GNcareers, from Gulf News

Surviving the sun and sand

Cleaning and maintenanceProperties in the UAE require extra attention and care given the climate conditions

Everyone desires a pleasant sun-and-sand holiday, especially in these winter months. But being exposed year-round to the elements is another matter altogether, even for some of the sturdiest buildings. In the upkeep of properties, whether commercial or residential, the desert climate in the UAE requires landlords, owners and tenants to be extra vigilant.

Dubai residents Sara and James Evans know all too well the consequence of poor building maintenance, having lived for more than five years in apartments in Dubai where building maintenance has ranged from mediocre to downright negligent. According to the couple, facilities management doesn’t appear to be a priority for landlords or maintenance staff, with only urgent matters being addressed such as burst water pipes, leaking air-conditioning systems and certain structural damages.

“We’ve encountered some disastrous flats as the rents have gradually gone up and we had to look for better priced accommodation,” says Sara. “From a health and safety point of view, there were so many issues that were a concern for us especially since we have a small child.” The issues ranged from moulds around the ceilings, bath- rooms and air-conditioning vents to expired fire extinguishers, deep cracks in the walls, cracked tiles, uneven flooring and poor electrical work, she says.

Sanjeev Mehta, who has lived with his family in a three-bedroom apartment in Al Qusais, says buildings tend to deteriorate fast when regular maintenance is not conducted. “We are lucky that our building is well-maintained, but some of my friends and relatives have not been so lucky,” says Mehta. “Our building is old but it’s in a much better condition than some of the new high-rises. I’ve been to apartments that were built only ten years ago and look very dilapidated and old.”

Mehta, who is asthmatic, is concerned about the lack of maintenance of the air-conditioning vents where dust and mould could accumulate.

Ignoring issues
Asif Siddique, Advisor of Strategy and Business Development at Deyaar, says owners or landlords who occupy their own property tend to pay a lot more attention to maintenance. “However, if the asset is for investment purposes, it is common for most to ignore maintenance-related issues.”

Mahmood Rasheed, Chief Operating Officer at Imdaad, says homeowners are often vigilant but are usually more concerned about the costs rather than the asset lifecycle when availing of maintenance services.

However, Sivakumar V. T., a Senior Facilities Manager at Emrill, believes more homeowners, tenants and landlords now pay closer attention to the upkeep of their property, realising its importance in maintaning or enhancing the value of their assets.

Anticipating problems
Sivakumar says properties in the UAE require extra attention and care given the harsh climate conditions. “It is essential to have a planned preventive maintenance regime in practice to maintain building assets,” says Sivakumar. “Whether commercial or residential, it is essential to make sure each and every facility provided in a building serves its purpose.”

Siddique also points out that there is not much difference between the maintenance of commercial and residential buildings. “However, since commercial towers have higher footfall, they would require greater frequency of maintenance in the common areas,” he says,

Rasheed adds: “Keeping the property well maintained and implementing a preventive maintenance plan ensures tenant safety and prevents serious repair problems in the future. Regular maintenance guarantees that all building components are properly functioning. In residential buildings, façade cleaning, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and elevator maintenance, as well as lighting and fire system check-ups, are essential in the first year.” He says commercial buildings must undergo regular façade cleaning, HVAC and elevator maintenance, and inspection of electrical distribution and chilled water treatment and fire systems.

From a health and safety point of view, Sivakumar says fire alarms and fire-fighting systems, generators, access control systems, water quality, lifts and high-level access equipment must be tested and maintained to ensure they meet local regulations.

More importance is placed on regular preventative maintenance on all recommended assets, as well as reactive maintenance on any assets due to breakdown, water testing and treatment for pools, water features and portable water equipment such as tanks, says Siddique.

Lifecycle maintenance
Emrill, a facilities management company in the UAE, uses a forward maintenance register for all assets to determine the maintenance requirements for a period of 5-15 years and estimates the possible costs for future maintenance. “Over the second five-year term of a building or house, the maintenance requirements range from minor asset replacements, like painting and civic works,” says Sivakumar. “In the long term, after the 10-year mark, maintenance requirements would be subject to major asset replacements, such as modernisation of lifts or chiller overhaul,” said Siddique.

From the second to the fifth year, regular maintenance of other building components is necessary, including duct cleaning, sanitary system descaling and water tank integrity check for residential buildings, and duct cleaning, overhauling of building maintenance unit (BMU), operation testing of switchgear and Cema testing of fire system for commercial buildings, says Rasheed. Additional works are needed in the tenth year, including replacement of chillers and condenser coils as applicable, as well as lamination or replacement of water tanks.”

Hot climates
Due to the hot and dusty climate conditions in the UAE, additional upkeep of buildings is required, specifically for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, advises Siddique. The systems entail frequent, timely cleaning due mostly to the accumulation of dust.

In an arid climate like the UAE, structural decay is common, especially in a building’s outer walls or façade and HVAC insulations, says Rasheed. “Therefore, we advise annual indoor air quality tests, touch-up painting of common areas, flushing and descaling of chilled water pipelines and sanitary installations.”

Sivakumar recommends additional maintenance such as frequent filter maintenance, duct cleaning, sump pit cleaning, façade cleaning, wind speed testing for cradles and external painting. He says the UAE’s hot climate has an impact on expansion joints in the structure, external walls and glazing of buildings, therefore, additional maintenance must be included in any forward planning to avoid structural decay or damage.

Siddique says maintenance and service charges are dependent on the location and the quality of the development itself. “Maintenance of an apartment costs between Dh12-18 per square foot, however, costs can be as low as Dh9 per square foot and reach up to Dh25 per square foot. For most villas, the costs are between Dh2- Dh5 per square foot.”

Sivakumar says facilities management and maintenance charges could vary in price from Dh9-Dh18 per square feet depending on the facilities, services and features. “Usually, the cost of an annual maintenance package for tenants is roughly about 5 per cent of the rental value, which could increase based on internal assets such as swimming pools, jacuzzis, water displays, recreational areas and so on.”

Rasheed says maintenance costs are normally Dh8-Dh2 per square foot annually, with the costs for homes with unitary AC systems and chillers fairly reasonable. However, for buildings with district cooling, the associated maintenance cost is higher by 25 per cent.

Common maintenance problems in the region
• Some of the biggest maintenance problems in the region include structural issues such as leakages from overhead ceiling lines, vibration from major equipment, structural cracks, water seepages and chilled water condensation.
• Some villas in a community might have accessibility issues with outdoor air-conditioning units due to design, location or regulations, in which case it is necessary for a Cat ladder to be used.
• A big challenge for the region is swimming pool systems that are not manufactured to suit the hot climate and, therefore, require a regular service to avoid breakdowns that are mostly related to chlorination and dosing systems.
• Many buildings and developments have used one-time manufactured items, which create issues in replacement due to the fact that most items are imported rather than manufactured locally.
• Common problems are related to HVAC system. In terms of health and safety, homeowners need to be very careful about water-related problems. Thorough cleaning of tanks and water bodies is very important in maintenance.
• Another major maintenance problem is the failure to minimise risk of causing damage to buried pipelines and the complex integration of several amenities with fire system, such as pressurised ventilation and reticulated gas supply.
• Facilities management companies say there is poor awareness on the importance of a structured maintenance system, which is important for health and safety

Source: Leigh Thomas, Special to Property WeeklyPW