BusinessDay

Lafarge, others lead fresh efforts to reduce construction cost

Worried about the high cost of housing construction and rising housing deficit in Nigeria, building materials manufacturers are now pushing aggressively to reduce the cost and bridge the existing gap.

Leading this push are Lafarge Africa, a member of the LafargeHolcim Group; Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI), and West African Ceramics Limited (WACL), which produces Royal brand of tiles, marbles and accessories.

Building materials constitute the largest single input in housing construction. Analysts say about 65 percent of total housing expenditure goes into the purchase of building materials which are over 70 percent imported. Other costs are those of funding and infrastructure (estimated at 30 percent).

These costs, according to analysts, are the reason for the high price tags on houses on the property market. Nigeria is, arguably, adjudged the most expensive housing market in Africa. High construction cost is also the reason Nigeria has a housing deficit estimated at 20 million units.

These explain why Lafarge Africa, the second-largest cement manufacturer in Nigeria with 21.8 percent share of the market and production capacity of 10.5million metric tons is innovating with various building solutions aimed to reduce cost of construction.

Lafarge notes that with growing population, housing needs are in tens/hundreds of millions and with the attendant deficit, there is need to produce houses in millions per annum.

“But the current way of building cannot offer the desired solution; there is lack of innovation and speed and cost of materials and labour is rising,” said Jumoke Adegunle, head, mortar operations at Lafarge Africa.

Adegunle, who spoke at the 15th edition of the Abuja International Housing Conference, noted that because the world, especially Nigeria, is facing environmental and construction challenges, “we need to disrupt the way houses are built–we need to build better, affordable and eco-friendly buildings while maintaining cost-efficient budgets; we need to reduce construction timelines.”

Read also: How Lafarge’s Concrete Ideas is shaping the construction industry’s policy thrusts

To achieve this, Lafarge has come up with what Adegunle called Construction 3D Printing which is the molding of a structure by placing volumes of material in sequential layers on top of one another from ground up. The material is pushed through a nozzle that regulates flow and is guided by computer-controlled positioning process.

This new technology has material efficiency such that the right material is used at the right place without any formwork. It ensures up to 60percent of savings in terms of material cost. It also increases construction speed and productivity up to twice as fast.

With this, Adegunle assured, Lafarge could reduce construction time by up to 70 percent.

On its part, NBRRI, a Federal Government institute responsible for researching and developing road and building materials for the Nigerian building industry, is innovating and creating alternative building materials with local content.

Samson Duna, a fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers, listed some of the innovations NBRRI has made as a contributor to the provision of alternative building materials. One of them is the manual brick making machine which has been successfully used in construction of houses and can be commercialised.

Laterite grinding machine is another. “This machine grinds laterite to required mesh size for brick/block production; it eliminates materials wastes or laterite rejects, guarantees high productivity and high quality of bricks/blocks produced; it is electrically operated, has grinding and sieving mechanism; it is ideal for use in mass housing delivery, and minimizes production cost for brick and block making,” Duna explained.

Laterite mixing machine is yet another innovation by NBRRI. This method is mechanical. The cement and water ensures thorough mixing; it guarantees high quality of brick/block production powered by electric motor. The machine enhances productivity, eliminates drudgery of manual mixing, and is ideal for use in mass housing delivery.

WACL believes that there is need for every participant in the housing supply to rethink the approach to meeting housing needs which have largely favoured the high and middle-income earners to a point of oversupply of housing units in those segments.

“When you consider the huge number of unoccupied finished houses across major cities in Nigeria, it becomes apparent that deficit in housing units is not as much a problem as lack of affordable housing units,” P Bhaskar Rao, WACL’s managing director, said.

He disclosed that the company has have invested in technologies, distribution network and manpower requirements to produce quality and modern tiles that match the taste for foreign products yet obtainable in the local market at very affordable prices.

“In addition to our current network of dealer-partnership showrooms and experience centres, we have recently opened a state-of-art tile gallery in Abuja. This is aimed to ensure that affordable tiles are within reach and encourage patronage of locally produced goods that builders can afford.

These products should also give project owners and other investors the opportunity to reduce risk, lower the cost of projects and enjoy a one-stop-shop experience of tile usage through the showrooms which also serve as experience centres beyond sales outlets,” he added.

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