What you need to know:
Whether one uses repurposed shipping containers or imported prefabricated and customised materials, the use of containers in construction of home and offices is on the rise for a number of reasons.
Traditionally, brick and mortar, mud and wattle, wooden prefabricated houses and unipots, have been the commonest types of building materials that the local housing industry has depended on for ages.
Lately, with the growth of world trade, old cargo containers, have ended up being used as offices, stores, shops and in some cases, computer laboratories in rural areas off the electricity grid. An example of places that have embraced containers for housing, is the Mulago Business Centre on Yusuf Lule Road just below Mulago Hospital.
Somewhere on the Kalerwe-Gayaza road, there are new sprawling structures which have been neatly erected using containers. This month, Brownstridge Build, a local startup added another dimension to the container—the fully furnished container cottages.
According to Prosper Byamungu, the team lead Brownstridge, the prices of hotels and lodges remain very high in Uganda because they are scarce. He notes that whoever has been to any game park, will realise how expensive it is to build accommodation in the game park because materials have to be ferried into the game park which already inflates the prices of the structure.
However, with the emergence of cargo containers as houses, they are now able to erect cottages which can be assembled and disassembled and driven and constructed in any game park.
“You can build a container in Kampala and take it anywhere you want it taken. It can be taken at a reasonable price and this is helping people break barriers to affordable housing,” he says.
Byamungu, an architect, notes that the traditional methods of construction usually pose a lot of problems which make people to opt for piece meal methods of finishing their houses. He says there is a lag between the time they start building a house and when they complete the exercise which compromises the strength of the house.
He reasons that containers are becoming the new option for housing because with the growing world trade, the containers which are often used for shipping goods around different parts of the world, weaken with time and as they are no longer suitable for transporting goods in ships, they have to be discarded.
He says the prices of containers in Uganda which often come in 20 feet or 40 feet, tends to be very high because of the growing demand. However, they are available everywhere in the world and in East Africa, containers are available very cheaply in Mombasa.
Byamungu, who is currently working on a project with Amos Wekesa the Chief Executive Officer Great Lakes Safaris Limited to build containerised cottages in some of his lodges in different game parks around the country, points out that a group of Ugandans say in an investment club, can pool money, go to Mombasa and buy the containers cheaply.
He explains that he requires two 20 feet containers to design a double-bed-self-contained-room with a balcony at the cost of $25,000. Asked whether $ 25,000 (approx. Shs90m) is not on the higher side, he said the major challenge is access to the containers. He suggests instead of saving money which does not generate profits, if a group of people doing joint savings decided to get into the business of importing the containers from Mombasa, they would be getting them cheaply and sell them for a profit. If they are interested in investing in hotel rooms and cottages, they can put together a business plan which can be executed by the investors themselves since this is a sustainable housing solution.
“There are things which you can do yourself such as plumbing, the carpentry and wiring. There are very many lessons you can learn from YouTube and when it has a personal touch, the story to it will sell the cottages by itself,” he said.
Asked where this kind of concept is already working, Byamungu cites Kenya, Asia and the United States as places where people are building using containers. In some other places where the cost of land is too high, people are opting for containers due to affordability.
He cites the example of MoTiv, a warehouse in Old Port Bell Road, he said they have built seven warehouses out of containers. Due to their structural integrity, they created a Mezzannine floor which has doubled their space and anyone in the hospitality business can use this kind of housing.
Amos Wekesa says they developed the idea of container cottages to try and create opportunities for Ugandans to buy into the tourism industry business. He says with a shortage of rooms in game parks, Ugandans have an untapped opportunity to invest in game park accommodation but most times, sometimes they do not want to take chances because lodges have burnt down due to fires.
“We are a number of people in this game. Things are changing very fast but sustainability is very important. You rather create cash flows. I know many people who have nice houses but they are suffering,” he said.
He explains that they are putting ten containers in Queen Elizabeth National Park and another fifteen at Budongo Forest where they have other lodges so that Ugandans can buy and own them. He says the investors in the containers if fully booked for a month, can earn between $4,500 (Shs16m) and $5,000 (Shs17.9m) a month, meaning within five months they would have recouped their investment.
Mr Wekesa says compared to Kenya where the Masai Mara has 5,000 rooms, in Uganda, the entire country with twelve wildlife reserves and ten national parks has less than 1,500 rooms and yet the need for rooms in the game parks is increasing.
A local owner
Engineer Joab Mokaya, the project manager Source of the Nile Hotel says at his site, he is currently using a 40-foot container as his office.
He says it is a very convenient form of housing and his was made in China with air conditioning, and it is a little larger than the usual shipping container.
He advises that if one does not have air conditioning, one can build a roof over the contianer to regulate temperature. The one he is using came with a flush toilet fitted with all the plumbing and wiring done.
Asked how the flush toilet works, he says it has an outlet which can be connected to take out faecal waste to a septic tank or where the user deems fit and also there is a provision to connect water to the container.
“They are called Camp Houses. China is already manufacturing them and they are very popular in Kenya and Tanzania. They target people in construction sites who need temporary accommodation,” he said.
He says the trend has taken root all over the world because unlike permanent houses which cannot be demolished when the project ends, with this one, you can take it wherever you are shifting.”