x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Abu Dhabi streamlines its building codes

The new rules governing construction, to be unveiled early next year, will include regulations on energy conservation, fire prevention, plumbing and disabled access.

The new code will stress to enhance health and safety standards of construction workers.
The new code will stress to enhance health and safety standards of construction workers.

ABU DHABI // The capital will finally unveil its new construction codes early next year, bringing safer, more accessible and better-designed buildings to the emirate, industry experts said yesterday.

The introduction of uniform regulations, which had been postponed from January, will replace a mishmash of codes based on systems from the United States, Australia and Europe.

"These regulations are bringing it all together and improving all aspects, from fire safety to energy to durability," said Ali Bukair, a consultant for policies and regulations with the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA).

The DMA will adopt an emirate-wide code based on various international standards starting in early 2011. Instituting comprehensive regulations on building safety and fire prevention marks a shift to improving the quality of building materials, as well as enhancing health and safety standards.

Consultants, architects and designers who attended a training session yesterday said the impending transition is much-needed and long-awaited.

"Initially, it's going to be a little more challenging, because it's new," said Gary Lange, the design director at Parsons, an American engineering and construction firm with offices in Abu Dhabi. "But in the end, the benefits will be that we all understand from the very first minute that the codes are prescriptive and that we're all on the same page."

The new system will be tailored to the emirate and will factor in weather and climate-related issues, including heat, high humidity and high soil salinity.

Whereas current building codes allow for an arbitrary amalgamation of building designs, the new regulations are expected to streamline the process from design to construction.

"Adopting a new set of codes that everyone has to abide by gives all consultants the same advantage. It creates a level playing field," said Michael Tresp, the senior architect for Allen and Shariff Corporation, an American design engineering company.

The code will include minimum regulations on energy conservation, fire prevention, plumbing, structural strength, sanitation and maintenance. Builders and developers who are not in compliance will be subject to fines and other penalties.

Mr Bukair said the codes will be rolled out gradually starting early next year, but a definitive date has not been announced. The codes will apply to new construction only.

"Older buildings are a different animal," Mr Bukair said.

Earlier this year, the Government began an audit of thousands of properties in an effort to boost construction standards and pinpoint dangerous structures.

In addition to making future buildings safer by regulating minimum standards, the new codes will also increase accessibility for disabled and sight and hearing-impaired residents, the experts said.

"What we don't really see here is addressing accessibility issues," said Roy Elliott, a project manager for the International Code Council, which develops building codes. "All new buildings will be accessible."

The codes will mean higher capital costs for some projects, but the DMA expects long-term cost savings through "greater energy efficiency, durability and longevity of buildings".

Since all new privately constructed buildings must achieve a "one pearl" Estidama rating, ensuring that they can sustain the hot climate of Abu Dhabi, the new codes are designed to complement the Urban Planning Council's green building plan.

In the run-up to the debut of the new standards, the DMA will continue to host training sessions for building professionals. The DMA will also use the next year to further customise the regulations for the entire UAE.