Building With Wood – 2,500 Home Scheme for Mobay

A California house builder wants to start putting up 2,500 wood-frame homes in Montego Bay as early as April in the biggest revolution in Jamaican architecture since the first skyscraper was built there 50 years ago.

Steve Convoy (in photo), who visited Jamaican building sites last month, says concrete is far more dangerous during an earthquake.

The new estate, worth as much as US$200 million ($17 billion) would be designed to withstand 150 mph (250 km/h) winds — stronger than 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert — and earthquakes up to magnitude 7.0 — as powerful as the one that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010.

“If Jamaica ever moves the way Haiti did, a lot of your buildings will be coming down,” said Steve Conboy, the president and CEO of Eco Building Products in Los Angeles.

The Montego Bay pilot project, one of several being considered by the Government, could lead to the building of even bigger estates around the island, with savings on construction costs of between 10 and 20 per cent, he said. “Jamaica aims to build 5,000 homes a year but the pent up demand is more like 15,000.”

“We can build houses a lot faster than the technology being used now.” With the same number of workers, he says, Eco can build 50 woodframe houses in the time it takes to put up one concrete building of the same size.

Eco has built 160,000 homes in the US since it was founded five years ago, despite the collapse in the housing market there. “We’ve been doing this for so long in California that we’ve perfected the technology,” he said.

Experienced construction workers would be brought from the US to train the Jamaican workforce. “We’ll go into the field to teach the locals to build this way,” he said.

Jamaica’s Consul General in New York, Geneive Brown Metzger, who introduced Conboy to Government ministers on a visit to the island last month, said the new technique could provide better housing for people now living in informal settlements.

“One of the challenges of this country is how do we meet the housing needs of our poorer citizens,” she said. “The current paradigm depends on concrete, which is extremely expensive.”

Conboy said: “The Government has to come up with master-planned communities that people would want to move into. We want to deliver a product that people are really going to like. We don’t want to put up shacks.”

However, at US$40,000 for a one-bedroom house, the Eco homes may be too expensive for many Jamaicans.

The company also plans to build a pre-fabrication plant in Kingston, employing some 200 to 300 Jamaicans, which would produce walls, roof trusses and other components for export to projects in countries as far away as Africa.

“The plan is bigger than just coming in to build houses in Jamaica,” Conboy said. “Your port is one of the best in the world. We’d like to use Kingston as a place for us to build houses for places like Ghana and Nigeria.”

Spruce and fir for the houses would be imported from the US, where the housing slump has left lumber mills eager for new markets.

Eco uses patented chemical treatments to protect the wood it builds with from termites, mould, rot, flood damage and fire.

Its timbers are three times slower to ignite than untreated wood, allowing time for people to escape the house and for the fire department to arrive and try to save the property.

The buildings also have special ties connecting the roofs to the walls and the walls to the concrete foundation, making them much less likely to fly away in a hurricane such as Gilbert.

The system also creates less pollution than building with concrete, which can cause alkali contamination to the water table. “When it rains on a site, the toxic debris runs into your biggest asset, the ocean,” Conboy said.

Source: Jamaica Observer

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