x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abu Dhabi introduces tough cladding rules

A new construction code for Abu Dhabi will demand more rigorous testing for the cladding used on new buildings in the wake of fires which have left hundreds of families homeless.

ABU DHABI // A new construction code for Abu Dhabi will demand more rigorous testing for cladding used on new buildings after fires left hundreds of families homeless.

The Abu Dhabi International Building Code will require facades to pass strict new testing procedures, said Fatma Amer, a consultant in building codes at the Department of Municipal Affairs.

"The problem is that we don't have control over what's being supplied to the region and whether it needs any testing at all at the moment," Ms Amer said on the sidelines of the Safety Design in Buildings conference in the capital yesterday.

"The new code will bring specific strict testing provisions to make sure that the panel doesn't burn and that the panel doesn't promote the travel [of the flame and smoke].

"It has to meet a more rigorous test if it's going to be used in a high rise, to see how it will behave if a fire starts. Will the fire use it to move from one floor to another … like exactly what has happened in the last few fires?"

Highly flammable cladding materials have been blamed for the quick spread of fires in Dubai's Tamweel Tower in November, in Tecom in October and Sharjah in April.

Ms Amer said the lessons learnt in dealing with these fires were being used to inform the Abu Dhabi International Building Code - which is already being used for government buildings in Abu Dhabi. The code is voluntary for the private sector but will become mandatory.

"There are no guarantees for anything, however we do our best as code professionals when we put the code together," she said. "From all the previous fires and all previous experiences, that's what we learn.

"It means when a fire happens we take it, we analyse it and we understand how it happens and try to put provisions in the code to prevent this from happening again.

"But it's not going to stop someone from sleeping when she is cooking and the fire goes off in her kitchen."

The fires in Sharjah and Tamweel Tower will also be reviewed by a committee coordinated by Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council and including Civil Defence, the Department of Municipal Affairs and industry experts, she said.

It is expected to produce a report early next year, which will recommend unified standards for aluminium cladding panels.

At the conference of construction experts at the Armed Forces Officers Club, Ms Amer said that when people were more comfortable with the code, the authority would address older buildings.

She said any solution would be made "economically feasible" for the owners of such buildings.

ecleland@thenational.ae