Alternative building materials | Benoni City Times

The ever increasing cost of building and maintaining a home has led many South Africans to seek alternatives to traditional building materials and methods.

Bricks and mortar are excellent building materials that have stood the test of time. In addition, banks are intended to finance housing built from these traditional components, while they may apply additional loan criteria when it comes to financing housing built with other materials.

To be competitive, alternative building materials must be able to contribute to healthy, affordable, sustainable and energy efficient buildings that are quick to construct.

Other options

Two Cape Town companies that are making names in the field of alternative building materials are MagnaStruct and Stumbelbloc.


MagnaStruct is the distributor of MagnaBoards, which are large magnesium oxide boards. The advantages of the product include superior insulation properties, and above average fire resistance – an important consideration given the increase in fires in certain sectors in recent years.

“Another benefit of building with MagnaBoards is the speed with which construction occurs, with many homes being completed in a considerably shorter timeframe than when conventional materials are used,” says Dave Lindup, Managing Director of MagnaStruct.

Other advantages of these panels include impermeability to water and insect infestation, resistance to mold and mildew, and excellent acoustic and thermal benefits. Due to their non-toxic nature, the panels can be used for interior and exterior walls.

Lindup says, “Homeowners today are very aware of their carbon footprint and conduct extensive research on sourcing sustainable building materials. Over the past three years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of architects choosing to use MagnaBoard for domestic and industrial applications.

“Because they are non-toxic and energy efficient, and allow for quick construction, they are ideal building materials for environmentally conscious homeowners. They are also well suited for low cost housing projects, where flame retardant properties are particularly important.


The Stumbelbloc system has proven to be a cheaper way to build as well as creating buildings with high thermal efficiency, explains Jan Minne, senior architectural technologist and owner-builder, who has worked on many residential and commercial buildings using brick and mortar during his career.

After much research on previous projects and the Stumbelbloc factory, he decided to build his own 400m2 house in Pretoria using the Stumbelbloc construction method developed by Cape Town-based Andre Esterhuizen.

Stumbelbloc blocks fit together using minimal bonding material. Ready-made blocks are available at the factory, or builders can fabricate the blocks on-site using patented molds.

“Stumbelbloc’s construction method optimizes construction and its insulating properties help reduce future energy costs,” explains Esterhuizen.

Other benefits of using Stumbelboc include:

  • The blocks are self-aligning and self-leveling, which saves on plastering the walls.
  • They are great for DIY enthusiasts.
  • Electricity pipes and water pipes can be installed inside the empty cavities.

“The blocks are about eight times the size of traditional bricks, so the walls go up faster and they fit together, much like Lego blocks, which makes it easier to build. After the wall is finished, the crushed polystyrene is pumped into the cavity from the top of the wall to insulate it, saving time compared to other construction methods.

“Polystyrene is an excellent insulator and its use helps reduce waste in landfills,” says Esterhuizen. “The Polystyrene Packaging Council is working with recyclers to develop new uses for recycled polystyrene to prevent the product from creating waste. “


Both alternative building systems have wide application – from luxury homes to commercial and industrial buildings and low cost housing.

They could provide an elegant and cost effective solution to the problem of reducing the housing backlog in South Africa.