Wednesday February 12 2014

The thatched house and why it is still popular

While this type of housing is usually found at

While this type of housing is usually found at the countryside, they are becoming more popular even in town areas, only with a modern look. One of the reasons they are popular is because the grass absorbs heat during the dry season. Photo BY PATRICK OKABA 

Travelling through the hills of the West Nile region, one cannot fail to notice the huts that have been shelter to this community for centuries now.

While some people have all together opted for other types of housing structures to signify the development, some have tried to modernise their traditional housing facilities.
It is a breath taking scenery when one comes face to face with the modern huts and homesteads that have lived on to the current generation. The structures have been redefined but they are still huts.

It, however, becomes evident that it is a tradition some will not part with, after you find a large modern compound with up to three modern huts in it instead of the mansion you expected. Huts have been defined as structure of a lower quality than a house but higher quality than a shelter such as a tent and are used as a temporary or seasonal shelter or in rural areas as a permanent dwelling.

The cost
Huts are the only structures that are built from readily available materials such as wood, stone, grass, palm leaves, branches, hides, fabric, and/or mud using techniques passed down through generations.

According to Joseph Obi, a local hut constructor in Nebbi District, you can construct a modern hut with just Shs2m.
“The construction materials are cheap and one’s money nowadays is what determines what the hut will contain. With a little more expense you can even construct a self-contained hut,” Obi says.

They are eco-friendly
It is no wonder that huts are getting more popular: they are low maintenance, rodent-proof especially when well floored, weather-resistant, eco-friendly, and healthier than conventional houses.

Huts are sturdy, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly. They rarely contain nasty toxins that usually come with the conventional house from activities like varnishing and painting. And in instances where bits of straw, paper, and odds and ends like timber stick out of the walls, the huts have a cool look.
When the hut has been built with clay or cement, it is able to regulate its own temperature without the help of a fan or air conditioning, making it ideal in both cold and hot conditions.
Huts exist in practically all cultures. Some huts are transportable and can stand most conditions of weather.

Some displaced populations of people use huts throughout the world as shelter since it is the cheapest housing structure. Huts can also be built for purposes other than dwelling. They can be used for storage or serve as gazebos in the home.
Over the years, modernisation of huts has been adopted with some having more than one room, being cemented and even painted.

With huts found in all shapes and designs, more people are opting for huts in their compounds. In places like the West Nile region, huts are found in all places and it has become symbolic for everyman to have one even if they have a mansion there.

How they are constructed
To construct a hut, one will need wood, bricks, mud and grass for thatching.
Huts are vernacular architecture in that they are built of readily available materials such as wood, stone, grass, palm leaves, branches, hides, fabric, or mud using techniques passed down through the generations.
With a piece of land already available, Joseph Obi says constructing a hut needs man power not exceeding three, with one being a specialist in thatching.
“You will need sticks to hold the structure, cement, grass and a plan. With that, constructing the modern hut can even take two days,” Obi says.
It’s not to say that there are no sophisticated modern huts that require architects and more manpower as well as wiring etc.

Thatching the hut
Joseph Orombi, a local specialist in hatching in Panyimur, Nebbi District distinguishes his work with creative flourishes, embracing a global trend toward updated versions of the traditional thatched roof.

He says thatching is relatively inexpensive and quite durable. The basic design is uniform: layers of dried grass or palm fronds are woven to a wooden frame so tightly that water can’t penetrate into the building below.
Thatch can protect a home from searing heat and frequent rains.

Thatch does, however, require more maintenance and monitoring than, say, a tarred or tiled roof.
“A thatched roof needs to rise at at least 45 degrees to drain rainwater as fast as possible,” Orombi says.
Insuring thatch is often costlier than other materials, and owners need to watch out for fire hazards like lightning storms and chimney embers.
Obi and Orombi explain how huts are constructed.

step 1
Clear the piece of land on which you are going to build the hut and mark it according to the measurements you want to the hut to be.

step 2
Build a frame of the hut using wood. The frame is constructed in the shape the owner wants the hut to be. It can be circular, square or even rectangular though circular and square are the most common and easy to make. For a more modern structure, bricks are then fitted together within the wooden frame. In place of bricks, you can use large stones. For mortar, you can use mud mixed with clay or concrete.

step 3
Paste the walls with mud or cement, depending on what you prefer.

step 4
The wall is left to dry as the constructor now moves to make the thatched roof. The thatch is made using palm leaves or other local grass and foliage. Construct another frame for the roof using thick sticks or grass.

step 5
Fit dried grass to the frame and tie it to the sticks to strengthen its grasp. The thatched structure is then fitted on the already made walls and tied to the frames.

step 6
After the walls have dried, you can paint them. You can also put a balcony around it for beauty.

Price of materials
Cement Shs26,000 per 50kg bag
Timber Shs4,000 to Shs17,000 a piece depending on the type
Bricks Shs220 to Shs300 per brick
Grass(reeds) Shs5,000 per Kg
Mud Collected in surrounding areas