Monday, November 29, 2010

The Groundbreaker in Action

We are very happy with our decision to use all groundbreaker bricks for the walls of the school. It has proven to be a fast and cheap way to build a nice looking structure. It has taken some time to get people trained in the machine’s operation and the locals are still slow, although, we are working to improve both skills and work ethic. The guys we hired from Makarere University are on contract to make 450 bricks a day and they finish by about 2pm, and they have also been good teachers. Nat and I decided to learn the machine and we were able to make about 70 bricks an hour after an hour of practice. It’s hard work but the real trick is getting the right amount of soil (red muram soil, sand and cement mixed about 6:1:1) into the machine before compression, otherwise, you must open it up and add or remove a little before compressing again. We are in Kampala now but we have left six of the workers on site with a contract to make 500 bricks per day. This is their first unmonitored brick making – we are all hoping for the best.

The five guys from Kampala work the groundbreaker

Bricks are stacked for a day before use

Large interlocking bricks make the walls go up quickly

It would really be fantastic if the groundbreaker technology caught on in Bwera. Currently, most small scale construction is done using burnt mud bricks. This traditional technique requires that bricks be fashioned out of mud then dried in the sun. After this, they are stacked into a beehive shape and wood is burnt under them for the final curing. This contributes significantly to deforestation and only a portion of the bricks are usable because the inside bricks are too charred and the outside bricks are not cured enough. Then, if it rains hard before the bricks are burnt, the bricks are spoiled. These traditional bricks are also irregular sizes and require a large amount of mortar during building. In comparison, the groundbreaker bricks are uniform and interlocking so need very little mortar to hold them together (if any for a temporary structure). Also, they are usable in four hours and cure completely in two weeks. With the burning of bricks now banned in Kenya and Tanzania due to deforestation concerns, there is reason to hope that the groundbreaker could be a building revolution in East Africa.

Kids in Kampala forming mud bricks in preparation for burning

A stack of burnt bricks is ready for use

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