Credit: medium

After ICON’s announcement that four-roomed houses could soon be printed in a day for less than $4000 dollars using 3D printing technology, one begins to feel that the remedy for affordable housing especially in developing countries is not a distant idea. The company in fact intends to print 100 houses in El Salvador next year for $600,000 according to SingularityHub…over to Africa.

The number of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 56% by 2050. The continent has been urbanizing at a rapid rate while population growth has been equally robust. A recent study by JLL revealed that most countries in the region have a more than 60% of their households earning below $10,000 per year. Such low-income levels together with high interest rates in most of the countries have constrained the ability of low-income groups to get mortgages.

Housing affordability has long been a problem for many countries in the continent. However, technological advances may make it easier to solve the affordable housing challenge in the not so far future. According to JLL, the following are some of the technologies that are coming up to help dissolve the affordability issues. These are technologies that have emerged to address the cost of construction since this accounts for 75% of the cost of delivery.

Prefabricated modular units

Some Kenyan companies have come up with innovative ways of producing prefabricated housing units. Standard parts of a housing unit are constructed on site and then transported to the construction site where they are assembled. Prefabricated houses have found favour with price because the construction medium incorporates cheaper and innovative materials like fibre cement, galvanized steel, expanded polystyrene panels and other less costly mixtures. The manufacturer estimates that this method can reduce costs by up to 30%.

‘Cast in situ’ housing

Developed and patented by a South African company, the system can reduce the cost of construction by up to 35% depending on market conditions. The technology produces housing units cast in situ using plastic moulded form-work and a special mix of aerated concrete. The formwork for one unit can be used to produce up to 50 houses hence the reduction in costs.

Load bearing steel frame units

This technique combines the use of a load-bearing steel building frame with stone or insulated fibre cement walls. When put in place the structure allows for building services such as plumbing and electrical systems, fittings and finishes to be installed separately, maintaining flexibility, and allowing for changes to different structural components over time. Apart from reducing the cost and tome required for construction, the roofing system used by the technique has been found to promote good ventilation and self-cooling of the housing units

In addition to cost reduction and time efficiency, these techniques are for the most part more environmentally friendly in comparison to conventional methods. However, like any other innovations before them, they are faced by a number of barriers to scale. These include, high initial costs, resistance to change and inadequate financing for the lower-income groups.