Affordable Bamboo Housing

Affordable Bamboo Housing

In his book, Oscar Hidalgo referred to bamboo as "The Gift of the Gods". Simon Velez titled his book "Grow Your Own House". Both titles invite dreams of affordable bamboo housing. Yet the reality is a disappointment. Why?

Green Gold Miracle

Bamboo has been called “Green Gold.” For a few that may be a reality. Modern day bamboo growers have discovered the “secret” the Alchemists of old never found. Through the process of immunisation, growers have discovered how to turn “green gold” into “yellow gold.”

Bamboo is The Solution

Bamboo is not the problem. Bamboo is the solution. A growing number of bamboo enthusiasts are frustrated at the high prices of materials and construction. Our frustrations are justified. After all, we see beautiful bamboo constructions at famous resorts. We appreciate the beauty and desire the same for our homes. We remember the promise held out by Hidalgo and Velez.

Why are “the Promise” and “the Reality” Opposites?

One possible reason could be that today there is a temporary lack of qualified bamboo specialists in the Western world. The demand for high quality bamboo construction out paces the supply of experienced construction personnel. We need more young bamboo structural engineers, bamboo architects and skilled workers.

This Will Change

We are on the verge of an exciting frontier. As more young professionals take up the challenge, the affordability issue will resolve itself as it has in Asia. Belgium, Germany, Italy and Colombia are doing serious research on quality construction techniques for the growing bamboo industry. Courses are being taught at schools dealing with environmental and sustainability issues surrounding bamboo. Construction skills are growing among young people with vision. We are on the frontier of an exciting beginning.


Stephane from Guadua Bamboo replied:

I like the term "affordable bamboo housing", but it raises the question: What is affordable? What may be affordable to some can be high end to others.

For some reason, people expect bamboo to be available for them "almost" for free. However, just as with other more conventional timbers, bamboo needs to be harvested, treated, dried, transported and stored. Why is it that teak, mahogany, oak are considered timbers of "value" while bamboo is considered as a marginal building material? Because it is a huge grass that grows at an incredible speed?

My guess would be that there is still no decent awareness of the mechanical and structural properties of some bamboo species. And no, that ornamental bamboo you have growing in your back yard will most likely NOT suit as a construction material. In fact only a hand full of bamboo species can be used in construction.

Growing your own house is a great title if you aim to sell a few books, but in reality this is just a dream-catcher.

First of all, you would have to live in a tropical region, also make sure to own a property that has the right soil, elevation, humidity to grow strong bamboo rapidly. If these are the conditions, great, you are off to a good start!

Now it's time to start to educate yourself on when to harvest, how to harvest, how to cure, how to dry and store bamboo. All set and done? Perfect.

I also assume you have a background in civil engineering, specialized in bamboo construction, and have years of hands on experience with bamboo joining and terminal techniques right?! Fantastic.

Finally, where are we building this affordable bamboo house? A nice remote beach or mountain area, where you can enjoy the sound of geckos, monkeys, tropical birds, crickets,? Beautiful!

After getting all permissions and plans approved for your bamboo house, it's time to prepare the lot, is it leveled or would we need to rent a bulldozer (hopefully in a city near by). How close from the lot do we have electrical and sanitary connections available (are they available?).

Again, I assume that there are no problems regarding these issues mentioned above. So now we can finally start building the house. Oh wait, do we know a few contractors who have experience with bamboo construction, or would a traditional carpenter be able to pull this off?

I must apologize for my cynical remarks here, it is not my intent to scare any enthusiasts away, but the misconception that building with bamboo is soo much cheaper then building a home with conventional building materials is an utopia! Bamboo housing is not a synonym to marginal housing, at least, when you aim to built a home with the same quality standard of a traditional house that is!


Dave replied:

Some very good comments on the viability of bamboo construction here. I, for one, have real reservations of undertaking anything but a small project as the prospect of how to repair damage due to insects, weather or just age are quite daunting.

We have centuries of traditional stick building, we are just on the cusp of modern bamboo building. How would one tear apart a roof or replace structural supports? The challenges are many and that is why education in the techniques of bamboo construction need to be pursued and disseminated.


Mukesh replied:

I am from Assam, northeast India. We have very good quality bamboo, locally we call it Jati and Bholuka. They are wonderful bamboos for construction of a bamboo house, but of course they need to be cured and treated before use. I personally, designed a house of 50 x 36 ft. This contained walls, ceiling, beds all made of above mentioned bamboos.

Since it is not a conventional building material, it was very labour intensive. We had 6 rooms, and the roof was of locale thatch. I agree that though it gave an wonderful look cost of labour escalated the total project cost. However it was still only 1/3 the cost of conventional materials.


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