The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Knock knock and it says ting
- People in steel houses can’t throw stones, there aren’t any

Jamshedpur, June 8: If it weren’t for the name, it would take a tap on the wall to realise that 2 Steel Bungalow is in fact made of steel.

The pretty, cream-coloured house on Dindli Road resembles any other plush bungalow in the locality. A sitting room, three large bedrooms, a dining hall, a spacious kitchen, two toilets, a manicured lawn in front and a courtyard at the back — there is nothing in the single-storeyed structure to suggest it is not built of brick and concrete.

A knock on the main door, instead of pressing the bell, gives it away. The sound is loud, not the wooden kind. Jatinder Singh, who has been staying in the house with his family since December, and is loving every moment of it, opens the door.

As the head of architecture at Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company, a hundred per cent subsidiary of Tata Steel, Singh was asked to move into the house constructed as an experiment for the future when, the company believes, steel will replace concrete as building material.

Singh was one of the architects involved in building the house, the technology for which was provided by Minaean Habitat India, the fully-owned subsidiary of Minaean Ventures Inc., a Canadian company specialising in low-cost housing solutions. It took only around three months for the bungalow to be completed, unlike traditional houses, which take more than a year.

Cold-rolled steel sheets form the walls of the house with thermocol insulation in between. The inner walls of the house have cement fibreboards. CR sheets are used for the rooftops, which too are insulated.

“Except for construction of the foundation, no cement and brick have been used. It is fire and storm resistant. Moreover, since the walls and the rooftops are insulated, it does not either soak or radiate heat, making the rooms a lot more cooler than conventional ones,” Singh said.

Inside the bungalow, the walls painted in cream look like no different from other houses. That’s when the host tells you to tap gently on the walls. Ting — the noise is like a spoon striking a stainless steel glass.

Even without switching on the air-conditioner, the outside temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius couldn’t be felt inside. “The rooms become extremely cool during the evenings. In fact, we do not switch on the ACs when we sleep at night during summers. We keep the windows open and that is sufficient to have a sound sleep at night Even the ventilation is good. We are extremely comfortable in the steel house,” said Singh’s wife, Tejender Pal Kaur.

The rooms are more spacious because, unlike conventional houses, the steel house has a thickness of just four inches. “This means that there would be more space in the rooms. There are special devices to fix nails in the walls as well,” he said. It’s a powerful drill used to bore holes into the fibreboards.

Jatinder’s two teenaged daughters, Aditi and Ankita, were ecstatic when they moved into the new house in December. “We are enjoying ourselves. In fact, unless one is told that the structure is made of steel, it would be difficult to distinguish it from a house made of brick and cement,” the girls said.

Singh would not comment on the cost, but the amount, though steep as it was a one-off experiment, is expected to drop once steel houses are constructed on a mass scale.

The health ministry of Jharkhand has taken an interest in the project and has already floated a proposal to use steel in the construction of health sub-centres in rural areas. “We have discussed the matter and feel the ministry stands to gain if the health sub-centres are made of steel,” said an official.

Health minister Dinesh Sarangi said the cost of each centre would automatically come down as orders would be placed in bulk. “Moreover, we have found out that health sub-centres using steel-house technology could be made available to us more quickly. The maintenance cost would be minimal,” Sarangi added.

Owners of steel houses would be able to recover a sizeable amount of the cost if they wish to dismantle it at any time. “One has to dismantle the sheets and other material used in the house carefully and then use them again to construct a new one. In a conventional house, only the bricks can be recovered,” said a builder.

Singh said different models of steel houses are being tried out. “We have already set up a community hall and a few garages in the city made of the same material. One advantage is that people do not have to wait long to get their houses completed. One has to just design the structure, assemble the material and then set it up,” he said.

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