Bringing buildings to life

The MEP subcontract typically accounts for some 30% of the total construction costs for a building. With a numerous high specification projects either underway or on the drawing board in Dubai the demand for quality buildings services is high. Price as ever remains a key issue for these works, but the rising cost of materials and availability of labour also present their own challenges. Construction Week finds out.

  • E-Mail
By  Colin Foreman Published  April 11, 2004

Bringing buildings to life|~|Body.jpg|~|Buildings such as the National Bank of Dubai have been built with state-of-the-art MEP services|~|The MEP subcontract typically accounts for some 30% of the total construction costs for a building. With a numerous high specification projects either underway or on the drawing board in Dubai the demand for quality buildings services is high. Price as ever remains a key issue for these works, but the rising cost of materials and availability of labour also present their own challenges. Construction Week finds out. More often than not a building is judged by its appearance. Architecture is admired from afar with little consideration for what is inside the building. For those who actually use the building the opposite is true, the inside counts. Modern buildings are a far cry from the structures of old that merely provided shelter from the elements. Over time various building services have been developed to make buildings more user friendly. More recently these systems have developed further and have become integrated under the control of a central building management system. Although these integrated systems are not new, they have become more attractive to developers as they are now more efficient and user friendly than when they first came onto the market. Buildings with these integrated systems rather euphemistically become known as intelligent buildings. Although intelligent buildings are now fairly common and found all over the world, they tend to be the more prestigious projects where the client is prepared to invest in sophisticated management systems. Dubai is currently awash with such projects as it rapidly transforms into a world city. “There is definitely a trend towards intelligent buildings,” says Chris Barry, operation manager, BK Gulf. Intelligent buildings basically give the owner or operator the facility to manage a building more efficiently. Using modern technology and advanced software programs all the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems can be monitored and controlled through a centralised control room and building management system. As each building system can potentially affect another, managing them centrally makes economic sense. For example, using the security system a building management system is able to detect if a building is empty or not, if it is empty the lighting system could be shut down, saving on electricity and ultimately money. The settings can be adjusted to suit the operator’s individual requirements. As far as construction is concerned if a project specifies a complex building management system it will cost more to build but this initial outlay of capital can be recouped from the savings that the system offers throughout the life of the building. “In my view is that it is money well spent, if you spend the money in the initial phases the operator will enjoy benefits and potential savings once the building is complete,” says Barry. The complexity also means that highly trained workers are needed. With so much work in work available in Dubai at the moment, skilled labour is a prized commodity. “As a contractor you can only be as good as the workforce you have,” says Barry. “Intelligent buildings are a specialised field, there are certain companies that do this type of work,” he adds. With the air conditioning; ventilation; plumbing; drainage; irrigation; hot and cold water services; electrical installations; low voltage installations structured cabling, fire alarms, fire protection systems, CCTV, security systems, sprinklers, fire suppressions, and gas systems normally falling under the MEP subcontract, it is the MEP contractors that install the majority of the services and build the building management system. It is essential that the contract is executed properly because if isn’t a building will not operate properly, struggle to be cost effective, be inefficient, and when safety systems are concerned it could be dangerous. Given the amount of work available in Dubai it is no surprise that the market for MEP contractors is very buoyant at present. This is not to say that the market is not competitive, as always price remain a crucial factor when it come to tendering for jobs. The great demand for high quality installations has also placed a strain on the resources of the better MEP contractors in the market. The strain on manpower is one particular problem. It is debateable whether there are sufficient workers in the market to complete all the jobs that are currently proposed in Dubai. “The amount of work in Dubai is placing a great strain on the available pool of quality contractors,” says Alan K. D. Sporle, general manager, Thermo. Unlike other areas of construction where sourcing vast amounts of labour is relatively easy, MEP contractors can experience difficulties getting hold of skilled labour, and when labour is found in house training means there is a significant lead in time. As far as MEP consultants are concerned this is a cause for concern as companies may take on more work than they can handle, resulting is reduced performance. It may also mean work is given to less competent contractors because the better companies already have full order books. This potential problem could be overcome if pricing was not so dominant so that it is more worthwhile for the better companies to take on a job. Another more urgent problem that the market is currently facing is the price of copper and steel. As reported in Construction Week last issue, the price of steel is currently at record high and shows no signs of coming down in the near future. Similarly, the price of copper is also sky high and has doubled over the last year. This is of great concern for MEP contractors as both metals are used extensively for building services. Fire rated ducts, HVAC duct, chilled water pipes, supports, amongst others are all made from steel. As the primary material for conducting electricity, copper is also found through a building. Some projects are more copper orientated than others, depending on the amount of cabling and busbars used. As an expensive commodity, copper prices in particular are cause contractors significant problems. “Cable prices, are the biggest problems at the moment, if a contractor booked a job a year ago and has to to buy cable for the job it risks making a loss. Most contracts are given on a lump sum basis and that sum is valid for the duration of the contract regardless of price changes,” says Barry. With few alternatives to copper and steel available contractors have few options when trying to limit its exposure to price fluctuations. “You can’t get a quote with a validity with of more than seven days at the moment,” says Sporle. The only real option available is to order any cabling or steel as soon as a contract is awarded. At the very least a contractor can tie in with a manufacturer and purchase the raw material before the end product is decided on and manufactured to limit the effect of rising raw material costs. Although this reduces the exposure to material prices, it does little to help a contractor’s cash flow. Dollar pricing is also creating problems. In the past large quantities of equipment were imported from Europe, and with the Dollar’s slide against the Euro much of this kit is now too expensive for contractors to supply and alternative equipment from the US or elsewhere must be found. Despite these market concerns the overall picture is bright. The projects in Dubai present opportunities to contractors that would be hard to find anywhere else. The numerous airport expansion works, the Burj Dubai and all the proposed towers along Sheikh Zayed Road look set to keep the MEP industry busy for a number of years to come. “I expect the Dubai market will be buoyant for another five years, after that there may be a levelling out when infrastructure and utilities will need to be looked at,” says Sporle. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code