By Colin Foreman
Doors and windows inject much needed character and personality into what would otherwise be boring monolithic structures. With Dubai throwing up new structures like there is no tomorrow it is no surprise that the market for these finishing items is booming. This is not to say that the industry does not have its problems as the seemingly ever-present issue of cost cutting means that any payment often comes late or not at all. Construction Week investigates
Doors and windows provide finishing touch|~|Doors Windows body.jpg|~|Doors and windows can liven up a building's appearance|~|There is absolutely no doubt that the market for both doors and windows in the UAE is as buoyant as it has ever been. With the freehold bandwagon now in full gallop a whole slew of residential properties are now under construction and in the pipeline. Jumeriah Beach Residence and Jumeirah Lake Towers alone account for over 50 residential towers that will all require doors and windows. The numerous major villa developments such as The Meadows, The Lakes, The Springs, and The Greens are also making their mark. The commercial sector is also driving the market, and with mega projects like Dubai International Finance Centre and Dubailand just getting started the market seems destined to enjoy more of an upturn over the coming years. “We are optimistic about the market situation for the next five years.
There is a lot of work available, there is no doubt about it, but the way things often happen is not very comforting,” says Shafaqat Sanpranpurwana, chief executive officer, Task/CECO Door Manufacturer. New orders are unlikely to dry up in the near future as new projects keep being announced. “They are starting to place orders, and our factory is really doing quite well at the moment, and it should continue,” says Arthur Millwood, technical and marketing manager, Emirates Glass.
Although the commercial sector and residential sectors are clearly different the similar products used mean that many suppliers supply to both. “We supply residential projects, a combination of villas and high-rise apartments. But equally, we supply commercial and office buildings,” says Millwood. One way that the markets do differ is the way that they compete. “The competition for the villa market is fierce as there are a lot of small players engaged in this market. Towers require more engineering and architectural work, so only the larger more sophisticated players can perform the job,” says Samer Barakat, managing partner, Alumco.As finishing items doors and windows do not really become involved in a project until the later stages. Even the curtain wall glazing used on the more sophisticated buildings is not installed until well into the second half of a building’s construction. “A lot of projects that started in the ground six or seven months ago are now in the finishing stages, and that is when we come in,” says Millwood. This means that there is a time lag between the announcement of a project and the procurement of finishing items, such as doors and windows. And as all projects have their own programmes this time lag is not uniform. “Projects not progressing at the same speed. You may get ten projects announced today, but they are not taking off for another few months,” says Sanpranpurwana.
Unlike piling contractors who are among the first to get paid as their work is finished first, suppliers of finishing items tend to be paid last. If a project runs over budget and cost cutting measures are introduced then it those that are involved later in the supply chain that are affected. This means that late-payment or even non-payment is a constant problem, and when big orders are concerned the implications could be very grave indeed. “Unscrupulous contractors can be a big problem for this industry. To a point I would even accept delayed payment, but on occasions the intention is simply to not pay at all. It’s a vicious circle, the main contractor takes a job at a price that is very low for him and then he starts cutting all the corners. And in the end the suppliers end up paying,” says Sanpranpurwana. “An organised contractor will procure doors right away. Getting the supplier on board early on is really the best way to do things. It allows the supplier to get a feeling for what the project requires and gives him the best chance to meet these requirements. And should anything go wrong, there is room to change things.
Unfortunately this is not the general practice here and not many people do this. They are normally distress calls,” adds Sanpranpurwana.
Although earlier procurement would alleviate the problem it would not eliminate it. “We feel that the government of Dubai should form some regulation governing the relationship between contractors and subcontractors, as is the case in many gulf countries like Kuwait where the contractor can not get the final payment unless he has a release from all the subcontractors. This would make life much easier for the whole business of construction and much more secure,” says Barakat.
Although glazing is always some form of glass, doors and window frames can be made with a variety of different materials. Aluminium is one of the options. “Aluminium can be used for both doors and window frames,” says Barakat. Likewise steel and wood can also be used. The material used depends on a number of factors including fire protection, whether it is internal or external, and personal preference. “Internally many feel that it is nice to have a wooden finish so that it looks luxurious, although aluminium can now be coated with a wood finish,” says Barakat.
The other materials also have selling points. “Steel doors are preferred because they are longer lasting, require little maintenance, last for life and they eventually cost less than a wood door,” says Sanpranpurwana. One are where steel doors do have a clear advantage is fore protection. “The authorities now demand fire rating for particular openings within a building, for example the door way into a kitchen. This gives steel an advantage as aluminium can’t be fire-rated and wood can only be made fire retardant,” adds Sanpranpurwana.Unlike wood aluminium is not widely used internally. “Aluminium is not really used for internal doors. Aluminium and glass tends to be used for the external doors. Because the climate in the UAE is so harsh, aluminium is often preferred for outside doors because it does not get rusted,” says Barakat. It is for the same reasons that aluminium is the preferred material for window framing. “Aluminium is the number one material for framing at the moment. At the moment there is something like Dhs20 billion of construction going on. On average aluminium accounts for some 8%, it rages from 5% up to 15%, of the total construction costs,” says Barakat.
Although each material has its own benefits in the end it comes down to specification. “What material is used for a door varies depending on the architect involved,” says Sanpranpurwana.
A critical component of a door is its hardware: the lock, hinges, and doorstop. Like the doors market this industry is also experiencing a boom period, although there are a number of inherent problems. A major concern affecting many of the established suppliers at present is price. Price levels for hardware are spiralling downwards as dirt-cheap imports of dubious specification are often favoured ahead of more expensive branded products. “Unfortunately the Dubai market is spiralling downwards when it comes to price. It is horrible but it is a fact of life,” says Robert Vos, regional manager – Middle East, Union Architectural Hardware. “Dubai is so busy at the moment that it has become a magnet for suppliers from around the world to come in search of a quick buck,” he adds.
Although this affects all hardware, it is of particular importance when it comes to locks as it a more complicated product and is vital to the integrity of the door. “A lock case is one of the key items on a project because it is one of the first things that they look at. You have hinges, doorstops and other little items, but everyone is more or less the same for them. When it comes to a lock case or a lever handle that goes with it, all of a sudden you start talking about standards, quality durability. If you have a bad quality lock case you will get locked out of your house eventually and you can’t enter your home anymore and if there is a fire you may not be able to get out. So it’s a very key item. A lock should be of a certainly quality, and of course remain price competitive,” says Vos.||**||