Alternative building methods are not yet an efficient replacement for traditional materials and construction practices in South Africa. Here’s why.“There is a resistance to alternative methods in South Africa,” says Bert van den Heever, immediate past president of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors (ASAQS), who points out that there are some very good reasons why alternative building methods aren’t feasible in the South African market.

Not only can they potentially be more expensive than traditional methods, but they don’t inspire customer trust and may not be as aesthetically pleasing. Alternative building methods also come with a hidden price tag that can impact on quality and finish.

Walling – not the biggest saving
Van den Heever highlights that most of the alternative construction methods are providing alternative walling and roofing systems, the two largest elements you see when looking at a building.

“Trying to save money on walling using alternative building methods is sometimes a futile exercise as walling normally comes in at less than 10% of the total project cost,” he states.

The Knock Factor Effect
“The use of clad walling systems has also resulted in a negative perception in the lower end of the housing market, called the Knock Factor Effect. People knock the walls and if they sound hollow, they instantly perceive the build as not solid or secure. They want the solidity of brick – the traditional materials, over the perceived flimsiness of panels – the alternative ones,” Van den Heever explains.

Availability
In addition to the impact of perception, alternative building materials are not always readily available in South Africa and often have to be imported, which hikes costs. As a result, there is some growth within the high-end market, but limited uptake in the lower end of the market.

Consider overall cost
“The value of using alternative building methods is hard to quantify,” says Van den Heever.

“A quantity surveyor can show a client how using method B compared to method A will affect costs, and often the answer isn’t in favour of alternative solutions. We look at every aspect of the building and assess exactly what the costs are going to be from the start.”

However, the questions shouldn’t only focus on the method and materials of the build. Instead, one should look at the impact of cost right from the planning stage of the project to ensure that every part of the project, from the meters to the materials, is assessed and evaluated.

“People often complain that there are hidden costs in their build and that the project price is stacking up in spite of a clear quote at the start,” adds Van den Heever. “That’s the pitfall that the quantity surveyor helps to avoid.”

It is possible
“We can put figures down that show clients what they can get, from what they want, in the budget they have. You want to invest in alternative building methods? With that kind of clarity into spend and capability, you can, and you can do it without unpleasant surprises.”

The Association of South African Quantity Surveyors
Tel: 011 315 4140
Website: www.asaqs.co.za

Editor: This raises an interesting debate. I’d love to hear your comments? Feel free to email me.