Paying through the roof?

Roofing manufacturers warn against cutting corners with labour.

Aluminium roofing at Nad Al Sheba, Dubai
Aluminium roofing at Nad Al Sheba, Dubai

Much has been made of Frank Gehry and the infamous problems caused by recent ‘leaky roofs' in buildings such as the Stata Centre at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This neglect for the importance of effective roofing is echoed in the Gulf. However, the problem facing the region is less to do with bad design or poor quality products, and more to do with the variability of labour and overall installation quality.

As a result, manufacturers are taking on the responsibility of the installation network to maintain quality roof installation. "We work with a system of approved installers. You don't become a world market leader if you're not able to sustain good quality at every stage, even at those you don't necessarily control," says Michael Knudsen, regional general manager of roofing supplier Corus Bausysteme, which provides Kalzip aluminium standing seal roofing.

However, increased quality can lead to increased costs. "We are a little more expensive than companies from [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] or India. We can't deliver for less than €10 ($15) per square metre," admits Alexander Pahl, CEO of Germany-based tiling company International Brothers Pahl (IBPC).


Both tiles and metal roofing are popular in the region. Tiles have historically been the popular choice in the domestic market, while aluminium standing seam roofs have been used for 30 years in the Middle East on commercial projects that include BurJuman Centre, Nad al Sheba and the forthcoming Dubai Mall.

Quality roofing is essential in the Gulf because a good roof will need to withstand the extremes of temperature, humidity, and the rare but significant heavy rain that can occur during winter months.

Aluminium has been successfully used in the region for decades but tiles are in a category by themselves. "We burn the tiles at 1400 degrees so that means the colour will never fade and the tiles won't break. You can't find competitors to us in the region," says Pahl.

Due to extreme temperature variations between indoors and outdoors, condensation on the outside of the roof can also be a problem. "With our systems, you can actually place barriers and insulation configurations so that you will never have condensation problems," says Knudsen.

The quality and type of roofing material can affect everything from the appearance of a building, to its fire safety, LEED rating and maintenance costs.

While there are good quality roofing materials available, frequently they are not matched by the build quality of the supporting structure. Pahl points out: "We give our products a 50-year warranty. But often villas will be built in a very bad condition. Will the villa last the next 20 years?"

Knudsen is similarly sceptical of build quality. "We have had places where we have been asked to restore products from competitors," he says. Both are keen to point out that the failure is not with the product but with the installation.

"A traffic accident isn't usually due to bad cars; it's due to bad drivers. We are in the same situation," adds Knudsen. He says that product failure is exceptionally rare with the correct installation.

Tiling suffers less from installation problems because of the relative ease of laying a tiled roof, but the high weight of the material means installation is particularly manpower intensive.

The extra weight can also prove dangerous if connected to a poor supporting structure. A heavy roof on a weak structure significantly increases the possibility of roof collapse.

New green regulations are likely to cause a reconsideration of building design, but roofing is already a relatively sustainable component. Tiles are made from natural clay and sand, and aluminium is one of the more commonly recycled materials used in the construction industry.

"Aluminium is one of the industry's cases of using a high degree of recycled products. So that in itself is a very sustainable product in LEED and ecological terms," says Knudsen. Indeed, in relation to other architectural components, roofing appears to be remarkably ‘green'.

Whether or not the new green regulations do affect the market, it seems unlikely that projects in the GCC will suffer from the same ‘leaky' roofs as those subjected to the climates of the northeastern USA.

However, cutting costs on overall construction can negate the benefit of a quality installation, creating a building that, at best, is energy inefficient and, at worst, dangerous.

A well-built structure with a quality roof, however, can be more environmentally friendly, safer and more pleasant to live and work in. When clients fail to consider more than just the bottom line with materials and construction, they're neglecting the raison d'être of a building and running the risk of undermining the project.

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