Burning fossil fuels or using electricity results in carbon dioxide emissions (unless the electricity is produced by photovoltaics, wind, or another renewable energy source). Since CO2 emissions cause global climate change, environmentally conscious builders aim to build energy-efficient buildings.
Having an energy-efficient home is good for the homeowner, of course, but homeowners aren’t the only ones who use energy. Builders and building materials manufacturers also use energy. There are significant CO2 emissions associated with the energy required to produce building materials and build buildings — energy referred to as the “embodied energy” of the construction project. (For more on embodied energy, see All About Embodied Energy.)
There are two types of energy associated with a building over its lifetime: embodied energy and operating energy. For a well-insulated efficient building, embodied energy may amount to between 15% and 50% of the building’s total lifetime energy use.
If you are an environmental activist interested in addressing climate change, you’re probably aware of the following two facts:
In short, for anyone concerned about climate change, embodied energy really, really matters.
A recently published book, The New Carbon Architecture, attempts to address the issues of embodied energy and the CO2 emissions associated with the construction industry. The book’s chief author is Bruce King, a member of the GBA Advisory Team during our early years. The New Carbon Architecture includes several chapters written by other contributors, including Chris Magwood, Larry Strain, and GBA blogger Ann Edminster.
The book’s authors are aware of the front-loading problem, noting that “carbon emitted today has much, much more impact than carbon emitted after 2050.” The book also notes, “We need carbon reduction strategies that have a positive payback within a 10- to 15-year time frame, or we should look for other strategies.”
So how do we figure out…