The sleepy town of Naru Moru, most of whose residents live in timber and mud houses, could soon get a facelift thanks to the creativity of a former civil servant.
Mr John Wanguya, a former employee of the Lands Ministry, is making cheap building blocks from chipped brick dust, popularly known as vumbi (Swahili for dust).
But although the real estate business is not booming here like it is in urban areas, Wanguya’s blocks, which closely resemble the usual building bricks, are redefining housing in this largely rural population.
When he retired, Mr Wanguya swore to his wife they would not live in a timber or mud house, like most people in their Lusoi village did.
“That would have damaged my reputation as a retiring government officer and I couldn’t take that,” he says.
However, he still had school going children and was servicing a number of loans , so he could not embark on his project immediately.
However, everything changed when Mr Wanguya met a former colleague and friend with a good knowledge of building materials, who told him that he could make blocks from discarded blocks and waste from quarries.
With a little creativity, his training and research, he started making building blocks.
Six months later, he had built a three-bedroom house, a hotel, a shop and a hall for watching World Cup matches.
When neighbours who had dismissed his idea saw the structures he had put up, many started placing orders for his blocks, or asking him to build structures for them.
Thus a business idea was born.
“This shop, my house and my son’s house are all made of the blocks”, he says, adding, “The ones I am making now were on order and have been fully paid for and another lorry (of chipped brick dust) will be coming in the afternoon.”
Mr Wanguya makes the blocks using vumbi (dust), cement and water, which he says must be carefully mixed.
“Usually,I make 22 blocks using one 50kg bag of cement,” he says, adding that this is for the best quality blocks. But if the customer cannot afford these, he can make cheaper ones, using a 50kg of cement to make 25 to 30 blocks.
Once he achieves the desired texture, he pours the mixture into a graduated machine which he can set to mould the blocks to the desired size.
Thereafter, he uses a sturdy mallet to compress the mixture to make the blocks strong.
The blocks set in about half an hour, after which they must be watered for seven days to further strengthen them.
Mr Wanguya says there are two possibilities for building using the blocks.
“You can make individual blocks and then join them with cement later (as normally done when building brick houses), or you can just build the blocks from the structure’s foundation, laying them on top of each other as you go along”.
He says no cement is needed to join the blocks if you use the second method.
However, Mr Wanguya says that when using the blocks, one needs to have a foundation measuring about four feet as opposed to the 2½ to three feet that is standard in the area.
He says this is to make the house sturdier. “I also save a lot on sand as I need only a little for the foundation,” he says.
“The good thing about block houses apart from the cost,” Mr Wanguya says, is that “they are not susceptible to extreme heat or cold and the blocks do not burn in case there’s a fire.”
According to Mr Eliud Mwireri, a timber dealer in Narumoru town, one foot of timber costs Sh34 and one needs about a 1,000 feet to build a three-room house.
This comes to Sh34,000, excluding other costs.
A similar house requires 550-600 of Mr Manguya’s blocks, which are made from two lorryfulls of waste chipped brick dust and 40 bags of cement.
This Mr Wanguya says, costs between Sh20,000 and30,000 — inclusive of all costs involved.
Mr Wanguya, who has taught his sons to make the blocks, sees his craft as a way out for jobless youths without any training.
The chipped brick dust is mixed with water and cement
It is placed in a machine to set for about half an hour
The mixture is watered for seven days to strengthen the blocks