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Low on cost; high on quality

May 11, 2012

Smart solutions

Building houses can be a costly affair, especially with raw material costs climbing steadily.K R Srikanta Prasad looks at how to build a lasting and comfortable house, and make it cost - effective.

mix and match While trying to be cost-effective, the combination of materials should be planned well. photo by the authorAs we are aware, construction costs are sky-rocketing due to various reasons. It could be due to scarcity, increasing demand, higher production cost and steep transportation costs. Under these conditions, home builders might be happy and more eager to use cost-effective material.

But one should make sure that the cost-effective material they intend to use is of good quality and durable. It should facilitate easy maintenance and not be a post-construction white elephant!

Here are a few general guidelines to aid in analysing how a particular material can be termed cost-effective.


A locally available material is always cost-effective as the transportation costs are minimum and we do not spend on middlemen. Your plans should have a good architectural layout and detail. There should be a proper combination of the materials chosen.

Modular and standardised units manufactured in factories on a large scale cost less as the production costs are low. The materials that can optimise on labour costs during construction and installation are a must as the labour costs are too high. Choose materials that do not have a high processing cost. Material that is recycled is generally not expensive unless it involves more labour to process and install.

While it is important to identify materials that are clearly less expensive, it is relevant to understand that cost-efficiency for a particular material depends on the situation as well as how it is used in a structure.

Also, if one has to achieve substantial savings while building, one has to ensure that cost-effective material is used in every part of the construction, from the foundation to the finishing, because all of it contributes to the overall cost.

We can make a list of different important materials that go into construction and save costs based on the merit of their content and the ease with which they can be implemented.

Foundation

A dump made out of boulders, brick bats, quarry waste and cement is a good alternative to conventional-size stone masonry. Even concrete waste can be recycled for this purpose.

Walls

Regular table moulded bricks used in rat trap masonry require less mortar joint and bricks; hence lower costs. Cement concrete blocks are cost-effective compared to conventional brickwork.

We have terracotta hollow blocks with different designs that are exposable in masonry. This is a good option provided they are not plastered and painted.

Conventional-sized stones that are not elaborately dressed in combination with bricks in composite masonry can work out really well.

While the stone face can be exposed, the brick face can be plastered and painted. Light-weight cement-based blocks made out of cinder contribute to economy in framed and high-rise structures.

Where suitable quality soil is available, soil stabilised blocks made in-situ are a welcome option. They are made using soil, quarry dust and cement and can be used for load-bearing walls.

They have a finish and colour that can be left without plastering. This material is not only cost-effective but also eco-friendly.

Precast concrete wall units that can be assembled on site are an option in large scale constructions. They save time and thus cost. Bamboo is renewable as well as cost cutting.

Roofs

Composite roofs made out of filler slabs can cut concrete and steel costs. Terracotta blocks that are designed for roofs can be adopted. Precast beams and roof slab elements in RCC are widely used under suitable conditions. Also, there are materials like ferrocement and fibre reinforced concretes that can be explored. These units can be thin and can take different forms. With practically adaptable design options, one can arrive at cost-effective roofing elements.

Wood

If one can recycle old wood for doors and windows, it saves a lot of money. Choosing aluminium and steel options are much cheaper than wood. Door frames made of concrete are available which are durable and involve less maintenance. In some situations, less expensive wood used for packing can be reused for panelling, railing or flooring.
Hardwood that is enamel painted is less expensive compared to polished teakwood.

Flooring

Locally available natural stones that are pre-polished are a good option. Other economical options are cement-based tiles, ceramic tiles and clay tiles. In-situ mosaics and cement floorings are also possible. Thin granite tiles made out of wasted granite works out really economical both in material and labour costs.

Others

There are so many other places where costs can be cut. Non-modular switches in electrical work, CPVC pipes and fittings in plumbing, white fittings in sanitary work, distemper in painting, kadapa slabs for storage shelves etc are options to name a few.
Thus, by a thorough market survey and an intelligent and discriminating choice and combination of material, it is possible to make a project cost-efficient. Cost-effectiveness need not always mean cheap. Good quality is a must.

Often cost-efficient material is also eco-friendly. Conversely, one that is eco-friendly can be cost effective. It costs little to be natural! The “add-ons” are what add to the cost!

(The writer is a civil engineer)

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