Communities who depend on subsidised, low-income houses in South Africa can benefit greatly from technology developed and tested by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

While much progress has been made with housing provision, the backlog of about 2,1-million houses is still a reality facing South Africans. Numerous initiatives are underway aimed at increasing delivery in this regard.
Recognising this as a national priority, the CSIR has applied its collective knowledge to contribute towards finding a solution for the low-income housing sector, says Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, CSIR president and CEO.
“Using innovative design and construction technology, CSIR researchers have developed a demonstration house with significantly improved performance and sustainability. If built according to CSIR specifications, and on large scale, such houses will be constructed much faster and at similar costs than when using conventional methods,” he says.
The Department of Science & Technology supports this CSIR research project.
The CSIR demonstration house was built according to the regulations of the National Home Builders Registration Council. The complete house has also been accredited by Agrément South Africa, the internationally acknowledged body that provides assurance through technical approvals of non-standardised or unconventional products.
Two other houses have also been built on the CSIR campus in Pretoria – both are the standard 40-square metre size and design of subsidised low-income houses. While one is a replica of a properly built subsidised low-income house, the interior and exterior finishing of the other house is according to suburb style, illustrating the difference in appearance and experience when inside the house.
While being the same size as the other two houses, the CSIR’s experimental house has an optimised design with the added advantage that it can be extended easily by home owners. “The house was constructed combining technologies and materials in an innovative way to improve living conditions and the durability of the home,” explains Hans Ittmann, executive director of CSIR Built Environment.
Some contractors in the low-income market do not lay foundations to standard. To eliminate cracked walls resulting from sub-standard foundations, a CSIR technology developed for roads was adapted to form the foundation slab of the house. "Local labour can be used to construct such foundations, which is based on ultra-thin, continuously-reinforced concrete technology," says Ittmann.
“We used a modular, design-to-fit approach similar to a Lego set where pieces have to fit together correctly to form the bigger unit," explains Llewellyn van Wyk, senior researcher at the CSIR. One big difference to current low-income houses is the design of the bathroom and kitchen area, and the use of a waste outlet manifold that is pre-manufactured, quality-tested and installed on site. This reduces the extent of the plumbing installation substantially while ensuring that the installation is done to the required standard.
“Standard low-income houses have no ceilings and thus no insulation, which results in incredible variations in temperatures," says Van Wyk. The thermal performance of the roof was improved dramatically with the addition of an insulation material that doubles up as a ceiling. The house faces the appropriate direction for ensuring bedrooms can benefit from sunlight, while the living room faces north.
The CSIR low-income housing initiative is a research project-in-progress. The most recent additions include a solar-powered geyser on top of the roof and a photo-voltaic panel above the front door for powering lights inside the house. “CSIR researchers will continue to pursue improved performance and sustainability for the low-income housing sector to impact on the quality of life of communities,” concludes Sibisi.
Incorporating most components of the CSIR-developed low-income house, local authorities will have demonstration units constructed in the Buffalo City Municipality in the Eastern Cape and at Kleinmond in the Western Cape.