Green building takes off in Kenya, but challenges abound

Green building entails the creation of structures that have low environmental impact. PHOTO/FILE
Green building entails the creation of structures that have low environmental impact. PHOTO/FILE
Green building has lately become a much talked-about subject in Kenya and the world-over, although the phrase still remains quite vague.

For a start, green building refers to the process of putting up structures using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient right from the design stage to construction, maintenance and demolition.

The following features can help you investigate whether or not a building is truly ‘green’.

1.) Solar energy
Green construction minimises energy consumption while maximising the use of renewable energy particularly solar energy. Solar energy here entails more than the expensive panels that sit on building roofs. It also means investing in thick-paned, glazed windows as well as more complicated photovoltaic cells.

2.) Flooring
Instead of using costly hard-woods that destroy our forests, many ‘green’ developers have found cheaper and beautiful alternatives in bamboo and cork (both of which are easily replenished flooring materials). These materials are locally available and have low impact on the environment.

3.) Appliances
Green buildings have low-flow shower heads that can save up to half the water of a standard shower and waterless or low-flush compost toilet systems. They also have energy saving washers and dryers, gas stoves and sealed HVAC units among many other energy saving appliances.

These structures are also built in a manner that minimises heat gain while allowing for a natural cooling mechanism. They are, for example, fitted with large window-clad facades facing the North-South axis to minimise direct solar radiation, which subsequently minimises the need for air-conditioning.

4.) Building materials
Eco friendly structures make use of locally available non-toxic materials. They utilise recycled materials as well as materials manufactured using ‘green’ ingredients such as milk-based paints as alternatives to oil and latex.

Based on the above features, the following are some of the buildings that can arguably claim to be setting the pace for green building in Kenya:

(i) The UNEP office in Gigiri -The office block has incorporated a number of commendable green principles and it features 6,000 square meters of solar panels that make what is believed to be Africa’s largest on roof solar panel.

(ii) Catholic University’s Pope Paul VI Learning Resource Centre in Karen – The centre that comprises a conference hall, a library, a bookshop and a cafeteria is easily the ‘greenest’ development in Kenya.

The modern conference hall is the only building in the country that incorporates rock bed cooling system where air gets in through vents located at the basement level, passes over well arranged bedrock where it cools before being discharged into the hall through another set of vents.

There is a notion that green building is expensive and this has seen many developers shying away from adopting its principles. This may be true but there will be a leverage in initial costs within the first few years after which substantial savings will be accrued through lower utility costs.

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