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Low cost building technologies the way to go

Updated Thu, March 11th 2010 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Pocyline Karani

Building technologies expected to revolutionise the construction of low cost housing are coming up, with new breakthroughs now offering up to 60 per cent cost reduction.

Even as the building industry grows, the dire need for housing especially at the lower end of the spectrum persists. It is paradoxical that the country is seeing a housing revolution of sorts because if you look closely, most of what is being built is inaccessible for the lower income masses, resulting in the bitter truth that every six out of ten Kenyans live in a slum.

"You do not ignore these statistics. Any right thinking and strategic business mind knows that great potential lies here and already this segment has captured the interest of many investors with venture capital organisations joining in," says Moses Kiroko of Makiga Engineering Services limited.

Low cost technologies

Kiroko stresses that the future of Kenya’s real estate depends on the ability to introduce affordable technologies whose investments will avail affordable homes to the larger underserved population.

Investigations reveal that permanent walling and roofing materials are what many organisations selling low-cost building technologies are focussing on. From stabilised soil blocks, prefab materials to structural insulated panel technologies, all lay focus to addressing the ever-growing building shortfall.

"The cost of building is not set to take a downward spiral anytime in the future. It is with this background coupled with the increasing demand for affordable housing that there is a sudden interest in developing technologies that will avail decent homes for the lower income cadre," adds Kiroko.

Makiga Engineering Services, a locally owned company that manufactures a range of machinery used to make walling, roofing and now the new concrete crusher, is one of the few players in this market segment.

Two of Makiga’s interesting ecological friendly products are radically altering the building landscape especially in parts of the country where quarry stones are unavailable. These are the Soil Block Press (SBPs), which produce Stabilised Soil Blocks (SSB) and the micro concrete roofing tile unit

A complete house

"The SBP makes building blocks using a mixture of soil from site and cement. It has further been improved to give it the ability to produce straight interlocking bricks of different sizes and curved interlocking blocks used to build circular structures such as water and sanitation systems," says Kiroko.

Affordable roofing

The interlocking building blocks eliminate mortar used to bond building in traditional buildings. On the other hand, the micro concrete roofing tile unit aids in the production of affordable roofing also made from basic materials such as sand, cement and sisal fibre. Currently, these machines are manually operated but Makiga is looking at the possibility of motorising them while ensuring the cost of operating remains significantly low to maintain the target market.

This is expected to rival South Africa’s motorised hydrofoam, which costs US$ 33,000 (Sh2.5 million), "...far beyond the reach of many middle income earners and whose cost of operating and maintenance are equally high," said Dr Solomon Mwangi, Managing Director of Construction Management and Consulting Services (Comac).

A Ministry of Housing steered project in Mukurueni using Hydrofoam technology has proven costly to run and hence an ineffective ecological technology to address the challenge of housing the poor. In comparison to Hydrofoam, the manually operated SBP retails for Sh75,000-90,000, making it 30 times cheaper hence is within reach of many. It employs four to six people and has a capacity to produce 400 blocks a day.

"With one Hydrofoam, one is able to acquire 30 SBPs, which will create 180 jobs, making it ideal to address the issue of poverty," says Dr Mwangi.

According to a research by three researchers at the Department of Urban and Environmental Engineering, Kyoto University, Japan, to determine the feasibility of the SSB, it was found that the technology could reduce housing cost, especially using pozzolan admixture. Pozzolan is a finely-divided material that reacts with calcium hydroxide and alkalis to form compounds possessing cement properties. Enormous amounts of this raw material have been found in Rift Valley and can be extracted for commercial purposes.

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