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Airing views

Air quality inside buildings is a matter of concern in the GCC region, especially since people spend considerable amount of time indoors. While factors like energy efficiency and IEQ have a bearing on indoor atmosphere, industry experts debate about what sort of leadership, solutions and ideas ought to drive the equation.

| | Feb 14, 2016 | 4:25 pm
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This should sound familiar: One day a man walks into his office and notices several of his colleagues complaining of mild health issues like coughing and sneezing; however, no specific cause or illness can be identified. He dismisses this as an isolated incident. Until it happens again, a few days later. The culprit is found to be sick building syndrome (SBS) – a general term for collective illnesses triggered by unhealthy Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to air pollutants occurs through inhalation of indoor air, which could lead to SBS and Legionnaire’s Disease. It is known that people in the GCC region spend considerable time indoors, be it at home, office or shopping malls. Several studies establish the relationship between IAQ and the health  of occupants, yet its seriousness is undermined.

The design stage

Saad Ali, VP and Group General Manager at Ruskin Titus Gulf

Saad Ali, VP and Group General Manager at Ruskin Titus Gulf

Can proper building design and implementation strategies counter SBS? Experts agree that the issue should be addressed at the design stage. Saad Ali, VP and Group General Manager at Ruskin Titus Gulf, says that a building should be initially properly designed to counter SBS. Though he concedes that design implementations vary from building to building, he stresses that the following basic requirements should be met:

  • The maintenance programme/guides of the mechanical ventilation equipment should be in place to ensure that the building is properly maintained and operated based on the original design.
  • There should be sufficient ventilation with an adequate amount of fresh air.
  • There should be regulation of humidity and temperature inside the building.

Jordan Baker, Regional Manager at Greenheck Middle East, gets into specifics of design by elaborating that VOC (volatile organic compound) sensors work well for monitoring air quality, and can be connected directly to the BMS and/or ventilation equipment to supply and exhaust air. He lists other measures that can help: “The system setup also supports energy efficiency by lowering the ventilation air change rate when the space is not occupied. It is known and proven that natural UV light cleans air and kills bacteria, while some studies show UV lamps in duct systems can also reduce bacteria. Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) work very effectively to recover cooling from the conditioned air being exhausted from the space. In addition, with proper latent and sensible energy, humidity can also be controlled very effectively, again saving on cooling load commonly used to reduce high humidity levels in the GCC [region’s] coastal cities.”

Jordan Baker is the Regional Manager at Greenheck Middle East

Jordan Baker is the Regional Manager at Greenheck Middle East

In addition, Baker warns that mini-split air conditioning units, which are common in homes and small offices, do not introduce fresh air into the space, and that customers should realise this. “The filter in the unit should be changed regularly, and windows/doors should be opened routinely to bring in fresh air,” he suggests.

Charles Constantin, Managing Director at GEZE Middle East, hints that strictly following set standards is more important than implementing design. “Introducing local standards on ventilation with strict compliance by all players shall make a big difference,” he stresses. He also believes that proposing advanced standards in ventilation engineering will have a direct positive impact on air quality and environmental health.

Sougata Nandi, Founder and CEO of 3e Advisory, and a sustainable development evangelist, agrees with Constantin, when he says: “There are no major or radical strategies needed. If buildings are designed following ASHRAE standards, as applicable for different parameters and different end-use types, buildings will automatically be healthy. However, in order to maintain healthy buildings, the O&M team needs to follow certain practices as laid out in references like LEED, BREEAM etc.”


Besides proper design and standards, the other solution that needs to come from manufacturers and suppliers is providing occupants/ end-users with details on the preventative maintenance schedules so that the ventilation systems are checked and maintained, says Ali. “We provide a complete solution and keep our products updated to the latest building/government’s codes,” he claims. “We also assist the end-users by providing them an up-to-date O&M.” Constantin adds to this by saying that effective compliance with standards in ventilation engineering will provide a balance of power between the contractor and the manufacturer/supplier in order to advance and improve the experience of the end-users. He adds, “Offering the manufacturer/ supplier a key role in project management, alongside the contractor and consultant is an opportunity to ensure effective solutions are implemented.”

Sougata Nandi, Founder and CEO of 3e Advisory

Sougata Nandi, Founder and CEO of 3e Advisory

Nandi, however, does not think that this is a manufacturer or supplier issue. He believes that it is the responsibility of consultants and developers to meet the criteria for healthy buildings.

So where does the buck stop?

Taking the discussion on responsibilities, Andrew Walker, Regional Manager – Middle East at Airedale International Air Conditioning, believes that the quest for greater comfort needs to come from the client. “Currently,” says Walker, “we have a number of new initiatives from the government in the UAE promoting efficient technology, but the problem is, we as suppliers are still competing with the same old technology as we have done for many years, when we are dealing with the majority of private clients, mainly due to the capital cost being the main driver once the details of a specification have been met.”

A few of the experts believe that the final say must come from the top. “The leadership needed should really start with the government officials and then it can trickle down to the local engineers and building owners,” says Ali. “At the moment, there’s little enforcement and/or awareness on air pollution, IAQ/IEQ and its impact on public health.” Nandi, too, partly agrees with Ali, when he says, “There are usually two levels of leadership needed for such issues: One is federal/ municipality regulations for IEQ. And two is building owner’s level of understanding that it is their mandatory duty to deliver good IEQ in any building.”

According to a report by the UAE Ministry of Health, 90% of the 150,000 patients treated at Al Ain public health clinics suffer from diseases of the upper respiratory tract, bronchitis, asthma and other forms of respiratory disease. (Source: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/sick-building-syndrome-the-killer-within) This underlines the fact that no matter whose responsibility it is, or who is willing to take up the leadership role, IAQ/ IEQ issues persist in the region. The grim scenario, however, is not unique to the UAE or the region, as statistics reveals that one-third of the world’s population suffers from SBS. Possibly, an amalgamation and implementation of the varied, yet important, views from experts will help improve the IAQ in buildings and reduce problems associated with SBS.


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