x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Details are the test of new construction

Getting the details right in construction - of buildings and infrastructure installations alike - will make our cities more sustainable in two different ways.

Doing more with less is the ideal of energy efficiency. Three recent news reports remind us that in buildings and infrastructure we have made progress but have a long way to go.

As The National reports today, professors at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology are setting out to improve the efficiency of air conditioning. Another recent news report noted that more than 10 per cent of piped water is lost to leakage. And recent tower-building fires have raised questions about the safety of panels used for exterior cladding.

Skylines that seem to change every month remind us how quickly the country is growing. But attention to details like these is vital to make cities more sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

Electricity and water are not free. Fully 40 per cent of the UAE's electric-power demand is for cooling, and most of our water comes from power-hungry desalinisation plants. Reducing waste offers obvious rewards.

Masdar scientists say that many people planning buildings find it too easy to choose cooling equipment on the basis of initial cost, instead of paying attention to total cost - the capital expenditure amortised over the expected lifespan, plus the annual operating costs. A cheap unit may demand more power, need more maintenance and last fewer years.

That sort of shortsighted planning is one reason Masdar is working on efficiency ratings for cooling gear, to guide purchasing managers.

In water delivery, experts at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and elsewhere agree, a key problem is workmanship: "Supervision needs to be improved," corporate expert Reda Ashkar told a conference on water leakage in Dubai last month. "Leakages are mainly due to a lack of knowledge, experience, training and certification of welders, installers, companies and consultants."

As for cladding, the problem is with building-code standards and how carefully they are honoured. After the Tamweel Tower fire in Dubai last month, officials are looking carefully at those matters.

Note that these three issues appear to demand different approaches: more information at the planning stage when it comes to cooling, better workmanship and supervision on the water issue, and attention to regulation and compliance on cladding. The effort to use resources with maximum efficiency demands a lot of attention to detail.