Want to download a pdf version of this guide? Click here

Browse services

Building a home in Zambia – a step by step guide 

Last Updated: 21 December 2023

Hi there! so, you’re thinking about building a new home in Zambia, fantastic idea!

This is truly one of the most exciting journeys of a lifetime. But it can also be complicated and stressful because there is so much involved - from buying materials, hiring contractors, understanding the different requirements, etc.

To help make this process easier for your, we have put together this step-by-step guide to building a house in Zambia, starting from when you buy the land to when you move in.

An important disclaimer - Please remember that this is simply a guide from one self-build enthusiast to another. The content of this guide is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult appropriate professionals as you undertake your amazing home build projects.

With that said, lets jump right in…ENJOY!

1. Get your documents ready

First things first, have your title deed in hand - which should also have your survey diagram. You will need this for when you hire your architect and for council approval.

If you are still waiting for your title deed to be produced, you should have the title deed in the name of the seller and your contract of sale.

2. Assess your plot

Check the soil type and levelness of your land. If your land is sloped you will need a land surveyor to create a topographic diagram of your land.

Additionally, if your soil is uneven, waterlogged, sandy or clay, you may need to consult a structural engineer to ensure your house design is structurally sound

3. Find out if your plot is serviced

Find out from the seller of your land if your plot is serviced. A serviced plot is one that has national water supply pipes and sewer access from your local council e.g. Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company

If your plot is not serviced, it’s a good idea to site for water before you even design your house because you need to find the optimal place to drill your borehole. Siting for water will also determine where your septic tank will go.

4. Create a design brief

Next you will need to create a design brief that you will give to your architect in order to get professional drawings for your house. A brief is simply a description of the type of design that you want based on your requirements.

Always prioritise a design that is practical for your lifestyle, plot size and budget. Carefully check the design and size of each room, especially the kitchen, master bedroom and living room since these are often the most used rooms in a home.

5. Assess your plot

You now need an architect to transform your home design brief into detailed building plans. These plans will be used to obtain council approval and will also guide your builder or contractor. The architect will also be able to advise you on how feasible your design ideas are in relation to your budget and your plot as well as any other specialist you will need such as a structural engineer based on your design. A good architect should be able to design a house that is both practical and aesthetically pleasing.

Make sure your architect produces a full set of working drawings that consists at of (at a minimum) a site plan, floor plans, foundation plan, a roof plan, plumbing layout, elevations and sections and details.

In addition to producing your drawings, you architect can also provide additional services to you such as assisting you to obtain city council approval, assisting you in hiring other specialist such as engineers, or your builder/contractor. Make sure you discuss and agree additional services with your architect at the time of hiring them.

Be sure to hire an Architect that is accredited and registered with the Zambia Institute of Architects (ZIA). The list of ZIA registered architects can be found at this link

6. Get a meterial's schedule

To help you plan and budget for your home construction project, you should get a material’s schedule to breakdown all the materials (including their quantities and prices) that will be required for throughout the different stages of your project.

A materials schedule can be developed for you by a quantity surveyor. You can contact the Zambia Institute of Quantity Surveyors to find an accredited quantity surveyor for your project. Seeing the total costs of your project build may be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are building on a tight budget. It helps to be join a close community of people who share the same experience and help each other along the way

7. Get council approval

You need a full set of working drawings approved by a registered architect or architecture firm. Your submission needs to be made to the respective council that your land falls in (your architect should be able to advise you on what council your land falls under).

If your land is within Lusaka and you would like to do your own council submission, here is the link to the online application portal

Upon submission of your plan, you will need to pay scrutiny and evaluation fees, stage inspection fees and for your occupancy certificate. The amount you pay will be dependent on the location and square footage of your house. You then need to wait to receive planning approval and an occupancy certificate. This should take a minimum of one month.

NOTE: Your architect can usually help you with the council approval process. But this is not a standard service that comes with the drawings so you will need to agree on this separately with your architect.

8. Prepare your plot

Once you have your council approval, it’s time to get your plot ready for the construction to begin. You will need to clear the exact spot where your house will be built including 5-10meters around the planned house perimeter. You may also need to hire earth-moving equipment at this stage if for instance, your plot is on rocky ground or is hilly and needs flattening.

You also need to prepare the site for the various workers who will be using it, e.g. setting up temporary shelter, temporary toilets. You will need to also find a solution for access to water for the day-to-day construction works.

Tip: Water source

If you can afford to, its best to drill your borehole at this stage but you can also install a hand pump or a well. Alternatively, you can have a water purchase agreement with one of your neighbours or buy a water tank and hire a water bowser. A 5000ltr tank will likely provide you with a week’s worth of water. Your support community may come in handy here too.

REMEMBER: If you decide to drill a borehole, you need to register your borehole with WARMA before the drilling is done. You can find more info on what is required to register your borehole at this link

9. Hire builders or contractors

For most people, building a house is possibly the largest investment that they’ll make in their lifetime. It is therefore essential that you do your homework properly when choosing who will work on your home.

Appointing reliable and experienced builders, plumbers, electricians, etc is vital to the success of you home building project. The common ways for you to find service providers is through word-of-mouth references from friends or family or recommendations from Facebook groups created for people who are building or working in constructions.

You can also hire service providers on Rivuuz which lists only vetted service providers. All pros on Rivuuz have a verified profile that include photos of their work and ratings and reviews from their past customers.

IMPORTANT: Hire a certified electrician

Before hiring an electrician, check that they are certified by the Engineering Institute of Zambia (EIZ).Their EIZ certificate will also be needed when you are applying for your ZESCO connection application
Pro tip: All electricians listed on Rivuuz are EIZ certified and their certificates have physically been verified.

Important: formalise, formalise, formalise!

It is very common in Zambia to start building without any written agreement with your builder. It is only once a problem arises that people realise the importance of having a signed agreement in place. Considering what a huge financial investment this is, please have even a basic agreement in place.

Payments to your builder or contractor are usually phased based on milestones (e.g. foundation, window-level, roofing, etc.) in the project which the homeowner and contract or agree on in advance. The number and amount of payments vary by the size of the project.Make sure you include the payment schedule in your written agreement

If you would like a sample agreement with a payment schedule, request one from us at this link.

10. Build your foundation

The foundation is one of the largest parts of your entire home construction budget and so you should financially prepare yourself for this large spending right at the start of your project. The following are the steps involved in building your foundation:

  1. Setting out - metal pegs are used to mark out the outlines of your house on the ground and the lines of the walls are drawn(usually with lime)
  2. Excavation – digging trenches for your foundation walls. The depth of your foundation wall will depend on the type of soil and the evenness of your land
  3. Concrete footing – concrete is poured into your trenches to form the footing of your house
  4. Building foundation walls –Your foundation walls are then built using 8inch blocks filled with concrete for extra strength and reinforced with brick-force wire in between courses
  5. Backfilling – filling your foundation with gravel or rubble and compacting till the ground is level
  6. Anti-termite – your slab is then treated with an anti-termite solution
  7. Shuttering –wooden planks are used to line the frame of your slab
  8. Damp-proofing – damp-proof course is laid out across the whole area of your foundation. This is done to prevent moisture from the ground from getting to the inside of your house
  9. 1.Reinforcement – Conforce wire is then laid down with spacers so that is slightly raised above the gravel bed. This allows the reinforcement to sit in the middle of the concrete layer of the slab, where it will offer the strongest reinforcement
  10. Slab – the concrete slab is then poured onto your foundation. The slab will need time to dry and will need to be watered frequently to strengthen (or cure) the concrete
  11. Plastering the box – finally, the foundation is plastered and further painted with waterproofing solution. There are different types of waterproofing solutions that can you can use for your house including damp-proof membrane, bituminous and white cement

CASH SAVING TIP: Your community group can probably help you source some rubble so that you don’t need to buy gravel for your foundation, click here to join.

IMPORTANT: Don't compromise on your foundation!

Getting your foundation built properly is very critical so do not make any compromises on material quantity or quality at this stage.

If possible, ask your architect to inspect the setting out and the building of the foundation walls to make sure the plan has been followed and just to countercheck that the builders didn’t miss anything (even the best builders are subject to human error). 

You should especially not compromise on the quantity and quality of your anti-termite, cement, or damp-proofing because getting any one of these 3 wrong can cause many serious problems to your house for years

Cement- use 42.5 or 42.5R cement for all the works in your foundation to ensure proper foundation strength

Damp-proofing- There are different types of damp-proofing solutions including damp proof membrane, bituminous and white cement. You builder will be able to advise on the best solution that is suitable for your house, type of soil and budget. 

Anti-termite- To give an idea of quantity required, a standard 2-bedroom house will need about 2.5ltrs of anti-termite solution. But some neighbourhoods are naturally more termite infested, in which case, applying anti-termite alone might not be enough. You may need to hire a professional pest control company

11. Raise your walls

With the foundation complete, next is the building of your external and internal walls. Before you put your first layer of blocks, you again need to layout your damp-proof course. Make sure the first course of blocks is also concrete filled for extra strength. Brickforce wire will also be laid out every 2-3 courses.

This stage is probably the fastest stage of the house. Once the rough openings for windows, doors and air vents are done, you will begin to recognise your project as a house.

12. Plumbing installation

Once your walls are up, your plumber comes in to do the first phase of plumbing works. Your plumbing pipes will be laid out throughout your house. The septic tank and soakaway can also be dug at this stage.

13. Install your roofing

It now time to put a lid on your house. Depending on the type of roof (e.g. hipped or hidden) in your drawings and the material you decide to use for your roofing (e.g. steel or wood), you may need to bring in a team of specialists for your roofing. If using wood in your roofing, make sure your wood is properly treated. If treatment is not done well, you might have termite problems and need to retreat it often.

You can browse through our vetted roofers at this link: https://www.rivuuz.com/service-category/roofing

Once the roof is on, beamfilling (filling between walls and roof covering) is done and fascia boards installed around the roof. The purpose of fascia boards is to prevent water from getting close to your foundation and to stop rain water from going from the edge of the roof onto the house walls. The idea is to prevent water getting close to your foundation.  Building an apron around your house will also help protect your walls from rainwater damage. You can also add rain gutters to your roof to channel water away from your roof to your drainage.

At this point, the basic shell of the house is now completed. You can pat yourself on the back for the amazing work you have done so far.

14. Plastering

At this stage, the plastering of your internal and external walls can now be done. Air vents can also be installed throughout the house. Make sure that rough surfaces are left in all the places where you will have wall tiles.

15. Close up the house

It is now time to close up your house by install your window and external doors. Closing up your house at this stage is important as a security measure for your wiring and other internal fixtures you will be adding next.

If you are using steel window frames and are budget constrained, then you can save the window glazing(fitting window glasses) for a later stage. For aluminium windows, the frames and glass installation will be done at the same time.

16. Electrical wiring

Your electrician now comes back todo your wiring work. This stage includes installing receptacles for your outlets, lights and switches, running wires from your breaker panel to each receptacle. Your earthing, lightning arrestors and surge protectors and TV connections will also be installed at this stage.

17. Ceiling

Once your wiring is done, your ceiling can then be installed. Decide on the type of ceiling you want, the more popular ones are particleboard ceiling, PVC ceiling and gypsum ceiling(commonly known as Rhino board)

Once all of the major structural components have been installed, it is time to move to the more decorative details of the home. The remaining steps are where you choose and install every element that transforms your house from a structure into a home!

It is at this point that your home develops its personality through your choices of lighting fixtures, bathroom accessories and fixtures, window treatments and more.

18. Install your flooring

It’s now time to lay down the finish flooring (or floor covering) surfaces throughout the house. You will need to decide on the type of flowing you want. Floor covering options include tiles, laminate flooring, or polished concrete floors among many others. Depending on your flooring choice, you may need to hire a specialist subcontractor.

If you are tiling your floors, you can also tile your bathroom walls at this stage. You can browse through our list of neat and reliable tilers

19. Internal doors

Once your flooring is done, you are now ready to install your internal doors. It important to install your internal doors after the floor is in so that you can get the correct height between the top of the door frame and the top of tiles.

If you installed steel window frames but didn’t fit your glasses, you can do that at this stage. Remember to also install window handles.

20. Plumbing fittings and fixtures

You are now ready for your bathroom and kitchen plumbing installations including toilets, sinks, showers and taps.You get a much neater finish if these are installed once floor and wall tiles are already installed so that tiles don’t need to be cut around your installations

21. Complete your kitchen, and wardrobes

Next, wardrobes, kitchen and bathroom cabinets are installed. You will likely need to hire a separate subcontractor who specialised in kitchen cabinets and wardrobes to fabricate and install these. Browse through the Rivuuz platform to find someone to do your kitchen, whether you want a wooden or concrete kitchen. The backsplash tiles in between your kitchen cabinets can also be installed at this stage.

22. Paint your walls

It’s now time to add a splash of colour to your home. At this stage your interior and exterior walls can be primed with an undercoat and then painted. For your exterior walls, make sure you get durable weatherproof paint. For your kitchens and bathrooms, make sure you choose a paint that is washable and can repel moisture.

23. Install your final electrical fixtures

Once your house is painted, your electrician can now install the faces of your light switches and socket as well as your light fixtures. It's best to do this after painting so that these fixtures don’t get messed up or damaged during the painting process. With this finishing of this step, all the interior works of your house are now done.

24. Exterior works

Once your home is complete, you can go ahead and finish of your yard with doing your paving, landscaping, building your fence and installing your gate. Depending on your own preferences, you may have already done some or most of this work already.

When paving your yard, make sure to compact the area where you will lay your pavers to prevent them from sinking into the ground over time.

25. Clear site

With your exterior done, the last thing to do is to clean up and clear out the worksite. At this stage you are probably exhausted and excited. Your hard work has paid off and the final product - your home - is finally here. Congratulations!

And that's that mwebantu! Chapwa

If you found this guide useful, please let us know and share it with someone who who might find it useful - lets help as many people build beautiful homes in Zambia!