When people are looking to buy land to build their homes, especially in Uganda, they look at two main things. The cost of the property and distance to the main road, property brokers tend to write only that piece of information on their sites. If the buyer is a bit more exposed then they’ll pass by the lands office to make sure that there are no land wrangles or that the seller is not a con man( thinking about Primah‘s dilemma)
But as an architect, when I am called in to either design an already bought piece of land or give advice, I sometimes wish buyers new a little bit more about context for homes and not only relay on real estate developers . So I thought I’d share 5 things I believe land buyers should consider for their future homes, from an architect’s perspective ;
Kampala and it’s neighboring towns tend to sit on hills. We might not be on a thousand hills like Kigali but we are their distant cousins, therefore it’s good to know something unique about hills. You see as a rule of thumb, warm air rises up, especially during the day and this applies inside a house as well.
In the case of a hill, as you rush to buy a plot at the top of a hill for status, in this here hot Kampala ( Entebbe, Gayaza, Kira, Kisasi, Mukono) you are buying an oven space. In micro climate, there is what they call day breeze and evening breeze, cool air rises from the bottom of the hill during the day and warm air goes down in the evening. This is because water bodies such as swamps tend to be at the bottom of the hills and there is vapour from condensation that the wind takes up the hill but it warms up as it moves because the environment, including you, absorbs it and releases heat again so do you.
Now because we are not allowed to build in swamps due to factors I’ll explain in another point, the lower sides of the hill, with middle being ideal is the best place to build a home that won’t cook you. I would go further to advice you buy on the other side of the hill that doesn’t have a swamp/ water body, but still in a low-lying area, this area is called a cool zone. Avoid the top of the hills in warm climates.
This means how steep the hill is. Either side of the extreme will create a challenge. If the land is on a flat-like slope like eastern Uganda and part of Kenya the rainwater drainage will become your nightmare. You’ll have to lift your building on piles or a platform to avoid the flooding on a rainy day. This brings the point of avoid building in swamps, the environmental issues put aside, Bwaise should be your reference to avoid.
If the slope is too steep, as in the case of Kigali, southern Uganda and some parts of Kampala like Muyenga, then your nightmares are drainage still and foundation walls and platforms. You’ll have to step your site and build expensive retaining walls with good drainage so that your building doesn’t come tumbling down.
I’d advise you buy a plot on a gentle slope, which funny enough are usually found at the low-lying areas of a hill.
3. Soil type
You know the scripture that says build your house on a rock so that when the rains come it will stand and not in the sand because it will be washed away. Take that word spiritually and literally. I’ll add firm soil like “murram” is ideal and avoid clay and sand if you can.
Modern engineering has allowed us to solve the problem but it still remains just that, a problem. Clay soils means you are too near a water body, and again environmental issues standing, the water logged soil is hell to excavate and that water will rise up your walls in no time. Even with good water proofing methods, eventually you’ll need to do repairs.
Rocky soil is difficult to excavate but that’s where your problems end. Ok maybe not in case you want a flourishing garden but it can still work. Your foundation won’t have to be so deep, drainage is good and no water rising up to your walls.
4. Wind direction
This has to be the most ignored aspect of design even by architects but wind direction, velocity and prevalence really affects your home.
Big words, let me explain. You want air constantly moving around you for cooling as well as odours. Have you tried using a toilet that has no windows and the extract fan is broken. Imagine your home being that toilet 🤢. When you visit the land make sure you feel wind moving around you, some parts of hills have less of a breeze than others. In colder countries, they avoid wind infiltration due to heat loss, but in our parts we welcome it.
Very strong winds literally add an extra load to your house. Have you ever visited a home and the wind is about to lift up their roof, that’s because it is. Don’t let that be you.
5. Building codes
This is as legal as I care to go but codes can mess you all the way up. If you hope to buy land in Kampala these codes including a map showing guidelines can be found on the KCCA website. If you are building outside Kampala you have to visit the LC office to find out.
I know what you are thinking, no one is going to check on me deep in Kira. You’ll be surprised how many building sites get checked on, now there you are being stopped from constructing because you messed up and broke a code. If its a good inspector you’ll have to deal with the council board, if it’s a corrupt one that’s between you and your conscience. Just remember it doesn’t make the problem go away.
Find out the allowed distance of the house to the access road, because a 50×100 plot can quickly become a 40×90 built up space. Do they allow higher levels? how many? don’t be putting up a three story apartment and when you are roofing they tell you there is a restriction of two floors and the reverse is true.
I hope this helps someone who plans to buy land for a home in Uganda. I understand that the financial aspect tends to be the only thing people care about, but I believe some of these might help you avoid a lifetime of headache. I didn’t mean to get too technical in this post, but I didn’t want my fellow architects critiquing me too harshly, you know how we can be.