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Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632

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Energy and Buildings


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/enbuild

Wall insulation measures for residential villas in Dubai: A case study in energy
efciency
Wilhelm Alexander Friess a, , Kambiz Rakhshan b , Tamer A. Hendawi b , Sahand Tajerzadeh b
a
b

Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai, PO Box 341055, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Rochester Institute of Technology, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 28 April 2011
Received in revised form 26 August 2011
Accepted 4 October 2011
Keywords:
Energy efciency
Sustainability
Insulation, Thermal bridge
Energy simulation

a b s t r a c t
Over the past decade Dubais energy demand has increased in sync with the rapid urban development
and population growth of the UAE. In particular the residential villa stock has grown by more than
300% from 20,000 villas in 2000 to over 60,000 villas in 2009. In order to limit energy consumption, the
local authorities introduced building legislation (2001 and 2003) that prescribes minimum insulation
levels for external walls and roofs. The resulting constructive solutions focus on the use of a mid-plane
insulated prefabricated block to attain the prescribed maximum wall U value (0.57 W/m2 K), however
the reinforced concrete frame typically remains non-insulated, and thus introduces signicant thermal
bridges in the building envelope. This work investigates the impact of this thermal bridging effect on
the buildings energy consumption by modeling (hourly simulation using DesignBuilder/EnergyPlus) the
energetic performance of a series of typically applied insulation strategies, both for buildings in the initial
design stage, and in retrot mode. The simulation model is calibrated against collected consumption data
and experimental inltration measurements of the actual building. Simulation results show that with
appropriate external wall insulation strategies alone, energy savings of up to 30% are realized.
2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
In the 40 years since the formation of the United Arab Emirates
(UAE) and the international projection of its trade-based economy,
the Emirate of Dubai has experienced exponential growth. The economic development has attracted worldwide business to operate
in the Far East and MENA1 countries from within the Dubai connes, and established the Emirate as a focal point for tourism in the
Middle East. In turn, the construction of both villas and apartments
has experienced signicant growth to cater for the demand of population inow, and even accelerated over the past decade (Fig. 1), as
the real estate business itself evolved into an additional economic
pillar of the Emirate. Dubais population has grown from approximately 800,000 people in 2000, to 1,100,000 in 2004, to 1,926,000
residents in 2011 [1]. The Dubai Statistics Center indicated the total
number of completed villas to be 59,606 in the year 2009 [2].
The rapid rate of construction during the years 20002010, in
combination with the local climatic conditions, has placed great
demand on the power generation capacity of the utilities. The
Dubai Electricity and Water Authorities (DEWA), indicated in their

Corresponding author. Tel.: +971 43712052; fax: +971 43208819.


E-mail address: axfeme@rit.edu (W.A. Friess).
1
Middle East and North Africa.
0378-7788/$ see front matter 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.enbuild.2011.10.005

statistics [3] that the total installed electrical capacity has almost
doubled in 5 years, from 3833 MW in the year 2004 to 6997 MW in
the year 2009. The seasonal demand variation closely follows the
climatic cycle (Fig. 2), with a summer peak of 5622 MW (for the year
2009), to a winter low of about 2750 MW. The total yearly electrical
consumption in Dubai by the end of year 2009 was 30,056 GWh, of
which 8791 GWh (29.3%) was consumed by the residential sector.
Dubais hot and humid climate drives this consumption pattern
(Fig. 2). While in the wintertime pleasant conditions prevail, with
typical January daytime temperatures of around 24 C and nighttime lows of 14 C, the summertime is characterized by average
daytime maximums of over 40 C, with nighttime lows not dropping below 30 C, and very high humidity levels [4].
To address the amplitude of the seasonal peak electric demand
variation, and in response to the rapid growth of the real estate
sector, in 2001 the Dubai authorities introduced the Administrative Decree No. 77 (AD77), followed in 2003 by the Administrative
Resolution No.66 (AR66). This legislation introduces guidelines to
mitigate thermal losses of buildings using a prescriptive approach
to the choice of building enclosing materials and their heat transmissivity, and has driven construction standards over the past
decade. In particular, AR66 Article 7 regulates the maximum U
value permitted for external walls (U = 0.57 W/m2 K) and roofs
(U = 0.44 W/m2 K), and Chapter 3 Article 14 species that thermal
bridging should be avoided. These guidelines are also incorporated

70,000

8,000

60,000

7,000
6,000

50,000

5,000

40,000

4,000
30,000

3,000

20,000

2,000

10,000

1,000

0
2000

2002

2005

2007

Number of completed villas

2009

Electric production (MW)

Fig. 1. Growth of electric production capacity and residential villa stock in Dubai.

in the newly (2011) published Green Building Regulations [5], however in practice, over the past ten years, the reinforced concrete
frame has often remained non-insulated, thereby allowing signicant losses due to thermal bridging. The analysis of the effect of the
thermal bridges on the building energy consumption, together with
a study of the effectiveness of typical retrot and design options,
constitutes the scope of this work.
1.1. Previous work

45

6000

40

5000

35

4000

30
3000
25
2000

20

1000

15

10
feb

mar

apr

may

Average maximum temp (C)


Electric peak demand (MW)

jun

jul

aug

sep

oct

nov

Fig. 3. Standard mid-plane insulated precast concrete block (200 mm) typically
utilized in Dubai.

load reduction for Hong Kong buildings is discussed by Yang and Li


[11], and Chowdhury, Rasul and Khan [12] focussed on specic lowenergy cooling technologies for hot and humid climates. Kazim [13]
reects on the UAE specic environmental consequences of the elevated energetic consumption typical of the region, and AboulNaga
and Elsheshtawy [14] examined the sustainability impact of the
built environment in the UAE. Kosny and Kossecka [15], and in the
context of thermal bridge analysis, discuss alternatives for multidimensional heat transfer inclusion into hourly simulation studies,
which is an important topic for complex geometries with signicant
2D heat ow effects, and Theodosiou and Papadopoulus [16] highlighted the importance of considering the thermal bridging effects
in the calculation of the building energy demand. In all studies,
there is strong consensus that appropriate treatment of the building envelope is imperative in attaining both comfortable living and
working environments, as well as reducing the energy consumption. While for the case of internal load dominated buildings there
is a limit to the thermal insulation thickness to avoid heat trapping [17], in a typical residential (envelope dominated) building an
increase in insulation and thermal mass has a positive effect on the
energy signature.
The work presented here analyzes the principal wall insulation
strategies that have evolved over the past 10 years from the Dubai
energy conservation guidelines (AD77 and AR66); namely external
brickwork of aerated concrete or brickwork with mid-plane insulation (as shown in Fig. 3; in both cases U of less than 0.57 W/m2 K
for external walls built of these components), and the now appearing solid concrete brickwork with full perimeter insulation, in the
form of a benchmarked case study of insulation options, both for
retrot and for new construction, for a typical residential villa. Only
a full perimeter insulation strategy addresses the thermal bridging
effects that are large in the Dubai typical reinforced concrete (RC)
frame construction (in the villa studied, over 50% of the overall wall
area is directly exposed and un-insulated RC frame), and the case
study presented here examines the effect of a variety of additional
exterior insulation measures of different thicknesses.
2. The building and simulation approach
2.1. Distribution and typology

Peak electric demand (MW)

Temperature (degrees C)

A wide range of groups and organizations such as the National


Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the USA, have extensively
examined green building design and energy efciency in buildings
in a variety of climates [6]. While there have been a number of studies on insulation-specic energy efciency considerations in hot
and humid climates, only few specically address the UAE and the
local construction typology, and none examine the effect of thermal
bridges on overall energy consumption of the buildings in this environment. Radhi and Sharples [7] and Radhi [8] analyzed the impact
of the Bahrain energy code in the context of commercial buildings,
and concluded that the envisioned target was not attainable using
the prescribed strategies. This work focuses on commercial buildings (internal load dominated), and does not use direct modeling
but a regression analysis of the audited energetic efciency of the
existing building stock (Energy Performance Benchmarking). Radhi
[9] also carried out a study to extrapolate the implications of global
warming on CO2 emissions for residential buildings by analyzing
insulation of residential villas in Al Ain (UAE) in the context of
warming scenarios, and their potential future effect on CO2 generation. This work presents interesting simulations of a typical Al-Ain
villa, but, and while studying different insulation alternatives, it
applies uniform wall U values not corrected for thermal bridging.
In addition, a series of residential building simulations were carried
out by Radhi, Eltrapolsi and Sharples [10] with the aim of analyzing the thermal comfort characteristics of varying fenestration
and insulation options, and thermal mass effects (once again without observing the effect of the thermal bridging). Thermal mass,
in combination with nighttime ventilation strategies for cooling

jan

27

Electricity production
capacity (MW)

number of completed
villas

W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632

dec

Average minimum temp (C)

Fig. 2. Yearly temperature and peak electric demand (2009) distribution.

The objective of this work is to analyze the effect on yearly


energy consumption of wall insulation options that have typically
been applied in Dubai over the past 10 years, in particular those
that have evolved in response to the energy codes. As the villa chosen for this study is of very recent construction (completed in 2009
it is one of a development of over 1000 similar or identical villas), it is deemed representative of the current energetic quality of
the villa build environment in Dubai. It is a 2 story semi-detached
single-family villa, with 3 bedrooms and maids room (Fig. 4). The
upper oor is composed of bedrooms and baths, with the lounge,
kitchen and dining room downstairs. This villa was completed in
compliance with the local code requirements (using the mid-plane

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W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632


Table 1
As built villa characteristics and modeling options.
Parameters

Villa

No. of oor
Total area
Floor height
External walls

2
231 m2
3.5 m
15 mm mortar (outer surface)
200 mm composite insulated block (mid-plane
60 mm EPS)
20 mm gypsum plastering
20 mm gypsum plastering
15 mm mortar (outer surface)
200 mm reinforced concrete
20 mm gypsum plastering
140 mm gravel (outer surface)
2 mm bitumen, felt/sheet
50 mm EPS expanded polystyrene
80 mm aerated concrete
200 mm reinforced concrete slab
0.21
Double coated 6/12/6 (SHGC 0.37, U
1.8 W/m2 K)
1.71 ac/h @ 50 Pa (measured)
Occupant dened 0.35 ac/h applied for model
Ground oor: family lounge activity and
daytime occupation
First oor: bedroom activity and nighttime
occupation
Split no fresh air. Fresh air supply considered
with natural ventilation
21 C bedrooms 22 C living areas

RC structure

Roof

Fig. 4. Design Builder model of villa studied. Note the attached adiabatic block
simulating the contiguous villa.

insulated block for the exterior walls). The air conditioning system consists of DX units with plenum ventilation; however these
fresh air ducts, while sized adequately, provide marginal ventilation as they often are clogged by dust or have the respective
damper shut. In the villa studied here, a blower door test ascertained the effectiveness and condition of this ventilation scheme;
the total inow rate without closing the fresh air conduits for the
AC (they were simply left untouched from the operating setting)
revealed an air change rate of 1.7 ac/h @ 50 Pa, which is more typical of a tightly constructed house without any intentional fresh air
supplies. Thus sufcient ventilation to maintain air quality needs
to be generated by occupant-operated natural ventilation through
the windows. The adequacy of this strategy, which may result in
marginal ventilation during the summer months due to the high
outdoor temperature, is currently under study as an extension to
this work. For the purpose of the work presented here, and in
order to account for typical sensible and latent losses associated
with a cooling environment under minimum ventilation standards
(in accordance with ASHRAE 62.2 requirements), a constant fresh
air rate of 0.35 ac/h was set throughout the year by adjusting the
envelope inltration rate.
2.2. Envelope
The villa envelope is of massive construction, using the midplane insulated block coupled with a reinforced concrete frame.
The roof is a at roof, insulated by 50 mm EPS and 80 mm aerated
concrete. The windows are sliding, and thermally controlled double
pane 6/12/6 mm glass (Neutral HP40 coating, with U = 1.8 W/m2 K,
SHGC of 0.37 with visible transmission of 41%). Some windows
are shaded using concrete pergolas (Fig. 4). The pergolas were
modeled in the energetic simulation by using a shading component, however the thermal mass and the heating n behavior of
these cast and completely non-insulated overhangs has not been
included. In addition, interior solar control measures (clear drapes)
were applied to all windows. The orientation of the building is NESW (Fig. 4), and the NW facing attachment to the contiguous villa
has been simulated with a zero heat ow adiabatic block. Further
details can be seen in Table 1.
In addition to the wall structure composition, it is interesting
to note the breakdown of the perimeter area of the villa studied;
while windows occupy 21%, the reinforced concrete (RC) structure
occupies 53% of the perimeter area, and the insulated block only
24% (the remaining 2% represent doors). These percentages refer
to the exterior surfaces of the villa, and are not inclusive of the

Window to wall ratio


Glazing
Inltration rate
Natural ventilation
Model thermal zones

HVAC
Set point temperature

adiabatically modeled partition wall between the two contiguous


villas. The effect of this breakdown is that the insulated block only
covers less than one quarter of the total exterior wall area; the thermally non-insulated reinforced concrete structure represents more
than half of this area, and thus has a signicant effect in increasing
to overall envelope U value (effectively 53% of the wall area acts as
a thermal bridge).
2.3. The energy model
The as-built villa and the variations of insulation were evaluated
using the Design Builder (version 2.3.6) energy modeling software, which uses the well tested EnergyPlus (version 6.0) hourly
simulation engine [18]. While a range of energy modeling software solutions are available (including BEopt, Energy-10, Sunrel,
BestTest [19], all with their respective primary applications), EnergyPlus, which was developed by the US Department of Energy
(DOE), has evolved to be one of the most widely used and powerful
building energy modeling solutions [20]. EnergyPlus is an evolution of older DOE simulation engines (BLAST, DOE2), and offers a
simulation engine for a series of third party interfaces. In this study
the Design Builder interface for the Energy Plus engine was used to
facilitate data and geometry input.
The approach to model the thermal bridging has been that of
subsurface denition in the model for areas of varying properties
(that is the RC frame and the block-work are dened as two different surfaces with different properties). This approach relies on the
assumption of one-dimensional heat transfer, and thus does not
model geometric or point thermal bridges with signicant 2D heat
transfer [18]. The reason for this simplied heat transfer modeling approach is to limit the computational complexity of the code
(as it performs hourly and sub hourly computations for full year
simulations, solutions of localized 2D heat transfer effects would
require more computationally intensive solution algorithms [15]).
The modeling approach utilized here restricts itself to comparing
the effect of large scale thermal bridging due to material conductivity differences and heat ow in one dimension (transverse to the
wall), without geometric changes, and thus represent an adequate

Monthly consumption (kWh)

W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632


8,000
7,000
6,000
5,000
4,000
3,000
2,000
1,000
0
Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Measured Demand

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Calculated Demand

Fig. 5. Comparison of calculated and billed electricity consumption for as built villa.

scenario to compare the relative effect of insulation strategies on


the overall energy consumption.
While a base case (as-built) model is calibrated with known
consumption and inltration data of the existing villa, the strong
effect of solar gains (which affect energetic performance based on,
for example, building orientation and vegetation shading) implies
that the overall magnitude of the effect of the insulation options
will vary from one villa to the next. However, the perhaps biggest
unknown in any building energy simulation is the human factor. The comfort settings preferred by the inhabitants have a very
large impact on the energetic footprint. These include ventilation
habits and temperature set-points, and are difcult to predict [16].
For the purpose of this study, these parameters remain constant
through the wall insulation cases studied, thereby ensuring that
the variations in energy consumption originate exclusively from
the constructive options analyzed.
In order to calibrate the EnergyPlus computer model to reality, an energy assessment was performed on the villa, including
collecting one year of billed consumption data, as well as visually
inspecting it and carrying out inltration measurements using a

29

blower door tester. The EnergyPlus model was created with the
same geometry and material characteristics as the physical villa
(reected in Table 1), including the effects of the attached villa.
The challenge arises in specifying the utilization parameters; while
occupancy levels are those of a villa with 3 bedrooms and the activity levels of a family with 2 children), the habits, in particular energy
conservation (by turning down or off the AC units during times
of absence), the natural ventilation habits, and the temperature
set-points chosen, have a signicant effect on the overall energy
consumption of the villa. The occupancy and activity parameters
have been chosen so that the simulation model represents the
actual energy demand of the villa. As the objective of this work
is to compare insulation strategies, the calibrated base-case model
maintains the exact same utilization and occupancy parameters,
and only varies the material properties of the insulation options in
order to analyze their isolated energetic effectiveness.
The yearly measured and calculated (for the base case as built
model) energetic load prole can be seen in Fig. 5.
The overall energy utilization index (EUI) of the building using
billed energy is 194 kWh/m2 a, while for the calculated case it is
193 kWh/m2 a. Small deviations are introduced during the summer
vacation period (calculated higher than measured), and in an irregularity in the billed data; the very rst billed month in this case is
the rst month after villa nalization and handover, and thus some
previous loads that accumulated before account activation possibly are reected in the rst meter reading, making it too high. An
additional consideration was that the billed data and the computed
load was out of phase by slightly over one week. While this does
not affect the overall energetic consumption, the discrepancy was
likely due to the timing of the meter readings. In Fig. 5 this delay
has been compensated.
3. Results and discussion
The following sections analyze the effect of the two principal
scenarios for insulation enhancement: as retrots to the existing

Fig. 6. Wall insulation alternatives studied.

30

W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632

Table 2
Wall insulation alternatives studied.
Parameters

Villa

A as built

20 mm mortar (outer surface)


Precast insulated block (200 mm)
15 mm gypsum plastering
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
50 mm EPS expanded polystyrene on recessed
RC structure only
Precast insulated block (200 mm)
15 mm gypsum plastering
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
50 mm EPS expanded polystyrene
Precast insulated block (200 mm)
15 mm gypsum
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
160 mm EPS expanded polystyrene
Precast insulated block (200 mm)
15 mm gypsum
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
200 mm concrete block
15 mm gypsum
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
50 mm EPS expanded polystyrene
200 mm concrete block
15 mm gypsum
20 mm mortar (outer surface)
160 mm EPS expanded polystyrene
200 mm concrete block
15 mm gypsum

B as built + 50 mm EPS on Thermal bridge only

C as built + 50 mm EPS

D as built + 160 mm EPS

E non-insulated block

F non-insulated block + 50 mm EPS

G non-insulated block + 160 mm EPS

building stock, consisting primarily of external insulation panels


applied to the existing walls (listed in Table 2 as as built plus
respective insulation option), and as improvements at the design
stage, where more appropriate structural components in combination with perimeter insulation may be chosen (this corresponds to
the use of non-insulated precast block plus respective perimeter
insulation). The latter also enables a more effective placement of
the thermal mass on the inside of the insulation. Fig. 6 graphically
depicts these alternatives.
Option B, while not tting into either category, is a strategy
locally often used in more individualized construction. The RC
frame is recessed slightly from the block work to allow the insulation of the block work with external EPS strips. While the insulation
effect is signicant (as discussed later), the change from mid-plane
insulated block-work to perimeter insulation at the RC frame introduces signicant 2D thermal bridging effects at the interface. This
option is included here to illustrate the importance of insulating
the RC frame, a detailed analysis would be required to quantify the
2D effects at the interface.

Wall U value
(W/m2 K)

RC frame U value
(W/m2 K)

0.523

2.398

0.523

0.600

0.316

0.600

0.169

0.226

2.383

2.398

0.600

0.600

0.226

0.226

exterior EPS (model B), and the base case with a full perimeter
160 mm EPS layer (model D).
It is clearly visible that increasing insulation has its primary
effect in the summertime, when the losses through the perimeter are the largest, and that the base case has higher consumption
during the months when cooling is required than both of the full
perimeter insulation alternatives. The respective overall savings
potential can be seen when comparing the Energy Utilization Index
(EUI) for the three retrot cases (Fig. 8).
The elimination of the thermal bridges by adding 50 mm of EPS
(model C) reduces the EUI by 24.5%, while increasing the EPS thickness to 160 mm (model D) represents a reduction of almost 30%
over the as-built case. It is thus highly effective to curb the thermal bridging; even a thin external insulation will have a signicant
effect on the cooling demand. This can be clearly seen in the case
where only the thermal bridges are retrot with 50 mm of EPS
(model B); in this case the result is practically the same as for adding
50 mm EPS over the entire surface (model C), that is savings of over
23% over the as-built scenario (model A) are achieved.

3.1. Retrot alternatives


Monthly consumption (kWh)

8,000

The standard approach in retrotting increased insulation in


massive construction is to add full perimeter insulation materials
on top of the existing structure (in this case represented by the
base case model A). The effect of this strategy is twofold: rst, the
U value of the entire structure is decreased, and second, the thermal bridging effect that is due to the non-insulated RC frame, that
was acting as a large area thermal bridge, is mitigated. In particular the elimination of the thermal bridging presents signicant
savings, with diminishing returns as the insulation thickness is
increased.
Fig. 7 shows the comparison of the monthly energy demand for
four cases the base case (model A), the base case with the addition of a full perimeter 50 mm extruded polystyrene (EPS) layer
(model C), the base case with only the RC structure receiving 50 mm

7,000
6,000
5,000
4,000
3,000
2,000
1,000
0
Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

As built

As built + 50 mm EPS

As built + 160 mm EPS

Thermal bridge 50 mm only

Fig. 7. Seasonal variation of monthly energy consumption for retrot alternatives.

W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632


200
EUI (kWh/m2 a)

EUI (kWh/m2 a)

190
180
170
160
150

220
210
200
190
180
170
160
150
140
130
As built

140

31

Block + full exterior Block + full exterior


50mm
160mm

Block

130
As built

As built. + 50 mm 50 mm EPS on TB As built + 160 mm


EPS
only
EPS

Fig. 10. Comparison of EUI for the as-built case and three design stage insulation
options.

Fig. 8. Comparison of EUI for the as-built case vs. three exterior insulation alternatives.
Table 3
Energy efciency impact of insulation alternatives studied.

3.2. New construction alternatives

Monthly consumption (kWh)

A second approach, one that is already being applied at the


design stage in some buildings of new construction in Dubai, is
that of eliminating the insulated block by replacing it with standard
noninsulated precast concrete block, and applying full perimeter
insulation (model F). This represents a more cost-effective alternative than building with the insulated block and then insulating
again around the perimeter, and offers similar signicant savings
by addressing the thermal bridging of the RC structure. In addition
it offers more thermal mass on the inside of the insulation, which
will further reduce demand by dampening the daily temperature
oscillation. This is particularly applicable to continuously cooled
buildings, which is often the case in family residences such as the
one analyzed [21].
The alternatives analyzed here compare the as-built mid-plane
insulated block (model A) with a massive construction using noninsulated 200 mm cast concrete block (model E). The objective is to
decrease cost by using a standard block, and increase thermal mass
on the cooled side (inside) to dampen temperature oscillations. All
insulation is applied externally and over the entire perimeter, and
thicknesses of 50 mm (model F) and 160 mm (model G) of EPS are
analyzed. This type of thermal insulation, which truly addresses
the thermal bridging at the design stage, is currently appearing in
the most recent construction projects. In addition, and as a baseline, the energy efciency of a completely non-insulated structure
is also simulated. The yearly variation is depicted in Fig. 9, and the
resulting EUI is shown in Fig. 10.
The above gures underline the relatively small difference of
only 10% EUI between a completely un-insulated house (built with
un-insulated concrete block and RC frame), and the as-built scenario. However, adding full perimeter insulation (50 mm EPS) over
a standard non-insulated precast block (and thereby addressing
the thermal bridging), reduces consumption by 24.5% over the

9,000
8,000
7,000
6,000
5,000
4,000
3,000
2,000
1,000
0
Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

As built

Uninsulated block + 50mm EPS

Uninsulated block

Uninsulated block + 160 mm EPS

Fig. 9. Seasonal variation of monthly energy consumption for different design stage
insulation alternatives.

Insulation option

EUI
(kWh/m2 a)

Change with
base case (%)

A as built
B as built + 50 mm EPS on TB only
C as built + 50 mm EPS full
D as built + 160 mm EPS full
E non-insulated block
F non-insulated block + 50 mm EPS
G non-insulated block + 160 mm EPS

205
161
158
148
220
161
149

0
23.3
24.5
29.8
+10.6
22.9
29.4

as built case. In addition, the effect of the thermal bridging that


the RC structure introduces is highlighted upon observing the difference between the full perimeter insulation (50 mm, model C),
versus model B, where only the thermal bridges are insulated (also
50 mm). Table 3 shows that the difference in EUI savings of this
alternative over the base case (model A) represents only 1% (however, the insulated block area has been treated as homogeneous
in this study, and does not include the losses introduced by the
masonry joints and improper workmanship, and thus the 1% difference represents a best case scenario). A direct conclusion is that,
unless the RC frame is also insulated, it is of little utility to prescribe
the insulation of the wall. The large area thermal bridge introduced
by the RC structure dominates the thermal losses. However, if the
entire perimeter is to be insulated, it is sufcient to use standard
un-insulated block and a relatively thin full-perimeter insulation to
achieve signicant energy savings. Table 3 summarizes the results
of the case studies.
These savings become particularly noteworthy upon realizing
that Dubai relies on electricity for cooling. If the electricity generation process is taken into consideration, yearly primary energy2
savings per villa of over 20,000 kWh originate (comparing the base
case and full perimeter 50 mm), which results in a CO2 emission
reduction of 7.6 tons of CO2 per household3 ).
Applying further conservation measures, such as high reectivity triple glazed windows (as recommended for cooling
environments by Gasparella et al. [22]), due to the relatively low
window to wall ratio and the already adequate solar gain coefcient of the existing windows, has a moderate effect in the building
analyzed here. In particular, replacing the as is glazing with high
reectivity, low emissivity triple glazing, generates an improvement of 3.7% for model G (160 mm full perimeter EPS), and 4.6% for
the lower cost case where only the thermal bridges are insulated
(model B). The absolute improvements over the as built base case
(model A) for both model G and model B with upgraded windows
are 33.2% and 27.9% respectively, but these signicant savings are

2
3

Using a conservative conversion factor of 2.6.


For gas red power plants.

32

W.A. Friess et al. / Energy and Buildings 44 (2012) 2632

mostly attributable to the elimination of the thermal bridging, as


discussed in Section 3.1.
However, increasing the temperature set-point from 22 C
downstairs and 21 C in the bedrooms to 25 C and 24 C respectively has a more pronounced effect in all cases, ranging from an
improvement of 14.3% for model G (160 mm full perimeter EPS),
to 17.5% for model B (insulating only the thermal bridges). The
absolute improvements over the as built case (model A) are 43.7%
and 40.7% respectively. This matches the expectations, as the thermal losses through the envelope for the lower insulated case are
higher, and thus a more signicant improvement is expected when
reducing the temperature differential. In addition it highlights the
important energy savings potential in adjusting the cooling set
points, an effect that becomes more signicant the lower the insulation standard of the house is. To decrease the energy utilization
further, appropriate ventilation schemes that include energy recovery and controlled mechanical ventilation over user implemented
natural ventilation become critical, as these losses become dominating components in the energy balance.
4. Conclusion
This work has analyzed the energetic performance of a singlefamily semi detached two-story villa in Dubai. The buildings
performance over a 12-month period was obtained in the form
of monthly billed energy use, and detailed construction plans and
inltration measurements allowed the elaboration of a representative energy model. The base-case DesignBuilder/EnergyPlus model
was appropriately calibrated, and used to compute the energy
demand for a range of external insulation alternatives, ranging
from measures typically applied as retrots onto the existing structure, as well as insulation strategies to be employed at the design
stage. Results indicate that the energy consumption due to thermal bridging losses incurred by the un-insulated RC frame of a villa
constructed in this Dubai typical fashion (using insulated block),
is over 24.5% higher than for the same villa but with full perimeter external 50 mm EPS insulation over a prefabricated concrete
block. The effect of the thermal bridging is further highlighted by
observing that insulating only the RC frame (model B), already provides 23% energetic savings over the base case (model A), making
this the simplest and perhaps most cost effective alternative. Also
noteworthy is that the thermal bridging effect in the base case villa
is such that using the code compliant insulated block for the external walls, only provides a 10.6% improvement over no insulation at
all. If an external retrot of 160 mm of EPS is carried out, savings of
up to 30% over the base-case can be achieved, and insulating only
the thermal bridges with 50 mm of EPS can already saves 23%. In
addition, while improving the windows over an already acceptable
standard adds little benet, adjusting the indoor temperatures (the
AC set-points) by only a few degrees can have signicant impact
on overall energy consumption (approaching 20% for the poorly
insulated cases). While all results presented here apply only to the
particular villa studied, and will vary depending on the extent of the
thermal bridging, the salient conclusion of this work is the importance of adequately addressing the thermal bridging of the building
envelope in hot and humid climates.

The analysis carried out here also highlights the relatively low
effort required to achieve signicant efciency improvements.
While it is very difcult to reach the extremely high efciency of
low energy housing or even passive housing (which require careful planning at the design stage and are quasi impossible to carry
out in a retrot fashion with the current building stock), a retrot
that targets the principal loss factors (which, in addition to the factors discussed here should include appropriate external shading to
further reduce solar heat gains) can produce signicant savings.
Acknowledgements
The authors wish to thank RIT Dubai and DSO for the support
in the use of facilities and equipment. In addition, many thanks to
DEWA for supplying electric demand information.
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