Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Building green affordable houses in Ghana

By Kofi Adu Domfeh

Expensive concrete and glass houses are in vogue in major cities in Ghana, but the increasing housing deficit calls for innovations to build green and cheap.

Housing, the single largest subsector of the construction industry, is a major contributor to environmental pollution. With the high levels of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the sector contributes to climate change.

“Ghana has the potential to build environmentally sound houses”, according to Dr. Eugene Atiamo, Director of the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The indoor environment of a building is supposed to provide comport for the occupant and this is what you get with earth blocks and burnt clay bricks, he said.

Heavy concrete and glass houses absorb and emit a lot of heat – this prompts the use of air-conditioners for heat resistance.

“The compressed earth blocks are durable in the prevention of erosion and wear offs; and can be fortified with grass husk, palm fibre or any straw to have a good material which can withstand the elements for the next 50-60 years”, he stated.

The first batch of 50 trainees has passed out of Ghana’s National Artisan Training Centre in Kumasi.

The training is aimed at upgrading the skills of local artisans in the use of bricks, compressed earth blocks and other indigenous building materials for construction.

Through the support of the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, about 150 to 250 artisans are expected to be trained annually.

“The primary aim is to train as many artisans as possible because we believe with the high price of imported building materials, this country will go back and use the earth and bricks for construction”, observed Dr. Atiamo.

The building engineer believes there are good green materials for building foundation, walling and roofing construction project.

“One thing we should be looking at is the use of biomass – off-cuts from the sawmills, the sawdust and even the straw which we normally dump as waste; we can turn them into chip boards and light weight materials for partitioning to reduce the cost of housing construction”, Dr. Atiamo said.

Ghana’s Venture Capital Trust Fund presently offers support to real estate developers who build socially and environmentally responsible homes.

“The total Fund size is almost $20million; they can apply and start simple real estate for low-cost housing”, Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Duku, encouraged investors to source the fund.

For green technology to be adopted in poorer nations and to have scalable impacts, it has to be low cost and affordable, according to the World Bank Group.

“Green housing needs to appeal to a much wider audience. It must be viewed as a socially responsible and commercially viable proposition for the common builder and developer, and an economically and socially viable proposition for the average buyer”.

In developed economies, “green” often entails heavy additional costs, but a large part of the existing green technology in emerging economies like Ghana is low cost.

Unfortunately, there are very few production units for earth and brick clay materials in Ghana, due to lack of market. There is also lack of standard specifications to make local building materials attractive for the built environment.

Ghana’s policy direction is to have about 60percent of local materials in the construction of every public infrastructure by 2015.

Dr. Atiamo notes that government’s commitment would ensure the target is achieved. “Even if we cannot do 60 percent, at least there should be a legal backing which will push government agencies to use 20-30percent to encourage business investments in local building material production”.

The national housing deficit is presently estimated to be over 1,500,000 units, whilst government spends about $250million annually to import construction materials.

Sustainable green solutions with local building materials could afford the average Ghanaian access to lower-income housing whilst safeguarding the environment.


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