Now, build affordable houses quickly (Delhi did it!)

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Vikas Vihar is part of the census town of Hastsal, which lies in West Delhi. Largely a lower middle-income area, its name literally translates as the ‘home of elephants’. Old timers believe that the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) maintained a hunting lodge here. 
 
In a house buzzing with activity on the day of its inauguration on a humid Delhi summer afternoon, its owner Meena Devi is mighty pleased. A widow with four kids, housewarming for her is finally happening after living two long years on rent. In place of her old ramshackle house that had progressively sunk into the ground over the past two decades, stands a 400 square metre spanking new dwelling.
 
Meena’s house is a result of a corporate social responsibility initiative termed ‘Umeed Ki Awaaz’ or ‘cry of hope’ by one of the world’s leading polymer firms and Council’s lead partner Covestro, in partnership with the international NGO Habitat for Humanity.
 
Says Ajay Durrani, Managing Director, Covestro India, “The major challenge right now for our economy is the way we are consuming in a big way. In the next 15 to 20 years, we will be confronted with a dilemma when most resources would have become scarce. In order to extend the life of all those consumables, we need to come up with a policy or understanding that all our functions should have sustainability as a part of human development.”
 
It is to this end that the award-winning energy efficient three-layered panel made of composite materials has been utilised in construction of the house. Made from locally available recyclable materials, Covestro partnered with Industrial Foams, New Delhi, and Vaspar Eco Systems, Bengaluru, to develop these panels, which are aimed at making technologically and socially relevant innovations widely accessible.
 
The house was constructed using fit-for-purpose cement fibre board, polyurethane foam (PUF) and paper honeycomb blocks. That makes it not only thermally comfortable and energy-efficient, but also enables it to withstand extremes of weather and natural disasters. The technology has been successfully tried and tested globally over the past several years. The houses provide highest thermal insulation capabilities, along with fire-retarding properties, modular construction abilities, fast construction times, and in turn, reduce the energy consumption by the dwellers.
 
The modular concept of building enables very short lead time in construction and also reduces waste. The solutions are environmentally sustainable with little use of water, sand and cement in the total construction process. The physical properties of the panels make the building compliant to fire and waterproofing requirements and also make them stable enough to withstand horizontal earthquakes up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.
 
Samir Arora, Managing Director, Industrial Foams opines, “Similar houses need to be constructed in rural India too wherever people are currently staying in shacks. Today everybody deserves a comfortable level of living. This can be a good way to introduce the technology of pre-fabricated homes across the country.”
 
He further recommends that the technology may also come in handy in rehabilitating slum dwellers in cities. Once all the regulatory approvals are in place, it takes just two weeks to assemble a residential unit using the materials.
 
Other than Meena’s house, two other units of 180 and 300 square feet are also coming up using the same technology in Vikas Vihar. The median cost of construction of these units is 10 per cent less than that of conventional dwellings.
 
Mukul Dixit, Senior Director, Programmes & Operations, Habitat for Humanity, says: “We thoroughly examined the technology and consulted with the families concerned and our partner. Since acceptance of a new technology can be difficult, it proved to be a lengthy exercise, running over six months.”
 
Through such initiatives, Covestro also endeavours to explore opportunities for new applications of its high-tech polymers, especially in underdeveloped markets. The firm has already completed a three-storied building in Jaipur using polyisocyanurate (PIR). It now intends to roll out the affordable housing initiative in rural areas as well.