Polystyrene panel technology offers ray of hope for builders

Former Roads Minister Franklin Bett displays a piece of expanded polystyrene panel used to build part of Siloam Hospital. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

Hospitals and other institutions offering essential services are slowly adopting new building technologies in their expansion plans to out-compete peers in the market.

For instance, at Kericho’s Siloam Hospital, Real Estate found former Roads Minister Mr Franklin Bett supervising the final touches on a two-storey building constructed using Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panel technology — a white foam plastic material produced from solid beads of polystyrene.

“The ground floor of the building will host two modern theatre facilities while maternity facilities will occupy the first floor where a third theatre will also be located,” Mr Bett said.

He said the Modern Intensive Care Unit (ICU) will occupy the top floor. “A 72-bed hospital including nine Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds will be in various wards in the building,” said Mr Bett.

He pointed out that the new hospital wing will expand the facility’s beds capacity to 196 — making it the largest private hospital in Kericho County.

The former roads minister revealed that he adopted the new building technology after realising it slashes construction costs by about 30 per cent.

“The new hospital wing would have cost around Sh30 million if we would have used conventional materials but we managed to cut the cost by 30 per cent,” he said.

Mr Bett pointed out that the construction technology reduces by 30 per cent to 40 per cent construction time as the panels come ready for installation.

“The panels require simply assembling and plastering, the same if done for the floor and that is it,” he said.

Save for delays, Mr Bett said the building which was started last year and closely supervised by National Construction Authority (NCA) could have taken three months to complete.

Mr Mike Juma, an engineering technologist with National Housing Corporation (NHC) explained that EPS panels favour an industrial building system.

“It comprises expanded polystyrene sheet which is braced and sandwiched by high tensile galvanised steel mesh wire on either side,” he said. Mr Juma said though the technology isn’t new in other parts of developed nations, NHC in 2011 established a factory in Mavoko, Machakos County to produce the panels.

“The corporation is leading by example by using the EPS technology in the construction of most of our building projects in Lang’ata, Changamwe, and other areas. We have also collaborated with other private investors across the country who have adopted the technology,” he said.

He pointed out that EPS panels come in different modules and variations of wall and slab panes with varying prices. “For instance, a builder can construct a wall using EPS panels for Sh1,800 per square metre and a slab for Sh2,350 per square metre,” said Mr Juma.

The engineering technologists said it costs around Sh600,00 to construct a studio apartment while a typical two-bedroom house costs around Sh1.5 million.“EPS has economies of scale.

The bigger the project, the more saving,” Juma said. He nonetheless added that in sub-structural work (laying of foundation) conventional building blocks are required. “EPS come in as supper structure material (from the ground up),” he said.

Mr Juma dismissed fears that a storey building constructed using EPS panels are weak. “Buildings collapse because of self-weight. EPS is lighter. In engineering terms, we say it has a better strength to weight ratio compared to conventional building blocks,” he said. He added that 35ml concreting of EPS panels as well as plaster finishes of 15ml on both sides of the wall leaves it more than 180ml thick which is equivalent to a 9X9 building block.

Juma also said a storey building without columns can be as high as a four-floor while a double wall panel project can be as high as 11 to 20 storeys without columns. “However, if a building a frame structure, the height can be infinite as EPS panels will be coming in as filler materials,” said Juma.

He advised builders to ensure the installation of electrical and mechanical installation in a building is done before the concreting of the walls.

“A heat gun can also be used on the panels to create space to install conduits. Physical extruding can also be applied,” said Mr Juma. He pointed out that a building constructed using the panels has high resistance to fire.

“If a building is located in an area with a lot of heat. The styrofoam assists in regulating temperatures and therefore slash utility costs. The building is also noise-proof,” said Mr Juma, noting that NHC trains over 500 artisans every year to boost skilled labour.

The artisans can construct a building using EPS panels. “Anyone can purchase the EPS panels from the NHC. A project developer can walk in with an architectural design and meet the experts who are going to analyse it and produce the materials,” he said.

The corporation upon request, can connect a developer to construction experts and also provide technical assistance until a construction project is complete.