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Building Your House: The Alternative Technology Route .

Source: The Punch Newspaper

A low income earner can also take the route of using alternative building technology, which building experts have been clamouring for, for a long time.

According to experts, one can save up to 40 or 50 per cent of the cost of the building, transportation and labour if one adopts this method that utilises materials that can be found around the site of the project. Such a technology will also provide a steady income stream after the construction of a house as others will come and hire it for their own projects.

One of the most popular locally available materials, which can be made with simple technology, is the laterite or ‘red sand’ in local parlance.

Laterite is the residual soil formed by the leaching or discharge of silica and is said to be enriched with aluminium and iron oxides, especially in humid climates.

An official of the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute, Ota, Ogun State, says the use of laterite will be a wise choice for low income earners as it is readily available, cheap and durable. The soil is available in dry areas and can be sourced by digging wells or soak away pits.

According to the NIBRI official, who chose not to have his name mentioned, all that is needed is for the user to stabilise the laterite with five per cent cement and minimal water to make it moist enough before it is fed into the brick making machine.

“Laterite is about N12, 000 for a truck load, which can make enough bricks to build a mini flat. About four moulds from the laterite will make a nine-inch brick. Although when you decide to use laterite to construct your house, you may require lots of it, but it is also available. Anywhere you dig, you will find laterite,” he notes.

Unlike cement blocks that have voids and holes, bricks made from laterite are solid and can be made within a few minutes. In addition, houses made from bricks, according to experts are cooler because bricks are heat resistant.

Houses constructed from bricks made from laterite may also not need painting, as the raw material comes in an attractive colour.

“We are used to cement-based materials and lots of imported building materials that add cost to our building construction; and so, have refused to develop the use of our own God-given materials that are abundant for housing,” Akinrolabu states.

He says the cost of procuring a brick-making machine, employing labour and putting finishing touches to a house made with bricks from laterite is far lesser than the house made with cement blocks and imported materials.

Apart from the use of laterite, which is similar to the conventional building method, architects who spoke with our correspondent, say the dry construction method can never go wrong.

A former Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Lagos State chapter, Mrs. Abimbola Ajayi, says building materials are expensive and the way to go is to start thinking of the dry construction method.

“Cement is expensive, sand is expensive and even when those things don’t cost so much, transportation takes a lot of resources. Dry solution is more affordable and should be made more popular here because that is what most people in other countries are building with,” she says.

Dry construction is a method of building that utilises light and dry materials, including boards, wood, frames and cement fibre box panels made by allowing bubbles into the cement mixtures.

The dry construction method is used in construction of floors, ceilings and fences consisting of semi-finished products and assembled on-site into complete integral structures.

According to Ajayi, the dry construction method means that apart from the foundation, which will use concrete, the building itself will come in a frame structure, either wooden or in container form, but panelled to keep heat away in a tropical region such as Nigeria.

The dry methods are specialised solutions to buildings,which reduces construction time and labour by as much as 20 per cent at theend of the day.

Ajayi says, “You don’t have to pay so much for labour. We Nigerians like to shy away from what needs to be done; with the way things are today, nobody can build a proper house for N2.5m; it is not possible even with N3m, when one bag of cement is about N2,000 and reinforcement rod costs about N160, 000 per trailer load. The sand is there and gravel or granite, you can’t even use gravel because they will mix it with mud and you won’t know.

“If granite for instance is N3,000 per tonne, gravel will be like N1,500 per tonne; meanwhile, it may be mixed with mud and the trailer will take up to N90,000 for transportation.

“Many of us are saying we should go the dry construction way, a lot of people now resort to the dry construction method as a housing solution. People may think you are building a cardboard house but it is not; such houses last longer.”

She explains that once there is a plan, the builder will bring the containers for instance, together and make the panel.

“You can stack them on top of each other like you have in housing estates in Alausa and Maryland. When you bring the shell together, you roof it. It is cheaper abroad, but here it may not be cheaper in terms of naira and kobo, but it’s cheaper than using cement and sand.”

Gbede shares Ajayi’s sentiment, he says the advantage of such a method is that the waste in the conventional building method is eliminated completely.

“When you mix cement, some will remain on the ground and you can’t do anything about it. Even when you use wood, you cut off the bad part and it wastes. If you put the waste together, it may amount to about 15 to 20 per cent of the total cost of construction,” he notes.

Gbede says the way to start is to have an organic design for the house with an elaborate foundation. Organic design, he says aids dry construction and encourages anyone who wishes to build a house to do it in stages.

He says, “A young man working in a bank, for instance, gets a N3.5m loan to build a house. Does he really need a three-bedroom house at this stage? He doesn’t need more than a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet.

“All he needs is an organic design for a start; and as his family grows, the building grows too. You can have a bigger picture by making an elaborate foundation for expansion. The only thing with this design is that you have to see the future from the beginning.”

A professor of Architecture at the University of Lagos, Olumide Olusanya, advocates alternative building technology, albeit a different method.

He is of the opinion that the idea of everyone trying to build his own house is primitive and wasteful.

“Only very rich people should be building their own houses because they can afford the money. For everyone else, the sanest method is through mass development and a pulling together of resources to get optimal result and distribution of wealth,” he says.

To him, when people come together, building becomes easier and affordable as no technology can crash the cost of building for an individual.

He advocates a system called ‘sustainable system’s building’, which is a situation where all the materials used for a particular construction project are locally sourced and can be taken to another site.

According to him, building with bricks saves money, but admits that despite its beauty and durability, the material can only be used for a storey building.

Olusanya says, “People think bungalows are the way out, but they are eyesores in the city centres; they are most often built on the outskirts where there are no infrastructure.

“I feel there should be a law banning bungalows in the cities. I believe that every use of land must justify the infrastructure that has been put in place.”

His opinion is that people who intend to own their homes should come together in thrift societies and build high-rise structures.

This, he says, will involve the fabrication of equipment that are low cost but of high performance, which can be from oldtins and used metals.

“We can build high and still retain the ambience of the street depending on the technology that we deploy. The solution to the housing needs must be in the marriage of the architectural design and the building technology for actualising it. I call it the marriage of product and process,” he explains.

Building with about N2.5m or N3m, according to Olusanya, is possible through collective efforts, adding, “Once it is through collective work combined with technology, it makes it easier. People should begin to form strong cooperative societies.”

Why alternative technology is not popular

According to Olusanya, a country suffers a problem of underdevelopment where the people cannot solve their own problems but wait for government’s intervention.

“A country cannot move forward when there is a critical lack of mass of idea. I have been talking about this alternative method of home ownership for several years now. People should take their destinies in their hands,” he says.

Ironically, when our correspondent spoke with people on alternative building technology, most of them say they are not aware of its existence in the country.

“If building with mud is what you call alternative technology, I’m sorry; I can’t build my house with that. That ‘technology’ is out of fashion,” says Samuel Mba.

Mba says he can think of using baked bricks but definitely not mud, because “that will make people begin to look at me as if I’m poor,” he says.

For Akinrolabu, the alternative building method, either with laterite or other materials, needs more awareness.

“It is only when people are aware of the options available to them that they can begin to apply them,” he says.

Another respondent, Akin Akinwale, a civil servant, says he will most likely try the dry method when he is ready to build his own house but definitely not laterite.

He, however, feels that the government should intervene and build houses for the masses, as this will be cheaper and more affordable for everyone.

But Ajayi disagrees. She says there is nowhere in the world that the government puts money down for housing, but rather creates an environment that is conducive for investors.

She says, “Government cannot provide mass housing, what the government can do is to provide an enabling environment for these technologies to thrive; an environment whereby investment will not be a problem. Right now the problem of approval alone takes up to one year and more; then land is expensive. If the government can allocate land, it will go a long way.

“Take Ikoyi, for instance, a plot of land is about N1.2bn before you even think of what to build on it. In Lagos, can you get a plot of land that is less than N2m? In fact if you see cheap land, be sure you are going to fall into the hands of Omoniles; that is why housing cannot be cheap.”

For Gbede, the only way out of the housing crisis in the country is creativity.

“We need to use our home grown solutions because even when the money is available, it will be an enormous task to build 16 million houses,” he says.