Dubai: When Ralf Fechner came to Dubai five years ago, he was prepared to handle anything that might come his way, except the heat.
"In Germany, I grew up in an insulated house. That meant that we stayed cool during the summer and warm in the winter," he said.
According to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, buildings that use insulation become thermally efficient, that is, they use less energy to stay warm in winter and cool in summer.
Because of that, fewer fossil fuels are burned to maintain a comfortable living environment.
When he arrived in the UAE, what struck Fechner the most were the high temperatures and the humidity.
"When I moved my family to an apartment in Al Barsha [Dubai], we only had an air conditioner in our bedroom. It took two days for the apartment to cool down to a bearable level," Fechner said.
Insulation helps to decrease global warming because fewer gases that contribute to it, such as carbon dioxide, are released through air conditioners.
Curious to see whether insulation was being used in the UAE, Fechner was surprised to discover that despite numerous conferences about it, not many developers had considered using it.
"Many houses in Europe were built with expandable polystyrene plastic when it was introduced 50 years ago and they still are solid as ever," said Fechner.
From crude granules
It is created from granules of crude oil after it has been refined. The granules are then compacted together using pressure and steam into the finished product. Another interesting thing is that it is hypoallergenic so there is no risk of having an allergic reaction to it.
The bricks are made from combining expandable polystyrene plastic and metal rods. Concrete is then poured in to reinforce the bricks. They are also water resistant and do not erode over time.
One family that isn't a stranger to this concept is the Masouds. "When I was young, my father was a manager of a building in Karama. I remember that he had our apartment insulated with a thick fibre wallpaper and it was a big help in keeping our home cool, especially during the hot summer months," said daughter Safoora. The Masouds moved recently to a new residence that doesn't have insulation.
"My father is trying to find the same or similar material for our new home. But he hasn't had much luck. We're hoping to at least insulate our bedrooms so we can sleep comfortably," she said.
Faruk Bhagani, a resident, said insulation is not being done here because of a lack of awareness about the benefits of insulating residences. "I live in a community complex and we have a centralised air conditioning system. But we don't feel its effect because the cool air keeps leaking out."
But not everyone agrees with that theory.
"Because of the efforts by the authorities to make all buildings 'green', I think developers are looking for ways to reduce their buildings' energy expenditure. Using insulation is a good method to achieve that goal because it prevents cool air from leaving, so residents wouldn't feel that they had to keep their air conditioners on all the time," said Nazeer Hussain, another resident.
Only time will tell whether the concept of insulation will find a home in the UAE. Until then, people should continue finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint while staying cool in summer.
Do you know of other novel methods of reducing energy consumption? What are the best practices you follow at home? Tell us at email@example.com