A research study conducted by the University of Moratuwa ascertained that the steel housing construction project proposing to build 65,000 steel houses to house internally displaced persons within the next four years, suffered from several key drawbacks when compared with block wall houses.
According to the study, the drawbacks include inadequate foundations, insufficient roof support, the risk of steel corrosion despite the coatings provided, poor ventilation, the absence of a hearth and chimney, poor or non-existent capacity for extension or repair, a much shorter lifespan, and the costs involved being at least doubled. The research further noted that the houses, which would require an essentially contractor driven approach, were unlikely to create a sense of ownership and it was very unlikely that the houses would foster the local economy and generate employment.
The study observed that in the above context it is clear that the way forward is to construct block wall houses, while finding ways to overcome any disadvantages they may have including the finding of new sources of natural resources, alternative technologies to reduce the usage of natural resources and arranging financing.
As far as structural aspects of the steel houses are concerned, the report mentions that, the steel houses are founded on a 150 millimetre (mm) thick reinforced concrete slab which is placed on the ground, in one case raised above the existing ground level by around 450 mm, which would be unsuitable for flood conditions or even heavy rains that could erode the soil under the foundations.
The roof panels are also made of sandwich panels (two corrugated steel sheets enclosing polyurethane foam insulation) such as in the wall panels, but probably somewhat thinner, an aspect which was not possible to be observed since they were covered by sheets.
The span from the roof ridge to wall supports is around 3.1 metres (m) and there are no intermediate purlin supports. This appears somewhat inadequate, because the maximum span recommended for corrugated sheets is generally 1.2 m.
The corrugated steel sheets are prone to corrosion (which can take place in under a decade), especially in environments close to the sea.
The expert team behind ‘A Comparison of the Proposed “Steel House” with Constructed Block Wall Houses in the Jaffna Peninsula: Preliminary Findings’ included Senior Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Prof. W. Priyan S. Dias, Senior Lecturer (Grade II) at the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, Dr. Rangika Halwatura and Senior Lecturer (Grade I) at the Department of Architecture of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Moratuwa, Consultant Chartered Architect Varuna De Silva.