How has the construction boom impacted MEP design?

The construction industry boom has been well documented worldwide, but what effect has the speed of market change had on sustainable MEP services design?

This article has been written by Amir Zaidi, director for MEP at Whitby & Bird.

Generally, two basic components ‘the developer’ and ‘ the end-user’ control demand and supply. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) services, being an integral part of any development, play a very crucial role in maintaining a balance amongst the resources, investor, end-user and the regulatory authorities.

The fast-paced construction in and around Dubai and an exponential growth in the construction industry in the recent times has surprised people the world over.

To meet this growth, currently the MEP sector is going through a phase where it must address the specific needs of the industry for which a development intends to cater, be it residential, commercial, hotel, public utility, hospital or school.

With extremely innovative architectural designs, shapes and appearances, the buildings being constructed in today’s marketplace have their own challenging and pressing needs for MEP services.

A developer wants an economical MEP design with as many additional features as possible, including security and IT.

They also want the services designed and installed in the shortest possible time so that they can sell the product instantly with maximum profit.

A buyer wants a property that is a safe and smart investment either for personal use, to resell or rent. An end-user will in turn desire a property that appropriately meets with their requirements of budget and available facilities.

To meet all of these criteria, good MEP design consultants must go through investigation, research, energy analysis, participation in workshops, life cycle cost analysis, value engineering, total building commissioning, project definition rating index, environmental monitoring and hazardous materials testing among other factors.

There should be a commitment to incorporate the principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency in the building projects.

This will result in an optimal balance of cost, environmental, societal and human benefits, without compromising the intent and functionality of the facility that is provided.

A very conscious effort is required in a sustainable design to minimise negative impacts on the environment and health and comfort of the building occupants, while enhancing the overall performance of the building.

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By minimising the waste, creating a productive environment and healthy conditions and reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources, I feel that the basic purpose of a sustainable design is addressed.

In principle a sustainable design should be able to cover the following aspects:

- establish appropriate requirements and the extent of facilities;

- optimise the potential of the intended final development;

- use environmently friendly products as much as possible;

- improve indoor environmental quality;

- protect and conserve water;

- minimise the consumption of non-renewable energy;

- optimise the operational and maintenance practices of the building;

- take a user-friendly approach;

- optimise energy saving systems.

The design philosophy, without compromising the intent, should be an holistic and integrated approach that produces positive impacts on all phases of a building’s life cycle including design, construction, operation, durability, maintenance and decommissioning.

Applying the principles of sustainable design, the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) should be a focus even if the project is not meant to necessarily achieve the LEED certification status as a mandatory requirement.

Generally, all of the disciplines in an MEP building services design have scope for optimised design efficiency, which helps to save energy.

This can reduce the burden on the consumer and support the back-up of utilities services providers to keep pace with the ever increasing demand.

A progressive and thorough approach to saving energy in electrical design systems can be achieved through several methods.

One of the simplest ways is to select lighting fixtures that use high efficiency energy saving lamps that also complement and meet the architectural and ID requirements.

It is possible to ensure a suitable power factor correction is applied by using appropriate capacitors on all the inductive loads to reduce the losses due to reactive power and maintain the system power factor at 0.9 lagging or more.

Also, if the nature and type of building allows, a good overall saving can be achieved by employing an EIB/C Bus intelligent lighting control system using motion sensors and twilight sensors in car parks, typical floor corridors, lobbies and external lights controlled with different percentages of lighting configuration with regards to time and occupancy.

Similarly, in mechanical services design, certain considerations will correspond to saving energy, such as:

- using fresh air handling units with heat recovery mechanisms;

- employing variable frequency drives (VFDs) for pumps and air handling units;

- architect’s selection of high performance insulated glazing that will result in a significant reduction in thermal load;

- by recirculating the extract air after removing the odour and carbon monoxide levels by treating with ozone;

- the effective use of an integrated building management system for optimised control and efficiency.

The vast source of energy ie solar energy remains largely untapped in the Middle East region to date.

A thorough research and sincere approach is required to explore the most efficient ways of utilising this natural source in a region where the sun is unarguably shining and lighting our lives throughout the year.

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