Tayer Tower has placed the spotlight on non-fire resistant materials
Dubai Municipality has issued a new circular warning contractors and building material suppliers over the use of non-fire resistant building materials.
Circular No. 186, issued on 30 April, comes after a massive fire at the Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah. Construction experts and residents are blaming the plastic façade tiles used in the building.
“It is surprising that no one managed to recognise the need for the exterior panels to be fire-retardant,” said Thomas F. Bell-Wright, CEO of Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants, a specialist in fire testing, façade consulting and curtain wall testing.
Dubai has an established fire-safety regulation in place since 2007, and has been directing building material suppliers and contractors on what materials to use in new structures.
“Although the building code defines what grade of material must be used, the regulations are not clear enough, and they need to be more firmly enforced. Everyone’s trying to build quickly, and this affects the quality of materials used,” said Bell-Wright.
“The international building code puts responsibility on the developer, and codes in the UAE should follow this,” he added.
Based in Dubai, the company is a specialist façade consultancy, full-scale testing laboratory for curtain walls, and fire-testing laboratory. It was the first company to have permanent curtain wall testing equipment in the region, and the first to have fire-testing apparatus in the region.
It has a range of test chambers and support structures for curtain wall testing, and a state-of-the-art vertical fire testing furnace at its fully-equipped laboratory. Since 1993, the company has been associated with more than 300 of the most prestigious and largest landmarks around the Arabian Gulf and neighbouring countries.
Speaking to Emirates 24/7, Marwan Abdallah, head of the buildings inspection section at the Dubai Municipality, said: “The guidelines are very strictly implemented. Notices are issued to any violators and the issues are rectified.” According to Abdallah, most violations in Dubai are, however, not related to faulty use of materials, but to timing of the submission of approvals.
Concerning the state of new buildings in Dubai, he said: “All of them have strict fire-resistant materials in place. However, nothing can be done about the old buildings, except following strict safety regulations.”
Commenting on the latest fire in Sharjah, Abdallah said: “We still do not know the exact cause of the building fire, except for what is written in the news. A detailed investigation report is yet to be [compiled].”
Many of the skyscrapers across the UAE are wrapped in dangerous non-fire-retardant cladding panels made of low-density polyethylene, which burns within minutes.
“At least 500 towers in the country have had non-fire-rated panels installed over the last 25 years,” a senior executive within the cladding industry told daily paper Gulf News on condition of anonymity.
“The cost of removing a non-fire panel is not small; it is about $30/m2. On a 40-storey building, it could cost as much as $140,000 to replace the cladding with fire-retardant material.”
Without any legislation in place to force mandatory installation of fire-retardant materials, 100 high-rises currently under construction in the UAE could also soon be enclosed in primarily aesthetic panels that do not meet international fire safety codes.
“This has become a national problem,” said the executive. “This has to be looked into very seriously by the authorities. The right legislation needs to be passed. Non fire-rated panels should be banned when they are used over ten storeys.”
The two most recent fires in Sharjah, at the Al Baker tower and Al Tayer tower, were both exacerbated by the flammable nature of their cladding, which was not fire-rated.
Apart from fire safety, building codes in the Middle East also need to take greater account of the critical role that insulation plays in sustainability, according to Kimmco GM Hannes Visagie.
“Insulation is an excellent counter against having to build additional power generation capacity to cater for increased cooling loads. It therefore helps mitigate global warming and reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry,” said Visagie.
However, he said it was important for contractors and specifiers to use the right product for the correct application, and to be aware of all relevant fire and safety standards.
Kimmco senior technical manager Dr Kailash Chandra said that while buildings consume about 40% of total energy on average, this figures was 50% in the GCC.
“It is simple to insulate. It is not rocket science,” urged Dr Chandra. He explained that mineral wool (fibreglass insulation and rockwool) were superior insulating materials compared to plastic foam insualtion.
“It is important for a manufacturer’s products to comply consistently with all local and international specifications and regulations.”
Leminar Air Conditioning Industries, a UAE-based HVAC firm, in conjunction with the Galloway Group of the UK, are highlighting the Galloway Fenland fire-duct system success in the UAE.
Approved by the Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar Civil defence authorities, the Fenland fire-duct system is an augmented duct work construction that utilises the latest in manufacturing techniques, Leminar CEO Navin Valrani said.
Some projects that have the duct system installed include Dubai Mall, Mirdiff City Centre, Fujairah City Centre and Yas Marina Hotel on Yas Island.
Leminar has been appointed as the sole manufacturing licensee of the Galloway Fenland fire-rated duct system throughout the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain.
With two manufacturing facilities in Dubai and Doha, Valrani said that the manufacturer offered a complete one-stop shop for fire-rated ductwork.
The correct use of fire-resistant ductwork meant that fire compartmentalisation could be maintained, and assist in the safe dispersal of smoke and hazardous flames.
Galloway complies with the requirements of Method 3 of BS 5588 Part 9:1989, and has been fully tested in accordance with BS 476 Part 24:1987 ( ISO 6944:1985 ).”