Housing Ministry Looking to Use Concre-Panels to Build Low Cost Houses


The Ministry of Water and Housing will be pursuing discussions with Free Form Factory Limited, local manufacturers of expanded polystyrene (EPS) concre-panels, with a view to utilising the material in the development of affordable housing solutions in Jamaica.
Portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, made the announcement when he and technical persons from the Ministry recently toured the factory located at 6 Nanse Pen in Kingston, where they were given a first-hand demonstration of how the concre-panels are manufactured, and shown a model house, which was built using the material.
The Minister expressed the hope that a partnership can evolve from the discussions, which would better enable the Government to deliver on housing needs. He pointed out that 14,000 units are required per year, over the next 10 years, to meet current demand.
The company, operated by businessman, Keith Edwards, and wife, Attorney-at-law and company director, Vivalyn Edwards, commenced operations in 1992, primarily manufacturing bean bags and soft furniture.

Water and Housing Minister, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang (left), listens as Operations Manager at Free Form Factory Limited, Arnoldo Peralto, explains some of the processes involved in the manufacturing of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) construction panels which the company produces, during a tour of the facility, situated in the Nanse Pen industrial estate in Kingston, by Ministry officials on July 23. The Ministry is exploring the possibility of entering a partnership with the company, with a view to using the panels in the construction of affordable housing solutions across the island.

Mrs. Edwards informed the touring party that between 2000 and 2005, research conducted, led to the expansion of Free Form’s operations to incorporate the manufacturing of the concre-panels to meet the “emerging needs” of new hotel developments, particularly by the Spanish chains, which she pointed out, use EPS foam, commonly known as Styrofoam.
“We began to see (that) it really could be used in the construction of houses. We have done a lot of research, visited many countries to observe their processes and how they use what are called concre-panels to construct houses,” Mrs. Edwards outlined, pointing out that the technology, while new in Jamaica, is already established and widely used in Central and South America, and Europe.
Mrs. Edwards informed that in 2005, the company identified and procured panel making, block making, and cutting machinery from Italy, for the manufacture of the building material at a cost of more than US$2 million with the assistance of the Export/Import (EXIM) Bank, whom she said, “recognised the importance of funding alternative solutions to build houses, which are more affordable.”
Mrs. Edwards described the panels, which she said, have been certified by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), as “a sheet of wall” made from EPS foam, and encased in steel wires to strengthen it, with concrete applications, ranging from 1.5 inches upwards, on either side.

Water and Housing Minister, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang (2nd left), and officials and executives of the Ministry and Free Form Factory Limited, converse in front of a model house built from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) construction panels and material, manufactured by the company, which was erected on the company’s compound in the Nanse Pen industrial estate, in Kingston. Dr. Chang and Ministry officials toured the factory on July 23, to get a first-hand look at the processes involved in the manufacturing of the panels. The Ministry is exploring the possibility of entering a partnership with the company, with a view to using the panels in the construction of affordable housing solutions across the island.

Not only is the panel safe for use in construction, she said, but it reduces the temperature in the building by 10 degrees. It is non-toxic and structures built with the material are hurricane and earthquake resistant.
Noting that Free Form Factory is registered with the National Contracts Commission (NCC), both as a supplier of the material and a contractor, Mrs. Edwards said the company is desirous of partnering with the Government to provide low income family houses.
“We estimate that it costs 30 per cent less to use this system than the traditional concrete and steel. It is our firm belief that EPS panels (is the) lowest and most effective way of building homes for low income families today,” Mrs. Edwards stated with conviction.
In the meantime, Dr. Chang expressed confidence the houses built with the material will “satisfy the Jamaican taste.”
He informed that the Ministry was looking into the possibility of starting construction on 10,000 housing units this fiscal year.
“Obviously, all won’t be started this year. But as work on them (proceeds next year), we hope that we will have the land to be able to expand at an exponential rate until we get the 14,000 a year we need to satisfy the needs of the Jamaican workers,” he stated.
He said that lands have been identified, which the Ministry would like to “move on”.
“We are looking at Portmore, and we have a couple of other sites that we are looking at. It’s a partnership (and) we are pursuing that quite actively. We will certainly pursue discussions with them (Free Form Limited), and look forward to delivering a number of these (houses) to see how they are accepted on the market,” Dr. Chang added.

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