Beating the heat with mud brick homes

By Kagondu Njagi

Thomson Reuters Foundation News

KIVOO, Kenya: Perched on a dirt tower on the edge of a bog in Kivoo village, eastern Kenya, Erastus Njiru applies finishing layers of mud to a pile of bricks.

“I can sell up to 3 000 of these per week,” said the 34-year-old, inspecting his work.

“Each brick goes for 8 Kenyan shillings ($0.08), so in a good week I can make up to 24,000 Kenyan shillings ($240.00),” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Cheaper and more environmentally friendly

Njiru is one of an increasing number of Kenyans selling and buying earth bricks to build homes which are cooler, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the more typical stone houses.

About 15% of new homes are now built with mud bricks, compared to less than 1% in 2010, according to Aidah Munano, a senior official at the Kenyan ministry of land, housing and urban development.

Unlike quarrying, which involves clearing trees to make room for excavations, mud bricks only require a bit of dirt and water, said Gitonga Murungi, a Kenyan conservationist.

“Demand for mud bricks is on the rise in rural Kenya because they cool homes during hot days and keep them warm at night,” he said.

They also cost about half as much, he added.

Proudly pays for kids’ education

Njiru agrees. “People are giving up on building homes with quarry stones because they are expensive,” he said.

“And the government says that quarrying and sand harvesting damage the environment,” he added.

A view of mud-brick homes in Kanyuambora village, eastern Kenya, March 3, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kagondu Njagi.

Having dropped out of high school due to a lack of funds, the former farmer now proudly pays for his children’s education.

“I used to barely get by when growing maize and beans,” he explained. “But now I make a lot more by selling mud bricks to residents and property developers in the area.”

Extreme heat

Extreme heat across the country is a threat to many Kenyans as “their crops and livestock waste away due to a lack of water”, according to Ayub Shaka, deputy director at the Meteorological Department.

Rising temperatures made Milka Njeri, a sorghum farmer from nearby Kanyuambora village consider brickmaking as a way of making extra money.

Njeri said some days are so hot she has to stay indoors for hours and can only start work in her fields as the sun sets.

Like Njiru she has started moulding bricks at home using mud from a nearby bog.

“It is not much but I can make an extra 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($20) a week by selling bricks at construction sites,” she said.

Protecting the environment

James Nyang’aya, a researcher at the University of Nairobi, thinks that while mud-brick homes can help communities adapt to rising heat, they are not the only solution.

“People should not just change their homes, but (also) their way of life,” he said.

Wearing light clothes and planting trees around homes to provide shade can also help cope with extreme temperatures, he said.

“You can even build your home’s doors and windows according to the wind direction to create your own air conditioning,” he added

  • Reporting by Kagondu Njagi, editing by Zoe Tabary and Alex Whiting. Thomson Reuters Foundation