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September 19, 2013

Solving the Roofing Problem for Rural India?

The folks at ReMaterials are working on creating affordable, high-quality building materials out of waste. Here's their story, sent in by Hasit Ganatra

roofahmedabad.jpgIn order to understand the housing situation in the developing world, we traveled through villages and slums in four states of India: Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. While many aspects of life in these areas were eye opening, we were particularly struck by the lack of adequate roofing available. Nearly 80% of the families we talked to could not afford adequate roofing and were left with the poor quality options of corrugated cement or metal roofs, which are both suboptimal as shelter and hazardous to health. As demonstrated by the picture (right) from a slum in Ahmedabad, India and quotes from users, most of the rural population of India cannot fulfill the basic human need of adequate shelter.

  • "My top most priority is to get my house fixed, especially the roof"
  • "We cannot sleep inside the house. Even at night, it is hot and suffocating"
  • "I cannot get my son married because no family is willing to give their daughter in such a house"
  • "We cannot afford concrete slab roof and there are no other options"
  • "It doesn't feel like a home"
  • "We have to fix the roof 5 to 6 times a year because of wind, rain, dogs and monkeys running on the roof."

As we understood the gravity of the problem, we realized that the primary cause of the situation is a lack of options in the market, making people have to choose between the affordable but inadequate options of corrugated metal or cement sheets,and the adequate but unaffordable option of concrete slab roofs.

panels.jpgWe researched existing materials to find one that met our criteria of cost, properties, and toxicity, but no such material was available. Consequently, we decided to develop our own. Over the course of two years, we experimented with a variety of raw materials to find the ideal combination and process to yield a product that had the properties of strength, insulation, and waterproofing necessary for adequate shelter. In order to keep the cost of production low and to serve an additional social purpose, we focused on using waste as input. In December 2012, our experimentation yielded fruit as we developed a rigid tile, mainly from packaging waste and added a custom waterproof coat to get a panel ideal for roofing. Tests of our material revealed that it can hold at least 800 lbs, is waterproof, and provides better insulation than every available option, including concrete slab roofs. Furthermore, it costs 60% less than concrete slab roofs, thereby eliminating the current market gap between adequate and affordable.

Applications

Solar cells and LED lights have been successfully embedded in the roofing panels, thereby allowing the product to simultaneously provide reliable shelter, lighting, and additional electricity for the same house. As shown in the picture below, we have used the solar-embedded panel to successfully charge an iPhone. We envision our product as a one-stop solution to address the issues of waste management, affordable housing, rural electrification, and clean energy in the developing world.

rematerials_solar.jpgDue to the strength, insulation, and affordability offered by our panels, we noticed that there are a plethora of fields outside of roofing in which this product could be used, such as furniture, partition boards, false ceilings, and insulation.

For more info, you can reach Hasit here >>