“e-khaya is a fireproof shack replacement system for informal settlements. Fire is deadly in these crowded communities and an e-khaya will protect lives and possessions. It is easily community built, low cost, thermally and acoustically insulating, durable and attractive. And we are currently working on the concept of an additional level that can be added as a family’s needs grow. Sanitation, fresh water, lighting, hot water, simple cooking facilities and ‘urban farming’ are all either incorporated already or will be in the future.”

e-khaya has received a lot of attention in a short amount of time. Here are a few notable accomplishments:
November 2013 e-khaya featured in SA Affordable Housing publication

October 2013 e-khaya at Blue Downs is completed

Augst 21-31 e-khaya exhibits at OpenDesign expo at Cape Town City Hall and is visited by Premier Helen Zille.

July 2013 e-khaya presents at TEDx Cape Town 2013.

June 2013 e-khaya becomes a flagship project of ‘110% Green’ campaign of Western Cape Provincial Government.

From Dr. Johnny Anderton:
“Thought you might be interested in this, the e-khaya project (means ‘home’ in Zulu). Find it at e-khaya.com Very narrow walls achieved, less than 150mm, but still insulated and fireproof. Most cost effective and fastest method of durable construction that I know of, especially when you include the arched, self supporting insulated roof. Is an adaptation of the Eternally Solar EarthBagBuild system with triple tube bags. Designed to be built by homeowners themselves in informal settlements in South Africa. However, we are currently frustrated by local politicians though! Could possibly be of use in the Philippines and other disaster prone areas. Retail cost of materials here in SA, for one module (14m2 footprint) including insulated roof and insulated floor, door and window, is about 600 USD.

Source: e-khaya.com (excellent website explains everything in detail)
Owen: I’ve got news for these crooked politicians. They won’t be able to stop the flood of requests that will come once people learn of this. Those who are not aligned with the will of the masses will be quickly voted out. So I’d say to Johnny, don’t get discouraged. Keep pressing ahead and make sure large numbers of people hear about this flyers, posters, over the radio, newspaper, Internet, etc. Maybe you should run for office and replace one of these hucksters.

Also, I want to say what a great design this is. I think Johnny hit a home run with e-khaya. I can’t say enough good things about it.

For rainy climates like the Philippines, I recommend curved metal roofing on top of the e-khaya insulated vaulted roof that extends a few inches beyond the walls to help prevent mold growth.
e-khaya Blue Downs Project (see page 8 of this PDF)
Dr. Anderton’s TEDx talk

17 thoughts on “e-khaya”

  1. Articulate people can always make a case for their point of view. What I think is, we each enter the “helping make the world a better place” chain of actions and reactions at the point that speaks to us. In general, I support all points of entry–be it reforming land laws (I hear you Jay)or handing out 10 sandwiches each day in the ghetto (a la Random Acts of Kindness).

    Perhaps tangential, but I suspect our own personal evolvement comes into play too. I have often started at some point of “obvious” (to my eyes)and glaring need, only to later have the “ah-ha!” moment–“oh, that was only a symptom, I need to get closer to the cause to really make a difference.” As I move closer to the perceived “cause”, I see a yet more encompassing situation that gives rise to what I had seen as casual. At least, this is what has happened for me.
    I say, if it calls to your heart, and helps another along the way, go for it!

  2. The best way to beat the giant corporations that are raping the planet, stealing the land, feeding us poisoned food and distorting the political process is to quit buying their crap. Make them irrelevant. This is one more aspect to simplifying our lives, growing our own food, building our own low cost home.

  3. A couple of facts about South African Land Ownership that the blog readers may find illuminating on this topic.

    In 1994, under Apartheid, 87% of the land in South Africa was owned by the white Minority that was in power. They even passed a law that stated that the Black Majority was not allowed to own more than 13% of the land.

    Today… the best estimates I can find claim that ownership is something like 77% White, 23% Black.

    The government and many of the laws may have changed, but the economic and educational oppression lingers like a cancer. A legacy from the past. It’s their version of Jim Crow.

    Keeping the poor confined in slums and shanty towns is just another means of perpetuating the economic and educational oppression.

    Creating opportunities for the poor to feed themselves from the land, land that they own, and take a surplus to market is the only real solution. A trellis on the side of an e-khaya as shown in this video would be insufficient to feed one person, let alone a family.

    Education is just as important. Another great step would be for Permaculture to be taught in all the poor schools in South Africa. Teach the children how they can take care of themselves and their families.

    Remember, most of these shanty towns are filled with squatters. The people living there don’t own the land they are living on. What motivation do such people have to invest in their building when they know that they don’t have a legal right to be there in the first place?

    This doesn’t apply only to South Africa. It applies anywhere in the world.

    People need the opportunity to own a place of their own, and the education to understand how to use it and build on it sustainably and productively. Any bandaid that doesn’t at least promote baby steps in that direction is a step backward.

    Real Freedom matters.

    • I agree except about the bandaid part. It’s nearly impossible to take land away from powerful corporations since they pay off politicians to keep the system going. What can we do in the meantime? Focusing on education is a good step. Job creation is very important. But at the same time people need a warm, dry home that won’t instantly burn to the ground. The same home can be part of their business and be used to grow some food. These are steps in the right direction.

  4. Some good points, Jerry.

    Where did you get the $600 number for an e-khaya when the lowest number they are currently projecting (that I have seen) is $900? If they are currently offering a lower cost option, I would like to see the details of that.

    As far as your understanding of the Mortgage Meltdown, your statements at best are only partially true. There were a large number of factors, not just loaning money to people who didn’t have the ability to pay it back. A much bigger factor was that once the meltdown started, a crapload of people lost their jobs as the economy collapsed. People that had jobs when they applied for their mortgages, lost their jobs, and then could no longer pay mortgages. The biggest factor by far was the big banks’ flat out lies about the levels of risk they were taking. I could go on, but I don’t want to distract this discussion from e-khaya.

    There is a basic fundamental lesson to be learned from the meltdown as it pertains to micro financing low cost housing. That is the culture of “buy now and pay later” attitude.

    The video in this blog post talks about the shacks that people are currently living in and upgrading them. This is very worthwhile and a good goal.

    However… do the people really want to live where they are? Do they want to borrow money to be able to pay for a shack upgrade?

    I suggest that many people living in the shanty towns have a real goal of getting OUT of the shanty town altogether. Is an e-khaya a step in that direction, or is it a step in staying in the shanty town for a much longer term?

    These are perhaps the most important considerations. We can talk all we want about microfinance, creating jobs in these slums and all the rest.

    I can assure you that there will never be enough housing construction jobs to employ everyone.

    The real solutions are creating sustainable systems where people can support themselves, feed themselves, shelter themselves, and live their own lives without outsiders forcing their vision of how they should be living upon them.

    I’m pretty sure a cookie cutter generic box of a house is not what most people jump for joy to have.

    Putting a band-aid on a slum just is an attempt to make the slums more attractive.

    Fix the real problems of land ownership in South Africa, and all this discussion we are having becomes pointless. The moment individual citizens can acquire enough land to feed themselves and their family, the housing issue will take care of itself faster than anyone can imagine.

    Keeping the poor of South Africa in the slums and helping them have a better box to live in is just another band-aid that doesn’t solve any of the root problems.

    Create a Permaculture based plan for entire villages that assures every household has the resources available to take care of itself. Then… if they choose to… each household will have more than enough resources to build an e-khaya, or any number of other affordable housing options that they really WANT.

    At some point, the huge land monopolies, particularly from massive western businesses need to be broken up into small enough plots of land that slum residents could afford to live off the land. That would be a real solution. Of course, it will piss off some big corporations.

    • $900 is the US cost. They cost $600 in South Africa I believe.

      Yes, solving the land issue is paramount. In the meantime (and it could be a very long meantime), people need a place to live. Living in highly flammable shacks is no kind of life. Upgrade the houses and life would be way better.

      Residents could choose from a whole range of options. Plus, e-khayas and other designs can be modified to reflect the needs of the homeowners.

      So housing like this is way more than a bandaid.

  5. Taking a page from the Grameen playbook, a way to address Jay’s concern might be to grant a standard Grameen type micro business loan to a borrower, and if he/she repays successfully, which 98% do, grant another and larger loan–this is how Grameen does it. If the proposed business involves needing a dry and indoor space to operate, this second loan is for the house as a business asset for the new business as well as materials or equipment needed for the business. Often in the 3rd world “mixed use” is not an issue like it is in the 1st world.

    It is not merely a house loan if criteria I describe are adhered to:
    1) borrower has good repayment track record, and
    2) while the family will sleep in it, revenues from the new indoor business pay for the business asset serving as a home too.

    But, I do not recommend micro financing a house to someone, regardless of social class, who cannot identify a believable fund source for repayment. While Grameen makes what the world sees as “risky” loans, they see in advance how the borrowers will repay. Dr. Johnny Anderton, with his $600 to $1,000 e-khaya house, is recommending the same model for credit. Slums are teeming with unofficial commerce. IF a micro business person in a slum can generate repayment funds for a structure they build on credit, very well. IF they can’t afford it–no loan.

    As best I know, the sub-prime mortgage melt down in the USA came from granted loans that did not adhere to the criteria I suggested–there often (so lenders tell me) was not successful track record of repayment of previous loans and the house securing the mortgage was not an income producing asset. Bad credit was ignored. Grameen does not ignore “bad credit”–they ignore “no credit.” Big difference. No credit means to Grameen it is a first loan for the borrower–but they see a repayment income stream. Grameen is so intolerant of “bad credit” (failure to re-pay in timely fashion)that they deny any more credit to all 5 people in that credit group. Peer pressure often stimulates obligation fulfillment. If the mechanisms of (a)peer pressure to stimulate obligation fulfillment and (b)no granting loans to those who have not repaid in the past had been in place, I wonder if the sub-prime mortgage melt down would have even occurred.

    A comparable to what Dr. Anderton suggests might be the mom and pop barber shop or store on main street of 75 or a 100 years ago. Mom and pop lived upstairs over the shop or store, under the same roof. The business paid the bills and the mortgage, and mom and pop had a place to live, perhaps not totally for free, but close to it.

    But I am biased, because I live like that now in 2013! I deliberately bought my residence with enough space in the lower level to build 2 separate “in-law” suites and give me spacious living quarters above on the main floor. Rent from the 2 lower level suites I built more than cover my total (PITI) mortgage payment. And as a psychotherapist, for years I ran my private practice out of the extra room on the main level attached to the original house. I am admitting I am accustomed to making the residence pay for itself. Especially when I work in the 3rd world, I urge folks to become entrepreneurial in their thinking and make their house pay for itself.

    • Well said. Done correctly, the house pays for itself. Maybe start out with a micro business loan first to see if the borrower can repay on schedule.

  6. Owen, I never have claimed that microfinancing is a house of cards.

    It certainly has its place.

    I simply believe that microloans are much better served as way to open the door to the micro businesses that you so eloquently illustrated.

    You yourself stated that the typical microloan is on the order of $20 to $200.

    How do you square that fact with the cost of an e-khaya of $900 or more AS STATED IN THE VIDEO? (and I’m willing to wager that $900 is for an owner built home without hiring any outside contractors and not paying any interest.)

    I think it’s great if building houses can stimulate growth of micro businesses, but how will that occur if each house built with microfinancing dries up the financing resources available to 4 to 36 microloans that are currently offered today?

    You can’t claim to create jobs and business while at the same time starving those business of the financing resources that are currently so successful.

    It’s simple math and Economics 101.

    As I stated previously, building houses creates jobs no matter how they are financed. And any potential homeowner needs to have an INCOME to be able to pay for the house, or to pay back any loans.

    The financing would be far better used to finance micro businesses instead of houses. When doing that, it will have a ripple effect enabling people to afford to build houses. It’s teaching people how to fish instead of giving them fish. A far more sustainable methodology.

    • “I never have claimed that microfinancing is a house of cards.” Some readers may be thinking it is. I’m trying to distance microloans from the subprime loan fueled housing crisis in the US. The scammers are primarily in the banks, government and giant corporations. Microfinance organizations are much more motivated to help communities.

      Microloans are best for micro businesses: Yes, but like Jerry said the house may very well be part of the business (a place to do business). This is extremely common in slums. Most don’t have regular jobs. Almost everyone works out of their home in some way. Ex: A street vendor may prepare food at home and then sell on the street somewhere else.

      Loaning money for $600-$900 shelters may dry up the pool of money for micro business loans: As far as I know (someone correct me if I’m wrong), there is no shortage of available micro credit. This is a multi-billion dollar market that takes place all over the world. What may be lacking is connecting lenders with those who want to borrower money. In other words, many poor people don’t know about micro loans or they don’t feel they are credit worthy. This could change with a community wide slum renovation project that includes educating folks about micro loans and micro business concepts. So in conclusion, you can build new homes and stimulate business at the same with micro credit.

  7. Jobs and cottage industries are a wonderful thing.

    Jobs and cottage industries built upon a foundation built out of credit is simply begging for epic financial collapse. Why do you think the entire national and world economy went into a tailspin during the Mortgage Meltdown of 2007-2010? Why would we want to do the same thing to a developing country?

    The jobs and cottage industries will be created no matter how the homes are financed. However, those jobs and industries will be a lot more stable and long lasting if the root financing is not based upon credit.

    • The big difference I believe is in the scale of loans. Microfinance provides very small loans where the risk is rather low. Watch some Muhammad Yunus videos. Intuition seems to suggest that poor people are not credit worthy and that it’s safer to lend to people with money. However, the Grameen bank does everything opposite of conventional banks and they are very successful. They loan money to the poorest of the poor (over one billion $/year), the illiterate, those who have never been to school, women in the poorest rural areas and yet the bank’s success speaks for itself. They now have somewhere around 7.5 million customers in Bangladesh. The repayment rate is extremely high (higher than conventional banks). They make so much money that they ensure all the children of borrowers stay in school and have low cost education loans if they want to go to university. His ideas have spread all over the world and helped him win a Nobel prize.

      So it’s not a house of cards as you imply. Unlike regular banks, they keep massive reserves on hand to cover disasters.

      Maybe it’s best to give an example. A microloan can be just $10 or $20. $200 is most common. That’s enough for someone to buy shoe repair materials. They could work outside their new home or use part of the space inside to repair shoes for the community. Here’s part of an email I sent someone:

      It is important to create cottage industries at the same time the houses are built. (Microbusiness goes hand in hand with microloans so people can repay the loans.) This is covered on the e-kaya website (rooftop gardens, selling excess electricity from solar panels, renting out the first floor or using it as a shop, etc.). Johnny Anderton envisions the homes being used for all types of home based businesses. This is common in slums. Everyone is an entrepreneur out of necessity. They don’t have formal jobs, but they’re making or reselling food, mending clothes and shoes, cutting hair, cleaning, painting, etc.

  8. My previous comment disappeared. Briefly, using the term fire resistant is best. However, you can see on their blog where they burned a fire against the side of the house and it didn’t combust. The inside stays cool even on hot days in South Africa. You could make a thicker roof in cold climates.

  9. I think their plan is to create lots of jobs and cottage industries in the process of building these shelters. My previous comments are missing. Our blog server is screwing up again. Anyway, there are lots of income generating options. For instance, people can build a second story and live upstairs and use the ground level for a shop, sales, etc.

  10. I much prefer programs where anyone could build their own home WITHOUT BORROWING ANY MONEY.

    Micro loans, or any type of loan, simply should not be needed, especially for such a low cost structure.

    If someone is poor, help them get a job, or learn a trade. Then they will be able to afford what they need to build their own home and customize it however they want.

    Micro loans, in my opinion, are best used as a way to finance underprivileged small businesses and entrepreneurship in developing countries. For example, help a budding carpenter afford the tools for his trade so that he can support himself, pay the loan back, and afford to build his own home. Help a seamstress buy a sewing machine so that she can make and sell custom clothing to support herself and her family. Loan money to a blind person to get job training for something that they can make money at. That kind of thing.

    A micro loan for a house can only succeed if the borrower has an income to pay the micro loan back. If someone already has a steady income, they don’t need a loan, they just need information about how to start small, pay as they go, and build it for themselves. That and they need the government to get out of their way, but they’d need that whether they got a micro-loan or not. All the information they need is here on this blog.

    Simply put, loans for low cost housing are a way of driving up the price poor people have to pay for housing.

  11. Good idea and a nice little home for people who shouldn’t be living in a structure most people wouldn’t allow to be standing. Man is our worse enemy in reality. He also can be the best also, in reality. NO government should allow such poverty. The micro loans may help those out of it. I hope they do well.

  12. Several points.

    1. FirePROOF? I don’t buy that statement. Earthbag structures are definitely fire resistant, probably one of the best fire resistant structures that are economical. That is still not firePROOF. It may take a ridiculously intense and long lasting fire to destroy the structure, but I’m confident that it could happen.

    Heck, even the special training structures that fire fighters use to practice putting out fires eventually succumb and need to be replaced.

    The fireproof claim is technically false advertising and may bite the promoters of e-khaya in the butt. Once someone proves one false statement made by them, the uninformed public will become reluctant to believe anything they say. I’ve seen more than one well intentioned plan crash and burn for just such a simple overstatement.

    It would be far better to claim that it’s “one of the most fire resistant structures that can be built.” That would be just as impressive of a statement, and it would be true. Another advantage of this type of statement is that it would require any detractors to COMPARE this structure to other available structures in fire performance. That would work to the advantage of e-khaya.

    Attacking the fireproof claim would not require any comparisons to other types of structures to be made to disprove it. Just find a way to compromise the structure with some type of insanely hot fire, and credibility is lost.

    2. The insulated claims are sketchy at best. EPS concrete does have some insulation value, but the amount may be trivial. The more Expanded Polystyrene that gets added to the concrete, the better the insulation, but also the weaker the mix, and also the greater the fire vulnerability, especially with toxic outgassing during fire.

    The bottom line is, I think this is a pretty good structure. No need to embellish it. Just let it speak for itself. If they want to make claims about fire resistance in a video. DO IT. Don’t just talk about fire resistance. Build a test fire inside one of these structures and show how well it performs compared to current alternative structures. That would speak far louder than the imprecise claims they are making.

    If you want to change the world. Try doing something that shocks the world. Tell the complete and unassailable truth. Telling that level of truth is something that would shock the world into beginning to paying attention.

    I think the marketers for e-khaya probably have good intentions. I hope they improve their messaging and pay strict attention to accuracy of their statements in the future.


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