In Summary
  • Although a wide of variety of metals can be used in construction, steel remains the most popular metal worldwide. “Steel is very strong and flexible and can thus be used in columns to support buildings,” says Mr. Mwangi.
  • When you need steel doors and windows, Mr Maina suggests that, to save costs and ensure you get quality material, buy directly from steel mills rather than your local welder, who will charge you exorbitantly.

During a forum on construction last week, one of the participants said she was about to give up on building her house because of the trouble she was experiencing getting the materials.

“I had sat down with my quantity surveyor and architect and we had mapped out the entire budget for my house. However, the problem started when I began sourcing for materials such as sand, ballast, cement and steel bars. My employees even colluded with suppliers and I either got poor quality materials or fewer materials than I ordered,” she lamented.

Mr Daniel Chege Mburu, the CEO of construction firm Fingerprint Capital, acknowledged in an interview with the DN2 after the session that sourcing for, and transporting, construction materials is perhaps the most trying experiences.

“It took me some time to find my way around the middlemen and the manufacturers in this industry. With a few pointers, patience and a firm resolve not to succumb to shortcuts, a first-time home-builder can also learn how to tell genuine merchants from those who are up to no good,” Mr Mburu adds.

“The problem using shortcuts is that even just one component of the building is substandard, it can compromise the integrity of the entire structure, notes Mr Bede Mwangi, a quantity surveyor and Mr Mburu’s colleague at Fingerprint Capital.
Mr Mburu says con men operate throughout the industry: “I know people who have paid money to suppliers, only for the latter to vanish into thin air.”

Mr Kenneth Maina, a construction manager with Fingerprint Capital, points out that transport costs push up the price of building materials considerably.

“One should strive to minimise transport costs,” he says. You can do this by ordering in bulk and planning your construction such that most of the transportation is done during the dry season, since the cost tends to go up during the rainy season.
“An easier option” Mr Mburu says, “is to outsource the work to professional contractors. By employing professionals, you will certainlymake huge savings in building costs."

1. Roofing
Clay and concrete tiles are increasingly being phased out as roofing material. Mr Mburu says this is because they are prone to leaking, unless they have properly installed underlays. Clay tiles are also heavy and thus need to be supported by timber rafters and trusses. And with timber becoming increasingly expensive, tiles are losing their appeal.

They are being replaced with iron roofs, shingles and stone-coated materials, which are more flexible. But Mburu warns against stone-coated roofs if you intend to harvest rain water since grains from the coating can contaminate the water.

He says that when buying metal roofing, you should emphasise on the gauge, meaning the thickness of metal; the higher the gauge, the thinner the roofing sheet.

“When you’re building, a lot of people will show up at the site trying to sell you roofing materials at unbelievably low prices. Avoid such people at all costs because, in my experience, they often sell rejected roofing materials,” Mr Mburu advises.

“Be extremely careful when buying roofing material from the local hardware. Even if the mabati (corrugated iron sheets) you’re buying bear the logo of a respected company, chances that they are knock-offs are still very high.”

The contractor advises that, whenever possible, avoid middleman and buy your roofing material from the manufacturer. That way, you know that the material is genuine.

“Whenever you buy roofing, make sure that you get a warranty in writing,” Mr Mburu advises.

2. Timber

Bede Mwangi, a quantity surveyor, has observed that Kenyans are increasingly ditching timber for light-gauge steel for trussing and pylons.

“With the logging ban, the price of timber skyrocketed, making people shift to steel and aluminium,” Mr Mwangi says. “Even if steel is still the more expensive, the price difference between it and timber has narrowed significantly. People are discovering other advantages of steel gauges, such the fact that they are durable and can be assembled in a short time. Besides, steel is resistant to destructive pests like termites.”

However, Mr Mwangi says that steel trussing will always be more expensive than timber because very few artisans know how to work with it.

Even for props and scaffolds used during construction, the metal still wins because it is easily adjustable and can be assembled and dismantled faster.

Mr Bede notes that, since props and scaffolds are usually used only during construction, many builders opt to hire rather than buy the timber posts.

But this, Mr Mwangi says, is an ill-advised move because reused timber poles can weaken over time and cause a structure to fall apart during construction.

“You’re not saving a lot of money either by hiring the shoring props and scaffolds instead of buying them. At the moment, hiring a prop pole costsSh100. Buying the same costs about Sh80. Why not buy new ones and sell them after you have finished building your home?” he suggests.

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