Print Edition - 2016-01-03  |  Free the Words

Beating the cold

  • Using locally available materials to improve thermal response of a structure can help quake victims
- Pragyan Bhattarai

Jan 3, 2016-

After a monstrous earthquake leveled Nepal, killing people and destroying houses, many people are compelled to reside in temporary structures.  When our technical team visited different quake-affected districts—Gorkha, Sindupalchock, Nuwakot, among others—we observed the difficulties the quake victims are facing while living in temporary shelters. Many people have already commenced to build their houses in 

these areas. So it is imperative that immediate technical assistance is provided to these people to build quake-resistant houses. 

The government has forwarded some sample plans for the construction of new houses, but more than the designs, there is a need for masonry training so that people can  implement the designs. Although there are a few masons in the villages, they are accustomed to their own non-engineering methods and lack knowledge of quake-resistant techniques. They must be made aware that they can improve their practice to build quake-resistant houses with a little bit of improvisation, which does not cost much. It is the systemisation and implementation of basic engineering techniques which can help a building withstand the impact of earthquakes. 

But the more pressing issue during this winter season is the problem of thermal resistance that is being encountered in temporary structures. There are certain techniques that people can immediately adopt so that they can convert their existing temporary structure into a thermal resistant one. These techniques are economical and easily implementable. 

Cheap and reliable

Wood is a natural thermal resistant material, which is widely used in many European and other countries as a construction material for houses. We can use plywood or any other form of wood to make a bind in the pre-existing inner and outer structure of the walls and inner roofing.The other option for a thermal resistant material is straw. As it is available all around the country, it can be used to bind walls. Even the roof can be built with a layer of straw. It can also be laid in the basement of the house, which can help in maintaining thermal response. Straw has many engineering properties and it is used for construction all over the world, mostly in cold places. The other option is earth bags: rice bags or feed bags filled with soil or insulation. In Nepal’s context, bags can be filled with soil and piled up one upon the other and laid in the outer walls of the pre-existing structure. Nylon or any other material can be used to fix them. This can help in maintaining the temperature of the structure.

The next alternative can be to use bamboo to bind the outer and even the inner surface of the temporary structure and use mud and cow dung coating in that layer. This helps to maintain the temperature as well. This technique also can be used to modify an  existing structure. 

These techniques are very effective and easy to implement. It is very important to understand that using locally available materials to improve the thermal response of a structure can really help the quake victims. 

It is also very important to understand that it is not possible to be dependent upon others every time a crisis occurs. It is more effective if everyone gets involved in the reconstruction process. Lifesaving and reconstruction techniques can be as simple as the ones mentioned above. Using engineering techniques would always help us to reduce costs, improve efficiency and achieve sustainability. So engineering techniques are not expensive; instead, they help systemise construction, and make it more effective and sustainable. 

- Bhattarai is a Civil Engineer

Published: 03-01-2016 09:17

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