New Building Code Required to Tame Shoddy Buildings

By gatuyu t.j

A 2022 audit report by the National Construction Authority (NCA) on the collapse of buildings in Kenya places the blame on poor workmanship and non-compliance to standards. The report says 10,791 out of 14,895 buildings were marked as unsafe for occupancy and needed either reinforcement or demolition.

Typically, as the NCA reports indicate, Kenya has recorded 87 building collapses over the past five years, while an estimated 200 people have lost their lives in the last five years, and over 1,000 injured as a result. Notably, 65 per cent of collapsed buildings were residential, while 25 per cent were commercial, 10 per cent were mixed-use developments. The NCA report further revealed that 66 per cent of the buildings collapsed after completion, while 34 per cent collapsed during construction.

Kenya’s vision 2030 identifies construction as being a key enabler for driving the country to a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by the year 2030. Construction is thus a critical component to the country’s development and its impact is felt nationally and regionally.

Further, Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya provides that all the citizens are entitled to clean and healthy environment while Article 43 (1) (b) declares that every person has the right to accessible and adequate housing and reasonable standards of sanitation. These ideals can be actualized with having good quality buildings that are safe for human habitation.

One of the ways to ensuring quality structures is having a robust and updated building code. The Code would promote order, safety and health of persons in or about construction works. It would improve control of and encourage better practices in building design and construction to provide greater assurance to the users.

This because a building code is a key component in the construction industry. It sets out the rules that govern and specify the minimum agreed levels of safety for the structures and buildings. For an effective model, a building code should have legal status and should be capable of enforcement so that all the stakeholders in the building industry adopt it.

Building codes provide minimum standards that should be followed to ensure building standards, safety, health and security of the property from all hazards that may occur to the structure. This applies also on how the buildings are to be planned, designed and constructed. Further, a building code provides general information as well as specific information such as siting and space about building and building materials among others.

Domestic Context

The existing building Code in Kenya is the Local Government (Adoptive By-Laws) (Building) Order in 1968. The code was set up as a development control tool to comprehensively address among others, matters revolving around safety, public health, lifespan and performance of the built environment and their inhabitants.

The existing Code provides for the process of application for development permission and erection of buildings. It defines the extent of approval including basis of conditions or period within which development must be commenced or terminated and even grounds for disapproval.

For purposes of ensuring safety of both occupants and buildings during and after construction, the code provides for mandatory inspections, that a person who has erected a building has to give notice in writing of its completion to enable a final inspection to be made and a certificate of completion to be issued. The regulations further prescribe mandatory existing of services of registered architects and d engineers for purposes of design and supervision of certain category of buildings to ensure compliance with the set standards.

Need for a new Code: International context

Internationally, the need for a modern up-to-date Building Code has been addressing design and installation of building systems has been felt for long. The International Building Code (IBC) is a model code that safeguards public health and safety for all types of structures and buildings. It is founded on broad principles that make possible the use of new materials and designs.

The model code is compatible with all International Codes (I-Codes) issued by the published by the International Code Council including the International Residential Code (IRC) which applies to new town houses not more than 3 stories and one- and two-family structures and International Existing Building Code (IEBC) which applies to the addition, change in occupancy of existing structures, repair and alteration.

Also at international level, Eurocodes, a common set of technical rules for the design of building and civil engineering works for EU Member States has been adopted in many countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Australia. New Zealand. South Africa, Angola and Mozambique. It is notable that these international standards have not been applies in Kenya’s building code since it has not been revised since 1968. Currently, the manufactured materials, which dominate market, are either made from China or from the local industries that imports the raw materials from China.

The large construction contracts that have been tendered has shown a lot of Asian companies allocated the tenders and some of these tenders comes with strings attached with most of the materials required for construction being imported from Asian countries.

This has opened up more gaps for substandard materials in the market that do not conform to our needs as a country. Kenya requires its own specifications for the quality of materials to be imported or manufactured since the trade patterns may change with time with our own regulations.

Shortcomings of the Building Code (1968)

The 1968 Building Code has been applied in Kenya for over 50 years. Given the dynamic nature of the construction industry, some of its provisions have become obsolete and need to be replaced with market oriented and research based technical provisions. While the Building Code contains some good provisions the following shortcomings are noticeable—

(a) Failure to adopt international standards: The Code does not adopt any known international building standards. This therefore means that the only standards applicable are those specified under the Standards Act, yet these standards do not cover some of the key areas like structural design.

(b) System of measurement: The Code employs the Imperial units (feet and inches) while Kenya uses the modern form metric system, International System of Units) (metre). This is the only system of measurement with an official status in nearly every country in the world and is therefore convenient for international transactions.

(c) The Code is material based and recognizes only conventional building materials like stones, bricks, and mortar in its application. This orientation fails to take into account modern building technologies and international building standards. Consequently, Kenya has not had a well-developed building material industry to substitute the current imports. This is despite the fact that the country is endowed with natural resources such as deposits of limestone, gypsum, clay, coral, forests as well as agricultural, industrial and domestic wastes that can increase the supply of building materials. The Code does not recognize new building materials and technologies that could drastically reduce the cost of construction without compromising the quality of the finished building.

(d) Enforcement and compliance: The Code was designed for implementation and enforcement by local governments (now county governments) as opposed to an independent and well capacitated oversight authority. This has led to lack of proper implementation of Code and therefore compromised the quality of many buildings.

(e) The Code has no provisions on access to buildings by persons with disabilities and those with special needs. To provide for this Omission, the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003 was amended in 2010 to require proprietors of a public buildings adapt them to suit persons with disabilities within five years. However, no more detailed legislative or regulatory guidance exists as to the specific steps that must be taken to ensure compliance with this general requirement in relation to access to premises.

The Code does not contain measures to deal with climate change concerns as they relate to the construction industry. Green building concept advocates for buildings which in design, construction and operation, reduce or eliminate negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment. The Code does not provide protection to a building owner against professional negligence. There is need for better protection for building owners through the introduction of defect liability period and mandatory warranties.


This overview is intended to assess whether the proposed regulation is clear, consistent, comprehensible and comprehensive enough to address the identified problem. The rules should be understood by likely users, and to that end the Regulator should take steps to ensure that the text and structure of rules are as clear as possible.

The structure of the proposed National Building is as follows:

Siting and Space about Buildings
To ensure the health and safety of users, the Code prescribes the siting and space about buildings by stipulating compliance to planning requirement including the sitting, size, height, shape and appearance of a building to safeguard the dignity, preserve the amenity and complement the general appearance of every street, square, public place. It provides for the size of frontage of a building and prohibits obstruction to access of other buildings or reducing the quantity of natural light and air.

Site Preparation
It requires that before the erection, alteration, scaffolding or demolition of a building, the owner of the plot on which the building is located shall erect a fence, hoarding or barricade, to prevent the public from entering the plot and to protect the public from the activities at the plot including limitation of dust, noise nuisance emanating from disposal of waste from the site. It requires the contactor to provide for facilities like kitchen and sanitary facilities for those working on the site. Site safety also includes an assessment by a civil engineer of the soil stability

Building Materials
The building materials to be used shall comply with the Standards Act (Cap 496) (KEBS). Considerations for the circular economy are not locked out as long as the material to be used in construction complies with the relevant standard

Structural Design
Structural design of buildings shall comply Eurocode 0 to Eurocode 9.

Eurocode 0 establishes the basis that sets out the way to use Eurocodes for structural design. Eurocode 0 establishes Principles and requirements for the safety, serviceability and durability of structures, describes the basis for their design and verification and gives guidelines for related aspects of structural reliability. The following other European Standards have been published:

  1. EN 1991 Eurocode 1 : Actions on structures
  2. EN 1992 Eurocode 2 : Design of concrete structures
  3. EN 1993 Eurocode 3 : Design of steel structures
  4. EN 1994 Eurocode 4 : Design of composite steel and concrete structures
  5. EN 1995 Eurocode 5 : Design of timber structures
  6. EN 1996 Eurocode 6 : Design of masonry structures

The civil engineer carry out inspections at intervals deemed necessary in accordance with accepted professional practice, and
satisfy that the structure has been erected in accordance with the approved design. The civil engineer shall then furnish to the approving authority with a certificate to that effect. An exaction that is more than 3 m deep shall be designed by a civil engineer and every foundation for a building more than 4 storeys in height shall be preceded by a geotechnical investigations report.

The purpose of the Eurocodes is to harmonize the market for construction products and engineering services; to prove compliance of construction works with the specified requirements for mechanical resistance, stability and safety in case of fire; and to provide a basis for specifying contracts for construction works and related services.

Space within Buildings
The Code requires that the height of room space up to the ceiling shall at least be 2.4m 97 and the minimum dimension of a landing, lobby or passage shall not be less than the width of the staircase to which it leads. It provides for the minimum space requirements for rooms. Where there is a swimming pool, there shall be a wall or fence to ensure that a person cannot access the pool from a street, or public place, or an adjoining site, other than through a self-closing and self-latching gate with a provision for locking the gate.

The Code requires that a floor of any building to be strong enough to support the weight of the building and any load which may be subjected to it. Where a building is to be erected on black cotton soil, the Code requires its entire removal or part removal in case of an entirely suspended floor. The Code also contains requirements for floors in relation to fire are set out Floors are also supposed to be non-slippery.

A floor finishing detail shall be of non-slippery material and shall be approved by the architect and the civil engineer supervising the project. Where timber is used in structural parts of the floor, it shall conform to KS EN 1995-1-1-2004 (2006) (Design of Timber Structures, General Common Rules and Rules for Buildings) and shall be protected against termites in accordance with KS 1002 (Anti-Termite Measures in Buildings – Pre-Constructional Chemical Treatment Measures).

The Code provides specifications for foundation walls, retaining walls and load bearing as well as rain penetration test for the walls to ensure the health of the occupants and durability of the building. Hollow blocks shall not be used to construct a substructure foundation wall.

Lighting and Ventilation

A room shall have a means of lighting and ventilation which shall enable the room to be used, without detriment to the health or safety, or causing nuisance, for the purpose for which the room is designed.Sufficient natural lighting shall be provided in a building artificial lighting is also provided for to supplement. Natural ventilation is recommended and artificial ventilation as may be required. Energy efficiency, environmental design considerations and renewable energy based on the Energy Act, 2019 are provided for. Specifications for rooms for different uses are described in terms of lighting, heating and ventilation.

Glazing and Cladding

The Code provides for safety and safe installation of glazing or cladding. The responsible architect or civil engineer shall receive from the specialist manufacturers, a warranty that a full thermal movement safety check has been carried out related to unbroken areas of glazing. Specification for sizes and thermal check requirements are provided. The glazing thickness for curtain walling is limited to 6mm.

Staircases, Lifts and Escalators

A building which exceeds one storey in height shall have at least one staircase to access the upper floors.A building shall have a means of escape in case of an emergency as may be required by the intended use of the building. Dimensions for staircase in domestic and public buildings are provided (width and height of headroom space). Limits for risers and treads Special staircase firefighting are also provided. A staircase shall have a handrail.It gives specifications for escalators and firefighting lifts, lift wells and safety measures including warning signs with regard to lift pits and access to machine or pulley rooms.


The Code provides for the design of roofs and requires that a timber roof truss, rafter, beam or wall plate shall be fastened down and connected to its means of support by built-in, or cast-in, galvanized steel strapor steel wire, bolts or other approved means. Waterproofing standards are provided and there is are quirement that where a nominally flat roof of boarded or concrete construction is used, it shall have animpervious surface and laid to a fall of not less than 1 in 50.7.

Water services, Drainage, Waste Disposal and Storm Water

Rain water harvesting is provided for as well as plumbing that separates grey water from black water. There are guidelines for the discharge of contents like sewage. Wash closets and appurtenances are required to meet specified standards. Conservancy tanks, septic tanks and soak pits specifications are set out. The hydraulic loads for drainage pipes and pipe sizing are provided. The owner of a plot shall provide suitable means for the control and disposal of storm-water which may run off from the construction works. Guidelines on design of sewers, appurtenances and all effluent shall be in accordance with the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, 1999.

Electrical installations

Standards for electrical installations are provided with a requirement that an electrical circuit and sub-circuit shall be protected against excess current by a fuse, circuit-breaker or another similar device which shall be designed by a qualified electrical engineer. Protection against lightning is provided for. A switch socket, an isolator, a consumer unit, distribution board, an electric bell, a television outlet and data outlet, in a building shall be installed in accordance with KS ISO 21542: (Standard on Building Construction Accessibility and Usability of the Built Environment).


An owner shall provide for a soft landscaping area at least 20% of the plot area, which shall have trees, vegetation or permeable paving surfaces. Construction on an environmental reserve is subject to special approval. Setbacks for trees and shrubs, furniture and fixtures shall be incorporated to the landscape design to enhance livability, safety and convenience.

Inspection and Maintenance of the Built Environment

A building shall be inspected at least once after every five years. The Code provides for different types of including visual, full structural or civil inspection, full building condition survey, full building services inspection and specialized building investigation. An inspection, except a full building services (electrical and mechanical) inspection, shall be carried out in the first instance and subsequent inspections after the issuance of a certificate of occupation for a building.

Non Water-borne Waste Disposal
Siting, construction of pit latrines is provided in detail as well as the practice manual for sewerage and sanitation services. A latrine and an ablution, shall be provided as separate compartments, in which case each compartment shall have minimum dimensions of 1350mm by 750mm, or as a combined compartment having a minimum area of 1.350m2. (5) A family or group, which does not exceed twelve persons, shall have one latrine and one ablution, or a combined compartment

Refuse disposal
Every building shall have approved means of refuse storage and disposal. Details of storage chambers and containers are provided including specifications on chutes, hoppers and incinerators. A service room containing an incinerator shall be separated from the remainder of the building by a fire separation that has a fire resistance rating of at least two hours. The design, construction, installation and alteration of each indoor incinerator shall be in accordance with the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999. Every incinerator shall be connected to a chimney flue that serves no other appliance.

Requirements for Persons Living with Disabilities

All buildings shall be planned for use by PWDs and this includes an access with no stairs, steps, kerbs, steep ramp, door or a doorway that would impede a passage of a wheelchair or access by a person living with disability. A building shall be designed in a manner that facilitates access to the building, and to the use of its facilities, by a person living with a disability in accordance with KS ISO 21542:2011 (Building Construction—Accessibility and Usability of the Built Environment). At least one parking or 1% of parking space whichever is greater shall be reserved as a parking space for differently abled. A lift shall be provided for every floor to facilitate access by people living with disability. Other provisions include handrails, water closet, doors corridor and ramps all to improve access for the PWDs.

Fire safety and Fire installations
A building shall be divided into separate but interconnected divisions comprising an area that does not exceed the specifications set out in the Code. A provision is made for a fire escape route which shall not at any time be obstructed in any way. Exit doors are provided for depending on the occupancy of the building. A building that has emergency routes shall be clearly marked and signposted to indicate the direction to be traveled in the case of an emergency in the approved size and position. If a building
exceeds 18 m, it shall have a fire fighting lift serving all floors.

A seating arrangement in an auditorium, hall or a grandstand shall be done to provide an unobstructed access to escape routes. A building shall not be erected on a plot unless the plot has an access for the purposes of firefighting and rescue from the building. A building shall have emergency evacuation coordination procedures posted along all floor exits including in the form of diagrams displayed in a form that would be easily understood by a person.

The Code requires that a building shall be designed and constructed to ensure that in case of fire, safe evacuation is possible, there is limit to spread of fire, it remains stable not to endanger other buildings. Equipment for detecting, fighting, controlling and extinguishing fire are available when required. A mechanical engineer should design and certify the firefighting system. A firefighting lift is provided for as well as a firefighting and rescue stair case. Provisions are made for separating non-combustible walls as well as fire division walls. Firefighting equipment are provided for a building higher than 6m. They include hydrants, hose reel, dry riser, sprinkler, drencher and water storage tank.

Demolition of Buildings

Demolition of a building shall be done in a way that prevents danger from fire or explosion. All demolition works shall be carried out by persons who understand the structure of the building and under the supervision of an experienced person.

Disaster Risk Management
A person undertaking a design, planning, preparation, or construction phase, in the use or demolition of a project shall take account of general principles of disaster prevention in the performance of those duties during all the stages of the project. The persons involved in a construction shall coordinate well for safety and health of everyone involved. The owner has a duty to the designer of a contractor to provide all the pre-construction information. Provisions for health and safety during construction, records of health and safety, safe place of work, site good order and security are provided for. A side of a working platform or working place which is at a height that exceeds 2m shall have guardrails as designed by a civil engineer.

Ladders shall be safe to use, guardrails and other means of preventing fall are recommended. Every construction site shall be organized such that pedestrians and vehicles are able to move safely and without risks to health. A contract to undertake construction works shall prescribe a defects liability period during which a contractor shall rectify a major defect that becomes apparent. The defects liability period shall be betwee 24 to 60 months. The contractor and a qualified person shall provide performance security to the owner.

The contractor and qualified person shall provide warranties to the owner that the construction shall comply with the building code. Non-fulfilment of the warranty constitutes a breach of contract and remedy can be sought.

Access roads, cul-de-sacs and other private roads
Width of a road or a street shall be guided by the street Design Manual for Urban areas in Kenya. A private street or a cul-de-sac shall have a footpath at least 2m wide. Width of an access road shall be at least 6m and the footpath thereon shall be at least 2m wide. The specification for horizontal and vertical curves are provided. Provision for the vehicle turning curve are provided. Guidelines for manholes, drainage and channels for private street are also provided.

Parking Spaces
The Code stipulates the requirements for the parking and external circulation and specifies barriers to be erected on a pathway for use by people where vehicles can access. If a vehicle has access to a floor, roof or ramp which forms part of a building, a barrier shall be provided on an edge which is level with, or above the floor or ground, or another route for vehicles to a height of between 375mm and 610mm above the ground. It also specifies the minimum requirements for ramps.

In conclusion, a new building code will go along towards disciplining the construction process. This has however to be supplemented with a proactive enforcement measures.

The Author participated in the drafting of the Proposed Kenya’s Building Code, 2021

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