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How Water Works in Skyscrapers

The Burj Khalifa is a marvel of modern engineering and a generally huge building.  So huge, in fact, the Burj Khalifa rises thirty-five stories higher than the world’s second tallest building, the Shanghai Tower. Naturally, when limits get pushed in any direction, they get pushed in every direction—as engineers set out to reach new heights with this construction, they also had to come up with novel solutions for many of the systems, including plumbing.

Sloan infographic

Sloan is proud to supply our world-class water efficient products and systems to the Burj Khalifa. In honor of this contribution, we’d like to give readers an inside look at how water is managed in this giant structure.

First, a bit about scale:  Burj Khalifa sits on a massive foundation made up of more than 58,900 cubic yards of concrete, including 192 piles that burrow more than 164 feet into the building’s home plot in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The above-ground structure itself is made of 431,600 cubic yards of concrete and 39,000 tons of steel rebar.  Not surprisingly, it took more than twenty-two million man hours to assemble all this material (and you can rest assured it took more than a few men to get that job done).

If you set out to build the tallest building on Earth, you’ll rightfully want to put a lot of people in it. Perhaps more than anything, people need water. A lot of it. The average daily supply of water, pumped through 62 miles worth of pipe, is just shy of a quarter million gallons. And that’s using a water system that is cutting-edge and focused on pursuing the highest standards of water efficiency for structures of this scale.

The Burj Khalifa boasts an additional 132 miles of pipe for its fire emergency system and 21 miles of chilled water piping to support the air conditioning system. With an average high temperature of 106° F during long Dubai summers, these piping systems are under significant pressure to perform for building tenants and visitors. In performing as they do, these systems produce as much as 15 million gallons of condensation water per year.

Considering gravity is one of the most unrelenting forces known to man, the task of pumping water skyward through The Burj Khalifa is a formidable one. Engineers knew having one giant water pump do all the work would be dangerous, considering the pressure it would need to generate. So they created a system that pumps water to a series of tanks at different levels throughout the building. These tanks are housed on seven two-story mechanical floors, staggered throughout the structure. The floors also house electrical sub-stations and air handling units.

The Burj Khalifa, in addition to being the tallest building in the world, holds six other World Records. While none are water-related, we think the building’s water management system is no less astonishing and we’re very proud to be a part of it.