New in Kenya: Panel building technology




Kenya is on the verge of realising its dream of mass production of factory houses using a new building technology that could reduce the cost of putting up a new house by up to 30 per cent.



A factory to manufacture expanded polystyrene (EPS) panels, an Italian technology that Kenya has been testing in the country’s search for a long-term solution to the biting housing shortage, is ready and is expected to be inaugurated officially next month.



A sample house built using the technology is also ready and is open to the public for viewing.



The factory has been put up by the National Housing Corporation (NHC) in Mavoko municipality, a few kilometres on the outskirts of Nairobi city centre, to the tune of Sh1 billion (building the factory plus and importing raw materials).



“We realised that if we were to meet the housing demand in the country, we had to go the factory way. We cannot continue relying on traditional building materials like quarry stones and expect to meet the needs of aspiring home owners,” says Andrew Saisi, the general manager of the EPS factory.



The NHC, a parastatal under the Ministry of Housing, says that it was inspired to adopt this technology after realising that it could not meet the growing national housing demand using the traditional building methods, having churned out only about 50,000 housing units in its five-decade existence.



Currently, the combined national housing output by all the players in the building industry cannot meet the housing demand in the country, leading to a perennial housing deficit.



The technology involves building houses by assembling ready-made panels made of EPS foam, sandwiched between a galvanised steel wire mesh that is plastered on both sides with concrete.



Mass production of the panels is expected to drastically cut the cost of building materials while reducing the time taken to finish the resultant housing projects.



A standard three-bedroom house built using this technology will take up to three weeks to complete, exclusive of finishing, a 50 per cent reduction in construction time.



Once commissioned, the EPS factory will enable mass factory production of modular houses by NHC.



Though light, houses built using the technology are strong enough to withstand natural calamities like landslides and mudslides better than those built using traditional building materials. This technology can be used to construct up to 20 storeys.



According to Mr Saisi, cost benefits accrued from using EPS panels include reduced labour cost as construction time is reduced by 50 per cent; due to the shorter construction time, the developer does not incur costs associated with price fluctuations of building materials; transport costs are much lower since a developer can deliver an entire house in a single lorry load (a standard two-bedroom house of about 100 square metres requires about 70 panels each weighing 15 kilogrammes); and lower costs in wastage of construction materials since leftover EPS panels are recyclable.



Experts have often cited high cost of building materials as one of the major hindrances to home ownership, stating that building materials account for about 60 per cent of the total building costs.



Mr Saisi says that the new technology will benefit mainly those who want to do mass production of houses.



“Cost savings using this concept is based on the level of production and efficiency. It is best suited for mass production of housing units,” says Mr Saisi, noting that those who put up more than 10 units can save up to 30 per cent on construction costs. “We are looking at something that can spur growth in the number of houses produced in the country at any one given time.”



In Africa, the technology has been successfully employed in South Africa to reduce housing shortage in the country.



Posted  Thursday, January 10  2013 at  02:00

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