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Death By Design In Dubai? A Low Cost Cure for Sick Building Syndrome

April 10, 2018

 

In Dubai the shift from nomadic and village life to life in permanent and urban structures happened fast.

 

Construction techniques were imported and not always optimally suited to the local environment and its unique climate challenges. The HVAC systems that were imported and used to control the indoor temperatures in this particularly hot and humid climate produce high levels of bacterial growth, fungus and mold in the ducts and even in occupied spaces.

 

According to The National newspaper:

 

"The scourge of mould is like a plague across the country, affecting an untold amount of households and creating unhealthy living environments... poorly ventilated flats that remained vacant for months while awaiting their next tenants, and occupied residences with stagnant air and damp environments, were all prime breeding grounds for the dangerous fungus. Tenants often fight losing battles against it, which is not helped by maintenance staff who employ ineffective solutions and fail to eliminate it."

 

But this can be corrected. As the Gulf News reported:

 

"Healthy indoor environments can be particularly challenging in centrally air-conditioned buildings and buildings with ducted air-conditioning systems. The first step is to ensure adequate fresh air is delivered after treatment for dust and particulates, temperature and humidity. Assuming the municipality’s design and construction guidelines help achieve these, the onus then shifts to the building managers and the occupants to ensure that the indoor environment remains healthy… maintenance teams must carry out periodic duct cleaning to eliminate mold and microbes, and not just limit themselves to cursory cleaning of the supply and return grills."

The successful launch of the new GEMS Dubai American Academy campus, the first TermoDeck building in the Municipality of Dubai, in 2016 provides evidence that the city can prevent the plague of poor indoor air quality at a low cost to developers and with a low carbon impact for all.

 

The TermoDeck system is perfectly suited to the regional climate and prevents the formation of dangerous fungi, molds and bacteria that are often found present in conventional HVAC systems.

 

As concrete is totally inorganic and highly alkaline (12-13.5 pH), the slabs do not provide a suitable environment for bacteria, mould, fungus, and yeast. Mold spores are deprived of any source of standing surface water required for germination, so the concrete surface cannot support bacteriological growth.

 

Sick buildings can be a thing of the past owing to the unique function of the TermoDeck system, which filters, dehumidifies and treats the air before it enters the slab.

 

…night-time cooling of the fabric keeps the daytime temperature to within 3 °C of the normal set control temperature for refrigeration-based systems. Exposed ceiling soffits provide the radiant cooling. All this means there is virtually no maintenance burden associated with the ventilation, heating and cooling…

 

Proof of the science behind this system lies in the GAC headquarters, a nearly two decades old TermoDeck building in the JAFZA zone in the UAE.

 

Constructed using TermoDeck in 2000, this building has one of the lowest locally recorded scores of mould, bacteria and yeast, despite never once, over repeated inspections, requiring any maintenance at all. If TermoDeck were applied to all new build projects in Dubai from this day forward, local and international air quality and green standards would be achieved and surpassed. Healthier, greener workspaces, homes and schools could be constructed across the region at a cost savings (or at no extra cost) and would produce additional savings over the course of the operation and maintenance of the building HVAC system.

 

The fresh filtered and dehumidified air produced by TermoDeck is half the battle in keeping our indoor air quality at optimal levels. According to The National:

 

AC systems should supply fresh air, provide proper filtrations and distribute the cool air comfortably into the space, explained Matthias Kasprowicz, managing director of air con specialists Trox Middle East. “A major issue with indoor air quality is wrong design and engineering. When there is a lack of fresh air supply and used air is just circulated and not filtered sufficiently, germs, bacteria, mould and dust are just redistributed in the room and, added up continuously, this is a major cause of respiratory diseases and allergies… Our experience shows that by far the majority of buildings in Middle East have very low air quality and comfort, and still this topic does not reach the people enough."

There is little to no increase in the capital costs of a project using the TermoDeck system and ASHRAE experts have noted that capital costs may even be reduced. In a 2013 article on Integrated Thermal Energy Storage Systems it was noted:

 

“Radiant conditioning systems (e.g. hydronic slab, TermoDeck slabs) can reduce the first-cost in construction by reducing the capacities of mechanical equipment and distribution systems, as well as by saving space. The spacing of piping embedded in the slab is normally about 100 to 300 mm (ASHRAE 2008). Feustel and Stetiu (1995) stated that hydronic radiant cooling systems can have lower first-cost, if specific cooling loads are above 55 W/m... the first-cost of fans, chillers and ducts used for TermoDeck in hot climates is about 40-50% of that for conventional all-air systems.

 

TermoDeck systems can also result in a 45-50% reduction in required cooling capacity. The reduction of peak cooling demand can be as high as 70-90%. As compared to equally sized conventional buildings, TermoDeck projects in Europe have up to 50% lower energy consumption for total heating & cooling. In the Middle East, they have 30-50% lower energy consumption for cooling. There are obvious financial savings… the elimination of ventilation ductwork and water pipes. This advantage will result in significant savings on construction cost (e.g. labour and material) and space for service systems."

 

There is no other technology that works with existing materials to provide thermal storage and radiant cooling resulting in superior IAQ on the market and proven to operate successfully from a systems integration viewpoint.

 

TermoDeck's technology provides effective control strategies for thermal energy storage and avoids the control problems that cause humidity, condensation, mould and other allergens. We are confident that, if scrutinized, our building system will be the chosen method of HVAC applications in the UAE once the market realizes its efficacy.

 

Design healthier, greener, low cost buildings with TermoDeck and start breathing deeply our clean indoor air in Dubai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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