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6 things to consider when building an affordable house

Wed Aug 16, 2017
At the mention of  Affordable housing,  a lot of people imagine an inferior house with sub-standard materials. Others start wondering what comfort they would have to sacrifice to be able to put up an affordable house. Both reactions are however totally wrong.
At the mention of  Affordable housing,  a lot of people imagine an inferior house with sub-standard materials. Others start wondering what comfort they would have to sacrifice to be able to put up an affordable house. Both reactions are however totally wrong.

You can put up an affordable home just as you dreamed with the standard materials on our market for a fraction of the cost you are afraid of. All you need is knowledge and a little bit of creativity. And whilst I cannot suddenly give you a creative mind, I can give you the information that you will need to be creative and be able to put up your dream home for a much lower cost.

1. Seek Professional Help
Yes, I know you are probably thinking that building professionals cost a lot to hire but the truth is an affordable house starts from the design. Explaining all aspects of design that have cost implications will require another article but the simple truth is a well designed house will shave thousands off your building cost. Aspects of design that affect the overall cost of a project includes; time, shape of the building, sizes of individual spaces, multi-purpose and utility areas, etc.  

Another reason why you should consider engaging a professional has to do with error corrections. Sometimes thousands of Cedis are used to correct an error or defect which occurred as a result of poor design or supervision. These thousands, though wasted, form part of the overall building cost and avoiding them will make your house more affordable.

2. Be honest with yourself
To put up an affordable house one has to be honest with himself/herself. That may sound simple but it is actually one of the hardest things to do. To clearly and realistically look at yourself, your cash flows and then say I can afford this house and not that. For example, all things being equal, a three bedroom house with en suite bedrooms will cost more than one with one en suite bedroom and the two other bedrooms sharing a toilet and bath. Most times we like to dream big and that is excellent but when it comes to putting up a building, it is better to be honest about your coat size and then " cut your coat according to your size"

3. Avoid Waste
According to Wikipedia, observational research has shown that up to 15% of construction materials bought will be wasted on the site. That is a very significant cost. That may mean if your  estimated cost for materials for your project is about GH¢100,000.00, about GH¢15,000.00 will be wasted. That also means there will be an increase in your labour cost as well. One only has to take a visit to any site to see the level of waste generated; rotting wood that could have been used for another purpose later, sand allowed to wash away, cement left to solidify, weeds covering heaps of sand and stone making them virtually unusable. Most of this waste occur because most builders do not prepare a well laid out plan that we call schedule of works. Being well informed about all steps involved in the construction of the project will reduce the time and resources wasted whiles waiting for the next step to begin. 

4. Technical knowledge Verses brand names
Building an affordable house may also require some technical knowledge concerning materials and fixtures. Some companies have been in existence for years and have put time and money into branding and are therefore well known as well as very expensive. A technical or professional builder knows that quality is not always equal to price. This is because there are also new companies with materials and fixtures which may be better than the known brands but which are less expensive because they are new and have not put much money in to branding. Knowledge about this will help save a lot of money. So do some research, go to at least one of the housing and materials fairs organised yearly and learn about new and exciting relatively cheaper products and services. If you cannot do this then hire someone with this knowledge and you will still save some money but not as much as you will if you do it yourself.

5. Standardised and prefabricated components and materials
Standardised and prefabricated components and materials are the building materials and components which are sometimes already assembled or prepared in the factory before they are brought to the market. They are therefore  readily available on the market. Though it is good to be unique, it is quite essential to stick to these when you want to put up an affordable house. This is because they are cheaper than custom made materials and components and are quick and easy to fix. They also reduce your labour cost because they do not require any special or time consuming method of fixing or manufacture, you just go, buy the sizes according to your design and then get them fixed. Simple, easy and fast and that will save you time and money.

6. Don't do what everyone is doing
Another thing you should know when putting up an affordable house is to not copy blindly. Every few years, a particular design feature emerges and every potential home owner just goes with it without taking the time to find out whether there is any functional backing to this feature. A case in point is the current trend of very steep roof pitches. A roof pitch is basically how steep your roof is. Unless you plan on putting an attic room in your roof, it is practically and financial unwise to increase the pitch of your roof to over 40º. That is a waste of money. The increased pitch or steepness will require more expensive hardwood, fixtures, more roof materials as well as increase the labour cost and hours required. Taking on this needless cost is not something you want to do if you want to put up a building you can afford.

Again, putting up an affordable home does not mean sacrificing quality, beauty or comfort. Just follow the points discussed above but don't just end here, do a wider search, visit the housing fairs, seek professional help and you can build your dream home at a much lower price than the prices you see on the property markets.

About the author
Isaac k. Mensah is a TGSS alumnus from Ghana. Isaac is a construction and renewable energy consultant with a degree in architecture and a masters in Renewable Energy Development. He is passionate about sustainable building design,  solar and construction and currently heads the consulting branch of the Public Works Department (PWD), Takoradi regional office.

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