Imagine having a house that was completely earthquake proof. Now, imagine that the house was also environmentally friendly. In 2011, that’s just what the Development Association for Renewable Energies started building in Nigeria. Their houses are not just earthquake-resistant, but also bullet-proof… and built out of discarded plastic water bottles.
The Earthquake-Proof Water Bottle Houses in Nigeria
The cost of building houses is rising around the world. In places like rural Nigeria, these rising costs put building homes out of reach. That’s when people at the Development Association for Renewable Energies had the idea to use two things that Nigeria has a lot of to build homes: Sand and discarded plastic water bottles. Using these two “building materials” they have built a home that is both earthquake resistant and bulletproof. (1)
The first home was built in the village of Yelwa in 2011. People have traveled from all over to see the water bottle-sand home. It is circular in shape, which fits with the traditional building style of the region. Each home requires approximately 7,800 bottles to make and includes a bedroom, living room, bathroom, toilet, and kitchen. All of the bottles are ones that people have collected off of the streets. (2)
“I wanted to see this building for myself as I was surprised to hear it was built from plastic bottles,” said Nuhu Dangote, a trader who traveled from the state capital, Kaduna, to see the house. “They were saying it in the market that it looks like magic, that you will be amazed when you see it, that is why I have come here to feed my eyes. The whole world should come and look at it.”
Bottle Brick Technology
This home, and those that are being built, are not the first to use bottle brick technology. In fact, various groups have been using the technology for nearly a decade in India, South, and Central America. Bottle bricks are water bottles that have been packed with sand. They are much more durable than regular bricks for a fraction of the cost. In fact, building a bottle brick house costs on average 67% less than a traditional brick home.
In Nigeria, these homes are excellent for multiple reasons. One, the climate is extremely hot. The sand-packed bottles insulate the homes from the sun, helping to keep the temperatures inside the houses down. Second, the compact sand makes them earthquake and bullet-proof. This is important, particularly in some of the country’s more insecure regions. Thirdly, like many developing countries, Nigeria has a massive problem with plastic water bottle waste. With thousands of bottles to be found in the streets and waterways every day, the homes provide an environmentally friendly way to use those rather than having them sit in landfills or along the side of the road.
“Compacted sand inside a bottle is nearly 20 times stronger than bricks,” said Yahaya Ahmed of Nigeria’s Development Association for Renewable Energies. “We are even intending to build a three-story building.”
Before going into the bottles, people have to sieve the sand. This is because large rocks do not fit into the bottles, and if the sand isn’t all fine-grain it won’t pack in as firmly. The homes also still have a concrete foundation to ensure stability and security.
Helping The Local People
This project is not only good for the environment. It is also helping the most disadvantaged people living in these villages. These people are primarily children. The work that goes into building these homes has provided jobs for many who would otherwise be living on the streets begging for money.
“I don’t want to be a beggar, I want to work and get paid – that is why I am doing this job,” says 15-year-old Shehu Usman who works on the site. “When I grow old I want to build myself a house with bottles,”
Some Have Reservations
A Greek businessman and environmentalist donated a plot of land to build 25 bottle brick homes in Nigeria. From there, they hope to build a school. Not every, however, is completely sold on the concept. This is primarily because of the amount of sand each home requires.
“My fear is that this building method will increase the demand for sand and even lead to an increase in the price of sand,” says Mumuni Oladele, a mason in the southern city of Lagos. “At the moment people looking for sand to build houses dig everywhere to get the sand. You can imagine what will happen when the demand for sand goes up to build bottle houses.”