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Building options to make your home ownership dream a reality

By George Laboso | November 5th 2015
US representative David Renz cuts a tape as Lands minister Charity Ngilu and Global Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of IGS Mike McCathy (right) look on during the official opening of compressed agricultural fibre (CAF) panel house at Kura, Industrial area in Nairobi on 30th September.America International green structure has ventured in Kenyan construction market. 2014. [PHOTOS:JAMES WANZALA/STANDARD]

Kenya’s housing market is thriving on the back of strong economic growth, which is consistent with economic expansion across sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the growth is as a result of a burgeoning middle-class population ready to invest in new homes.

According to a recent African Development Bank (AfDB) study, Kenya’s middle-class constitutes about 45 per cent of the population.

Accompanying this trend is rapid urbanisation: the UN-Habitat notes that most of the world’s largest cities witnessing greater than five per cent growth rates are in Africa, including Nairobi, which it currently ranks as the eighth largest city on the continent, by population.

Closer home, a Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) survey released earlier this year states that increasingly, Kenyans are preferring to build their own homes. Specifically, KBA’s study notes that up to 80 per cent of aspiring home owners perceive building their own homes over a period of time as a more economic option.

Given the extent and scale of self-build, I would like to address one question that is most likely ringing in the minds of would-be home owners: What affordable options are out there in the Kenyan market?

The model that a prospective home owner chooses - from a detached house to a highrise apartment - depends on a number of factors, which include but are not limited to taste, preferences and available funds.

However, each of the housing models has special requirements in terms of special planning and implications on building costs. With building materials taking up a big chunk of costs, it is important that aspiring home owners consider alternative, quality and economical building options.

In fact, the KBA research bears out this point, noting that 66 per cent of the survey’s respondents cited “expensive building materials” as a major reason home ownership remains elusive to many Kenyans.

Building economists further argue that traditional building materials are becoming ever scarcer, with quarries, which have for long provided the bulk of Kenya’s building material, becoming depleted. Fortunately, the introduction of the National Building Authority Act and the establishment of the National Construction Authority (NCA) has eliminated the over-reliance on bricks and offered alternative, affordable and durable options.

Here, we want to take a look at prefabricated houses and related forms of home-building being adopted in Kenya.

 Prefabricated houses

Essentially, prefabricated or prefab homes are pre-developed houses made in a factory before being transported to a building site in bits - mainly in panels. They are subsequently assembled on-site in a matter of days. These pieces are appropriate to all kinds of climatic conditions. Globally, pre-fabricated structures come in various types but in Kenya, cost-conscious developers have a number of options to consider.

These include Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) technology, insulated panels, interlocking blocks and prefabricated or steel frames.

Although prefabricated houses are not popular in Kenya, they have been preferred by low- to middle-income earners in advanced geographic locations such as the United States and Europe. For instance, Huf Haus, a German company, has been building high-end prefabricated houses since 1912.

The trend has recently gained traction in Kenya with the entry of modular component suppliers. In 2012, for instance, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) put up a Sh1 billion factory in Mlolongo on Mombasa Road in an effort to cut costs for potential home owners.

Koto Housing, an affordable housing and building solutions provider is also driving the growth of prefabricated housing.

International Green Structures (IGS), an American company that is currently completing a factory in Thika, is also bound to deepen the development of this building technique.

Overall, prefabricated construction provides home developers, especially those in the medium to lower-income segments, with a custom, energy-efficient building solution.

They are also typically more affordable than traditional brick-and-mortar or timber-made homes.

Depending on the design, assembling prefabricated houses can take between a few weeks to six months on average with minimal material losses since the panels are prepared in a factory.

Industry estimates put the price of these houses at between Sh3 million for a three-bedroom house and Sh8 million for a five-bedroom house – an estimated 30 per cent saving over the brick-and-mortar variety.

Compared to brick-and-mortar houses, prefabricated houses, therefore, bring the dual benefits of cost-effectiveness and time efficiency – key considerations for many potential home owners.

 Interlocking blocks

More developers in Kenya are also opting for interlocking blocks, which are made of compressed soil, cement and sand or quarry dust.

The blocks are designed like two adjoining pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with each block having a projection at one end and a depression at the other so that they always align perfectly.

Compared to brick-and-mortar, interlocking blocks are gaining popularity in Kenya, largely because of their benefits.

Besides the material needed to produce them being readily available, interlocking blocks can be laid and aligned with simplicity, reducing the cost of labour and time needed to erect a structure. Additionally, this technique is more durable and environmentally-friendly compared to timber.

 International Green Structures

Potential homeowners can also consider International Green Structures (IGS) technology, which uses agricultural residue such as rice and wheat, which are compressed into Compressed Agricultural Fibre (CAF) panels.

The CAF panels are then joined to pre-engineered framing system to make strong and durable IGS structures. This technology has been made locally available by an American firm, IGS, which earlier this year announced it was putting up a Sh1.3 billion panel-making factory in Thika, with a capacity to build 12,000 housing units per year.

Compared to brick-and-mortar, this innovative building technology brings forth a sturdy structure made of energy-efficient panels resistant to fire, water, moulds and pests.

Further, a key advantage of this technique is the speed with which an IGS structure can be put up.

For instance, according to IGS Kenya, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom 46-square-metre house can take a maximum of three days to assemble.

The company says that if the owner prefers the house built on location, hence the need for foundation, the unit would then require 15 days to construct the base and allow time to cure, then three days to assemble the structure.

In terms of cost, industry estimates put cost savings at 25-30 per cent.

Other techniques

Prefabricated or steel frames provide another option for potential homeowners in Kenya. They are available in attractive designs – walls can be done in fibreglass - and the finishing in each house can be tailor-made to suit individual tastes and budget.

They are designed according to a developer’s needs and at various places on a house, including ceramic or PVC flooring, internal loose furniture, curtain rods or rails, soft furnishing and so on.

For the interior finishes, laminated structures would be a fantastic, cost-saving option. With new technologies, you can easily get more affordable finishes for your interiors. Bamboo blinds or matchsticks can substitute the normal ceiling as they are more cost-effective and readily available on the market. Roofing costs also depend on various factors such as its design, materials used, steepness and durability.

For instance, a steep roof is more expensive as more materials will be used. For the floors, you can use laminated floor boards, which are low-maintenance compared to hardwood flooring.

So depending on your finances, there is a wide array of options to consider when budgeting for your house development.

For those who opt for the traditional route, the brick-and-mortar houses remain a significant consideration. However, for those seeking a convenient and innovative way to own a new home, the above options present an equally viable alternative choice.

So, while the adoption speed for these technologies is still low, the industry is teeming with new players offering cost-effective building solutions. The chances of owning a decent home in Kenya today are even higher.

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