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Maintenance essentials to ensure sustainable upkeep – Jason Ruehland

Many communities in Dubai have abundant green areas such as exquisite gardens as well as ponds, lakes and other water features that provide a hard to-resist lifestyle. Developers are also investing extensively in building high-rises and sustainable towers that offer smart solutions and an attractive way of life.


While many new developments feature impressive green streetscapes, lush landscapes and modern amenities, management and maintenance can be a big challenge. Property Weekly talks to maintenance professionals to find out the best ways to ensure the sustainable upkeep of such communities.


Design intent

Sharn Leary, Project Manager of the Landscape Maintenance Division, Desert Turfcare, at landscape contractor Desert Group, says landscapes and green spaces are often the final elements to be considered during the design phase of a new master community. This can lead to service providers being handed projects that are unsustainable, some even with water features and plants that are not suitable for the local climate.


''One only has to [visit] some of the major residential communities to see stagnated water courses, [or] water features that are constantly turned off due to the prevailing winds.


''[There’s] grass that is struggling to survive because of the shade of the buildings and palm trees that are bent awkwardly due to their close proximity to these structures.


''We believe it's imperative to involve facilities and landscape managers during the design phase of any new master community to ensure the long-term sustainability [of a project].''


Financial implications

Developers allocate large portions of their budgets on promotions to attract buyers to their communities. ''Exquisite architecture, complex building façades and green spaces are all a part of the marketing arsenal,'' Leary says. ''However, when the project is finally handed over to the end user and service provider, the allocated budget for maintaining these features is minimal.''


Leary points out that developers want a quality product, but there are some who compromise on quality and service deliverables by selecting the cheapest service provider.


''Ultimately, it is the owners association [OA] and those paying the service charges who bear the refurbishment costs.''


Training cost

Facilities management companies heavily rely on outsourcing to specialist institutions for maintaining properties because their in house teams are often not fully trained to manage and maintain water features, green areas or smart technology—now increasingly used in various developments, explains Feroze Jahangir Shah, Senior Facilities Manager at the Dubai-based Secure Plus Facilities Management.


''Allocation of funds towards training staff has become necessary to acquire hands-on [guidance from] internationally reputed and accredited training institutions, which are not easily available in Dubai or the UAE,'' says Shah.

''Sending staff members for specialist training to countries such as the UK, Germany and the US will lead to higher costs.''


Water supply

Several projects make use of treated sewage water for irrigation, which fertilizes the soil. ''Most of the water used in green areas comes from recycled sewage that is either supplied by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority [Dewa] or locally run sewerage plants,” says Jason Ruehland, Managing Director of Emrill. ”However, the biggest challenge is providing a consistent amount of water to plants. During winter it’s not as [difficult] as the summer, when [no]water for two to three days can be devastating for plants.


''At Emrill we practice and recommend the use of remote sensors and planning network inspections to detect and prevent leaks.'' He adds that network pumps and arranging emergency tankers are helpful in the event Dewa shuts down its network.


Invasive plants

Ruehland says the use of invasive trees in a community can cause damage to property and the drainage network. ''For example, Damas trees have very aggressive root systems that will break through structures and pipes to find water to feed themselves. Once the roots penetrate the system, they quickly block pipes and split walls. To combat this problem, developers are introducing Damas removal campaigns.''


Water-borne insects

Water features pose several challenges when they are not maintained properly, including becoming breeding grounds for water-borne insects like mosquitoes, or algae that give an unpleasant look and raise health concerns. ''Most developers stock the lakes every year with small fish to eat mosquito larvae before they hatch,'' says Ruehland.


''During certain periods of the year, algae blooms can occur, causing green discolouration to a lake. Additionally, they can float to the surface in large clumps that can be unsightly and give off a foul smell. Using sprays or aerators to maintain the oxygen and nutrient levels of water features within certain parameters will help reduce algae blooms.


''The water quality needs to be checked regularly and nutrient stabilisers added as needed. These reduce algae growth and maintain quality at just the right levels for the fish. Many of these lakes are also affected by evaporation during summer, so regular maintenance is required as the water is either from recycled sewage or bore water.''


Connectivity concerns

Smart systems are now being incorporated in many community developments and this trend is expected to increase in the coming years.

''There are many new technology features added to a property, such as wireless electricity, water and [chiller] meters for billing, Wi-Fi [access] for residents and radio-frequency identification access control systems for doors and vehicle barriers, which increase property value,'' says Ruehland.


However, the biggest concern is when the system loses internet connectivity, which disrupts real-time monitoring, he explains. ''If connectivity is gone for two to three days, the [maintenance] company would not know what is happening onsite during that period.


''However, most of the systems deployed are designed to operate and collect data for periods without internet connectivity and once re-established, the system [can be] updated.''


Sustainable standards

Disposing waste and saving energy effectively are essential parts of a sustainable society. ''By making simple changes, we can encourage the right behaviour that can deliver significant benefits,'' says Ruehland.


''However, trying to segregate waste for recycling still remains the biggest challenge for vertical and horizontal communities.''

Most of the waste goes to a central location. ''Some communities are now introducing specific bins for residents to recycle materials such as paper and glass,'' says Ruehland. ''But challenges include finding service providers that will pay for recycled material or remove it free of charge, getting residents to adopt the habit of recycling, moving the material without disrupting residents' [lives] and storing recycled materials in confined spaces such as the buildings.''


With regard to energy usage, Ruehland points out that most apartments are billed based on the size of the property rather than by usage, which means occupiers are not really incentivized to save energy by turning off the lights or keeping the AC at appropriate levels.


''If individual meters are introduced to bill residents on usage, then it will begin to drive certain behaviours and people will want to turn off the lights and AC when they leave their homes,'' Ruehland says.


''[But] the introduction of individual meters would face great problems such as getting them certified and ensuring their efficiency to store usage data if connectivity is lost.''

It may also be difficult to convince owners to install meters, especially those whose utility charges are lesser than others'.


''Additional challenges would include installation cost to owners and the question of whether the usage rates for billing are fair, reasonable and verifiable,'' says Ruehland.

''Some companies build the installation cost into the individual billing and others will [require payments] from the property's sinking fund, but it's up to the OA board to agree on what's right for the building.''


Managing skyscrapers

The most important concern with high-rises is ensuring that safety systems work correctly, says Ruehland. This is because a faulty fire alarm could trigger a full evacuation, which would be extremely inconvenient for residents, especially those living on the higher floors.


''One has to make sure that proper fire systems and evacuation procedures are in place and that all sensors and firefighting equipment are fully functional,'' says Ruehland.

''We also recommend conducting regular fire drills and briefing all residents about things to look out for and actions to be taken in case of such emergencies.''


Leaks and flooding can be particularly devastating in a skyscraper. ''If a resident leaves a tap running by mistake, the water will naturally start running through the building, which can damage other residents' apartments, shut down lifts or knock out the power in the building,'' says Ruehland. He adds that it is crucial to establish effective emergency procedures.


''Predicting maintenance issues before they occur is beneficial as some skyscrapers have large equipment such as chillers located on high floors that can be a logistical challenge to replace,'' he says.

''By using real-time monitoring and conducting predictive maintenance, one can prevent most breakdowns before they occur.''