Commuters and passers by have noticed a curious wooden structure going up in Kupondol, upstairs from the furniture store, Home Maker. There are no bricks and no piles of cement, she has already elicited curious enquiries: is it an experiment, will it be livable, is it for display and can I have one too? Yes to all of the above, and you won't even have a long wait to step into your own home sweet home.
Ishwari Shah is excited about her new home. Although the concept of prefab houses have been around, it faced several disadvantages in Nepal. People thought they were a fire hazard that wouldn't last, or the wood would warp. After several years of research and development, the crew at Bira Furniture and Nemo Parquet in Patan Industrial Estate finally have perfected a high-tech cement and sawdust board that can be used in construction.
The consortium has successfully completed 250 prefabricated homes throughout Nepal which can last a lifetime if maintained well-all it requires is a lick of varnish every two years to protect the exterior.
The benefits of the construction seem unlimited: no permits are required nor is it necessary for drawings to be passed by the municipality since (legally) it is not a bricks and mortar house. No real foundation is needed and the structure is also earthquake proof. Suresh Shrestha at Bira explains: "The link to the ground is limited so it's like furniture. It'll shake during an earthquake, but it won't crack or fall down."
After all the components are readied at the factory according to design, the house is then assembled on site. It requires five men and 15 days to put it together. "Once the design is finalised and the measurements taken, we do everything from electricity to painting. The customer receives the key to a finished product," says Shrestha.
It's still a foreign idea, but builders like Shrestha believes there is a lot of potential in the Nepali market, not least because of its economy and safety aspects. Depending on the design and size, it averages Rs 600 -2,000 per sq ft. At that rate, Shrestha estimates the Kupondol house will come to Rs 1.6 million. Only 5 percent of the material used are non-Nepali. There are minimal interior design costs as well. Why hide all that lovely wood? But wallpapering, emulsion paints and even plaster of paris can be used. Luckily, wood in Nepal is still relatively less expensive, compared to Scandinavia (where the technology was imported from), or even India where they are still using iron frames. The product itself is reuseable and can even be remolded into another design. "It's like playing house when you were a child," says Shrestha.
Prefabricated houses are also practical because wood is naturally insulating. Currently, wood used for parquet comes from eastern Nepal and ply board from western Nepal. Bira has been working with the government to get some land to grow trees for harvesting. Sustainability doesn't look like it will be a problem if only the government land at subsidized rate was more forthcoming.
For Ishwari Shah, the greatest attraction of her new home is the simplicity and the safety in case of an earthquake. And Bira hopes to rent the house to have his office, and publicity will not be a problem since it is right on the main Patan road.
Bira Furniture: 5522253, 5524118
Nemo Parquet: 4414805