Helping villagers build their own CEB "huts"

Submitted by bambam on Fri, 31/01/2014 - 23:07

Hello from West Africa,
I am interested in CEB construction to help villagers still living in grass huts (and millet stalk compound walls) to move into a more durable, less fire-prone structure. Most everyone here who has the means builds one or two room structures of about 4 meters square per room. There is no electricity or plumbing in these villages to be concerned about in the building process.
Poorer villagers do not have the means to buy alot of cement and rebar. They have sand and clay in their fields so that only has to be dug up and transported to their compound.
Of course they cannot afford to buy a CEB press. I am researching the possibilty of buying the press, learning how to use it, how to select the proper soil, etc. then showing them how to make CEB bricks for themselves. Also, most people have a relative or friend that has experience as a mason. I think several of these masons could learn how to make CEBs as well and help their village neighbors
I have other responsibilities so this can't become my fulltime job. Do you think this is a reasonable thing to undertake or am I "biting off more than I can chew"?
I read that CEBs are too expensive for the poor and are more feasible for middle class families. Is that your experience?
What suggestions/advice would you have for me?
Thank you!

Submitted by geoffrey on Sat, 01/02/2014 - 19:12


Good questions!

Identifying earth as an alternative to plant material is a good start.  Interlocking Compressed Earth Blocks, or "Rhino Blocks," require some attention to detail.  Therefore good supervision and follow up is needed.  Any successful project requires these things.

A lot of clay is not good in a compressed earth block; only a small amount of clay is desireable.  Your walls will be subject to expansion and contraction and cracking if they have a lot of clay.  Rhino Blocks can be made without cement.  Cratterre has some excellent books on Compressed Earth Blocks that explain more about when stabilizers (like cement) are needed.

One of the simplest forms of earth architecture is adobe.  It uses clay and sand and straw.  An adobe wall needs a good rendering (a coating of plaster which can be made from many different materials).

Any earth house needs "good boots and a good hat."  That is, a foundation and damp-proof course is required to prevent capillary action.  And, a good roof is needed to prevent erosion.

Masonry buildings can be built without rebar, but not in earthquake zones.  Earth architecture looks great with arches, vaults and domes.

To make earth archictecture attractive to poor people it might be good to build some middle or uppler class homes with it.  Poor people will always buy the best building materials they can afford.  Is Habitat for Humanity of the Fuller Center for Housing active in Senegal?  Maybe they can help you.