Investors now scramble for Kenya’s prefabs market

NHC workers construct EPS panels house on Aga Khan Walk
NHC workers construct EPS panels house on Aga Khan Walk in 2013. PHOTO/FILE
Although prefabricated technology is billed as a cheaper and faster mode of construction, prefab houses are yet to find reasonable acceptance in Kenya, where they are regarded as unreliable.

But several foreign firms, sensing opportunities to cash in on the demand for low cost homes, are flocking into Kenya to invest billions of shillings in panel manufacturing factories.

Two international construction firms, US-based International Green Structures (IGS) and China’s Blue Sky, have spread their technological wings into Kenya in the past three months.

IGS, which specialises in affordable housing solutions, last October unveiled a Sh851,400 two-bedroom house built using panels made from compressed rice and wheat husks targeting low income earners.

The firm plans to build houses from panels made from husks and metal frames in what will slash construction time and costs by 30 per cent.

READ: Sh851,400 house: Kenya’s ultimate low cost home

On the other hand, Blue Sky announced plans to pump Sh1 billion into a new factory in Athi River for prefabricated buildings for commercial centres, and high rise developments such as apartments and hotels.

The company said its technology provides strength, durability, faster and cheaper construction compared to the traditional bricks and mortar — with no wastage of building materials.

Early 2014, a Malaysian firm, Koto Housing Ltd., excited the Kenyan housing sector when it announced it could build a three-bedroom house in 14 days at a cost of Sh1.8 million using prefab technology.

READ: Koto housing technology takes off in Kenya

A similar house built in the conventional brick and mortar style would cost at least Sh3.6 million.

Boleyn Magic Wall Panel Ltd., a Chinese firm, has also recently unveiled a precast concrete factory in Kitengela, as it seeks to cash in on the rising demand for low cost homes. The factory brings into the market panels made of expanded polystyrene and precast materials to produce ‘affordable and secure’ homes.

The speed of construction could, ironically, be the technology’s undoing in Kenya – where small basic houses take at least six months to complete and where structures done fast are considered sub-standard.

However, this reasoning is unfounded as prefabricated panels are made to meet high standards of stability under extreme conditions. Besides, before a prefab structure is certified for construction in the country it must pass stringent thermal, sound and fire-resistance tests.