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Sat 30 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Off the wall

CW talks to industry experts to discover the modern and sustainable ways of building walls.

Off the wall
Off the wall
Knauf marketing manager Kerim Caglar.
Off the wall
Gulf wall panels are prefabricated before they are placed into position on site.
Off the wall
Jehan Green Walls head of marketing and sales Cedric Pinto.
Off the wall
Jehan walls’ 3d panels are designed reduce the weight of a building.
Off the wall
Precasting has become a popular method for constructing walls across the globe.

CW talks to industry experts to discover the modern and sustainable ways of building walls.

For centuries, heavy stone, rocks and clay have been used to build walls around the world. Hadrian's Wall in Scotland, the Great Wall of China and defensive walls of the ancient world were all constructed in the traditional block-like fashion.

But, times have changed and bricks and mortar are no longer the building materials of choice. Energy-saving precast, and drywalls are now the order of the day, particularly in developing regions like the Middle East.

Clearly, walls have two main purposes - to support roofs and ceilings and to separate rooms. Sound's simple, but without the right materials and proper installation, building a wall can be a heavy load to bear.

Saving time

Knauf, an international supplier of building materials believes there is a way of making light work out of constructing a partition, by using drywall instead of bricks and plaster.

"There is really no contest. Drywall is an easier, faster and more cost-effective solution, applicable in the same places where traditionally plaster would be used. It is lighter than brick and plaster," says Knauf marketing manager Kerim Caglar. "One m2 of drywall weighs around one tenth of 1 m2 of plaster."

To assemble drywall, boards are first cut to size and secured into metal frames before their edges are straightened using corner beads.

The joints are then taped over using paper or fibreglass mesh tape. This is later covered with three layers of joint compound (a type of sealant). When the compound is dry the wall can be sanded and painted.

Drywall can also be shaped around their frames to create curves. And, according to Caglar, it requires less manpower to assemble, as it is lighter and each partition has a much greater surface area than a brick.

"An interesting way to look at it is that 15 truckloads of bricks can be used to cover the same areas as one truckload of drywall partitions. So even before you start constructing, you save delivery time and money," he says.

"Also, you can apply paint directly over it as soon as you have installed it, which means no waiting and no wasting time."

It seems that saving time is a must when it comes to constructing in the Middle East, as a number of new projects continue to roll out, even in the tough economic climate.

Another manufacture which claims to meet this need is Gulf Wall, a supplier of light-weight partitions.

The company's walls are prefabricated before they are transported to a site, placed into position and filled with concrete.

"They are essentially ‘flat-packed,' with every panel numbered and identified on the project drawings," says Gulf Wall general manager Toby Cooke.

"The system is fast and simple, yet delivers a robust and smooth-finished product, with no need for plaster."

Jehan Green Walls, which opened its offices in Sharjah less than a year ago, manufacture and supply 3D panels. These can be cast in situ (on site) or precast (cast off site) using gypsum or concrete, both of which have fire resistant properties.

The panels are made out of expanded polystyrene (EPS) board with a galvanized (coated with zinc to prevent corrosion) steel mesh on either side.  MEP works can then be applied before concrete or gypsum is spayed onto the panels to form a ‘skin'.

"Our walls are much lighter [than traditional partitions]; hence they reduce the weight of the building and require lighter foundations to support them," states Jehan Green Walls general manager Cedric Pinto.

"Installation time is cut by 50% when using our walls."

Saving energy

So preassembled or readymade panels have proven to save time, but enough about the practicalities, what about energy? Just how sustainable are these partitions in comparison to brick and stone walls that have stood the test of time?

"Drywall is sustainable," insists Caglar. "Our boards contain a certain mixture of recycled gypsum, which is easily available to us. Additionally, the paper used for the boards comes from managed tree farms that are exclusively at Knauf's disposal."

Gulf Wall's partitions are also made out of gypsum: "The embodied energy to produce the product is very low in comparison with traditional materials, and the nature of this product makes it easy to recycle at the end of its life cycle," adds Cooke.

Further, Gulf Wall panels do no not require cementitious plaster, meaning the problem of cracking and/or flaking is eliminated.

Types of wall

Curtain wall

The curtain wall is the non-structural outer layer of a building. It is a façade that does not carry any dead load weight from the building and is designed to resist air and water infiltration and sway induced by wind and seismic forces.

Dry-stone wall

A dry-stone wall is constructed from stones without any mortar to bind them together. As with other dry stone structures, the wall is held up by the interlocking of the stones. Such walls are used in building construction, as field boundaries, and on steep slopes as retaining walls for terracing.

Load-bearing wall

A load-bearing wall bears the weight and force resting upon it, conducting the vertical load from the upper structure to the foundation. The materials most often used to construct load-bearing walls in large buildings are concrete, block, or brick.


Drywall is the term used for a common method of constructing interior walls and ceilings using panels made of gypsum pressed between two thick sheets of paper. Drywall became prevalent as a speedier alternative to traditional plaster interior finish techniques.

So what makes Jehan Green Walls green? When comparing to traditional constructions, the company claims that carbon footprint emissions are reduced by 20% when its partitions are used.

"The steel used in our walls is 80% recycled and the polystyrene is recyclable, thus making the 3D panels sustainable elements," says Pinto.

The core of Jehan's walls also provides thermal insulation, which reduces the power required to cool or heat a building. The U-value of the company's partitions can be adjusted to suit the requirement of the client by varying the thickness of EPS.

U-values gauge how well a material allows heat to pass through. The lower the U-value, the greater a product's resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating value.

"A 200mm thick wall gives a U-value of 0.451W/m2 °K and a 250mm thick wall gives a U-value of 0.314W/m² °K," explains Pinto.

The cavity of Knauf's wall linings are filled with thermal insulation materials such as rockwool, glasswool, EPS or extruded polystyrene foam at required thicknesses.

"The wall lining system improves not only the thermal insulation of the exterior wall but also its sound insulation, thus providing a more comfortable environment for occupants," says Caglar.

"You get exactly the same insulation value as brick at just a quarter of the thickness."

Gulf Wall also works closely with several insulation providers to optimise the performance of its products and meet certain criteria, including thermal and sound insulation, fire resistance and strength.

"When designed for the project in conjunction with one of the specialist thermal assemblies available, any U-value can be achieved," states Cooke.

Future outlook

It is obvious what the benefits are of using recyclable materials to construct walls, but is there a demand for such products? The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.

"Our products are even more attractive when the market is heavily cost conscious, so overall the new, more rigorous climate is an advantage for us," says Cooke, who hopes to see a greater focus, by the regulatory authorities, on efficient sustainable design in 2010.

The firm is currently working on a residential project in Ajman, a student accommodation block in Dubai and four labour camps in Abu Dhabi.

Despite its short time in the industry, Jehan Green Walls has also witnessed an encouraging response from the market.

"Keeping in mind that our system and products are new, the construction industry still believes in quality products and has an affinity towards green solutions."

The company hopes to continue to raise awareness about the benefits of green building through campaigns this year and carry on with the projects it is currently supplying products to.

Such developments include labour accommodation in Ajman and Dubai and a villa compound in Fujairah.

Knauf also has a positive outlook to the future: "We are able to show definite growth to previous years," says Caglar. "As a result, we are convinced that there is a high demand for our products in this climate. We will soon be introducing a series of advanced products to meet the market requirements."

Knauf hopes to expand its production further this year. Its Ras Al Khamiah plant is operational but there is still another phase of the plant, which is yet to start functioning.

The company is currently working on a number of commercial and residential projects in Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, where progress is steady.

"I must say, we have come through this downturn very well. Our achievements during this phase include hiring more employees, starting off our operations in Qatar, investing in our production plant in Ras Al Khaimah and kicking-off production of metal profiles at the plant," he adds.

"My hopes for 2010 are to show further growth by becoming a bigger and better team."

5 key trends

• Precast walls - assembled off site and implemented on site

• Flat-pack building - ready-made panels and placed into the required position

• Gypsum - a popular recyclable material used to make partitions

• Low U-values - increasing a product's resistance to heat flow using insulation

• No more plaster - problems of cracking and flacking can be eliminated

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