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close this book BASIN - News No 11. March 1996: BASIN and the city summit
View the document Editorial
View the document Focus: BASIN and the city summit
View the document Shelter forum: The first southern BASIN-Partner
View the document BASIN at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul - May 30 to June 14, 1996
View the document The ecology and ethics of brick kilns
View the document Low-cost housing construction in Papua New Guinea
View the document The Costa Rica national bamboo project
View the document In search of choice: - Reconciling policy and the peoples process
View the document Technology and Social Action: A Housing Development Programme in Rafaela, Argentinia
View the document Enabling shelter strategies for low-income communities
View the document WAS: Basin Awareness sminar in Egypt
View the document CAS: Research and development on affordable binders and production processes
View the document Transition from project advised activity to independent entrepreneurship
View the document MEPI system, an essential management tool
View the document MCR Producers seminar and training in Uganda
View the document CECAT organises third Latin American MCR conference
View the document EAS: Improvement of locally manufactured earth block presses in Nigeria
View the document The low-cost building construction project as an answer to housing problems

Low-cost housing construction in Papua New Guinea

An Overview of the Self-Help Housing Policy

Introduction and Background

In 1974 the Government of Papua New Guinea implemented new housing regulations. These recognised that a significant portion of new urban housing stock could and should be produced on a self-build, owner-occupier basis. The government accepted that home owners would be able to build at a speed and with materials appropriate to their skills and resources. To facilitate this process the government assisted in the provision of building materials and technical expertise. It also relaxed the enforcement of the Building Act to allow a respite period of two years for owners to improve their houses before the minimum standards set out in the Building Regulations had to be achieved. A comprehensive manual - The Handbook for Guidance of Self-Help House Building1, was produced by the Department of Works, to assist self-help builders. This handbook informed builders of good building practice which minimises cost, while, at the same time, still impressing on them the importance of complying with certain statutory requirements of the Building Act in the areas of health, structural stability and limiting the spread of fire.

In 1990 a study of owner-occupiers’ perceptions of the officially endorsed self-help housing policy was carried out2. The location of this study was Bumbu, one of the oldest squatter settlements in Lae, and 158 households were surveyed. The study aimed to go beyond looking at purely the technical and economic aspects which influence peoples choices of building materials, and also to consider the social and cultural factors prevalent in such choices.

Homeowners Preferences

It was found that over half of the respondents bought and/or collected building materials from rubbish dumps. Of those who bought building materials, nearly three-quarters were in employment, and over half were carpenters themselves. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents spent between $200 and $500 in the construction of their houses.

When asked to give a reason why a particular building material was chosen, 20 percent of respondents said affordability and 24 percent said either availability, or strength and durability. Others chose building materials because other people use them (11 percent), or because they were familiar3 with the materials (5 percent). For a small proportion (4.4 percent) choices were made on the grounds of prejudice or because of general restrictions imposed on the use of certain building materials in urban areas. Although this latter proportion was very small, it does have implications for the success of low-cost self-help housing construction in PNG.

In most urban areas in PNG there is a general shortage of building materials and, additionally, materials stocked in hardware stores are often very expensive. On the other hand indigenous building materials must be collected from distant places and often need to be bought from the local landowners.

In another question homeowners were asked to choose up to three preferred building materials, assuming that they were not restricted in the choice. Clear patterns of preference emerged. Materials that scored highly were timber (99 percent), metal sheeting (96 percent), plywood (61 percent) and cement (37 percent). Lower preference was given to concrete blocks (6 percent), asbestos (4 percent) and grass/thatch (0.6 percent). Some materials were not selected at all4. Reasons given for particular choices included strength and durability (30 percent), conformity to urban building regulations (20 percent), affordability (10 percent), a liking for the materials (10 percent).


The survey results clearly show that although quantifiable factors such as affordability, availability and technical performance are important in determining peoples’ choices, less tangible considerations are also of consequence. Such considerations relate primarily to personal preferences. These include features of particular materials which give people pleasure and satisfaction. Of particular importance are aspects related to gaining acceptability and status among their peer groups - hence the high rating for materials which are legally sanctioned. In general people prefer materials associated with progress and improvement rather than those associated with tradition. Function is often not as important as price and perception.


Programmes aimed at encouraging self-help housing initiatives, or promoting the production or use of new or indeed of traditional materials must consider fully the reasons behind preferences for particular housing solutions.

Dr. Sababu Kaitilla

Papua New Guinea

University of Technology

1. Stewart D. H., A Handbook for Guidance of Self-Help House Building, Port Moresby: Acting Government Printer, (1985).

2. For a detailed account see Kaitilla, S., "Effects of Development on Human Behaviour: A Conceptual Analysis", Architecture and Behaviour, vol 11(5), pp. 163-170, (1995).

3. This does not necessarily imply having adequate building skills to handle such materials.

4. See Kaitilla, S., "Urban Residence and Housing Improvement in a Lae Squatter Settlement, Papua New Guinea", Environment and Behaviour, vol 26(5), pp. 640-668, (1994).