Building Technology
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
Hi everyone,

We are investigating new building technologies for low-cost dwellings in Mozambique.

We want to use basic locally available building materials. We are looking for innovative building methodologies and technologies with which these building materials can be combined to achieve low-cost, durable, and low-maintenance solutions that can be used in large-scale scenarios. We also want to allow these solutions to be accessible to the do-it-yourself end-user.

This is a tall order, and a broad spectrum, but we believe it can be done with well-managed phases.

Does anyone have ideas? Experience? Access to publications? Suggestions? Would you be willing to share? We hope so. The forum is open to all adventurous souls out there.

'nando and Ruben
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
Almost every country has a diversity of climates, soils, geology, etc.

For example, coastal people can acquire a cement from sea water. Generally the weight of the cement makes it uneconomical if it has to be transported great distances.

Some soils can be used for adobe or hydraulically compressed bricks, geopolymerized bricks. Other soils may be unsuitable. Seismic potentials (earthquakes) determine that some materials or techniques are not suitable.


Even this low-cost earthbag technology depends on an infrastructure which has the plastic and barbed wire available on the marketplace. Large-scale scenarios brings to mind urban environments. Is that what you mean? You should begin reading the information at for building Palaces for the People. Be sure to spend plenty of time clicking the links.

Be more specific about the building circumstances you are considering. More facts. More details. Tell everything that is important. How much is a sack of cement there, and how many hours does a laborer have to work to buy one?

Lion Kuntz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

Large-scale scenarios brings to mind urban environments. That is what we mean.

In places like Mozambique, a country recovering from extreme hardship, one has to consider the locally available materials. Sticks, earth, stones, straw, cow dung, etc.

One has to consider the torrential rains that regularly hit at the begining of the rainy season. And the extreme heat during the summer.

One also has to consider the traditional social structures, and how they are being modified by evolving economic factors, i.e. the flooding of the cities by people who cannot scrape a living out of their traditional villages, thus creating large problems around the cities, i.e. slums.

One has to consider that the cost of construction is too high for the average person and so do-it-yourself approaches are attractive. But how does one create a building methodology that allows these people the ability to construct something durable? At low cost...

Interesting problems and very pressing too.
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

I think you need to consider the problem of rural flooding.

Mozambique had appalling floods several years ago and the thought that occured to me at the time was either to resite low-lying villages or raise mounds and build the villages on them.
Then if or when there was widespread flooding, then at least the people would be safe from drowning.

Note: As I write I recall that the Amazon River in Brazil rises about forty feet in the wet season, so that villages in the jungle are temporary and mobile. So it is possible that the Mozambique rivers (Limpopo? etc) rise and flood similarly in the wet season.

Ideally the seasonal flood waters need to be contained and controlled, but until then, the villages need to be built on mounds (with a stone facing on the slope facing the river flows).
Frank John Snelling
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

You are right in that the villages are exposed to flooding. And there is more to it.

There are also torrential rains that flood and soak everything, even away from rivers. Flood zones nonetheless, right?

There is also the problem that these river flood zones form fertile land and people settle close to the land where they will work for their subsistence.

So, where do you start? Large scale projects, controlling or diverting rivers, are very long term and expensive propositions. Not to mention the ecological impact of such projects.

Relocating people could be a possibility if with it we create a living environment where they can continue with their bread-winning activities...

There lies the crux of what we are pursuing. Dwellings, villages, communities, services, etc...

It is never simple, is it?
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

Hi, is that Fernando? Are you Portuguese or Spanish speaking?

What I mean about controlling the rivers, is irrigation channels both small and large, because the more you take water from the river to irrigate the smaller the river becomes. :)

Irrigation channels pay for themselves because then less ground is soaked for less time... even simple earth ditches dug out and used to direct the flood water flows to bypass the villages.

As you say, living on the fertile flood plains of rivers causes a conflict between safety and livelihood, but if the villages are built above the flood plain, either on higher ground or on raised-earth "island platforms". Then when the seasonal floods come the people can stay safe and dry.

Then when the floods come village people will have a safe and dry haven from which to fish in small boats. :)

Personally, I am not in favour of large scale projects because most of the money is usually consumed by the organisation maintaining itself.

As for "disturbing the ecological balance": so long as there is an ever-expanding human population (without limits or controls), then humans will always upset the ecological balance.
Frank John Snelling
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

We are not, in Mozambique, looking at flood plains only. The country is large and many areas are not affected by floods.

We have a very long coastline where there are basically no floods. We have large mountain ranges with no flooding.

The issue of flooding and river containment is a complex one. I accept that people will always affect the ecological balance, but it behooves us to avoid it as much as possible.

And then we have the "floods every few years" syndrome. By the time the next flood comes people have already "forgotten," because the pressures of subsistence living have exceeded the capacity to remember. So is humanity.

p.s. It is Fernando, Portuguese. :-)
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

Thank you. :) Do you live and work in Mozambique? Some years ago (when an engineer in the British Merchant Navy), the deep-sea ship I was on visited Lourenco Marques (I know it has a new name now). :)))

Do you have any contacts in Brazil? I have an interesting Portugese-speaking friend in Florianopolis. :)

Have you tried using "Google Earth"? This is a wonderful satellite-based web site which allows you to wander around the world and look at terrain and landscapes from many altitudes. :)

I can understand the conflict between subsistence living and upgrading the local environment. The only thing I can say is that the original Peruvian Inca cultural system of 'local labour works' instead of monetary taxes is worth looking into. The principle was that people living local to a road, or a bridge, etc; paid their state taxes by maintaining the roads, etc. This principle could be applied to creating and maintaining river water channels.
Frank John Snelling
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

I work with some associates in Maputo, the old LM, where I lived and worked for many years. And I have good friends there. But no longer in Brazil.

Speaking of "labor as taxes," it is a very interesting concept. I will look into it. In fact there have been some efforts in this area of irrigation but htese suffered some setbacks.

However they are worth revisiting.

The same applies to the construction of low-cost homes. Have the people contribute with labor, see Alexander and the Mexicali project.

I will look at Google earth. Thanks for the tip.
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
earth google is quite a program....
you can reach me at aidos.nando on gmail.
Nando Cruz
Sustainable low-cost dwellings

Thanks :))) I will try to keep in touch. Hasta la vista amigo.
Frank John Snelling
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
Interesting...I've just been looking at Mozambique as a place to live. I've built a root cellar(photo)and small pond out of ferro cement, and it seems that one could use that technique there. I don't know your costs of cement however. Kevin
Kevin Allred
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
Sandbags of "" are too expensive for Mozambique peoples.
Did you see this site: ?
I think their technique is better than many other existent ones.
But this technique(CSEB of auroville) is a modern technique in fact and has its limitations & ills too.
Yes, really there is a prolix way for "first world" civilization to achieve "Sustainable low-cost dwellings" for poor peoples!
Mahdi Raeisi Nafchi
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
note this is the Tmazight word Imazighen use for hi! Imazighen are native Berbers who left almost no written sources, but only Spoken Tradition and Vernacular Architecture to witness their heritage. The oldest remnants are those left by Libiyan Nafusi Imazighen which represent an utmost but neglected example of Berber Heritage. Libiyan Berber Vernacular Architecture is made by Stone and Gibson buildings needing to be repaired continously, thus being at risk of disruption if not properly maintained. Villages are terraced and space utilization is obviously optimized, and represent an early example of ecological architecture. Moreover both Underground Dwellings and Vernacular Architecture, if properly restored, could nowaday represent a niche target for cultural touristic activities therefore fostering sustainable economy in the Libiyan Jebel Nafusah.
In the sixties the Revolutionary Libiyan Government forced Berbers to abandon their traditional houses for modern buildings. Traditional Stone and Gibson dwellings in the old Villages are situated mostly just outside Underground dwellings and built using rocks discarded while digging, but thousands cave dwellings arise isolated not far from villages. Thousands Nafusi Berbers still live in their family "Ghar" (Troglodyte Dwelling) notwithstanding that brand new residential houses have been built in the nearest proximity by the Government that granted facilitated credits. The result is that Ghars, that are eternal in nature and need low-cost maintenance, have not been abandoned, whilst Vernacular Architecture in the old villages is going to be progressively replaced by the rocky desert. As the Government is not jet interested in financing Libiyan Berber Vernacular Architecture maintenance, Nafusi Berber Heritage is really at risk of definitive disappearance. Conservative restoration is mandatory to avoid definitive disappearance of the material testimony of an old Civilization. This is why "Wadi Adrar Foundation" has been recently established and has begun Libiyan Berber Vernacular Architecture census. Professional skills and donations are needed. Is anyone interested in establishing collaborative work?
Claudio Bencini
Sustainable low-cost dwellings
Hello Fernando,

I've worked in this field for quite a few years and suggest starting out by making an inventory of natural local building materials: stone, clay, sand, sustainably harvested wood, etc.

You can't beat the cost of natural materials -- they're typically free. And they're nontoxic and user friendly. There's a wealth of free information about natural building on the web now. Just one example:

One reader claims earthbag building is not affordable. Well, compressed earth blocks (CEB) use cement and a block press, both of which cost money. CEB construction is a great way to build, but the cost is similar to earthbag building. The poly bags (sandbags) are often available at very low cost as misprints, or as used feed or grain bags.

Here's another earthbag website:

The lowest cost building method is probably adobe (depending upon available materials).

Owen Geiger


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