Teaching people to build low carbon footprint, energy efficient, and naturally heated homes in poorer and colder regions of the world
People living in colder regions of the world, especially the poor, have homes that typically have little or no heating during winter months. Most homes rely on fossil fuels and/ or non-renewable energy sources for heating during winter. Living in unheated homes during winter, or very hot homes in summer, besides being uncomfortable is a health risk for children and the elderly.
Lesotho is one such country that experiences warm summer and freezing temperatures in winter. In 2015 we built an energy efficient demonstration home for the elderly on behalf of a Roman Catholic Charity. Our home is naturally heated by the Sun in winter (90% of the time), and is cool in summer. It was built by students and villagers under our guidance, and after they were trained over a two week period. It has seen two severe winters with a minimal use of fossil fuels (10% of the time).
The key characteristics of our home are:
- People can be taught to build these homes after a couple of weeks of training (capacity building)
- An envelope (walls, roof and floor) that is insulated, and air-tight
- A heat source which is non-fossil fuel based
- Floors and Wall have thermal mass
- Solar PV as primary electric source
- A structure insulated using recycled waste
- A rain water harvesting roof system
The home is insulated, has a low carbon footprint, utilizes solar hot water (SHW) for heating - via perimeter baseboard and radiant floor (hydronic). The roof mounted SHW also provides hot water for a shower, and heats water in a heat exchanger (UHE). The walls are insulated with waste styrofoam (EPS) lunch boxes (LB) , sandwiched between concrete walls. The LB typically go to landfills, or are burnt producing toxic fumes resulting "Green House" gas emissions (GHGe). Electricity is provided with solar PV (SPV) - which charge 12v rechargeable batteries - which in turn power 5v clustered LED bulbs. The home was built using reusable forms which can be used to build hundreds of homes. See picture and section below.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Local contractors, architects, engineers, and the Government in Lesotho are very interested in learning how to build our structures - as cost of heating buildings, or cooling in summer, is a heavy drain on the economy. During winter months middle and upper income groups pay on the average 15 - 20% of their salary on heating their home. The poor in villages, almost 70% of the population, live in unheated homes such as in the picture below. These homes are unheated, not energy efficient, with no insulation excepting for the roof, not air-tight,and permit draft and rapid loss of heat.
Solutions with advanced SPV and SHW, are urgently needed but they are expensive and can only be afforded by the upper and middle class. That leaves a large poor and middle income population, who remain dependent on fossil fuels for heating and cooling with its negative impact on GHG emissions and on global warming (GW). They need a more affordable and "Green" solution.
We are hoping to build better homes that will reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.
Ours is such an attempt using sun's heat (Solar) and everyday materials.
We have been working as a non-profit and hope to continue doing so, providing pro-bono service, to charities and poorer folks. However in order to service the middle income and upper income groups, because they are also contributing to GHGe, we may need to come up with a market based strategy. Ours is a technology that has continuity between low and high end building types, and leverages sweat equity participation - as Lesotho has a large population of poor and unemployed. The private marketplace as well as the commercial market place is significant, and can easily provide work for our trained workers.
We intend to remain as a non-profit, and teach all who desire. We need to build this nexus with the market economy to capitalize and monetize such an initiative - to help lower the per capita GHGe.
We need to do the following:
- The building process needs to be taught. We need to set up workshops and training centers in order to teach people how to build homes with our technology, recycle waste, heat homes without fossil fuels, and demonstrate the impact of insulating homes and using SHW for heating.
- We need to train local architects, engineers and contractors. Workers need to learn how to fabricate our proposed inexpensive modular reusable forms for wall construction. They need to know how to erect the walls so they are well insulated and structurally sound. They need to understand how to run the copper pipes, the design of mixing valves, the use of hot water for shower as well as for heating, the use of underground water tanks as thermal storage and heat exchanger. They need to understand how to build affordable perimeter baseboard heating system to maximize storage of heat within walls. The design of under-slab heating system, can be challenging, in order to prevent heat loss from the ground. They slab needs to be insulated at the same time detailed carefully to prevent slab settlement possibilities. The correct placement of pipe in the slab is important to avoid puncturing the pipe and at the same time to allow adequate heat transfer. Selection of inexpensive, low wattage sump pump, and the size and type of piping to be used to circulate the water under the floor are important design issues. The correct construction of insulated heat exchangers - so water remains hot for a longer period. The hot water once it has transferred the heat to the heat exchanger has to be brought back to the solar water heater on the roof to be re-heated. With the help of simple low wattage sump pump this can be achieved easily provided the pipe size and length are optimized. The operation of various valves and controls has to be understood so you don't end up heating the walls during the summer months. One needs to leverage the design to use the same copper pipes and circulation system to cool the homes, using cold tap water, in summer.
- Given the high unemployment in poorer countries, our technology which can employ unskilled and semi-skilled labor, will provide people with jobs, gainful employment with both economic, social, and mental health benefits. Unemployment is very high in most poor countries and especially in Lesotho.
- The demonstration home in Lesotho was built for Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (SOC) – Lesotho. The sisters have the land and are trying to raise funds to build four more similar elderly home. They also would like to build teachers homes, clinics, schools and hospitals using the building technology. They are also interested in teaching local villagers the technique so the villagers can build their one or two room homes. The homes have been very cost competitive.
- We estimate that all over the world there are at least 200 million household who are moderately poor, depend on fossil fuels or non-renewable energy sources for electricity, heating and cooling - and can benefit from a technology like ours. If households all over the world on the average produce 5 tons of CO2 per year, only because of the fossil fuels used for heating and cooling and electricity, that comes to 1,000,000,000 (1 billion tons) of CO2 per year that is dumped as GHG on our planet. We think our numbers are very conservative. As ours is a non-wood, non-combustible technology, and by avoiding wood construction we will further reduce global warming (GW) and GHGe.
- For our prototype, a 500sf home, we expect to save GHG emissions of about 10 tons/ year and 300 tons over 30 years. This is a huge reduction in GHG if one considers that this is a population group spread out in many countries, and would normally not be expected to abandon fossil fuels and/ or come off grid any time soon. The group cannot afford high tech solutions, large and expensive clusters of solar PV, etc.
- Ours would be a low tech, cost effective way to reduce GHG from both a very broad sector of the housing as well as commercial market place in both the developed and developing economies - and that intervention can take place immediately as it is urgently needed.
- The life cycle cost of our approximately 500 square feet (sf) prototype ( 380sf is living-bedroom space, and an additional 120sf is bathroom, kitchenette, storage, and mechanical space), that we built last year for SOC, is as follows: If built in masonry (current practice) is approximately US $27, 575. The first cost (construction) currently in Lesotho is around US $15,000 - the cost of heating the building plus other utilities ( electricity) over a 30 year period is an additional US 12,575. In case of our prototype the construction cost is approximately $10,500 and the heating plus utilities life cost over 30 years is about $1,956. The life cycle cost ( Grand Total: First cost, Heating, plus utilities over a 30 year period) for our structure is US $ 12,456.
For our prototype we have made an allowance for supplementary heating for about 30 days in a year for cloudy days. We have assumed, for both buildings,an increase in cost of utility by 3% annually due to inflation. We have assumed a 30 year life cycle for our calculations. The numbers are very compelling. Our buildings over 30 years cost only 45% of what a masonry building will cost. Please see chart above. Even if we were to replace the waste insulation with imported rigid expanded polystyrene (EPS), that will add only about US $1,500 to the construction cost. Still the numbers are very compelling as our prototype will still cost approximately half (51%) of a masonry structure. If you add the savings in GHG, the carbon credits (CC) that will accrue over 30 years, the cost of our prototype further reduces by a large factor. We have not calculated the savings from recycling the waste insulation - which would have otherwise gone to a landfill or burnt producing toxic gasses and contributing to GHGe. In future we expect industrialized countries to pay for these CC, and it may result in a monthly paycheck for the residents, or the CC can be a co-lateral for a construction loan.
Our building type also has a lower carbon footprint than any other building type in the country. See chart below.
The chart below shows a comparison of temperature inside the home of a un-insulated masonry structure versus our prototype in Lesotho. The readings below are actual on site reading at our Lesotho home during winter and partly extrapolated for summer - based on our experience with masonry structures in other similar countries (climate, elevation, latitude). In summer our structure remains cool. In winter the temperature (temp), because of insulation and SHW heating and thermal mass and small periods of supplementary heat, remains within 64 to 68 Fahrenheit. In summer the temp ranges between 68 F to 74 F. These readings may vary slightly from building to building and region to region but the bottom line is a lot less heating and cooling is required with our building types. Masonry structures perform poorly and mimic outside air temperatures.
In summary, we will need:
- Grants and Governmental support to demonstrate the technology will be a big plus. We are developing solutions for a non-paying client who contributes significantly to GHG emissions.
- Unless we can build more prototypes, and demonstrate successful models, it will be difficult to advance and promote the technology. Larger facilities can be built by similar process - which will introduce a "green" culture in building construction in Lesotho and many other developing and developed countries.
- Future homes will need to target better sewage management. Separation of black water from grey water. Utilization of grey water for farming. We hope to direct the black-water to bio-digesters in order to generate bio-gas which can subsequently be used for heating, and the remaining waste to be used as fertilizer. Lesotho also has a rain problem. It does have fresh water lakes, and aquifers a higher altitudes. It hardly rains in Lesotho and Lesotho has a dire need for potable water in the lower altitudes. Our prototype structure collects rain water and the harvested grey water is used for farming. Improved techniques for rain water harvesting will result in recycling that water as potable water. That will be a huge benefit to Lesotho.
- The technology we are trying to introduce will drive people to share resources. The reusable lightweight form-work, two people can assemble and disassemble them, helps speed up construction, and reduces the cement utilized in the walls. It allows for easier placement of insulation, and the continuous pour helps in reducing air and moisture infiltration. It avoids mortar joints - which are the weak link in masonry wall construction and where usually cracks and failures start.
- Team work will be key among the workers. A small group of villagers could form a group, a cooperative or a collective, and help each other in using these forms to build their homes. They could rent the form-work from SOC, or a vendor, or a Government entity. They could reimburse the SOC for the rental by bartering their sweat equity - by working on SOC's vegetables and animal farms, or by getting credit vouchers for their sweat equity and use that to buy building materials. They could apply for mortgage or construction loan as a group rather than individually - which might be preferred by micro-finance institutions.
In a prior instance we were able to train workers who built earthquake resistant homes for the poor in Kashmir during 2006 - 2007 time frame. The homes used a similar technology to our Lesotho homes. We were later able to market the homes to richer clientele and we were able to use our previously trained workers to build these high end homes. This gave our workers gainful employment for over one year. These building types are slightly different as they are earthquake resistant. We are hoping we can replicate a similar market strategy in Lesotho.
Who will take these actions?
In order to launch a new building technology or process, such an effort is best led led by a credible, international organization or an international philanthropy. An organization that has the resources to promote sustainable, low carbon footprint building solutions - globally.
The effort of such an organization should to be to find ways to reduce CO2 emissions, lower the carbon footprint (CF) of buildings, and increase use of renewable energy. In order to bring about meaningful change the various stakeholders, individuals, and non-profit organizations must work together with clear set of short and long-term goals.
The lead organization should also act as a reservoir of knowledge dealing with best practices, whether it is to build a home, or a school, or a hospital which would be tailored to stimulating local manufacturing, self reliance, encourage employment and skill development strategies, and provide strategies for better waste management. Introducing a new building technology is difficult. Fellow professionals are often the most ardent detractors. All building details and methodology should be made public and free, and should be made available on the web. Videos and manuals should explain the process of construction in a step-by-step sequenced method, should be country or climate zone specific, as the process will be different from wet zones to dry zones, warm or cold regions, and from earthquake prone (seismic) and non-seismic areas. The poor cannot afford royalty fees and need all the support they can get. It should promote and encourage and encourage recycling of waste products. It should hire experts, consultants and professionals who can act as an advisory team for countries that are willing to participate and make some financial commitment towards that effort. Below is a hypothetical workflow chart on such a solution can be implemented.
In our case our supporters include Sisters of Charity of Ottawa - Lesotho (SOC) in Lesotho. Since they have seen our structure perform well over two winters - they are keen on building more structures. Lesotho experiences sub-zero temperature in winter and warm summers upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit days. SOC is looking for housing their elderly poor in naturally heated structures.
Local contractors, engineers, developers in Lesotho are also keen on learning the technology. In the long term such a technology needs an infrastructure of trained professionals, workshops, training centers, engineers and architects who can supervise the construction of structurally sound buildings. SOC is willing to provide the infrastructure support if funding is obtained for a viable program. If one is able to demonstrate successful prototype structures, the Government may decide to build schools, dormitories, orphanages,clinics and hospitals with this type of structure.
We need to win the minds and hearts of professionals so that our effort is supported by sincere conscientious individuals, investors and philanthropist.
Where will these actions be taken?
We are also looking for better ways to build in flood and hurricane zones. In recent years many countries have seen increasing wind speeds, flooding, and record rainfall. Wood based structures if they get soaked in flooding they become damaged by mold and mildew and often have to be gutted. This is a huge waste that can be avoided. In 2015 we were asked by a private party to design a flood resistant single family "Green" home in a previously “Katrina” devastated ward of New Orleans (NO). We felt that one needed to experiment with a non-wood solution. Our NO is home that can resist at least seven feet of flood waters and will provide a place of refuge. In our NO home the walls are insulated and sandwiched between an exterior reinforced concrete wall system. Because NO has warm weather and does not have severe winters the internal walls are made of gypsum wall board. The roof of the house has a green garden roof and serves as a place of refuge in case of catastrophic flooding. The roof does not re-radiate heat to the sky adding to GW. In 2017 our home won a design award for low rise structures from American Concrete Institute’s (Louisiana Chapter) engineering board. We believe that the home we built is “Green”, sustainable, affordable and resilient to future hurricanes and floods. It will allow for energy independence and reduce emission of CO2. It is a first generation prototype and we are sure we can improve the design further in future. The building section below lays out the basic principles in the design of the home.
Below see life cycle cost, and carbon footprint, for our NO home compared to typical 2 x 4 wood construction. Essentially because of lower anticipated energy cost.
In the past we have successfully demonstrated similar building technologies in other countries as well.
The house below is an earthquake resistant affordable structure, for the poor, in Kashmir, Pakistan, and was designed and built in 2007 by us, for Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). See, www.saridweb.org for more details and pictures.
This home is naturally cool in summer and warm in winter, as it is well insulated walls (R-20). Click on url below to see opening by AKF officials of another similar home built by us at Garthama, AJK in 2006.
In 2007 we were invited to build an affordable home (prototype demonstration) for a pilot housing project for the poor by then mayor of Karachi. The house below is an affordable soil-cement home built in 2007. It is suitable for hot and tropical climate.
The walls of homes have sandwiched waste insulation (R-20). The roof is insulated as well. The courtyard, a small vegetable garden, also adds to the cooling by creating micro-climate modifications.
The plan below shows how breeze from the courtyard cools the house in summer.
Click on the url below to see opening of the home by then mayor of Karachi.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
We expect significant reduction in heating cost if we use our SHW for heating - close 80%-90% of winter period. The home Lesotho has been in use for two years and SOC report that only on cloudy days - with no Sun - they need fossil fuel, or electricity based heating. Our rough estimate for savings in emissions for a 500 sf home emissions by going 90% solar - off grid for electricity and fossil fuel based heating, is about 8 tons/ year of CO2 emissions. Which means a saving of 240 tons of CO2 in 30 years.
Worldwide we think we can reduce the emissions by millions if not billion of tons.
We anticipate between 80%-90% emission reduction, compared to un-insulated (the practice in most developing countries) masonry structure. Our building types are made of lean concrete and has a lower carbon footprint than masonry buildings. The roof is made of waste grass, does not reflect heat back to the sky as much (positive impact on GW) - and would have been burnt otherwise. No wood is utilized excepting for roof trusses.
Although insulating walls is not a new concept, the use of erstwhile ordinary materials such as Lunch Boxes, packing EPS material, widely seen as trash and incorporating them within walls is not a known practice. Most commercial application of rigid EPS or extruded insulation (XPS) is proprietary and cost per square feet is usually more than other competing building technologies. What we are demonstrating is that it is possible to use everyday materials to make homes more sustainable, affordable and "Green".
Developing our wall system was not easy. We spent years testing the wall system - modeling the behavior of these structures under various live and dead loads - to ensure that their structural integrity would not be compromised in a real life environment. We spent considerable time, simplifying the process. Our systems had to be approved by structural engineers and building officials before actual construction.
In fact when we presented our ideas, to city of New Orleans (NO) two years ago, for a new flood resistant prototype - they were confused as to how we would insulate the walls. These were architects and engineers who were not sure how this was done - they thought we would use the LB as bricks. When we reassured them that we will not use LB in USA, we will buy off the shelf insulation from the market, they replied no, please use recycled LB - we think this is great - we will approve your system. They explained that they our building type was a first, and were amazed that the cost of our building type was at par with wood construction. Given the lack of time - we were not able to use LB in NO as collecting, sorting and cleaning them proved far more challenging and cost prohibitive.
Our technology was approved, and we built the structure, and it works well.
With inadequate and often negligible reimbursements from flood insurance policy these building types will offer financial security to residents of flood prone areas.
What are other key benefits?
The other benefits are environmental, employment generation and stimulating local economy. By recycling expanded polystyrene lunch boxes (LB), that would have eventually been taken to landfills - to stay there for millions of years, or as in the case of Haiti they are floating in the ocean, we are recycling this valuable insulation as a building component. In Haiti our prototype homes keeps the building cooler during blistering summer. Also the walls of our building use a soil (cleaned and filtered)-sand-cement matrix which uses less cement as between 60% to 70% of the walls consist of the LB.
The building method utilizes recyclable forms whose cost is recovered by four or five homes but is capable of building hundreds of homes before retiring. This represents a far lesser use of resources. In Haiti because it is an earthquake zone, our sandwiched walls, end up having a lower mass inertia, hence we need less reinforcement and concrete to resist seismic forces.
By utilizing less of mechanized equipment the unskilled population of poorer countries, which typically suffer from large scale unemployment, is able to acquire value added employment thereby creating a healthy and vibrant economy and community.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
We are keen on working in Lesotho as we have an already established infrastructure, an enthusiastic client and community. Thsi will help us improve our technology.The proposal cost is in initially setting up the workshops and training centers. Further research will help in identifying other means for generating electricity, such a micro-wind turbines, besides solar PV as SPV do not work during cloudy days. For our project in Lesotho we need a grant of some US 100,000. This money will help us have a better equipped workshop, better training facilities, and improving the quality of some of the reusable forms. If we get the above we are very confident that we can bring such a technology for widespread utilization in the country. We are also toying with the idea of introducing micro wind turbines for electricity generation that can leverage the high winds observed in the country. Given the interest in the community we believe we can teach contractors and architects so most of the homes, including homes for middle income and upper income groups, can become "Greener" and less dependent on fossil fuel for heating during winter and cooling in summer (no use of air-conditioning)
We expect that in a few years we could expand our program to other countries - with similar climate.
See below for additional discussion on timeline and cost.
The SOC is interested in building four more elderly homes. Two set of design options (octagonal shaped versus square shaped rooms) have been completed by SARID on a pro-bono basis. The square shape will be easier to build. SARID (www.saridweb.org) is trying to raise US $35,000 to set up workshops, and training facilities (TF) and another $50,000 for four additional homes. They will end up housing 16 more poor and elderly folks. The TF will help local villagers get the skills, obtain employment and with a job the money to build their own homes. We are also hoping to raise another US $20,000 for construction of one and two bedrooms with attached bathroom and kitchen, five in total. It is to be built in an adjoining village - where land is available. We should be able to recover most of the construction (first cost) money as homeowners would have to pay for their homes.
Investors will get their ROI by:
- licensing fee of technology to commercial contractors
- tuition from workshops, training facilities - training of architect, engineers, contractors
profits from manufacturing facilities for:
- re-usable form-work
- solar heating system
- Solar PV - Low voltage LED lighting system
- rain water harvesting and potable water system
- accessories to build with our proposed system
All the above can be done over a 12 to 24 month period after obtaining funding.
Because the technology is needed in many countries of the world that experience cold weather, and need a non-fossil fuel heating system, or are very hot and need to avoid fans and air-conditioning - the building method could expand globally and quickly, and in turn reduce GHG from environment before it is too late.
About the author(s)
The author is an architect and a civil engineer by education and training. He grew up in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Africa. He has graduate degrees in Architecture and Civil Engineering from MIT. He is a licensed architect in USA,
He owns a design / build firm, Kinoo Inc., seewww.kinoo.com and brings some 40 years of experience while working in USA, Africa, Asia and Middle East. He is currently also focusing on building more energy efficient structures in North America.
He also heads a non-profit SARID Inc.www.saridweb.organd is trying to introduce "greener" buildings in poorer countries, and for poorer communities in developed countries, that have the potential of stimulating local manufacturing, use of recyclables, and leveraging renewable energy sources. In 2017 the author won a design award from the American Concrete Institute (Louisiana Chapter), for a single family flood resistant home he designed and built in 2016 in a previously hurricane devastated ward in new Orleans. The home is based on a similar concept to the Lesotho home with insulation sandwiched between reinforced concrete skin. Seewww.saridweb.orgfor more information on the New Orleans structure.
Ours is a similar attempt as others to promote use of renewable energy sources and lower the carbon footprint of buildings.
We have built several homes in poor countries over the last 10 years or so - in extreme cold climates as well as very hot climates. We have also worked in seismic as well as non-seismic zones. See (www.saridweb.org), a 501c3 US based non-profit for more details. We are focused on teaching people building skills, identifying and leveraging local resources, utilizing recyclable waste material whenever and wherever possible, and promoting sustainable practices in the building industry. For Seismic zones SARID utilizes design which are more affordable, infill walls are soil-cement, buildings have a lower mass inertia, utilize reinforcements efficiently and sparingly, and are resistant to catastrophic failure of structure. The structures have been designed in collaboration with US based and foreign structural engineers. Buildings built by SARID in Kashmir have in the last 10 years experienced earthquakes of close to Richter 5.5 plus and show no structural distress. Our homes are designed to meet and exceed seismic design requirements of where we build. In Haiti the prototype structures we built were also insulated with waste Styrofoam (EPS) lunch boxes, similar to Lesotho homes, but with a slightly different installation method. Haiti homes are cool in summer - unlike masonry structures ( current practice in most poor countries) that store and re-radiate heat all night, making homes very uncomfortable to sleep in summer. Most often masonry buildings need fan or air-conditioning (AC) to keep cool in summer - but our homes ( because of the insulation in walls and other features) do not require a fan or AC as long as outside temperatures are below 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Haiti homes were not designed for winter conditions as winters are very mild. Kashmir and Lesotho homes are well insulated, were built for a cold climate, are insulated with waste rigid insulation, are cool in summer and appear to require less or no heating in winter.
Below is a picture of the our elderly prototype 500 square feet home in Lesotho, built in 2015. It has a Living/Bedroom for four elderly people, a Bathroom, Kitchenette, and a Mechanical and a Storage space.