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Can your materials weather the storm?Publish Date: Dec 08, 2013
Can your materials weather the storm?
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A crowd that responded to rescue people trapped in a building in Kampala in July
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The real estate industry is booming. However, the tales of collapsing buildings cannot be ignored. John Odyek spoke to experts and explores how to spot fake building materials.

Uganda’s decade of economic boom has led to a mushrooming of both commercial and residential construction. However, every now and then, buildings collapse, killing or injuring workers, bystanders, residents and worshippers.

Eng. Jackson Mubangizi, the president of Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE), has said the construction boom has brought with it challenges.

“Our reports show that there are masons working as engineers. Some developers don’t want to use professional engineers preferring cheap services of non- professionals and many local authorities are not supervising construction projects,” Mubangizi said.

This is adding to the problem of unscrupulous building hardware dealers who sell adulterated cement and inferior cables, iron bars and other building materials.

Standards for materials

Cement is sometimes mixed with non-cement materials such as lime or clay soil.

David Eboku, the manager Standards Development UNBS, said poor quality materials impact on the health and safety of the users and the environment.

Construction ratios

“It is common to hear of a ratio of 1:4 for cement to sand in making mortar for joining blocks in construction. This information is written onthe cement bag,” says Eboku. He explained that this can be one basin of cement to four basins of sand or one wheelbarrow of cement to four wheelbarrows of sand.

However, some contractors mix one bag of cement to the a bigger quantity of sand than they should thus weakening the structures they are constructing.

This is a source of failure for structures and the reason why only qualified persons should supervise construction. The East African Community (EAC) has been developing common standards since 2000.

Eboku said standards for plain and corrugated steel sheets, carbon steel sheets, coils and strips, steel sections, steel for the reinforcement of concrete and pre-painted metal coated steel sheets and coils and stainless steel tanks have been finalised and will be issued soon by the EAC.

There are many standards issued by international standards organisations such as the International Organisation for Standardisation, International Electrotechnical Commission and International Telecommunication Union.

These organisations provide mechanism through which global stakeholders meet to agree on international standards. When international standards are applicable to local situations, they are adopted or modified as national standards.

Using international standards is beneficial to the country since products produced according to such standards can be traded globally. “Some industry experts still refer to the old British standards.

Some teachers, lecturers and engineers who knew these standards have failed to follow new ones. Some of these standards have been withdrawn following the emergence of new European Union standards in most sectors,” Eboku said.

There is also limited capacity for government institutions, local authorities and UNBS to enforce the standards. Consequently fraud may go undetected.

Vincent Ochwo, the UNBS head of market surveillance, said those buying large quantities of materials should have them tested by UNBS or the Central Materials Laboratories under the ministry of works based in Kireka.

“It is advisable to buy from manufacturers’ outlets, genuine distributors and agents,” Ochwo advised.

What to look out for when buying building materials

Cement

Vincent Ochwo, the UNBS head of market surveillance, says when buying cement, adulteration is the biggest worry. Cement is sometimes mixed with non-cement materials such as lime or clay soil.

“The standard weight for a bag of cement is 50kg. Unscrupulous traders remove some cement from the bags to make extra bags which make all bags weigh less than 50 kg.

Sometimes cement is not used for the purpose it is made for. Cement for structural work can be used for masonry work,” Ochwo explained.

What to check for

  • Is the bag tampered with, is it glued?
  • The product quality mark on the bag (QMark)
  • Manufacturer’s name and address
  • Batch identification number
  • Date of manufacture for ease of identification by consumers and product traceability for enforcement, monitoring and product recall.
  • Price differentials – if the price is lower than the prevailing market rate then the consumer needs to determine whether the cement in question is genuine and also whether it is suitable for the intended purpose before buying.

Iron bars

Ochwo says the major problems with iron bars arise from manufacturing process inadequacies and market inadequacies.
 

These include making underweight and undersize iron bars.
 

What to check for

  • All bars should be identifiable by marks introduced during rolling which indicate the name of manufacturer, trade mark or steel grade
  • Recommended weight per metre length of iron bar for example:

Size 8mm – the weight per metre is 0.395kg

Size 10mm – the weight per metre is 0.617kg

Size 12mm - the weight per metre is 0.888kg

Size 16mm - the weight per metre is 1.58kg

Size 20mm - the weight per metre is 2.47kg

Iron sheets

Ochwo said the major problems unsuspecting buyers face with iron sheets is the dealers changing the gauges. That is from gauge 32 to gauge 30, gauge 30 to gauge 28.

The gauges reflect the thickness of the iron sheet. The lower the guage number, the thicker the iron sheet.

Manufacturers can also shorten lengths making it shorter than the standard length of three metres. They can also use less zinc coating on the iron sheets.

What to check for

  • Most manufacturers jet print the gauges on the iron sheets and indicate the thickness in millimeters (i.e. for gauge 32, thickness is 0.20 mm). Check for any tampering with the marks
  • The stamps on the iron sheets should have the following colour coding; Gauge 32 – Blue, gauge 30 – Red, gauge 28 – Black,
  • Galvanized corrugated iron sheets of gauge 32 and standard three metres long should weigh about 4.5 kg, gauge 30 should weigh about 5.6kg and gauge 28 should weigh about 7.4kg
  • Pre-painted iron sheets of gauge 32 should not be on the market.

Electric cables

“There are substandard copper cladmild steel wires just coated with copper on the surface which are poor conductors of electricity. These are brittle and subject to breakage.

There are also cables made of poor insulation materials,” Ochwo explained.

What to check for when buying electric cables

  • Labeling – is the labeling poorly done on the box and cable
  • Colour – does the colour match previously bought cable
  • Conductors (wires) – are they copper or just copper coated.
  • Weight – substandard cables often have undersize copper conductors that weigh half as much as genuine cables

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