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Contemplating a Green Reconstruction of Beirut - Tips for Eco-Renovations
Posted on Sep 16, 2020 |
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After the shocking explosion that hit Beirut on the 4th of August 2020, we stand traumatized amidst the rubble of a city we love; and we mourn the dead along with the crumbling buildings and streets that were once bustling with life. It’s hard to think about recovery in the shadow of such an event but as people’s needs for shelter and livable neighborhoods grows more pressing, our margin for idle grief is narrow. Quick reconstruction is an urgent matter that will also serve some justice to the victims of destruction. From a technical perspective, we see that a green reconstruction of Beirut is a window to improve people’s lives and well-being after the explosion.
the Author
Sustainability Architect at EcoConsulting
Contemplating a Green Reconstruction of Beirut - Tips for Eco-Renovations

After the shocking explosion that hit Beirut on the 4th of August 2020, we stand traumatized amidst the rubble of a city we love; and we mourn the dead along with the crumbling buildings and streets that were once bustling with life. It’s hard to think about recovery in the shadow of such an event but as people’s needs for shelter and livable neighborhoods grows more pressing, our margin for idle grief is narrow. Quick reconstruction is an urgent matter that will also serve some justice to the victims of destruction. From a technical perspective, we see that a green reconstruction of Beirut is a window to improve people’s lives and well-being after the explosion.

Because of the severe financial crisis in Lebanon, reliance on imported and expensive building materials should be minimized. A green reconstruction strategy would prioritize fixing and mending broken building components over replacing them altogether. Along with selecting whenever possible from re-used materials and furniture, this will help reduce the need for brand new materials and decrease renovation costs.

Toxic materials that may be present in old buildings, such as asbestos (in flooring, piping, roof covers) as well as mercury-filled CFL lamps should be handled with extra care: we suggest wearing masks with filters and thick gloves. Spaces that used to host toxic materials should be well-ventilated for at least a day before renovation to ensure that no harmful airborne contaminants linger in the air. CFL lamps along with any unusable electronic equipmentshould be sent to electronic waste collection facilities that safely disposes and recycles them abroad.

Many buildings have suffered structural damage. Recycled wood or steel can be an eco-friendly substitutefor this purpose. Wooden electrical poles that have been checked for structural integrity can, for example, be used to support a roof if in good condition. Otherwise, steel with a high-recycled content is widely available without additional cost from non-recycled steel from different manufacturers.

Some materials such as glass can only be imported. Choosing double-glazing will help in reducing buildings’ heating and cooling loads, as well as providing sound insulation which has been a concern in some of the badly affected areas in noisy neighborhoods. This is especially important in heavily air-conditioned spaces and where windows have high sun exposure. Sunny façades could be covered by reflective glass -even if single glazed - or with louvers to minimize heat gain and cooling needs.

It is advised to always choose low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) water-based paints over traditional oil-based paints which are both toxic and carcinogenic. Such paints are manufactured locally within the same price range and will ensure a healthier indoor environment. For an environmentally-friendly finish, plastering walls could be done using raw earth with soft straw for the first layer Lime or a small percentage of cement stabilizes the plaster which becomes much more durable. Indeed, stabilized earth is a traditional plastering material in old houses in Beirut. This will reduce the demand for expensive cement (trabeh) and the work could be done by the tenants themselves.

Given that a lot of mechanical and electrical systems have suffered damage, energy efficiency should be taken into consideration in the reconstruction. This includes energy-efficient HVAC systems (e.g.: AC units with inverter, heat pumps), lighting (LED bulbs) and appliances (such as A-rated fridges, washing machines, dryers, TV, etc.). Such equipment helps reducing the electrical load, allowing them to function on the limited generator power supply while at the same time lessening utility bills.

With the increasing power outages nationwide, we believe that solar technologies are a good investment, which is also promoted by the government. Photovoltaic panels or solar water heaters can be easily fitted when reconstructing schools and hospitals that have a significant energy load during sunny hours. Solar water heaters are also highly recommended for residential buildings that have enough roof space. The benefit of these systems extends beyond reduced utility bills to increase the community’s resilience and ability to cope with possible future shutdowns of the centralized infrastructure.

Some of the recommendations mentioned in this article come at an additional cost, which is hard to justify given the difficult economic situation of the country. However, if viewed over the lifetime of their use it will certainly be lower. The higher cost could also be reduced if reconstruction compensation funds are allocated to cover at least the preexisting building conditions. The mechanism of this financial compensation should be made clear as soon as possible in order to allow owners to make an informed decision on the amount that they can invest in choosing the right materials.

We hope that the reconstruction of Beirut will be rapid and fitting to people’s needs and means. This is crucial to ensure that some justice is attained after this devastating event. 
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Sep 2020
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