By changing their construction practices LDCs can lower their carbon footprint, reduce global warming and help their economy
Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have often an emerging economy with a large population group that is either unemployed and/ or under-employed. More often, than not, the unemployed are unskilled and are unable to find value added employment. We have identified construction industry as one sector of the LDC economy that can quickly absorb the unemployed labor and act as a catalyst for economic growth. This is possible if they learn our building method / construction process.
Our building method (BM) is different from what is practiced in LDC. More expensive construction methods in developed countries, as well for the rich in LDC, may have similarities with our BM. Our BM allows one to build high performance buildings with everyday materials at a very affordable cost. Our proposed BM is sound and tested, approved by building departments and by structural engineers in USA as well as the LDC where we have worked in in the past. Our BM can be taught in weeks. The structures that are built have a comparatively lower carbon footprint, are “Green” and sustainable, encourage capacity building, are climate responsive, lower “greenhouse” gas emissions, and on the average cost 50% less on a 30 year life cycle cost basis.
Over the past two decades we have worked in several countries and introduced our BM successfully. We have built in seismic zones as well as non-seismic zones, and have solutions for flood prone areas as well as high wind zones.Our proposed BM will make it more affordable for the poorest of the poor to acquire shelter, and in turn reduce global warming (GW). The new construction methods do not replace existing practices but instead augment them.
Below is an example of the interior of a net zero building we taught villagers to build in Lesotho using our technology. By teaching them how to build, we are promoting capacity building. By learning to leverage their sweat equity - they will one day be able to build their own home.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Current building practice in most countries, especially for low rise structures, excepting perhaps USA where wood dominates, utilize masonry blocks or bricks as the primary building block. Both Brick and Masonry (B&M) have a very high carbon footprint. They require lot of energy to manufacture and transport. In addition buildings built with B&M, given their thermal mass, require significant mechanical cooling in summer and heating in winter. The mechanical equipment in the end are usually fossil fuel driven which in turn contributes to global warming and climate change. Thermal mass is a valuable property to have but must be utilized correctly.
Our proposed BM has a very small carbon footprint and our buildings require little to no heating or cooling. Our BM is akin to poured in place soil cement insulated walls using reusable form-work. The same BM is utilized to provide high end homes or modest homes - which continuity of technology helps in capacity building and employment generation.
Poor people in LDC’s struggle to get employment and / or a roof over their head. They are too poor to qualify for mortgages and Bank loans, as either such schemes do not exist, or are not available to the poor.
In the example below all the homes were built in seismic zones using our BM. All were built by the same unskilled and semi-skilled workers using mostly hand tools. The workers first built the homes for very poor people during 2006-2007 (homes on the left), and having learned the skill were hired by contractors to help build high end home for the rich during 2009-2010 period(homes on the right). That way the workers were absorbed in the marketplace, provided continuous value added long term employment.
The modest buildings were commissioned by Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), a non-profit organization, after a major earthquake in Pakistan. More importantly we have developed a more affordable and sustainable way to build, in seismic and non-seismic zones. More so than the current practice using reinforced concrete or masonry, steel, or wood (which is causing massive deforestation in LDC's). Ours is a non-wood, "Green", sustainable, non-steel and non-reinforced masonry alternative.
Our Experience in Lesotho:
Our technology offers the poor an opportunity to build their own shelter through sweat equity participation. In Lesotho anywhere from 24% to 27% of the working population are typically unemployed. They are mostly unskilled, as the skilled usually move on to neighboring countries for work. Most people are extremely poor, face bitterly cold winters with little or no heating, in stone buildings such as in pictures below.
The commercial market place as well as housing for rich could easily absorb our BM and trained workers. This will generate employment for our trained workers - and will create a nexus with the commercial and residential marketplace. For the technology to succeed it must be market oriented and self sustaining.
One of the method / example, not the only, behind naturally heating these homes is shown in the picture below.
Broadly speaking we need to do the following:
- Our building process can be taught in weeks rather than months or years. People will learn to recycle waste, heat homes without fossil fuels, and demonstrate the impact of insulating homes and leveraging thermal mass.
- We need to train local architects, engineers and contractors the advantages of our BM. Things such as the design of under-slab heating system, can be challenging, in order to prevent heat loss from the ground. They slab needs to be insulated at the same time detailed carefully to prevent slab settlement possibilities. Selection of inexpensive, low wattage sump pump, and the size and type of piping to be used to circulate the water in a closed lop - so as not to waste water. The correct construction of insulated heat exchangers - so water remains hot for a longer period.
- Given the high unemployment in poorer countries, our BM will provide jobs for both unskilled and semi-skilled.
- The demonstration home in Lesotho was built for Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (SOC) – Lesotho. They would also would like to build teachers homes, clinics, schools and hospitals using the building technology. They are also interested in teaching local villagers the technique so the villagers can build their one or two room homes. The buildings will be more affordable and less ecologically damaging.
- We estimate that all over the world there are at least 200 million household who are moderately poor, depend on fossil fuels or non-renewable energy sources for electricity, heating and cooling - and can benefit from a technology like ours. If households all over the world on the average produce 5 tons of CO2 per year, only because of the fossil fuels used for heating and cooling and electricity, that comes to 1,000,000,000 (1 billion tons) of CO2 per year that is dumped as GHG on our planet. We think our numbers are very conservative. As ours is a non-wood, non-combustible technology, and by avoiding wood construction we will further reduce global warming (GW) and GHGe.
- For our prototype, a 500sf home, we expect to save GHG emissions of about 10 tons/ year and 300 tons over 30 years.
- Ours would be a low tech, cost effective way to reduce GHG from a very broad sector of the housing as well as commercial market place in both the developed and developing economies. If adopted it will have a dramatic positive effect on climate change.
- The life cycle cost of our approximately 500 square feet (sf) prototype home above ( 380 sf is living /bedroom space and an additional 120sf is bathroom, kitchenette, storage, and mechanical space), that we built last year for SOC, is as follows: If built in masonry (current practice) is approximately US $27, 575. The first cost (construction) currently in Lesotho is around US$15,000 - the cost of heating the building plus other utilities ( electricity) over a 30 year period is an additional US 12,575. In case of our prototype the construction cost is approximately $10,500 and the heating plus utilities life cost over 30 years is about $1,956. The life cycle cost ( Grand Total: First cost, Heating, plus utilities over a 30 year period) for our structure is US $ 12,456.
For our prototype we have made an allowance for supplementary heating for about 30 days in a year for cloudy days. We have assumed, for both buildings,an increase in cost of utility by 3% annually due to inflation. We have assumed a 30 year life cycle for our calculations. The numbers are very compelling. Our buildings over 30 years cost only 45% of what a masonry building will cost. Please see chart above. Even if we were to replace the waste insulation with imported rigid expanded polystyrene (EPS), that will add only about US $1,500 to the construction cost of the project. Still the numbers are very compelling as our prototype will still cost approximately half (51%) of a masonry structure. If you add the savings in GHG, the carbon credits (CC) that will accrue over 30 years, the cost of our prototype further reduces by a large factor. We have not calculated the savings from recycling the waste insulation - which would have otherwise gone to a landfill or burnt producing toxic gasses and contributing to GHG.
The chart below shows a comparison of temperature inside the home of a un-insulated masonry structure versus our prototype in Lesotho. The readings below are actual on site reading at our Lesotho home during winter and partly extrapolated for summer - based on our experience with masonry structures in other similar countries (climate, elevation, latitude). In summer our structure remains cool. In winter the temperature (temp), because of insulation and SHW heating,
and thermal mass and small periods of supplementary heat, remains within 64 to 68 Fahrenheit. In summer the temp ranges between 68 F to 74 F. These readings may vary slightly from building to building and region to region but the bottom line is a lot less heating and cooling is required with our building types. Masonry structures on the other hand perform very poorly and mimic outside air temperatures.
In terms of carbon footprint our soil cement structures use substantially less cement (1/3 rd) than what is required required ifor masonry structures. See chart below.
New Orleans, USA:
We are also looking for better ways to build in flood zones - as rising Oceans demand new design approaches. In 2015 we were asked by a private party to design a flood resistant single family "Green" home in a previously “Katrina” devastated ward of New Orleans (NO). Our NO home can resist at least seven feet of flood waters, above base flood elevation (BFE) - usually 4 feet - hence in reality 11 feet of flooding above grade, and the flat roof provides for a place of refuge until rescued. In our NO home the walls are insulated and sandwiched between an exterior reinforced concrete wall system.
The roof of the house has a green garden roof. The roof does not re-radiate heat to the sky adding to GW. In 2017 our home won a design award for low rise structures from American Concrete Institute’s (Louisiana Chapter) engineering board. We believe that the home we built is “Green”, sustainable, affordable and resilient to future hurricanes and floods. It will allow for energy independence and reduce emission of CO2. It is a first generation prototype and we are sure we can improve the design further in future. The building section below lays out the basic principles in the design of the home. Such homes, and or variations, can be built all over the world using more of locally available building materials. Below are illustrations of the house we built and the graphs show the advantage over conventional wood construction.
The section below shows the principles behind our flood resistant construction.
The comparative cost advantage of our NO home over conventional buildings on a life cycle cost basis.
The carbon footprint advantage of our structures. In spite of being a concrete frame structure, there is a huge reduction in CO2. emissions. emissions.
- In summary our BM can adapt to many different field requirements. However they need to be tailored to each locations contingencies. We are continuing to develop strategies for more complex scenarios.
- Unless we build more prototypes, and demonstrate successful models, it will be difficult to advance and promote our BM. Even larger facilities, including multi-story, can take advantage of our BM.
- In future we will need to target better sewage management. We hope to introduce bio- digesters to generate bio-gas which can subsequently be used for heating.
- Water problem: Lesotho also has a water problem. It hardly rains in Lesotho and Lesotho has a dire need for potable water. Our prototype structure collects rain water and the harvested grey water is used for farming. In future we would like to introduce better potable water solutions - using inexpensive strategies.
- The technology we are trying to introduce will encourage people to share resources. The reusable lightweight form-work, two people can assemble and disassemble them, helps speed up construction and reduces the cement utilized in the walls. It allows for easier placement of insulation, and the continuous pour helps in reducing air and moisture infiltration. It avoids mortar joints - which are the weak link in masonry wall construction and where usually cracks and failures start.
- Team work will be key among the workers. A small group of villagers could form a group, a cooperative or a collective, and help each other in using these forms to build their homes. They could apply for mortgage or construction loan as a group rather than individually - which might be preferred by micro-finance institutions.
Who will take these actions?
We have an opportunity to build homes, clinics, schools with the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa - Lesotho (SOC). SOC are also looking for housing their elderly poor in warmer structures during bitterly cold winters, in many of their locations. But unfortunately they lack funding for these projects. If we get grants and support from International organizations we can put up pilot projects that can then be replicated in many countries.
We are not interested in patenting or monetizing our BM – as technologies such as ours should not be kept from the poor. Architects and engineers (A/E) serve mostly paying clients who in turn only serve between 5% to 10% of an LDC's income (higher) group. Hence the poor who need advice most - as their contribution to GW is significant - receive none. Unless A/E respond to this challenge we will face a major global calamity.
However in order to launch a new building technology, such an effort is best led by a credible, international organization or an international philanthropy that can provide funds needed for successful prototypes. An organization that has the resources to promote sustainable, low carbon footprint building solutions, and pay for the dedicated research and trial and error hurdles.
The effort of such an organization should to be to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions, lower the carbon footprint (CF) of buildings, and increase use of renewable energy. In order to bring about meaningful change the various stakeholders, individuals, and non-profit organizations must work together with clear set of short and long-term goals.
The lead organization should also act as a reservoir of knowledge dealing with best practices, whether it is to build a home, or a school, or a hospital which would be tailored to stimulating local manufacturing, self reliance, encourage employment and skill development strategies, and provide strategies for better waste management. Introducing a new building technology is difficult. Fellow professionals are often the most ardent detractors. All building details and methodology should be made public and free, and should be made available on the web. Videos and manuals should explain the process of construction in a step-by-step sequenced method, should be country or climate zone specific, as the process will be different from wet zones to dry zones, warm or cold regions, and from earthquake prone (seismic) and non-seismic areas. The poor cannot afford royalty fees and need all the support they can get. It should promote and encourage and encourage recycling of waste products. It should hire experts, consultants and professionals who can act as an advisory team for countries that are willing to participate and make some financial commitment towards that effort. Below is a hypothetical workflow chart on such a solution can be implemented.
Where will these actions be taken?
Our BM technology can be utilized for colder regions in Africa, South and North America, Turkey, Pakistan, Nepal, India, China, The author has already built similar prototypes in seismic zones such as Lesotho, Haiti, Pakistan. The structures were designed in collaboration with US based and country based structural engineers. For instance in Pakistan, the technology has been approved by Government engineers for seismic areas and a very reputable international NGO "The Aga Khan Planning and Building Services of Pakistan (AKPBS-P)" commissioned us to build several homes in an earthquake devastated area of Kashmir (AJK). All the buildings were built successfully some 13 years ago, and have since experienced earthquakes of Richter 5.5 plus. They show no structural distress.
Below is an example of a earthquake resistant home for a widow and her family, commissioned by the Aga Khan Foundation and built by us. It is built using our technology and with our elastic skin concept / technology. This technology results in buildings that can resist major earthquakes more effectively, better avoid catastrophic failure, and utilizes far less reinforcement than what is required in masonry or brick construction.
The "elastic skin" buildings use locally available lightweight materials, and as these buildings are very light have a smaller mass inertia, utilize less reinforcement, have the elasticity of wood frame structures - without being wood frame. The non-wood solution reduces fire hazard, as our buildings are made of non-combustible material excepting the roof, and prevents massive deforestation in these areas. Use of wood in Northern areas has become prohibitive as 50% of the forests in India and Pakistan have been cut down for fire wood as well as building homes and furniture. Deforestation is a major ecological disaster, contributing to global warming, loss of soil cover, flooding, and inestimable damage to plant, fauna and animal life.
Fire prevention is a major benefit as most people cook in open fires and home fire remains a major risk in these areas.
Below is an example of the elastic skin building type - built in Kashmir in 2006.
Our buildings are located in very cold areas of Northern Pakistan. With some of the techniques developed in Lesotho, homes in future will not only be earthquake resistant but will require none to very little fossil fuel or electricity to keep their homes warm in freezing weather or cool in sweltering summers.
We have also built homes in very hot areas of Pakistan using similar technique. The house below was commissioned by the mayor of Karachi in 2006, and opened by him (see www.saridweb.org and project "Taiser Town" ).
The house remains warm naturally in extreme hot weather, because of insulated (recycled-waste) walls, micro-climate created by a interior garden, as well as thermal mass features for cooling.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
Significant reduction in heating cost is anticipated as our homes are heated by the Sun, a renewable energy source. Our rough estimate for a 500 sf home, the savings in emissions by going 100% solar - off grid for electricity and fossil fuel based heating, is about 10 tons/ year of CO2 emissions. Which means a saving of 300 tons of CO2 in 30 years.
Worldwide we think we can reduce the emissions by 1 billion tons (see write-up above).
We anticipate between 80%-90% emission reduction, compared to a masonry structure - the popular method of construction in many countries. Our building types are made of lean concrete and has a lower carbon footprint than masonry buildings. The roof is made of waste grass, does not reflect heat back to the sky as much (positive impact on GW) - and would have been burnt otherwise. No wood is utilized excepting for roof trusses. In future we hope to use other renewable and sustainable energy sources, including the Sun, Wind, Hydro, Bio-Gas and Geothermal.
What are other key benefits?
What are other Key benefits
Key benefits are as follows:
- Introducing a “Green” building technology that has a smaller carbon footprint, non-wood so does exacerbate existing deforestation, and generates employment and economic growth.
- A technology that can recycle waste, utilizes locally available resources.
- A technology that allows people to pool resources, collaborate, share tools such as re-usable form-work. The re-usable form-work reduces construction price and significantly speeds up construction.
- Fossil Fuel Independence: Learning to build homes that are not dependent on fossil fuels for heating or require imported electricity for lighting, heating and/ or cooling.
- Vocational Training: Teaching people building skills that can lead to paid employment in building / construction industry.
- Teaching people to collaborate, form teams, and improve their chances for mortgages and micro-finance loans
- Learning to recycle waste such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) Styrofoam (lunch-boxes) and packaging EPS for building insulation.
- In the picture below villagers and high school students being given a two week training in carpentry, use of hand tools, and our building method (BM).
Benefits of our BM on seismic design:
Our seismic design includes other features, to dampen and resist earthquake forces, such as base isolation which reduces building vibration during seismic events. Base isolation is difficult to do, especially when you have limited resources and trying to bootstrap the technology and concept - and we are still not convinced that we have succeeded as well as we are told our buildings are behaving. We suspect it is the overall design working in tandem that is making the difference. In one instance in 2007 in the aftermath of a significant earthquake in Kashmir ( greater than Richter 5), while most of the neighboring masonry buildings had collapsed or suffered serious structural damage, our buildings did not exhibit any structural distress not even a hairline crack. I personally inspected our built homes inch by inch and wall to wall. This was true for all 3 buildings we had built in AJK. To further confound us the residents in one of the home swore they slept through the night, the earthquake happened at night, did not feel any shaking or vibration. They later learnt that people had panicked and were running scared out in the open. They stated that their neighbors homes were rolling and shaking. We were then told that whenever there is an earthquake neighbors rush to our built homes for safety.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
To start a pilot project in any country, with workshops, training centers, and to build on or two prototypes, and create manuals and web based instruction manuals and videos, we will need at least $50,000 US per pilot project.
Once we are given a project to implement, depending on the size of the project, it may take us anywhere from 6 months to a year to set up a functioning building technology center.
About the author(s)
The author is an architect and a civil engineer by education and training. He grew up in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Africa. He has graduate degrees in Architecture and Civil Engineering from MIT. He is a licensed architect in USA,
He also heads a non-profit SARID Inc. www.saridweb.org and is trying to introduce "greener" buildings in poorer countries, and for poorer communities in developed countries, that have the potential of stimulating local manufacturing, use of recyclables, and leveraging renewable energy sources. In 2017 the author won a design award from the American Concrete Institute (Louisiana Chapter), for a single family flood resistant home he designed and built in 2016 in a previously hurricane (Katrina) devastated ward in New Orleans. The home is based on a similar concept to the Lesotho home with insulation sandwiched between reinforced concrete skin. See www.saridweb.org for more information on the New Orleans structure.
In 2018 his Lesotho building, featured above, won MIT Climate CoLab's contest for "Buildings" as well as "Adaptation".
He owns a design / build firm, Kinoo Inc., see www.kinoo.com and brings some 40 years of experience while working in USA, Africa, Asia and Middle East. He is currently focused on building energy efficient structures in North America - buildings that do not rely on fossil fuels for heating and cooling and are made with "Green" and sustainable materials.
Our project compliments other projects in spirit and intent - but we could not find another proposal that specifically introduces a new employment generating "Green" and affordable building technology.