Qatar’s passivhaus prepares for occupants

by  — 15 September 2013

A small-sized family will occupy Qatar’s first passivhaus once its performance is initially tested against a conventional villa.

Director of Qatar Green Building Council Meshal Al Shamari believes that once eco-friendly houses become mainstream in Qatar, their construction duration will not be longer than conventional villas.

Launched in May this year, the completion of Qatar’s first passivhaus showed only 16.1 percent increase in the capital costs compared to a conventional villa. The two houses have been constructed as part of an experimental project called Baytna, a joint initiative by Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), Kahramaa and Barwa Real Estate Group to study the benefits of the passivhaus design in Qatar’s hot climate.

Constructed in less than eight months, the passivhaus is predicted to consume 50 percent less water and energy, cutting down carbon dioxide emissions by the same proportion. Now being tested for its running costs against a conventional villa for six months, the next stage of the experiment will welcome families to inhabit the two houses for a more realistic estimation of the costs. 

Speaking with The Edge, director of QGBC, Meshal Al Shamari said, “Two similar-sized families will move in, and further monitoring will take place for a year as a real life demonstration of environmental principles in practice.” While the three-bedroom passivhaus is scheduled for inhabitation in early next year, the passivhaus villa will be occupied late June 2014.

If the results favour the eco-friendly villa, adds Al Shamari, Qatar can begin applying passivhaus technologies to future projects. Explaining the feasibility of such projects, Al Shamari said, “There are no specific location requirements in Qatar for the construction of passivhaus. It can be built at any chosen location in the country.”

While the Baytna project is focused on green credentials and cost effectiveness of villas, most residential units in Doha comprise of apartments. When asked about the usefulness of this ongoing research for apartments, Al Shamari responded that the passivhaus technologies can be used in apartments as well, as long as they are applied for the entire building. “A standalone apartment in a building cannot be built as passivhaus,” he said.

“A passivhaus can be built at any chosen location Qatar.” – Meshal Al Shamari, director QGBC.

With assurance of Baytna’s benefits for a wider range of residential projects within Qatar, another dimension that concerns the developers is whether these kind of projects can match the pace of increasing requirements for new housing units in this ever-growing country. 

Introducing innovative green technologies may lead to longer construction time – an aspect that Baytna project cannot fully address. “The passivhaus constructed at Barwa is an experimental house with a number of detailed experiments planned,” said Al Shamari and pointed out, “requiring considerable experimentations that would not be included in a conventional villa, or indeed even in a new passivhaus”.

Therefore, he argued, this project is not illustrative of a passivhaus construction.” Nevertheless, construction of a passivhaus could also take longer due to the unfamiliarity that building constructors have in Qatar about this modern concept. 

“If passivhaus construction became more common in Qatar, there is no reason to assume that the construction of these projects would be significantly longer than a conventional villa,” countered Shamari. 

Dr. Alex Amato, head of sustainability at QGBC agreed. telling The Edge that the increase in scale of such projects could also lead to further lower capital costs. “If the design and construction processes from the onset sought to address ‘lean construction’ techniques,” said Amato, “and if the project size was sufficiently large to permit economies of scale to be fully realised, then it is probable that the additional capital costs could be reduced to around or below 10 percent.” 

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