Natural materials a trend in roofing solutions

A traditional style of covering a building in Liwa, Abu Dhabi.

A return to natural materials is the major trend in exteriors as architects look for sustainability and use of more locally sourced materials.

Tackling climate change, preservation of resources and conserving water supplies are all issues which the design and build industry is confronting through a commitment towards environmentally friendly materials and construction methods, such as the use of thatch for roofs.

As stated in the World Green Building Trends Smart Market Report from the World Green Building Council (2015), clients, designers and end users do not only want to “do the right thing.”, they want lower operating costs while having higher building values, greater resale opportunity, a quality assurance and future-proofing assets.

Thatching is a traditional craft in the GCC.

Thatching is a traditional craft in the GCC.

It added client and market demand are becoming even more of a factor in driving the ecologically aware trend, as the value of properties which are built in such a way is greater. Analysts say all across the market people are looking at mainstream sustainability.  Other findings state that the “natural look” trend is becoming more popular than ever and pleases the type of customer who wants to “return to nature”. Thirdly people want quality, without paying more.

According to a survey by McGraw-Hill Construction in partnership with the World Green Building Council called “World Green Building Trends – Business Benefits Driving New and Retrofit Market Opportunities in over 60 Countries” a total of 55% of firms say that greater health and wellbeing is provided by building green, with the UAE among the most progressive, with water use reduction at the top of the current agenda.

It stated: “UAE firms are overwhelmingly planning green in new projects indicating heavy influence of the government in the market today and in the immediate future. It is also the country with the most green neighbourhood projects planned.”

Installing thatched roofs is a craft which continues to this day.

Installing thatched roofs is a craft which continues to this day.

Use of thatched roofs in the Middle East is growing in popularity. The work of architect UK-based Sandra Piesik in using traditional methods of covering framework buildings with palm leaves was named as Community Project of the Year at the 2015 Middle East Architect Awards.

The United Nations has adopted the methods of her architect firm 3ideas, which were pioneered in Al Ain.

Piesik said: “It’s not just for the UAE, it’s for the whole of the Middle East. Climate change is such a huge issue and everyone is looking at sustainability. Recently a total of 195 countries pledged their support to tackle the issue at a conference in Paris.”

Bringing thatching into the market place Palmex International is a specialised Canadian manufacturer that has been producing synthetic, eco-friendly palm leaves for exotic thatch roofing since 1998. Palmex thatch brings eco-responsible, maintenance and product benefits for a fast moving economy.

A traditional style of covering a building in Liwa, Abu Dhabi.

A traditional style of covering a building in Liwa, Abu Dhabi.

The company says it realises that homeowners do not want to spend time and money rethatching a roof every few years,or undertaking regular maintenance to maintain a proper look. It is unique in producing artificial thatch which is also waterproof. In addition its products are wind-resistant – certified up to 260km per hour. The material is also fire-retardant and eco-responsible, being recyclable, guaranteed for 20 years and made of no toxic substances.

One of the latest Palmex projects that has been completed is the Adaaran Prestige Vadoo Hotel in the Maldives. In total 27 water villas were rethatched with Palmex products and other water villas will be completed within the next months in other properties of the Adaaran Group.

A company spokesman said: “Palmex helps resort managers and property owners replace thatch for the last time.

“To date, the company has collaborated on building projects in 52 different countries and counts a network of 34 distributors, which are located all around the globe.

“Palmex International has already supplied different private projects in UAE, but is presently looking for distributors in the gulf region to expand its presence in the Middle East.”

Pros and Cons

Thatch is the best insulated roofing available. Most other roofs need to be insulated after they have been installed, while thatch roofs automatically offer excellent insulating properties, making themideal for a hot local climate, keeping the interiors of homes cool in summer.

If thatch is well laid, it will be virtually maintenance free. But it is very vulnerable to being stripped by birds, especially weavers that can destroy a roof within a year. To protect thatch, a plastic mesh will keep birds away. Wire mesh can also be used, however, in time it will rust.

The weakest point of any thatch roof is the ridge. It can be covered with a fibreglass hood or the traditional method of mortar.

The apex must always be kept in good condition and remain completely watertight at all times.

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