In our first couple of months in Kenya, I began looking for our building contractor and doing research about the building process in Kenya. I met a lot of people, asked a lot of questions, and really learned a lot. One of the things I learned in that process is that most building owners hire a contractor to only do the labor for the building and they “source” the materials themselves. That means that it is then the responsibility of the owner to make sure that all materials are on-site and ready for the contractor to construct the building. I know at home, this isn’t usually the case. Most home owners in the U.S. find a builder and pay that builder to give them a “turn-key” finished product. The problem here is that building contractors will charge you for high-quality materials, but then they will use low-quality, cheaper materials to construct your building so they can make some extra coin.
Therefore, we thought it would be best for me to do this sourcing of materials for our project. I knew at the time this was going to make my job much more involved. But WOW! I didn’t even realize then how much work goes into this. You see, you can’t just go to Home Depot and look at the sticker price of a 2×4 and then go to Lowe’s and compare the sticker price of the same 2×4. EVERYTHING is negotiable. AND, oh by the way, there isn’t a Home Depot or Lowe’s here. I have yet to find one hardware store that carries everything. There is no one-stop shop. (And no Walmart or Target either). And oh, by the way, there’s no “Contractor’s Credit Account” that you can pay once-a-month like at Home Depot or Lowe’s; and no one takes a credit card; everyone wants cash money.
So last week, as I was shopping for materials for our window and doors, I thought I would share with you about how this whole materials sourcing process goes just to give you an idea of what my 12-hour days consist of 6 days-a-week.
One of the very first materials we needed was the soil for making the blocks. So one day, I took a trip to the quarry myself to see where they get this soil and to understand why it needed to be this soil and not something else. The soil we need must have the proper mixture of sand, silt, and clay. Too much sand-not good; too much clay-not good.
You know, this soil doesn’t magically move from the quarry to our site. I also am tasked with finding a transportation company to retrieve and deliver the oil to our site. The first day, I found a lorry but they charged me too much for the transport- 5000ksh ($60) instead of 3000ksh ($35) AND they didn’t carry enough soil in each trip.
Look at the picture below. See the top of the door? That is where the top of the soil line should be for this type of lorry. This one is not full. The driver complained that his lorry was not powerful enough to carry a full load. So they next day, I found a lorry that could carry a full load, but he was still charging me too much. By the third day, I had finally found a lorry that could carry a full load and not over-charge me. Since then, this guy has been carrying our soil well for 3000ksh until last week when his lorry broke down. Back to Square 1. By the way, we usually get about 4 lorries of soil per day.
The other major ingredient for the blocks is cement. I am blessed with this one because my landlord used to own a hardware shop here in town. So he is able to get some things for me. He is able to order 200 bags of cement at a reasonable cost and have half of that cement delivered directly to our site and the other half delivered to his storage for his own construction project. No extra charge for transport- Thanks Mr. Patel!
The first major material we needed for the building foundation were “quarry stones”. So, I made a trip out to the quarry, about an hour drive-30 minutes for the first 15 miles or so and another 30 minutes on a very rocky bumpy road for the last 2 miles. When we finally got there, I was AMAZED! The place was so cool! And these guys were all cutting the stones out of the mountain BY HAND with just a chisel and a hammer! So, we confirmed that we needed 9″ x 9″ stones and that we needed 1000 feet of stones. So, we negotiated on the stones as well as the transport to bring them to the site.
After the first 1000 feet of stones, we found out we actually needed another 500 feet. But this time, I negotiated a better price for the stones and the transport. 🙂
SAND, BALLAST, HARDCORE
Another major group of material that has to be purchased and delivered is sand and ballast for making concrete and hardcore for filling in the foundation. The hardcore was pretty easy. It comes from the same quarry as the stones. But it is a lot less expensive, but of course the transport is the same cost. Sand comes from a river quite a ways away. I don’t actually know where it comes from exactly. But they bring me good quality sand at a fairly hefty cost. Ballast is the small stones that they use to mix with the sand and cement to make the concrete. This is one of the most expensive materials to order and deliver. And we need a lot of it. I think I have had at least 4 or 5 loads of this stuff delivered and about the same as the sand.
So this is the major order that prompted me to write this blog post. There are many various other materials that are needed that I just have to find the best- or sometimes, fastest, or more convenient place to buy these various materials like damp proof plastic, metal reinforcement bars, nails, wire mesh, etc.
But last week, I had a HUGE order for all of the materials to make our windows and doors on-site. You can’t just walk into Home Depot and flip through the various windows and doors on display and have them delivered that afternoon. Here, the windows and metal doors are all made locally. I could have them made with a local fundi (skilled worker) in town, but it is part of our contract with our building contractor that his guys are to make them on our site. And after doing some research, I found that the pricing will be the same or better. HOWEVER, what this means is that now, I had to go and buy a LOT of various metal materials that they need to make them.
So this time, I got smart. I created an Excel sheet (I love Excel-goes well with my OCD). In this sheet, I made a list of all of the items needed and I added a blank column after it. I then made about 5 copies and took a walk. I went to the 5 local hardware stores and said, “please give me a quote on these materials. I am getting quotes from 4 other hardware stores. So you want to give me your best.”
I then compiled all of the data in my excel sheet and went with the lowest bidder after confirming they were giving me the highest quality materials and delivering for free.
The problem is, timing isn’t always the greatest. It is very difficult to get all of the materials we need on-site when they are needed. I don;t always get enough advance notice of what and when the materials are needed. So by the time I get to the hardware stores, do a little bit of shopping around, then wait for the delivery, the fundis are sitting onsite looking for something to do because I am still calling and calling and calling suppliers to have things delivered “now please!” Now that I have walked this block a little bit, I know which suppliers I can get materials from the quickest and I am trying to get further ahead with my contractor in knowing what is needed further in advance.
BUSY BUSY BUSY
So … I stay busy. I am constantly driving back and forth to town to buy materials, make sure that I get to the site when materials and being delivered, make sure that things are being done in the right way on site, and being the last one to leave so I can make sure the storage buildings get closed and locked so that these precious materials don’t walk away.
And because this all happens 6 days-a-week, 12-hour days, Sundays are now completely reserved for the family and rest. And usually by Thursday, I can’t wait til Sunday!