Less than 200 years ago, mud was the mainstream construction material in West Africa while brick and mortar were considered the alternative. But there has since been a distinct role reversal. With Africa’s population expected to double in the next 25 years and more than half of its urban population forced to leave their homes and live in informal settlements following natural disasters, current housing stock cannot meet the challenge of providing homes for everyone. But neither can mainstream building materials. The construction industry has been forced to think beyond traditional brick and mortar and come up with creative alternatives that are also eco-friendly and offer faster build times. This has led to a wave in eco-friendly construction and Africa’s greenest buildings ever seen.
Using Recycled Materials In Construction
Africa’s construction industry is increasingly looking at innovative and sustainable building methods to help conserve energy, promote reusable materials to create cleaner, greener homes that can be built quickly. Today, there is an increased focus on using recycled materials in construction to divert waste from landfills while also saving natural resources. While wood is not a building material commonly used in Africa, there are some benefits to repurposing this natural material in construction. It is biodegradable and provides effective sound absorption, offers considerable electric and heat resistance, and is relatively easy to obtain. Using lumber from plastic and recycled wood offers a far more durable and less toxic alternative to traditionally treated lumber.
Building With Expanded Polystyrene Concrete (EPS)
While Africa struggles with the challenge of providing enough homes for everyone, there has been a growth in the continent’s green building movement. A relatively new building material it works similar to a lightweight concrete and has already been used to create a large amount of housing in Africa’s rural communities. Once constructed, EPS looks quite similar to traditional concrete and is created by using small Styrofoam expanded polystyrene concrete balls as an aggregate as an alternative to crushed stone. While it isn’t as strong as traditional stone-based concrete it doe increase the thermal and sound insulation properties of a building can be easily shaped and can be formed by hand.
Africa’s Green Building Movement
From bamboo, rammed earth, wood, and expanded polystyrene concrete to even 3D printing, the construction industry is turning to innovative ways to eco-friendly create homes and buildings. A project in Cape Town saw homes built for just $6,000 using sandbags. While this method conserves both money and resources, the houses are a safe, strong, and sustainable way to deliver affordable housing. Ghanian Joe Osae Addo designed and built an eco-friendly home for his family using natural materials he found locally such as timber and adobe mud blocks. It may not have any air-conditioning but the house has slide slatted-wood screens and floor to ceiling windows for cross ventilation.
As Africa looks for ways to tackle its growing housing problems, innovative and eco-friendly construction could be the answer to providing cost-effective and sustainable homes of the future.