Refining an article on the different types of houses in Ghana, the meQasa.com team came across something very interesting and different, Toa House. Toa is a Twi word for a bottle and thus the thought, “Bottle House”. How interesting! Out of curiosity, Paul Coffie, CEO of Toa House, was invited to our offices for a quick chat. What follows is an intriguing interview with Paul about Toa House, plastic waste, Ghana’s housing deficit and general real estate.
meQasa.com: Kindly introduce yourself what Toa House is?
Paul: My name is Paul Coffie, co-founder of Toa House. We are actually 4 co-founders and I manage the day-to-day transactions at Toa House. Toa House is an incentive-based social benefit venture that uses plastic bottles to build, as well as provide alternative housing solutions through plastic.
We also have value-added products including tiles. In June, we will introduce solar roofing bricks which are also made from plastic.
meQasa.com: How did it all start?
Paul: For every idea, there is a torchbearer and I’ll say I am the torchbearer in this instance. I had the opportunity to work with a waste recycling company after school. During this period, I proposed a number of innovative ways we could recycle the waste we collected but the top management didn’t budge from the traditional ways.
So I took the lead to research more innovative ways to use the plastic waste we were gathering. I came across this non-profit organisation in Kenya that was building Kenya’s affordable housing using plastic waste. Apparently, Israel, India, Peru, and recently, Nigeria have adopted this new way of building affordable homes as well. I contacted this Kenyan organisation and they were willing to train me free of charge for 6 months.
I gathered money for flight tickets, packed my bags and headed to East Africa to learn this skill. That is how it all began.
meQasa.com: What happened when you returned from the 6-month training?
Paul: I pitched this idea to my current co-founders. They were super excited about it, so we pooled our resources together and here we are.
meQasa.com: How did you come up with the name Toa House?
Paul: (Chuckles) So we were sitting one day trying to come up with a name for the company. As we brainstormed, one of our co-founders started exclaiming toa, toa, toa…and voila, we were all in favour so we settled on the name Toa House!
meQasa.com: How has the journey been so far?
Paul: It was difficult initially because people are used to a certain paradigm. Changing mindsets has been our biggest challenge. People are currently used to building with blocks and cement. Back in the day, there was clay, then blocks were introduced. There was a bit of resistance towards the adoption of blocks but people came to accept it. Now, people are coming up with alternative cost-effective materials for building including plastic. We believe, with time, people will come to terms with building using plastic.
meQasa.com: Why is Toa House different and why should anyone choose you over the others?
Paul: Accra alone produces about 2000 tonnes of plastic waste yearly; that’s enough to house people. Toa is leveraging on a social problem of plastic waste to create a social solution to Ghana’s housing deficit problem.
Plastics have so many advantages over blocks. Due to their inherent nature, they do not erode and are fire and bulletproof in that, there is a bit of clay added when constructing the house. They are also earthquake resistant, energy efficient, well insulated, and 20 times stronger than blocks.
Above all, the structure is 33 percent less costly than the normal brick or blockhouse. You need close to about GHS70,000 to complete a two-bedroom house made of cement blocks, but you need between GHS35,000-40,000 to build a Toa house of the same size.
meQasa: When did you commence operations?
Paul: We took 1 year to study the market and officially commenced operations in 2016. Since then, we’ve built 10 houses using plastic bottles and are currently on the 11th house.
meQasa.com: Just to understand a bit further, what technique do you use in building houses?
Paul: The technique we currently adopt is to use the bottles just as they are, filled with sand to build. These bottles are about 13 inches thick. This is in stark contrast to the standard blocks of just 3 inches and these make the Toa houses virtually bulletproof.
For the Toa Village, we are using a different technique which involves melting plastic waste and mixing it with fine sand. The finished products are moulded into blocks and these are interlocked to build. This means no cement is required at all.
Another good thing about this new method is that you don’t require paints; since the colour is included during the making of the blocks, you don’t require paints. They come out just like fine tiles.
meQasa.com: How easy was it to come by investment in Ghana?
Paul: Finding investment has been pretty difficult. Most investors I speak to love the idea but because they are not used to this concept, they develop cold feet. Those who understand the technology, however, are backing it. Hopefully, we could benefit from the one district one factory investment.
meQasa.com: What is the future for Toa House?
Paul: People should watch out for the TOA Village next year; the first plastic-built gated community in Africa. This is going to be built in partnership with South African investors. It’s going to feature 73 units on 15 acres of land in Prampram, with 3 and 2 bedroom houses for sale; including the land. This will be listed on Ghana’s leading online real estate marketplace, meQasa, as well.Also, the African Union (AU) has expressed interest in partnering with Toa House to work on the House Africa project. In 5 years time, expect to see Toa House buildings in most African countries.
meQasa.com: What is your dream home?
Paul: My ideal house will be a home built with a cane and yes, your guess is right; Toa House will be moving into cane houses in the near future.
We promised intrigue. Hopefully, we have indeed delivered on it. Toa House is an eco-friendly product that sits between plastic waste and housing deficit. We are proud of team Toa and cannot wait to see how they progress to solve Ghana’s housing deficit problem.
If you are one who dreads the cost of cement and paint, you should definitely consider going the Toa way which is 33 percent less expensive than the normal brick or blockhouse.
Also, watch Paul Coffie speak about his innovation on TV3 Ghana below.
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