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Keeping Cool

The right choice of insulation can help to reduce energy consumption

Foamglas was used at Doha's new International Airport.
Foamglas was used at Doha's new International Airport.

With energy consumption rates soaring in the Middle East, and buildings responsible for around half of all energy consumed, building materials are playing a more important part in improving rates of energy efficiency.

Manar Kabrawi, marketing manager at Styro, argues that insulation can play a key role in ensuring this happens.

“Insulation reduces unwanted heat loss or gain and can decrease the energy demands of heating and cooling systems,” she says.

A huge variety of insulation products are available on the market, ranging from phenolic foam to cellular glass, gypsum and expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Selecting the right material for the job and properly installing it is a first step in the battle, not only in insulating homes from either the excessive heat or cold outside, but also in avoiding fires, leakages and mould.

According to Marco Vincenz, Middle East sales director at Pittsburgh Corning, there has been a higher requirement in the market for products following the introduction of new green building regulations in Dubai.

In the GCC, Vincenz admits that some property developers often look for the short term profit, but others feel obliged to produce quality and believe in long term investment.

“Let’s be clear. The high profit builder will always look for the cheapest solution, which we all know is not the best,” says Vincenz.

“Having defined the green codes is a great step into the right direction,” he adds.

“We move very quickly. Dubai’s green building code is raising the bar.”

Kabrawi notes that although municipal regulations have made building insulation mandatory in most of the GCC, some older buildings remain uninsulated.

An advantage of expanded polystyrene, she explains, is that it can be used on existing buildings by using a special rendering called an external insulation finishing system (EIFS), that can be used to bring these up to date.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is a closed-cell insulation that is manufactured by “expanding” a polystyrene polymer. EPS typically looks like a white foam plastic insulation material, such as the material found for merchandise packaging.

According to Kabrawi, Styro’s EPS is an eco-friendly product that is significantly lighter and more cost-effective than other material. It is CFC-free, 100% recyclable and doesn’t deplete the ozone layer.

Some of the projects that Styro’s product has been installed on are the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, the Cleveland Clinic, Masdar City, and The Beach at JBR.

Kabrawi adds that Styro EPS is easy to install and dismantle. This is especially important in the region, as the improper installation of insulation material has been a major cause of insulation failure.

The consequences of poor insulation comes through infiltration or condensation, mould growth, and health problems. Vincenz notes that the risk of construction failure becomes even higher if absorbent materials are present around the leakage.

Kabrawi states that poor insulation causes increased energy uses and costs on utility bills. It can also reduce a building’s lifespan and lead to significantly higher maintenance costs. Improper insulation can have an effect on the health of a building’s occupiers as it can cause discomfort and higher sickness risks.

“In general, the worst enemies for all thermal insulation are fire and water,” Vincenz explained. “Some countries are adopting strict international fire standards, but others are still far behind. The level is not high enough to provide proper safety to very complex buildings.”

Vincenz said that as the region shifts towards more energy efficient buildings, several layers of insulating material need to be applied to the building envelope, with each layer working in a specific definition.

“We have the static layer, the water tightness, the air tightness, the thermal protection and design inside and outside,” he said.

If not planned or executed correctly, the risk of failure is higher and mould, fungi, condensation or leakages are just the signs of it.

“Something is not done properly,” he said. “Higher knowhow is requested if a higher performance is required.”

Also, because of the region’s high temperature and high humidity, insulation material tends to absorb more and become wet.

“Most material has to be protected from the humidity with the vapour barrier. Unfortunately, either the product is not properly applied or it is too weak. Nine out of ten products react very sensitively to humidity absorption. They degrade over the years and a reduction of 20-50% of thermal performance can happen.”

Vincenz explains that its product, Foamglas, is a cellular glass material insulation that is used as a thermal insulation and is well known for its application in the whole building envelope. The material is sustainable, non-combustible and fully fire resistant.

In the Grand Mosque extension in Saudi Arabia, the entire mosque was fitted with air conditioning so that worshippers could perform their prayers in comfort.

Foamglas was applied to the flat roof to ensure energy efficiency.

“The high compressive strength of the thermal insulation Foamglas will enable the use of the roof for the pilgrims and is at the same time the most durable insulation with zero degradation of the thermal performance over generations.”

Other projects include the New Doha International Airport, the Arzanah Medical Complex in Abu Dhabi, the Islamix Museum in Doha, and the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.

Foamglas is highly durable and can resist any kind of humidity. “Neither water nor water vapour can affect the product and will not reduce the thermal performance for any kind of roof, or wall, or floor, or interior application,” he adds.

Another insulation material that resists humidity is flexible elastomeric foam, used in rubber insulation.

Gulf-O-Flex mostly uses rubber closed cell elastomeric foam insulation in tube and sheet forms on refrigeration and air-conditioning pipe-work. Flexible elastomeric foams are also used on heating and hot-water systems.

Mohsin Moin, business development manager at Rubber World Industries, which manufactures Gulf-o-Flex, explained that it provides high levels of resistance to water vapour.

“This, combined with the high surface emissivity of rubber, allows flexible elastomeric foams to prevent surface condensation formation with comparatively small thicknesses.”

Moin added that the advantages of rubber insulation are that it is easy to install, and resists moisture so no additional vapour barrier is required. Also, the product does not allow fungal growth, which means that it has a longer lifespan.

According to Vincenz, the region still has old buildings that are not properly equipped and new buildings that are either poorly planned or commissioned, meaning that proper levels of energy efficiency are still some way from being achieved.

“A lot can be done,” he said.

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