UN-Habitat ‘Tiny’ House: Solution to Kenya’s housing problems?

Sustainable living unit introduced in Kenya to ensure for affordable housing and combating of climatic change. [Josphat Thiong'o,Standard]

The UN-Habitat has unveiled a house prototype for affordable green building aimed at addressing housing shortage in densely populated urban areas. Dubbed Tiny House, the model is expected to address the problem of affordable housing in Kenya and tackle climate change.

Unlike conventional houses, the ‘tiny’ house occupies smaller space and makes maximum use of vertical space. It is built complete with a sitting room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms. It is constructed using a mixture of recyclable materials such as the tetra pack plastic for the walls and steel to ensure longevity.

UN-Habitat Urban Energy Unit chief Vincent Kitio says the house is durable because the tetra-pack panels used in the body are made from recycled milk packets, which makes it waterproof and delays the spread of fire.

“The idea behind these green buildings is to show that it is possible to combine sustainability and address affordable housing. We are addressing the housing need using these types of houses and at the same time the planet’s biggest challenge: climatic change,” says Kitio.

He said the house is designed to use passive building elements to allow for natural ventilation.

Sustainable living unit introduced in Kenya to ensure for affordable housing and combating of climatic change. [Josphat Thiong'o,Standard]

The house has fewer windows compared to the conventional house to reduce heat gain. To allow for natural lighting, it has big solar panels that allow light to pass through during the day and at night. Energy generated during the day is used for lighting.

It also has a solar heating water system on the roof and a solar charging facility for an electric vehicle. It further boasts a two-kilowatt house solar panel system that allows you to cook your food using a special stove called the ‘indoctral cook stove’, available in the supermarkets.

For family of five

The house, designed to hold a family of five, has a small mezzanine. Living spaces have also been optimised. For example, below the staircase, there is a bed that can accommodate one person.

Additionally, it comes with a biogas system where the toilet is connected to the special biogas system, which goes for Sh65,000. The system is connected to the house and receives waste from the toilet, organic waste from the kitchen and produces gas used for cooking.

“When building such a house, one can use other materials and include a foundation as long as one takes the design into account,” says Kitio.

The placement of the house also matters because the house is oriented in an East to West position. This controls solar radiation, thereby controlling heat gain.

Rain water harvesting, which could soon be mandatory in the building code, is also a key component of the house. It is fitted with gutters and pipes that lead the water to a storage tank. “Whenever it rains in Nairobi, it floods because there are no ways to adequately harvest rainwater to be used for other purposes. But this house takes that into consideration,” says Kitio.

The design also gives room for aquaponics or vertical farming.

The garden can grow up to 200 leafy vegetables such as kales (sukumawiki), Chinese cabbage, lettuce, basil, spinach, chives, herbs, and watercress. 

Kitio says it costs between Sh1.8 million and Sh2.2 million to set up the house. “The Government of Kenya defines an affordable house to be between the range of Sh600,000 and Sh3 million. This house is within that range...,” he says.

He says the tiny house model is part of addressing affording housing under the Big Four agenda.

Giving it away

The UN is not building the houses so that they can be sold but is sharing the idea and the model to anyone willing, including the government. Kitio says there have been 1,000 visitors to the tiny house, located at the UN office in Gigiri, Nairobi. It has also caught the interest of property developers.

“There are contractors who have approached us and they would want to develop the houses and we have contacts of people that can design them and are willing to share. But again, being a UN programme, the designs are open source and they will very soon be on our website for people to download. We want to promote this type of sustainable living model in the tropics,” he says.

Construction of such a house requires about Sh800,000 on building materials, Sh300,000 on the solar system, Sh200,000 for vertical farming, Sh65,000 for the biogas system, Sh85,000 for the solar hot water system and Sh400,000 on labour. You will also need to fork out an additional Sh390,000 for the charging facility.

Kitio says the design of the house can be adjusted, depending on the wishes of the client. If you don’t want it to go up, you can build it on the ground but the idea is to reduce the footprint since the target market is cities where it is compact and space is limited. “The building is designed to allow for upward adjustments, meaning you can add a floor or three floors,” he says.

Kitio says the cost of the house as well as that of technologies such as the solar technologies are the biggest challenge in the uptake of the housing model. “The cost of the building is a huge challenge and we are still looking into how to bring it down so that it’s affordable to most people,” he says.