 Little Piggies Are Safe in Brazil. The Trouble Is Revamping Place

The secrets of remodeling in Brazil Most people would much rather go to a dentist then get involved with a renovation project. Yet, the reality often places us in situations where taking on a renovation is inevitable. This article is designed to serve as an introduction to the property renovation practices and prices prevalent in Brazil.

We will also look into prices and learn some tips that would allow you to accomplish your goals in time, within budget, and with intact sanity.
Before I went to the United States and had a chance to experience myself the shabbiness and defects of dry wall slap-it-together type of construction prevalent there, I was often amazed by how easily mighty American movie characters were able to punch and crash through the walls.

Of course, the mystery had been quickly resolved during my visit to Houston after a run in with furniture piece in my bedroom that when accidentally moved, pierced the wall as if it were made of butter.
Well, it isn't going to happen with you in Brazil. Brick and mortar construction with hand-plastered walls is not exactly conductive to the super-human tricks practiced in American movies.

While dry wall construction is starting to take off down here, most of the older buildings in Brazil can withstand hurricane-force winds or a all-out brawl involving an American football team inside without incurring substantial structural damage. The three little piggies couldn't have found a safer place to hide then your average older Brazilian apartment building.
Of course, for every benefit there is a price to be paid. The downside of the solid construction practices is the amount of demolition that needs to be done and debris removed in order to implement even small changes to the apartment layout.

Another additional headache comes when electrical wiring or plumbing needs to be accessed or repaired. If you are taking on a renovation in an older apartment, you can rest assured that there will be demolition and ripping out of the old wiring and plumbing involved.
The Cost

Before we launch into discussion of the intricacies of the renovation process in Brazil it would be a good idea to get some notion about the costs of different renovation options.

Let's take a typical Rio de Janeiro apartment of about 100 sq. meters (or 1,060 sq. feet) 2-bedroom/2-bathroom as a benchmark model for the sake of our discussion. The apartment would be about 40 years old with very little maintenance work done on it over the years.

Some of the typical necessary work that has to be done would include:

– Electrical upgrade including re-wiring and relocation of the electrical outlets and switches.

(Many older apartments can have electrical service set as low as 30 amp single-phase)

– Plumbing/sewage overhaul including extending hot water to all bathrooms and the kitchen.

– Retiling kitchen/bathrooms

– Refurbishing cabinets in kitchen and bathrooms

– Window repairs

– Floor repair and refinishing

Note: Many of the older apartments have maid quarters that include an additional small bedroom/bathroom combination that actually turns this apartment into a 3-bedroom/3 bathrooms by other than Brazilian standards.

The overall cost estimates based on the timeline, type of the finishing materials, and a few other factors would be between 300 reais and 1,200 reais per sq. meter or US$ 14 to US$ 55 per square foot.

This price includes labor, material, and finish. In case of the lower end of the price the finishing materials would be very basic, mostly inexpensive ceramic tiles and wall paint without plaster.

The high price renovation could include three-coat wall plastering; marble/granite wall and decorative features in the kitchen and the bathrooms; new kitchen and bathroom cabinets; new hardwood floors for living room and bedrooms; granite floors for kitchen and bathrooms; custom light project with decorative moldings features, etc.

550 reais per sq. meter (US$ 24 per sq. meter) project. Porcelain tile, non-plastered walls, hardwood wallboards. This project required reversal of a bathroom entrance and relocation of the shower and the toilet seat.

Boris Goldshmit is the founder of Lifestyles Brazil, a licensed Real Estate Broker, and a Residential General Contractor. He can be contacted at

© 2007 by Editora Prometheus LTDA


  • Show Comments (16)

  • Ric

    Should say “last thing” instead of lst.

  • Ric

    It depends on the application. I didnÀ‚´t say it, someone in Flying Magazine did, that the meter is too large a unit to use for altitude. So altitudes are still in feet and “flight levels” are based on feet. The lst thing aviation needs is a “point three” added to altitude reporting. But for construction I prefer meters, except that in the states you canÀ‚´t do it because everything is purchased pre-cut and itÀ‚´s all based on inches, 12 inches, and 16 inches. And for feet or eight feet. Trying to work around that system is as unproductive as Americans trying to plan ahead and insert wiring and pipes before plastering, because they think it will save time and money. It doesnÀ‚´t.

  • Ric

    Abe, of this true story, an American had a house built for him in Beach Park. ThatÀ‚´s in CearÀƒ¡. He had the plans drawn up in feet. The Brazilian contractor built the house with the same numbers, but in meters. ItÀ‚´s really big. I have been there, and seen it.

    I like to build using meters. In other areas, I like the feet and inches system better. You will notice that aviation still uses feet.
    Bolts and nuts still come in either system. Carpenters still ask for “prego tres nove”. The attempt to convert everyone to meters has ended up sort of like Esperanto.

  • Boris

    Well, there are no major earthquaques in Brazil, nor volcanoes…
    There are also concrete bricks and cement blocks (as well as dozen of other widely-used options) that are being utilized in different types of construction in Brazil.

    The markup on your brotherÀ‚´s kitchen couldÀ‚´ve been as low as 300% or as high as 1,000% in comparison to the price he couldÀ‚´ve paid down here.

    Besides, I thought that living in the Amazon region one would need a water-cooler not a water heater for your house 😉

    Ditto on the contracts! Make sure that you understand what you are signing and have the guts (and good lawyer) to enforce it.

  • Boris

    Thank you… Rio
    That is pretty impressive for any place, Infinetly more for Brazil. I think you can make it into the Guiness Book of records.

    Most of our projects take about 90 days. The one where we did an 8,000 sq. feet duplex penthouse (complete overhaul including electrical, plumbing, sewage, construction work (we built a 2,200 sq. feet deck with drainage system, a 12 feet inside waterfall…) took 7 months. It is not something that I would want to repeat.

    I am building a house now in the mountains and we stalled because prefeitura has killed the project.

    Was it 45 days of construction?

  • Boris

    Sounds like a horror story. No wonder youÀ‚´d to built by yourself. Meanwhile, check out some of our projects. I am pretty sure that they look nothing like the house youÀ‚´ve built, but we are trying.


  • Boris

    Even if it were true, what does Brazil being sexist have to do with the article?
    Well, Brazilians are hardly Latin. I know more then enough independent, assertive, and charming Brazilieras. They have high standards and by no means fall under your stereotype of “Latinas”. Why express such a sweeping and unfair generalization?

  • Ric

    The Article
    The article is not talking about subways or single family dwellings. HeÀ‚´s talking about renovating apartments.

    The mining industry is highly regulated and they have cave-ins. Never can be sure what dirt is going to do.

    ItÀ‚´s true that the fail-safe margins built into Brazilian buildings are factored lower than in the US and Europe. That may be a result of more litigous societies. But Brazil is catching up.

    The rebar available in the North and NE used to be smooth. We would calculate it routinely at 40,000 lbs per square inch, like the cheapest rebar in the states. Now Brazil sells graded construction steel in almost any format.

    I donÀ‚´t think you are going to see apartments tipping over and resting on the building next door, like I saw once in Santos. Standards and codes are getting tighter.

  • A brazilian

    Something that’s not base 10 is better for you?

  • A brazilian

    Stop speak in ft and start using the correct units, just like the rest of the world.

  • ch.c.

    Ohhh Yessss….Impressive the construction quality in Brazil !!!!!!
    May be NOT SO…after all !
    Please read carefully the following, from a Brazilian Boss :

    “The boss of the underground network in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo has resigned after last month’s station collapse which killed seven people.
    The state governor’s office said Luiz Carlos David had asked to step down and his request had been accepted.

    Work has been suspended on a new metro line for the city after the accident at one of the construction sites in the district of Pinheiros.

    A landslide caused a 30m (100ft) deep hole to open up, swallowing a minibus.

    In his letter of resignation, Mr David described the metro system as “a symbol of the efficiency of public administration” which had “great challenges ahead of it”.

    “For personal reasons, I ask to be relieved of my post irrevocably,” he said.

    Mr David’s resignation came after it emerged that studies carried out by the underground network itself had cast doubt on the quality of the concrete used in the construction works, Brazilian media reported. “

    Laugh….laugh…laugh !!!!!!

    Enjoy your “long lasting construction quality”. Hey Hey !

    And for those not from SP, why dont you look at the photo of the SP gape :

  • Forrest Allen Brown

    proper planning
    you can get a water heater in amazon go to belem

    the hardware stores that are on the same road as the yatch club down by the big church has small ones or will order one from polp norte
    go to brevis get all the ruff cut wood you want , sand and plane it and get fiberglass resign and coat it last for ever ONLY IF THE WOOD IS DRY

    or go back to belem the beer joint across from the Hilton there in a german there i think his name is clous he can get just about amy thing you want or knows where to get it .

    45 days to build . but i also had about 15 days of prep work on my stud walls as i glassed resgin them after cutting , having all the windows & door made and on site , along with rebar , cement sand , nails , metal for roof , foam for roof ,sinks ,tub, water heater , copper tubing , fittings , PVC pipe and SDR 35 pipe, the sewer tank and lines were done before the build .

    yes here granite is very cheep if you send your brasilian wife with the plans to have cut but do evert thing in MM , CM ,M they dont know 1/2″ means

    and the glass walls and doors you can get here if you are in a safe place never in the US would the city give you the green tage to do that
    and have all paper work from city in hand befoer the build as some one will show up to say i have to fine you as you dont have @#$%^&&* or you can pay me i will get it for you .

    fence and big helps keep out most of them , if you want some sort of house built in PB or PE email a
    let him tell you his over 2 year ordeal in the courts after the 6 month build on his house .

  • Ric

    I enjoyed this article. Some houses in the USA used the 6 holed bricks years ago for internal walls. Brazilian construction doesnÀ‚´t factor in the possibility of earthquakes. I was surprised to see that sheetrock is now available in À‚´SÀƒ£o Paulo. Here in the Amazon it wouldnÀ‚´t be a good idea.

    I was in my cousinÀ‚´s house in Long Beach CA and saw his new kitchen, that dark granite with green stripes, sure enough it was Brazilian granite, maybe ten square meters max and the job cost him well over $10,000.

    Where a lot of foreigners mess up is not realizing that if you donÀ‚´t have a contract you donÀ‚´t have a contractor, and if heÀ‚´s not paying the taxes on the workers you can get sued also.

    You canÀ‚´t even buy the Junkers style gas water heaters here, let alone find an apartment with hot water.

  • Forrest Allen Brown

    NOT BAD where are you sp or rio
    How long do they take to build .

    I did mine in 45 days from dirt work to move inn .

    proper planning , and money up front , will go a long way

    dont forget the paper work from the city they want there bite to no help but want the money

  • Forrest Allen Brown

    watch out for bricks
    while in brazil houses are made of bricks , they are clay or mud most are not bake brick like in the us , so if they get wet they melt out
    the cement in brazil is not the 1-2-3- as in the us you can watch and see a bricker turn the cement from gray to almost sand in color saving money he says we call it a thief in the us

    while in the us if you hire a person the do a brick job or cement , roofer they come with tools in hand in brazil they want you to buy them all there tools to do the job then tell you the price of the build , and at the end of the job whitch takes 3 months longet to do

    they build the wall then knock out holes for eletrical , plumbing , wood for walkways , then fill them up with junk and cement , use no to little emt or pvc to chase out the wire and water ,

    if you have seen TV in brazil when a storm hits the tile roofs blow away and all your stuff is gone

    paint is mixed 50 -50 with water , light switches , plugs , bulb holders all are sub standard by us standerds , S/S sinks are less than 0.053 thick ,

    and any one with a bit of brains would know that TV walls are built to break a way

    and the worst thing about building in brazil is when the pay off comes you have just started to pay .

    every one that works for you goes to court and sues you for 2 years pay if not more , after you have had to buy them lunch , pay there buss fair to and from work for the year or so .
    and if you do hire a contractor he has not paid the taxes on his people so they come after you again , they can take you to court 2 times over the same thing then if you are married they can take your wife to court for the same thing , money to a laywer


    3500 SQ FT HOME FOR $18.000 US


  • Abriu

    Brazil is a sexist hellhole
    and so the rest of Latin America. Latinas have no standards.

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