REAL ESTATE MINUTE With Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh: Re-imagining affordable housing through green solutions

Re-imagining livable cities
Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh:

Affordable housing is often confused with low income or social housing and while the latter may be a subset of the affordable housing concept, affordable housing actually refers to the fact that you’re spending less than 30 percent of your post-tax income on housing. Crucially, housing costs here refer not only to the upfront construction cost but the running or operational costs, hence a holistic life cycle analysis is required to arrive at a true cost of a building.

The element of life cycle analysis thus becomes a great marker when debating whether one can build green but affordable homes. Statistics indicate that while in reality, the initial cost of a green building is typically only 2%-3% higher than its non-green counterpart, an equivalent of approximately $3.00-$5.00 per square foot, there is a perception that green buildings are way more expensive than conventional buildings.

A life cycle assessment however reveals that green buildings actually cost 14% less to run and maintain during the entire life cycle cost assessment, and is thus cheaper in when assessed holistically. So while it seems like a no brainer to build green, the perception of green buildings being unaffordable has a stronger hold.

For those looking to go green on a budget, there are alternative building models that provide a great balance between affordability and sustainability, these options allow us to reimagine affordable green homes as a reality. If you are ready like we are, do take your seat for a quick tour of such green models, courtesy our friends at GreenMatch.

Earth Houses

What can be more earth-friendly than the earth itself? Earth houses built with the use of the earth beneath our feet are a perfect example of sustainable construction. And some of the longest lasting buildings still standing are earthen. These building techniques include cob, rammed earth and earthbag buildings. While the first two are made with a particular mix of clay, earthbags are a more modern twist on using the earth as a building material.

Earthbag Homes

Earthbag homes are not a metaphor for a house built with one huge earthbag, but these homes are built exactly what they sound like – with the use of bags filled with earthen materials stacked to make a house. Earthbags are stacked vertically to make straight or curved walls, or they can be stacked into a dome shaped building that need no additional framing to make a roof. The bags can be filled with a variety of earthy material – for example crushed volcanic rock, which is also an insulation. This kind of construction is very environmentally friendly and very cheap, but they perhaps may not be visual beauties for some.

Rammed Earth

Think of constructing rammed earth homes as building sand castles. But instead of flipping the bucket to form a structure fit for a king, you stuff the soil into the walls that are already in place. The walls are filled with a mix of soils either by hand or a machine. After everything has been packed tightly, the forms are removed and what is left is a very solid, stable earth wall. The process can be repeated until the entire house is built.

Wooden Houses

Wood is certainly one of the most versatile and common building materials. However, we have to remember that although wood can be called a sustainable material, the over-harvesting and deforestation can exceed the ability of the forests to regenerate themselves. Therefore, when we want to invest in a wood house, we should think of materials such as log or timber, that can be made with certified sustainably harvested trees or with the use of sustainable building methods.

Straw Houses

Straw has all kinds of benefits – it’s inexpensive and provide excellent insulation. These qualities make straw construction a green-building method. More importantly, straw bales are a byproduct of grain farming, therefore building straw houses is a great way of reusing something that would normally go to waste.

Bamboo Houses

Bamboo houses are an even more eco-friendly alternative to building with timber. Bamboo is a very strong material to build with and well-constructed bamboo homes are said to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.

Stone Houses

Stone houses are about as sustainable as it can get. Built with rocks, stone houses have their natural beauty and don’t require additional painting. They can be built with the use of local materials and are very comfortable. With the use of a passive house design, stone homes can store heat within its walls. And although stone homes may seem like an idea from the Dark Ages, it is certainly a bright, sustainable idea.

Tiny Houses

Those tiny houses have one great advantage – they are extremely environmentally friendly. And lovely! But most importantly environmentally friendly. A tiny house can be built with the use of green building materials or recycled supplies. These compact houses are so small that they don’t require sophisticated heating and cooling solutions, and can be easily moved to a different location and are designed to reduce our carbon footprint.

Container Homes

This kind of construction is gaining popularity, as shipping-crate homes has become a trendy way of living. Not only that – shipping-crate homes are cheaper than conventional homes and the finished structure has a unique and very modern, industrial look. Their small size makes these tiny-homes a green construction method, and some enthusiasts go even as far as making them even more eco-friendly with solar panels, green insulation and rainwater-harvesting systems.

Green Roof Homes

Green roofs are known as an amazing architectural feature but this method has more benefits to it than just visual aspects. Green roofs can aid in managing stormwater runoff and helps to reduce the urban heat-island effect. This roof construction solution reflects heat rather than absorbing it like a regular roof, and helps with lowering a building’s cooling costs. They are also great insulators while requiring very little maintenance. And let’s face it – it looks great!

Hemp Concrete

Due to the fact that traditional concrete is very energy intensive to create, hemp concrete was developed in order to work as an alternative. Hemp concrete is a mixture of hemp, water, and limestone that is, surprisingly, more durable than regular concrete. Walls made with this material are said to be resistant to fire, mould, and insects. Hemp concrete may, however, be more expensive than regular concrete due to the fact that hemp is illegal to grow.

Modular Homes

Modular homes are no longer prefabricated houses some might be familiar with. Nowadays, modular houses are built with a modern look and an environmental twist. Those eco-friendly homes are typically smaller than traditional houses, therefore they use much less energy to heat and cool.

The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult

 & Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh


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