Waterproofing can boost project success in the GCC

The success of high-investment infrastructure projects in the Middle East will – to a large extent – depend on whether they are waterproofed effectively

Iltaz Alam is the building envelope product manager for Grace Construction Products’ operations in the Middle East.
Iltaz Alam is the building envelope product manager for Grace Construction Products’ operations in the Middle East.

The Middle East will continue to experience a high level of construction activity over the next 15 years, with over $1tn worth of major projects planned for completion by 2030.

As many of these buildings are being built in both desert conditions and on coastlines, a proven and reliable waterproofing membrane has quickly become the most crucial specification to provide protection against these challenging conditions.

Concrete, although durable and robust, can still be severely compromised when subjected to extreme conditions.

In the Middle East, these factors include chlorides and sulfates in groundwater, extremes of both seasonal and daily temperatures, cycling ambient humidity, and the moisture drive from hot humid exteriors to air-conditioned interiors.

Without a high performance waterproofing membrane, concrete remains vulnerable to structural deterioration from these aggressive climatic conditions.

The contemporary economy demands that construction products and materials deliver long-term performance. Many structures are now built to offer a service life of 100 years, if not longer.

At the multi-billion dollar Doha Metro Rail system in Qatar’s capital city, longevity was a pre-requisite during the specification of the below ground waterproofing systems. Up to 1,000,000m2 of Preprufe’s systems are being installed to provide protection for the project against groundwater.

When specifying a below-ground waterproofing system, there are a number of factors to consider. The membranes will be subjected to chemical, ultra-violet, and mechanical damage, all of which can deteriorate and compromise the system’s integrity.

Potential impacts of such damage range from minor stress cracks to total flooding, and the cost of failure can quickly become astronomical.

Linking the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madina in Saudi Arabia, the Haramain High-Speed Railway project presented the challenge of extreme heat and desert conditions, as well as building four new stations in just four years.

One of Preprufe’s waterproofing membranes was selected to provide protection to built elements below and above the water table in the project’s extreme desert conditions.

Rebar corrosion is another form of deterioration in reinforced concrete structures, with chloride ingress the most frequent cause.

As chloride builds up on the concrete surface, through airborne salts or below-ground chlorides and sulfates, it penetrates by diffusion.

In the Middle East, this process is even quicker as every increase of 10°C doubles the rate of diffusion. As the steel corrodes, the compromised concrete provides more and more paths of contamination in the form of cracks and fractures.

No matter how small these penetrations, contaminant ingress is further accelerated, thus jeopardising the concrete’s integrity and dramatically reducing its service life.

Concrete can only be fully protected if water infiltration is prevented entirely, typically with a chemical-resistant, bonded waterproofing membrane providing a physical barrier to these contaminants.

Workmanship is another major factor in obtaining good quality and durable structures. The need for concreting and membrane installation to be supervised by qualified and experienced personnel is of primary importance.

With every new construction project vital to the region’s continued growth and development, the impact of failure would be significant.

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