Few Emiratis going for eco-construction at new homes

Government strongly encourages it but now municipality is looking at making more environmentally-friendly measures compulsory.

Khalid Al Ali outside the house that he has built over the past 8 years. Duncan Chard / The National
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DUBAI // Many Emiratis are building homes thanks to Government land grants but few are embracing eco-friendly construction.

Khalid Al Ali has been working on his new home in Al Barsha for eight years and no one has ever discussed incorporating green building solutions.

"Nobody suggested to me any of these solutions back when I was designing my house, not even the consultant," said Mr Al Ali.

"Building a house is such a stressful undertaking and you worry about doing something new, especially since construction companies here might not know how to properly install it and you end up wasting a lot of time and money."

Green building practices first gained momentum in the 1970s thanks to a rise in environmental awareness around the world. Since then they have become a buzzword in the global construction sector.

Solutions such as greywater systems, roof gardens, solar panels, and water-flow limiters are constantly promoted in building design and strongly encouraged by the UAE government, particularly among commercial builders.

But for people such as Mr Al Ali, there is little incentive.

"The only green thing I have, besides what the municipality requires, are LED lights to save energy," he said.

Mohammed Mazin Hanana, an architect at EMSquare Engineering Consultants, which specialises in designing modern villas, said they rarely had anyone asking for green solutions.

"Of the more than 180 villas we've built in the UAE, four have chosen to implement green building solutions," he said.

Dubai Municipality officials understand it will be an uphill struggle.

The civic body co-hosted the 'My Green Home' seminar last month with the Society of Engineers.

The event aimed to address the need for more green solutions and sustainable designs, particularly in a desert environment.

"We are trying to change people's outlook towards green initiatives," said Yousif Abdulla Mohammed, head of the building permits section of Dubai Municipality.

"People are always the enemies of what they don't understand, so we need to increase awareness of just how important it is for them to embrace green designs."

He said there were very few villas with green systems, but change was coming slowly.

"Things are very different than they were back in 2003," Mr Mohammed said. "People were set in their ways about how they wanted their homes and they were very resistant to accepting the idea of spending a little extra now to save in the long run."

The municipality has made thermal insulation mandatory for all buildings, including villas, since 2003 and recently made it mandatory to use a solar water heater.

"With these rules in place, people are beginning to realise the practicality of green design," Mr Mohammed said.

He added that while the municipality was only just scratching the surface, he wanted to give people a chance to take the initiative of using green designs in their home.

"We have long-term plans of making more green systems mandatory, but we want to see how people and the market react and then judge which systems should be made mandatory."

Mr Hanana represented his firm at the municipal seminar.

"This is a great idea," he said. "But of all the visitors we've met, only one seemed serious about using green solutions."

Faisal Ahmad, 32, began building his home in Al Barsha last July and explained that, while he supported the idea of sustainable living, the solutions on offer were unaffordable for most people.

"I'm trying to squeeze every fil I can from my budget on this house," said the facilities manager.

His entire project is funded by a bank loan and he wants to get the most bang for his buck.

"I'm very limited at what I can do to the design and I want to get all the basic facilities addressed first. I'd rather not sacrifice necessity for efficiency."