x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Green building codes to be extended to cover villas, schools and offices

A new rating system that measures buildings' environmental factors lays down basic requirements and will soon be expanded.

ABU DHABI // Green building codes which set out environmentally friendly requirements for new developments will soon be expanded to cover villas, schools and offices. Since the start of last month, any new communities with at least 1,000 residents have had to meet the guidelines set out by the Urban Planning Council. From September, this will be extended to include residential villas, schools, offices and general buildings.

The guidelines place great emphasis on electricity and saving water. Gregory Acker, the council's senior planning manager, said developers behind such projects had to ensure that they achieved at least the first tier of the capital's new green building rating system. "It is a big step forward," Mr Acker said. The Estidama Pearl Rating System, designed by the council and unveiled in April, evaluates communities and buildings on a number of environmental criteria.

It awards credit points earned whenever certain objectives are met. The system has five tiers, each placing increasing demands on developers. New communities and buildings would have to achieve at least one pearl, Mr Acker said. Government-owned buildings such as schools, mosques and buildings housing different institutions, have to go a step further and achieve a minimum of two pearls. There are around 30 assessment systems for green buildings in the world. All look to improve the environmental performance of buildings, but they attribute different weights to factors depending on the local context.

"Around 50 per cent of our point system is related to water and energy," Mr Acker said. Both electricity and water consumption in the UAE, and Abu Dhabi, have been growing at double-digit rates year-on-year. While the country has abundant fossil fuel resources, it has virtually no renewable water. Yesterday, Mr Acker told the Water Days Conference, held at The Yas Hotel, that compliance with the Pearl Rating System would cut water consumption in Abu Dhabi.

Communities achieving the one pearl rating would be, on average, 16 per cent more efficient in their water use, he said. Abu Dhabi is one of the biggest per-capita consumers of water in the world. On average, each resident uses 550 litres a day. Ways to reduce water consumption include avoiding water features on landscaping, monitoring for leakage and saving condensation from air-conditioning units.

Reid Donovan, associate director of WSP Middle East, an environmental and engineering consultancy, said achieving the rating would not place large burdens on developers. "The baseline of one pearl is quite easy to achieve," he said. Water savings required for a one-pearl rating could be achieved simply by installing low-use fixtures, such as taps, a practice that was becoming the norm, he said. However, since not all design companies in the UAE adhere to the same practices, the new requirements will set a minimum requirement for all buildings.

"This will set a benchmark across all projects," Mr Donovan said. "It is a good thing." Achieving two pearls will be more challenging. As with other rating systems, the Estidama system leaves it up to building designers to decide how objectives are met. "Once you aim for two pearls you have about 70 different pathways to do this," Mr Acker said. "Design teams on these projects have a lot of flexibility on how to achieve this."

A big chunk of water savings could come through re-thinking landscapes, through reducing grass and lawns, and making water features smaller, he said. Landscaping was identified as the area with the greatest potential water savings in a study by RTI International, a US-based research institute, for the Abu Dhabi Government. Glenn Whaley, of RTI, said the study found that, of 199.2 million imperial gallons of water used every day by residents, companies and institutions in Abu Dhabi, 62.9 million could be saved.

"Landscaping irrigation accounts for more than half of the technical potential savings," Mr Whaley said. vtodorova@thenational.ae