x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Building code moves on to law after two-year delay

Rules for building safety, fire-prevention systems and energy efficiency will become mandatory by the end of next month.

Abu Dhabi's long-awaited building code should be in place by the end of next month after a delay of more than two years.
Abu Dhabi's long-awaited building code should be in place by the end of next month after a delay of more than two years.

ABU DHABI // The emirate's long-awaited building code should be in place by the end of next month after a delay of more than two years.

The Executive Council is expected to make the standards law next month, the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) said yesterday.

The standards are based on a US code and have been ready for more than a year.

"This is our baby," said Yasmeen Saadah, the acting division director of municipal regulations at the DMA, the agency responsible for developing the code. "We cannot wait to see the building code approved and implemented."

The standards, which have been customised for the city but are based on those of the International Code Council, received a boost in January when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, urged the DMA to move forward with implementation.

Authorities said the delays were related to a lack of financing, although the code development has been completed "for quite some time".

The Government began working on the codes in 2009 and the uniform regulations will replace a jumble of codes from Europe, Australia and the US.

Some new projects follow a recommended preliminary version of the codes released last year, but the compliance was not mandatory.

Contractors, consultants and developers will have a 12-month grace period to be trained and acquainted with the code, once it becomes law.

By May 2013 all proposed projects should meet Abu Dhabi International Building Code standards.

The code will set the benchmark for the building industry, outlining requirements for building safety, fire-prevention systems, the quality of building materials and energy efficiency.

Some projects already meet the standards, said Ali Bukair, a consultant for policies and regulations at the DMA.

"If you look at how far Abu Dhabi has come since the 1960s and you ask, 'will current codes take us to the next level', the answer is probably no," Mr Bukair said yesterday on the sidelines of Cityscape, the capital's property exhibition.

"The current codes are inadequate for the growth we expect in Abu Dhabi emirate."

The DMA has held training workshops ahead of the full launch of the code, but attendance has been poor.

Drew Azzara, the vice president of global services at the International Code Council, said unveiling a comprehensive code without ensuring users knew how to interpret it would be a waste of time.

"All of the pieces are being worked on today," Mr Azzara said. "It's a real challenge to take a code and to integrate it within an environment, within the construction industry."

Existing buildings will not be required to meet the building code requirements, but Fatma Amer, an adviser in building codes and construction at DMA, said property owners should take "baby steps" to ensure their structures were properly maintained.

The building codes also include a property maintenance code.

"Our buildings, whether new to be built or existing to be maintained, you have to have a strong set of standards for people to refer to," said Ms Amer, who helped to develop the building code for New York and will help to introduce the one in the capital.

"Right now we don't have anything to refer to … for the first time in our area, there is going to be a guide on how we are going to maintain existing buildings and to what standard."

The final code will be nearly identical to the available recommended codes launched last year, with some updates and custom requirements.

jthomas@thenational.ae