Practical tips through which you can build a low cost house in Kenya

By Gilbert Gwaro

The high cost of land coupled with high price of building materials and labour has made owning a home appear like an unattainable dream especially for the lower middle and low income class market segments of the Kenyan population.

Average market price for a “low cost” three bedroom house, which is considered to be the ideal size for most families is valued at Sh 4.8 million which is out of reach for many Kenyans. However, with proper planning and creativity, it is possible to put up a such a residential building with as little as Sh 1.9 million. Here’s how you can cut down on cost by 40%.

Choose a simple design

Choosing a house design is the first step when building a home. While the design depends on many factors including the nature of your plot, you should consider a simple design.

The more intricate the house plan, the more costly it will be to construct. Keep the number of corners on the exterior walls at a minimum since they are labour intensive and utilise more materials.

Stick to simple squares and rectangles which can be ornamented with fascinating architectural features such as a balcony or porch.

In addition, keep the roof lines simple and short since complex steep roofs necessitate surplus roofing supplies. Avoid making any changes to the design during construction since they translate to extra costs.

Consider new technology

The high cost of conventional building materials (brick and mortar) and the intensive labour that goes into constructing houses made from them are major contributors to the high cost of construction.

In a bid to bring down these costs, new technologies such as prefabricated panels, which drastically reduce the amount of materials (cement, steel rods and concrete), labour and time taken before completion, have been introduced in the market.

Another great option is interlocking bricks which require less cement to hold them together and less labour compared to brick structures.

Engage professionals

Many people have lost money during construction due to shoddy work. While you might want to avoid hiring a professional just to cut on cost, it will cost you more to fix your mistakes.

Although it is not automatic or guaranteed that a professional will deliver his or her promises, you are safe when you engage experts. The use of unskilled labour has cost some builders up to 40% of the total construction cost yet construction firms charge only a small percentage of the total construction cost.

Buy materials yourself if possible

Most companies and individuals give foremen or fundi free reign to buy building materials. If you can, source for materials yourself instead of sending the foreman to do it for you. You will most certainly have the patience to shop for the best bargain in the market without compromising on quality.

Besides, some foremen work in cahoots with suppliers to con their employer by inflating price of materials and backing the unscrupulous act with falsified receipts. Others will buy cheaper substandard materials so that they can pocket the difference.

Be wary of cheap bargains

In as much as you want to save some money and shopping around for the best bargains in the market, watch out for deals that are too good to be true.

If a supplier is offering you materials at a price way below the average market rates, it is critical to exercise caution because more often than not, it is a rip off. The materials might be counterfeit which will end up costing you more. You might also end up losing your hard earned money to swindlers.

Recycle materials

Always keep in mind that every shilling counts and everything you buy adds on to the budget. Where possible re-use or simply hire tools and materials such as spades, wheelbarrows, hammers, timber post and wood used as scaffolding or for support during construction. Recycling saves 

Do it yourself

While it is important to hire skilled labour in all phases of the project, look out for things you can do to save on labour costs. As an example, laying tiles, landscaping and painting are some of the things you can do yourself with little or no help from a contractor. However, do not attempt something you are unsure of since as earlier indicated; let professionals do what they do best. Rectifying mistakes will cost more than it would have to obligate a professional do the task.

Close supervision

Theft of building materials and laziness by workers are another major avenue for money loss during construction. That is why it is critical to hire a site manager who will be at the site all the time and task him/her with accounting for how each and every item bought is utilized in construction. 

Avoid contracting workers at a daily flat rate since they intentionally prolong the construction period by working slowly. Instead, device ways of quantifying works done and pay them for it. 

Avoid the rainy season

Unless you are building a house in an urban area where roads are properly carpeted, avoid constructing during the wet seasons since the heavy rains render most roads impassable making it difficult to transport materials which, in turn, increases costs and consumes more time. The rains can also destroy, or sweep away some building materials. 

The writer is an architect 

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