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The best possible earthquake-resistant house

With spring’s arrival, 3.5 million homeless Pakistani survivors of last year’s earthquake will start rebuilding their homes as aftershocks continue to hit the area. Some 1,840 aftershocks have rocked the area since the largest natural disaster in Pakistan's history hit.

So what kind of house should they build that will not kill them physically or financially?

With Pakistani entrepreneurs building under $100,000 factories with material imported from the Middle East, the best option is a polystyrene house.

It was a search for earthquake-resistant housing after the earthquake of Bam, Iran in December 2003, which lead the Federation of American Scientists to issue a challenge to a nationwide group of housing experts from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, MIT and others. Their research concluded in the beginning of 2005 that simple foam panels as designed by Alabama engineer H. H. “Hoot” Haddock would do the job. It is a simple composite of cement and expanded polystyrene, known by the brand name of Styrofoam.

The Federation of American Scientists is a sixty-year-old organization endorsed by 67 Nobel Laureates in chemistry, economics, medicine and physics as sponsors. These socially conscientious scientists came together in the aftermath of the first nuclear bombing.

They put their heads together and endorsed one project after thorough testing of inexpensive earthquake-resistant housing.

They successfully tested a two-story building, constructed using inexpensive, off-the-shelf materials, which has no frame and uses no wood. On a shake table in a Cincinnati lab, the structure stayed intact through the strongest earthquake-like shaking in three dimensions.

Federation of American Scientists Reports:

Hoot Haddock’s website:

BBC report about it:

call Hoot at (256) 766-3378 or email at

Earthquake resistant Katcha House: houses for the poorest of the poor

For people who absolutely cannot afford and live in earthquake prone areas, here are some ideas they can incorporate in the adobe houses that poor people often build.

Kashmiris have historically lived in wooden-clay houses. The modern rush to build pakka houses has disconnected them from their heritage. The low level of death in the high Neelam valley in Azad Kashmir as well as in Indian-occupied Kashmir is due to the fact that most of these poor people have stayed in the traditional building model. A Mughal king (I believe it was Babar) wrote that the reason people in Kashmir build wooden houses is to avoid loss of life due to the frequent earthquakes in the region. Shikarpur, Pakistan had several old two- and three-story tall buildings that were made of nothing but straw mixed with clay and wood. I stayed one night at such a building, which was tilted but still standing and in use.

Our research shows that there is very good adaptation of similar traditional housing in Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala by turning it into earthquake-resistant housing which can be easily transplanted into the disaster area at a low cost. These models take into consideration the current shortage of wood due to deforestation.

These models have been tested in these areas and provide a level of strength to traditional housing for poor people, who have developed video- based manuals to guide people on how to build such homes.

Date Created: 04/11/06

Date/Time Last Modified: 4/12/2006 4:22:44 AM

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