Diffusion of appropriate building technology in housing in Uganda

The housing construction industry in Uganda employs a limited number of materials for walling; more so, the low income bracket which constitutes up to 78% of the population. The common materials are wattle and daub used by 39% of the population while over half of the households – 55% in Uganda live in dwellings that have brick walls (UBOS, 2014).

The choice of walling materials as indicated have a number of challenges which include permanence, longevity, cost of repair and maintenance, cost of transportation, quality control, high embodied energy and contribution to green house gas emissions, contribution to deforestation, health hazards in manufacture, and wetland destruction.

The propagation and uptake of technologies that have the ability to improve construction and housing standards by resident populations is often as important as the technology itself. Using the diffusion theory as a basis, this brief captures the factors that influence the adoption of innovative technologies and examines the processes that have been involved in the propagation of Compressed Earth Block (CEB) technology in Uganda. We note that CEB is a more viable alternative than for example the popular fired (clay) brick for both environmental and economic reasons yet CEB is not necessarily the more socially acceptable.

With this background, the Energy in Low Income Tropical Housing (ELITH) project in its endeavour to study how alternative walling materials, and in this case CEB have been adopted by various communities visited a number of sites where the material has been used. The field studies involved querying community opinion leaders about their take on the material. This was done in collaboration with the Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT), a non-profit organisation engaged in the training of unemployed youth in the production and use of CEB in the Kamuli area. HYT is predominantly involved in the construction of school infrastructure that includes classrooms and staff housing.

The study visited four sites and held interviews with community leaders that included Local Council members, PTA association leaders and staff at the schools on: the communication channels for spreading CEB; the social system (context); the duration of exposure to CEB technology and their perception of the characteristics of the material.

Preliminary analysis of the data indicates that in the area of operation of HYT, the respondents show a preference for CEB because it is thought of as a modern material representing modernity and affluence. This notion has been reinforced by the fact that other than the NGO, which is presumed to be well funded, there are no other entities encouraging the use of alternative construction materials, as burnt earth brick is the material of choice. Furthermore, while respondents acknowledge that CEB walls utilise less cement (a significant reduction in cost) than conventional wall construction – conventional being the low quality fired (clay) brick that require large/wasteful mortar joints (30 – 60mm) and 30mm plaster on both sides of a wall to achieve a desired finish, the respondents were also quick to point out that the initial cost of CEB in equipment and skilled labour hire posed a major hurdle.

According to the survey, the largest obstacle to the adoption of engineered building materials such as CEB, in infrastructure construction remains access to information, equipment and finance.  And the questions that now arise, given one of the objectives of the ELITH project is reduction of embodied energy and costs, include:

  1. Which organisations are better placed to promote more environmentally friendly and evidently potentially less costly alternative materials?
  2. What kind of information do these organisations require to establish buy in?
  3. Who is a champion in different contexts and how can we make the most of them?

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