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The Green Revolution in Construction: An Increasing Demand for Airtightness Testing in the GCC Region

Airtightness Testing by Buildingdoctor DMCC

As temperatures soar with projections indicating a rise of up to 2-3°C by 2050 and driving sustainability efforts in the built industry takes center stage, the demand that we receive for airtightness testing is reaching new heights. With heightened efforts for greener, more energy-efficient buildings, stakeholders are turning their attention to ensuring structures are resilient against the scorching heat and valuing more eco-friendly measures.

The projects and inquiries we receive for airtightness testing services have increased by 40% in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous year. Major construction projects, including commercial towers and residential complexes, are now considering airtightness standards as a necessary facet in parallel with green building regulations. Government and private entities that take initiatives to promote sustainable building practices post-COP28 have further fueled the demand for air tightness testing services.

Rob Dam - Buildingdoctor CEO

Rob Dam, a seasoned airtightness tester and ardent supporter of sustainability in the built environment, provides more details on this subject.

Question: Why do you think there's an increasing demand for Airtightness testing in the GCC region?

Energy Inefficiency and condensation issues pre-airtightness testing

"The GCC is growing aware of the transition that's required to curb climate change. Insulating buildings was a first step, but the airtightness may be an even more important one. The main point there is to save energy. Any hot air that's not coming in doesn't need to be cooled down anymore.
Apart from that, the more you insulate, the more critical the airtightness becomes as it may extrapolate any problems that have already exist in the building envelope. So, the more insulation is used in the GCC, the more airtightness is being considered as well. Skipping this part will inevitably lead to condensation problems.” - Rob

Air leakage: The silent culprit

Air leakage, often overlooked, is a significant contributor to energy loss in buildings. It occurs when unwanted outdoor air infiltrates through gaps, seams, and cracks, as well as materials with inherent air permeability properties, leading to increased heating and cooling costs. Beyond energy waste, air leakage compromises indoor comfort, air quality, and excessive condensation that promotes mold growth.

Regulatory Compliance

GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain, have been progressively adopting and enforcing building codes that mandate more greener and sustainable methods. These regulations are part of broader efforts to improve building performance and reduce energy consumption.

The enclosures are tested strictly following the required international and local standards, specifications, regulations, and green building systems.

Question: Can you quantify the potential energy savings associated with a tightly sealed building envelope?

"Results from studies around the world typically show that savings can go up to 50% of the energy consumption for heating/cooling the building. This is often slightly higher in case of cooling. Our own experience is that about 15-50% is quite a common range, with outliers even higher than this.
Airtightness testing by Buildingdoctor DMCC
Just to explain this into more detail: it's common to come across buildings that have a leakage rate of 10ACH50. This means that if a pressure of 50Pa is applied (which can happen under a moderate wind), the total volume of air within that building is changed 10 times per hour. This means that the HVAC system will have to completely cool down the complete volume of the building 10 times per hour! Buildings that are considered relatively airtight (nowhere near perfect yet) will have about 1ACH50. So that same HVAC system will have to use a lot less energy to cool the building down.
Apart from the energy use this building  will be a lot more comfortable as well, as the temperature distribution throughout the building is more even." - Rob

Financial Impact

Residential: For a typical household in the GCC region, where cooling costs are substantial, achieving a 20-30% reduction in cooling energy use could translate to hundreds of dollars in annual savings.

Commercial: In commercial buildings, energy savings from improved airtightness can lead to significant cost reductions, especially in large office buildings or retail spaces. These savings can amount to thousands of dollars annually, depending on building size and energy rates.

Question: How can airtight buildings help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and promote sustainability?

"As explained in the previous point the energy savings potential is huge. The most interesting part is that it can often be done with rather limited expenses. Improving the airtightness of a building is often considered as one of the low hanging fruits to lower the energy usage, so to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions.
Changing the insulation within a building requires a big change to the building facade, whereas improving the airtightness can sometimes be as easy as sealing some holes and adding gasket/rubbers. So the impact airtightness has on the energy usage and sustainability is often underestimated." - Rob

Building Lifecycle

Longevity and Durability: Airtight buildings tend to have better moisture control, which reduces the risk of mold and structural damage over time. This enhances the building's lifespan and sustainability by reducing the need for repairs and renovations.

Mohamed Bin Rashed Library - Tested by Buildingdoctor Team using 12 Retrotec Blowerdoor Fans
Mohamed Bin Rashed Library - Tested by Rob Dam using 12 Retrotec Blowerdoor Fans

Question: Are there specific examples of projects where addressing air tightness during construction resulted in reduced operational costs?

"There are plenty of examples. Apart from studies that have been done around the world there have been many local examples too. Perhaps I should take my apartment as an example. During summertime it was hard to cool the apartment, and I would experience dust and moisture issues within the apartment. The 2 AC units would run on maximum speed (3 out of 3) all day and it would still be a bit warm.
After the airtightness test it was clear where the issues came from. The materials required to fix it where rather easy to get. There were some requirements for sealant, closing of a larger hole, and some gaskets for sliding doors (very common in the GCC). The cost of the parts was about 150AED. After these easy fixes I could cool the complete apartment with 1 AC at medium speed in the middle of July! The comfort inside the apartment improved a lot too.
This is obviously just 1 example, but there have been many cases where it's almost impossible to cool the area during summer time, or where there's dust ingress, just because the airtightness is not what it should be. Apart from the comfort, the potential for energy savings is obviously enormous for those kind of buildings." -Rob

The urgency to address climate change post-COP28 has propelled the construction sector to reevaluate its practices. Buildings, responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, have come under scrutiny as key contributors to environmental degradation.

The need to curb these emissions and minimize resource consumption has led to a growing focus on greener, more sustainable buildings.

Surging number of projects and inquiries that we receive for this test underscores a collective commitment toward a more sustainable future in the built industry.




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