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Unveiling NHC’s modular factory

By - | Published Thu, January 3rd 2013 at 00:00, Updated January 2nd 2013 at 22:42 GMT +3

The National Housing Corporation promises to fulfil its mandate to provide Kenyans with affordable housing with the opening of its new EPS factory, writes Lydia Limbe

According to the 1999 census, it was estimated that by 2012, Kenya’s population would be 65 per cent young people of 25 years and below.

This, of course, pauses a challenge in the housing sector, and if you look at the last couple of decades, the supply of housing does not meet the demand.

The National Housing Corporation (NHC), which is a parastatal under the Ministry of Housing, is charged with the mandate of providing Kenyans with affordable and decent housing. This is an organisation that was commissioned to begin operations since Kenya got independence.

However, for the last 49 years, the demand for housing in Kenya has been approximately 200,000 per year, and NHC has only been able to put up about 50,000 since its inception.

Private developers have been trying to bridge this evident gap, but it’s still not able to meet the demand, especially affordable housing for average Kenyans.

The big question is, how will this gap be filled?

According to Andrew Saisi, the general manager for the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), the NHC has been on the inquiry on this glaring issue, and have gone ahead to study and learn from other countries that have successfully solved their housing shortage problem.

“We have visited countries like South Africa, South East Asia, South America and Europe just to get a clear picture on the methodologies they used to meet their national housing demand,” he says.

EPS factory that has been set up in Mavoko in Machakos County by the National Housing Corporation.

The factory was built as a result of the research and various country visits that the NHC officials carried out in a bit to find out some of the measures they could take to curb the housing deficit. Andrew says the factory, which is set to begin operations this month, manufactures building panels that will ensure quick, efficient and strong houses built for Kenyans.

The technology behind it is the latest technology used by developed countries. “South Africa, for instance, got independence in 1994, and since then have managed to build one million houses using this technology,” he points out.

Technology features

The technology is such that it uses expanded polystyrene, which is moulded together, then fixed on is galvanised steel for additional support and strength to make wall, floor and roof panels.

The polystyrene block looks like the padding that comes packed with electronics, only that the ones used for building is stronger, since the beads are expanded using steam then the beads bond together.

“The polystyrene beads are steamed up, releasing butane gas. As the beads grow bigger and bigger, to about 150 per cent in size, they bond together chemically,” explains Andrew.

From a glance, you wouldn’t tell that the material is strong and can build up to 20 stories up. Before the polystyrene block is infused with the galvanised steel, it is cut into desired shapes and sizes.

“One can order the different kinds of shapes and sizes depending on the design of the house,” explains the factory manger.

This particular building material has advantages to it. First, the polystyrene block has miniature groves on both sides, which add on to the strength when plastered with cement.

The wall blocks, after instalment, are plastered to 40mm on each side, which bring the total width of the wall to 150mm, the inner block being 70mm.

This wall, unlike the conventional building materials used in Kenya, can withstand pressure from above it, and from its side.

“If you build a wall with stone as is the case, if you pull out one block, the rest of the building comes down. But for this technology, the wall is solid. Can even withstand an earthquake,” says Andrew.

Another advantage is that it’s sound proof, and regulates temperatures without giving extremes as is the case with stone houses.

“A house made of EPS will be warmer or cooler depending on the temperatures outside without getting to the extremes. A stone house, for instance, when it’s cold, gets really cold, more like living on a fridge,” adds Andrew.

The panels come in 1.2-metre wide and 3-metre high sizes, and are easy to fix. One just does the foundation as normal, but inserts re-bars before the foundation dries as this is where the wall panels will be fixed.

Upon drying, the wall panels are fastened on the steel, and then cemented on both sides. The cement mixture, of course, is special, different from the usual mix that masons use to build stone or brick houses.

Even the application for the cement is different. There’s a special gun for it, which sprays the cement from the nozzle onto the panel and automatically holds together from the pressure of the machine. No need for padding is normally the case.

However, the electricity and plumbing lines are fitted before cementing. This is also very easy, as the grooves where the pipes and wires would pass through are created with a laser gun, fitted in as planned, and then the cement is plastered on top.

The same material is used for floors and roof, with a little variation on the EPS block width. Whereas the wall panel is 70mm, floor and roof panel is 150mm.

Putting up these houses is easy and faster than conventional houses. A stone bungalow would take a minimum of 72 days to build and quadruple the house, while the EPS block house would take only 38 days.

Raw materials

NHC intends to use this technology to put up affordable housing for Kenya beginning this year.

“We have just gotten the last batch of raw materials and would like to start manufacturing. The only biggest challenge we have as a government entity is availability of land. Government does not own land that we can use to develop,” the factory manager laments.

The EPS building material is the 21st century technology that answers to the worlds growing population. However, the unit cost per square metre to put up housing using this material still remains the same as conventional materials, at about Sh10,000, since all the raw materials are imported.

“We import the beads and the galvanised steel. The quality of steel that is in Kenya still does not meet the standard requirement for manufacturing building panels. And the overall cost of shipping them is very high,’ Andrew points out.

He further adds that Kenyans have been very supportive of the new technology. “We ran an advert on the paper some time ago and the  response was overwhelming, and now we are beginning to wonder if we will meet the demand,” he says

He further adds that the factory that has been set up is purely for NHC houses, and that they will only supply to interested private developers when they do not have ongoing projects.

He also hopes that the new Housing Bill will be adopted soon, as it is based on functionality as opposed to the colonial one, which was prohibitive and constricting.

“For instance, the building code says that a wall has to be 200mm thick, and if you use the EPS to build you’ll have a 150mm wall. However, if you compare the stone wall and the EPS wall, the latter can hold more weight and is stronger than the former,” he says.

Andrew adds: “The new Bill will be able to address this, but in functionality, as opposed to the previous one that was not function-based,’ He adds.

However, he warns Kenyans to beware of fake EPS materials from China and India, which have already started penetrating the market due to the rise in demands.

“We came across fake EPS in the market. The beads are not of the quality that is required to build a strong unit, as well as the metal used is not galvanized steel,” he says.


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