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Construction: Why you need expert advice

By Awal Mohammed | June 3rd 2021

Mason applying grout onto a cinderblock wall.[Getty Images]

Many housing investors have seen their lifetime investments crash in seconds.

Every few months, a building collapses somewhere in the country - either under construction or completed and already occupied.

The latest was the Nyamira County Assembly building that came down last week while under construction.

This is an indication of the poor building quality - because many of the owners do not seek, or disregard, advice from professionals.

In less than 10 years, for instance, a number of multi-storeyed residential buildings have collapsed in Nairobi’s Huruma Estate, at a huge cost to life and property.

One of the building’s owners, who lived outside the city, claimed he used to send money for repairs but his caretaker shortchanged him by doing a shoddy job.

“I trusted him a lot. When he first reported to me about cracks on the wall, I told him we needed to find an engineer to quickly assess the situation to help avert a crisis, but he ended up contracting a local fundi,” he said.

His calamitous story mirrors what many builders risk when they fail to consult construction experts.

Buoyed by overconfident masons, many investors especially those seeking to build small or medium projects fall for the trap of cutting costs.

A report by the National Construction Authority released last year (NCA) points out that for every 100 buildings in Kenya, 35 are likely to “fail”.

Building failure refers to defects observed in building performance that could affect how the structure functions.

Harry Muchangi, the regional sales manager at roofing materials firm Mabati Rolling Mills, says the do-it-alone mentality is costing home builders.

“They seek to reduce cost by not involving experts, but that is a short-term gain. You will have to spend more in the long-term on repairs because the shoddy job is done,” he told Real Estate.

Other than reducing the construction cost, most developers treat expert advice as unnecessary paperwork that does not affect the general construction of the building.

This disregard for laid-down procedures, according to physical planner Samuel Mburu of Kreis Spatial Planning and Consulting Associates, is the main reason most developers do not engage experts.

“The foreman will tell the developer the biggest thing experts add to the construction is unnecessary paperwork and they can execute the project without the paperwork,” he said.

But Mr Mburu warns that this contempt will hurt developers who risk being denied occupation safety certificates by the government.

“Before you are allowed to open your building to tenants, you must be issued with a certificate of occupation. NCA must ensure you have complied with all requirements or risk being denied the certificate,” he said.

The love for shortcuts has been going on for decades, with the industry losing billions annually and people losing their lives when buildings collapse.

The earliest documented case of building collapse in Kenya was in 1990 where a multi-storeyed building in Dagoretti crashed, killing one and injuring others.

Since then, says the 2020 report by NCA, 87 buildings have collapsed. The peak was in 2015 when a total of 21 failed buildings were recorded.

Building failures have seen the economy lose over Sh2.4 billion, says the report.

“The value of the loss could be higher because most of the buildings that collapsed were not insured,” said NCA.

An audit carried out in 2018 by the National Building Inspectorate covering 14,895 buildings revealed that 723 were very dangerous 10,791 unsafe, 1217 fair and 2,194 are safe.

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