Alternative to traditional building materials

Property developers worth their salt appear to be seeking alternative building materials to the traditional bricks and mortar, but say the public at large seems resistant to change.

CEO of listed Calgro M3 Holdings, Ben Pierre Malherbe, says: “There’s still some resistance in the market …we need a process of educating our market.”

Head of Ennik Estates, Ronald Ennik, concurs saying there is still a conservative approach to building materials in the South African market, unlike its European and American markets where timber, for example, is an acceptable and viable option.

Senamele Mazibuko, sector manager for Paris-based Saint-Gobain Gyproc, which specialises in international habitat and construction markets, says the company has seen an upswing in interest in alternative building materials.

This is especially the case in the light of government’s energy efficiency legislation for all new buildings which have to comply with certain performance parameters.

The SANS 10400.XA legislation was gazetted in September 2011 and makes provision for building specifications including insulation, lighting, ventilation, geysers and building design to ensure maximum energy efficiency.

Mazibuko says the construction industry in South Africa needs to look at alternatives like plasterboard, ceiling systems which include insulation and acoustic solutions like glass wool, rock wool and insulating foams.

These can save consumers up to 35% on monthly electricity bills and labour costs upon installation which is less time consuming than the traditional bricks and cement.

“You don’t have to sit and watch the plaster dry,” Mazibuko quipped. She says the buzz word in the industry currently is RhinoBoard. It is by no means a new product, but provides a viable alternative to current building materials.

Not only does it provide added insulation, it regulates temperatures and serves to insulate audio in sometimes cramped residences.

Developers say some of the reservations to new products from members of the public are safety and security. The RhinoBoard is non-combustible and has been subjected to stringent industry standards in terms of durability.

Mazibuko is quite frank in that she does not claim the product is a “cheap” alternative, but that it is sustainable and energy efficient, costing roughly the same as bricks and cement. Around 40% of energy is currently lost due to inadequate insulation.

It has been this journalist’s experience that whenever alternative sources are mooted in any shape or form in the building industry, the conversation turns to RDP or affordable housing.

Mazibuko stresses that architects and developers across the board are seeking alternative energy efficient options to building in general. She adds that hospitality giants like the Protea hotel group and the majestic Michaelangelo hotel in Sandton’s northern Johannesburg business hub are among clients that have opted for plaster board building components.

They are easily dismantled and assembled both in the home and the office and retail environments, making renovations and additions to existing structures easier to manage and execute.

Ennik and Malherbe say alternative and more economically viable options are the future and education is crucial to inform future homeowners and investors of their choices.

Malherbe says this is especially true in terms of climate change, going green and sustainable development. Ennik says the public’s apprehension is partly due to a lack of education over issues like fire hazards and insulation with regards to alternative materials.

Both Malherbe and Growthpoint Properties’ executive director, Estienne de Klerk, say their companies are keen to explore new avenues and are continually exploring alternative building materials and technologies. “If it makes commercial sense, we will try and use it,” De Klerk says.

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