Christina Fashugba goes on site to see how Royal City Contracting is addressing the UAE’s high
energy usage with the revolutionary Insulated Concrete Form system
While the UAE government has been preparing for the 71% increase in primary energy demand by 2019 and the US $2.2 trillion price tag it is anticipated to create, Royal City Contracting L.L.C (RCC) has been developing an air tight form of construction, capable of halving the expenditure and reducing energy consumption by up to 70%.
The application of the Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) system, made of polystyrene and poly propylene, is set to tackle recently published statistics, which confirm Abu Dhabi has one of the highest levels of electricity usage in the world.
Each of the emirate’s residents consumes an annual average of 41 kilowatts (kW) of electricity; in contrast to the USA, where each person consumes around 11.4 kW annually; with both Japan and Germany’s residents generally use 6kW each over the same period.
With much of this usage coming from the residential sector — where 70% of electricity powers air conditioning in private households — the ICF system fits together to create what is called an eco-green block, and is then built in a type of Lego system, a method that drastically decreases energy use.
Energy and cost saving insulation RCC Dubai has used the system for four years and Nisar Ahmed Siraj, business development manager, is keen to highlight the difference it can make to energy usage and financial costs.
“You would never be able to get this kind of saving in any other system, only the ICF or eco-green block,” he says.
One project successfully completed by the firm is a three storey commercial building and warehouse for DAFZA Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority, where instead of installing 250 tons of air conditioning, RCC installed just 50 tons, equating to approximate energy and cost savings of 80%.
“As far as the DAFZA project is concerned we were very happy and our client’s management are very happy because the company is saving a lot of money on air conditioning. So after a few years management will be able to save the entire cost of construction. This is only with the help of electricity savings which have been reduced by 80%,” Siraj comments.
The firm’s management calculated that if a power station currently supplying 100 houses used ICF they would be able to provide electricity for double the locations for the same cost, due to the 60 to 70 % saving.
As well as saving energy, the straight forward construction process which has also been used in America, Canada, Australia and Germany, decreases building deadload by 40%.
The units can be stacked using both a vertical and horizontal steel re-enforcement with a bracing system used for support on one side.
“There are no blocks so there’s not really a settlement there because it’s one entity which means maintenance-free
“With ICF you’re saving your time, your energy, your money and your labour. This kind of construction is a load bearing wall structure. The load of another wall comes from the top of another wall,” Siraj explains.
Normally as far as the conventional block is concerned the insulation value is R1 or R2 only but for ICF system the R value is 22. As far as a normal construction is concerned air infiltration is there and you lose energy, where as with
ICF construction it is air tight. You don’t lose any of the energy once you close the doors and windows,” he adds.
In addition to the benefits of high-level insulation, the system boasts a tornado resistant structure with crack-free internal and external surfaces. Buildings using ICF only require a foundation of up to 60 cm depth, less than half
the usual two metres required.
Siraj explains that cracks often develop due to the settlement of the blocks, however since the ICF system does not have conventional blocks such damage does not occur, making the method maintenance free. Demonstrating the claim, Siraj says both the interior and exterior of Hawk Freight Services commercial building, and a warehouse in
DFZA are still crack-free around two years since RCC completed works.
Attributing ICF buildings’ resilience to their column-free structures, he explains: “If an earthquake ever came to this side of the world a building made from eco-green block shall be less affected because there are no columns.
“If an earthquake comes and the building did have a column, if that column breaks the whole building goes in that particular direction.With ICF construction there are no columns. It is one entity and a monolithic structure.”
He adds: “It is approximately two years now since we finished DAFZ yet you will not find even one millimetre of a crack inside or outside. There are no blocks so there’s not really a settlement there because it’s one entity which means maintenance-free construction.”
In addition to stability, management or residents that opt for the monolythic structure will benefit from being able to alter their building even after construction is complete. Speaking of the structure’s flexibility, Siraj says: “If my client comes and says they would like to have an opening for a window for example, I can do that because the structure does not have any columns.
“If there were columns I would not be able to disturb them because that would play with the unit but this kind of construction allows me to just cut an area and put a window in.”
Although contractors and investors in the Middle East are now willing to adapt to the ICF method, many were initially sceptical wondering how material as soft as polystyrene could contain concrete.
Siraj is keen to stress that although the ICF process is a simple one, the technique is crucial and full training is required to complete a safe building with the full advantages.
RCC staff were trained by consultants from America to handle the ICF professionally and Siraj claims they are now competent enough to train others.
“Now hundreds of people are accepting the system. In the beginning we faced a lot of problems in the local sectors,” he says.
“According to the law of physics if you pour concrete into marine plywood it can burst.
“ICF uses polystyrene but there are techniques and there is training to handle this product. Without training or education or required experience, it’s possible to make a mess of the system,” he continues to explain.
In addition to the DAFZA project, RCC recently completed a two storey villa in Oud Al Matina, Dubai, and with workers currently completing two more projects, RCC has an abundance of evidence to prove the technique cuts average construction times by half.
While construction up to the concrete stage conventionally takes six to eight months, Siraj says RCC complete the phase in an average of two months.
Internationally certified recognition
The energy saving system has also earned recognition from the international green building certificate system Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and ICF users will also gain points through Abu Dhabi’s Estidama Pearl Rating System, which addresses sustainability as a core principle.
The contracting company has also attracted the attention of the management board at Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, who recently invited RCC to discuss possible future projects with them.
Not satisfied with the prospect of cutting government energy spending in half and reducing their customers’ energy usage, RCC is now making plans to build off-grid houses which means they will privately provide amenities including internet, electricity and desalination.
“Our target is to make off-grid houses. If my client would like to have a house on top of a hill or somewhere in the middle of the desert we can do that,” Siraj says.
“We will be inserting the solar plant, water purification and desalination plant.
“It’s forthcoming we are planning for it and working on it and very soon we will be able to provide a house off-grid.
“We won’t be using any facilities from the government. The house’s electricity will be generated with the help of solar power, water purification and desalination plants and everything will be off-grid,” he concludes.