Can we achieve affordable housing in Barbados?


One solution to reduce the vulnerability of your house is to have your foreman properly trained.  I now offer a training course that will lead to participants receiving the Diploma of Walbrent College.  See article on  Walbrent College for further details.

Regards, Grenville


Barbados can easily achieve affordable housing; however, we are not achieving it for two principal reasons, each of which we are generally oblivious.

The first reason is that we are unaware that we cannot afford the substandard houses that we have built for the past 12 years.  The start of this current building boom saw inexperienced persons offering themselves as building contractors.  Fortuitously, national building standards were published 2 years prior; however, the inexperienced builders were not required to comply with them.

The second reason is that home owners do not plan adequately and therefore run out of money before the house is completed.  Home owners are normally unaware that they are building houses that they simply cannot afford.

I would recommend that potential home owners adhere to the following procedure to realize an affordable house.  The assumption here is that 100% of your construction budget will come from the mortgage institution.

1.  Go to your mortgage institution to determine the amount of mortgage loan that you qualify for.  It is critically important that you deduct an estimate of the bridging interest from this amount.

2.  Assume a construction cost of $250 per square foot of floor space. Then divide your actual loan by $250 and the result is the total floor space in square feet that you should tell your designer not to exceed.  Your house can be built for less than $250 per sq ft; however, you should have a buffer to deal with the risks associated with building like unforeseen ground conditions for your foundations.

3.  After carefully reviewing your design drawings, and obtaining Planning permission, select honest and competent builders by obtaining and checking references.

4.  Obtain a construction contract.  You can obtain a useful one from the Barbados Association of Quantity Surveyors for $15 (tel:246 228-0598).

5.  Obtain a copy of the Barbados National Building Code from the Barbados National Standards Institution for $100. (tel:246 426-3870)

6.  Include in the construction contract that the builder must not build below the minimum structural requirements of the Barbados National Building Code.  Complying with this standard can be done at no additional cost.

7.  Also identify in your contract a fair and technically competent adjudicator to whom both sides can refer disputes.

8.  Invite at least two builders to competitively bid on the project.  Before they provide their bids, ask them if they need any additional information.  You should ensure that the bidder is aware of the following: wall, floor, and ceiling finishes, roof covering, door and window types, lighting and plumbing fixtures, and the proposed construction contract.  If you have not decided on your fixtures, then ask them to quote for labour only on an assumed fixture.
9.  Regularly visit the construction site and see if you notice substandard work.  You can view some typical examples of substandard in the construction section of this website.  If your builder insists on doing substandard work, then dismiss him and find a more responsible builder.

10.  Do not pay your builder until he has completed each stage of work properly and in accordance with the national standard.



Published in the 25 February 2008 edition of the Barbados Business Authority.

20 responses to “Can we achieve affordable housing in Barbados?

  1. Pingback: Barbados » Blog Archive » Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup

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  3. The question here is what is affordable housing?
    How do we define it?
    What is the building cost like today taking into consideration that the cost of steel is now around $4700/ton, the cost of cement has just gone up, freighting for sand stone etc has gone up, the cost of blocks will be going up shortly and the list goes on.
    Taking all of this into consideration what is a realistic sqft building costs?

    Hi Worried:

    With the current cost of building materials, you can still build a comfortable and safe house for $150/sq-ft. You can build for less if you consider some creative designs that require less material.

    For example, you can consider an open plan for the kitchen, dining room and living room rather than having each room enclosed with walls. Those walls have a material and labour cost attached to them.

    You can also consider using a Trowel Plastic type wall finish rather than painting. With Trowel Plastic, you make one application, with paint you make at least 3 applications, and each application has a material and labour component. The labour component is higher for a 2-storey house where there is a lot of external scaffolding to be moved around.

    No need to be worried.


  4. Yes I guess these are valid points but the cost is increasing at a pace that does get you worried.

    Hi Worried:

    The increasing cost of building materials is of concern. However, with careful planning, a house can still be constructed for under $150 per sq-ft. Since a house is normally the largest single investment that a person or couple will make in their lifetime, conscientious planning is required. Where knowledge is lacking, one should ask for advice.


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  7. John Jackson

    Perhaps there is a different work ethic in the construction industry in Barbados, I have only been there as a teenager on vacation some 30 years ago. I fell in love with it then and still dream about it now. As a general contractor specializing in custom homes here in BC, Canada I find it ridiculous that a contractor would not take some simple and cheap steps to ensure a house they built for a client far exceeds normal building codes! Putting the liability aside, what about pride in workmanship, knowing the client will be safer in times of severe Carribean weather! Even BC has some poor points in the building code and when I doubt something I just double up and eat the cost, we all know that we live on a fault line and it is just a matter of time before the codes are put to the true test. I could not sleep at nights knowing that I built an unsafe or just meets code home that houses a family! I know there is never an ideal situation but perhaps Barbados is in need of a home builders association run by an independant body not involved with any companies. Builders must pass an exam with questions based on soil composition or load maximums,etc…. If they meet the requirements and become a member and pay their yearly dues it allows for consumer confidence that they have aquired a certified and ethical builder! After reading most of this site I am truly tempted to move there with my 8 year old son and try to bring my above code ethics to paradise!!

    Hi John:

    The problem with our residential construction sector is that it appears to be dominated by builders who were never properly trained in safe construction practices. Therefore, they do not know that they do not know. That is why the non-promotion of our national building standard was and continues to be such an unnecessary tragedy.


  8. I realize that it has been a while since you posted your article but I have read it quite some time ago as well. I am looking into the building of a home in Bds and would like to find a good buildng contractor to basically work with me to build a home. I am an engineer and would use my management skills to manage the construction. I have the Bds Building code so I am familar with the residential building requirements. I only need the general contractor to lean on as a consultant and source good subcontracting services, and material sourcing. Do you know how I may go about finding such a person? I am not from Barbados.

  9. Hi Raymond:

    Let me suggest that you select a few building contractors from Barbados’ telephone directory, and obtain and investigate their recent references. An Internet link to Barbados’ Yellow Pages follows.


  10. Thank you. I actually started with that approach but thought I would seek your opinion anyway. I enjoy your articles, they are very informative and thoughtful.

  11. Hi Grenville,

    I would like to reproduce you article on another website. I would obviously mention the original source. Please contact me ASAP.

  12. Hi Bert:

    You may reproduce the article. If it generates comments, then I would be happy to participate in the discussion upon notification.

    Best regards,

  13. my husband and i plan on building a home in Barbados. We just want a small chattel type home, up on stilts. We have the land. Can you explain step by step what we do next. I know we need a survey if there is not one. I am confused if we need a surveyor to draw plans, or a draftsman? can you help Please. Thx Tina

  14. Hi Tina:

    Since you have the land, then the next steps include:

    1. Retain an architect or draughts-person, who has experience in designing chattel houses, to design your house and complete your Town and Country Development Planning application. Make sure that you get several references and check them in orde to investigate how reliable and honest they are. Also, make sure that you can make changes to the draft plans withour incurring a penalty.

    2. Give the designer some guidance by giving them a copy of a plot plan of the land, an idea of the room layout, and your construction budget limit.

    3. Once you are satisfied with the design, then pay the designer, otherwise explain .

    4. It may take up-to, and beyond, three (3) months for the Planning office to approve your application.

    5. Select an experienced builder, and check his/her references.

    6. Prchase a copy of the Barbados National Building Code, and make it a part of the construction contract


  15. Caroline Morrison

    I would like info. on building a home in Barbados, Caribbean

  16. Hi Caroline:

    What sort of information would you like? Since all developments must be approved by the Town and Country Development Planning office, let me provide a link to their web-site below.


  17. Hi Grenville,

    What is your take on Thermal Impac Building systems?

    They seem to be more affordable than traditional methods, but do you think these structures are just as strong as a traditional Caribbean wall house? How about flexibility, in case you want to add extra rooms later down.

  18. Granville Harris

    Grenville, it’s interesting to read your comments. I work in the London Fire Service in the Fire Engineering Department and have the opportunity to review engineered solutions as a deviation from the building regs. From what you’ve said, Barbados isn’t even starting from the base point. What is the situation relating to “major commercial projects” i.e shopping malls…?

  19. Hi Granville:

    Sorry about this delayed response. I was in Haiti and Dominica for 6 weeks, and reliable Internet access was not always available.

    The Planning office may send the development planning applications for public buildings to the Fire department for advice. Please refer to the following article to understand some of the Fire Department’s responsibilities:

    Soon after writing the article, I offered, both orally and in writing, to work with the Fire Department in assessing all of the commercial buildings in Bridgetown in order to identify their current fire rating. The fire rating would then be prominently displayed on the building so that the fire officers (and occupants) would know how long they could remain inside of a burning building before the structure was likely to collapse. I offered to do this pro-bono publico. So far, no response.


  20. Hi Dean:

    Sorry about this delayed response. I was in Haiti and Dominica for 6 weeks, and reliable Internet access was not always available.

    Since the site did not appear to refer me to any technical specifications on the material, my principal concern would be it vulnerability to high winds. The joints between orthogonal lightweight walls may move under cyclic loading (eg from hurricane gusts) resulting in fatigue failure. Therefore, I would need to see the test results of panels and their joints to such wind loads.


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