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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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 the end 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

“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.”

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.

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

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.”

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

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

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

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

“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.

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

“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.

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.

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


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