Discover more from The Carbon Architect
CA17 - Early Stage Carbon
Which carbon reduction strategies work best.
THE TOPIC - EARLY STAGE ANALYSIS
Today we’re going to look at some hard examples with the help of EPIC (this post is not sponsored). EPIC is a tool that is being developed by EHDD Architects to help designers and owners understand the impact of their decisions early in the process. Why? Because early matters the most. This tool is still in BETA but it’s available for use and provides some really important information.
Let’s look at a fictional example. Suppose a client knocks on your door with a brand-new project. YAY! Let’s get designing, right? Wrong, let’s take a look at the impact first.
Here is the project brief:
Location - Rochester, New York
Building Type - Office
Levels - 5 Above, 2 Below
Gross Area - 100,000 SF (9290m2)
Structural System - Reinforced Concrete
As architects, we’ve all been here before. The excitement of a new project and the blank canvas to spew our new ideas. One of the keys, however, to change the way we look at projects is where we start. Before putting our pen to paper we need to look at the impact from a high level to help inform our clients on the impact of their buildings but also to prompt the conversation about carbon.
Think about it another way. If a client walks through your door and says “Hey, I’d like to build this 2,000SF house and I have a budget of $200,000.” You would kindly explain to them how “out-to-lunch” they were. We need to start the same conversation about carbon. Most clients don’t have much clue how much impact they are having on the world, but they should. Back to our project.
Let’s type our project data into EPIC and see what our 30 Year impact is:
Over 26,000 tonnes of CO2e. That’s the equivalent of burning 29 MILLION pounds of coal or 3 million gallons of gasoline. That may surprise some of your clients.
Thanks for reading The Carbon Architect!
TESTING REDUCTION STRATEGIES
Where things get interesting is when we start to look at carbon reduction measures. It’s important to note that all of these strategies will have significantly different impacts based on your location, building type, and structural system. This isn’t a “here is THE solution for sustainable building”.
Let’s test 3 strategies to reduce the impact of our building.
Fully electrify the building
Reduce energy use by 50%
Use mass timber structure
1 - Fully Electric
As expected, the fully electric design does nothing for the embodied carbon, but does reduce the operational carbon by 3,900 tonnes over 30 years which is about a 15% reduction. It helps that New York has a cleaner grid which has an impact.
2 - Reduce energy use by 50%
Reducing energy is a similar approach but has more impact by reducing the operational carbon by 7,000 tonnes over 30 years which equates to about a 27% reduction. Where this tool gets tricky is that in reality, the embodied carbon would most likely be higher in this scenario because reducing your energy use by 50% will require additional insulation and better-performing elements, but EPIC doesn’t seem to pick that up. Either way, using less energy is critical to lower carbon impact
3 - Mass Timber
This strategy focuses on reducing the embodied carbon of the structural system by using a lower-impact material. This reduces carbon emissions by 5,000 tonnes over 30 years which is about 19% reduction and jumps to 47% (12,300 tonnes) when factoring in sequestered carbon.
SHORT TERM IMPORTANCE
All of these strategies and numbers look at a 30-year window to compare the impact equally and focus on the relatively near future. However, the importance of reducing our impact over the next 5 years is increasingly apparent. So let’s look at those same scenarios again, but this time, let’s look at their reduction by 2030.
1 - Electrify - 6% reduction by 2030
2 - Energy Reduction - 12% reduction by 2030
3 - Mass Timber - 36% reduction by 2030
EPIC is a great tool if you want to compare design options
Base building will emit 26,000 tCO2e over 30 years
Reduced energy use will have the biggest impact long term
Mass Timber will have the biggest impact in the short term
1 INTERESTING ARTICLE
This short article in the CIBSE Journal titled “We need to focus on short-term emissions” is a simple and effective look at the typical carbon reduction strategies and what to consider. It’s a short read but packs a punch.
1 PERSON TO FOLLOW
Kelly Alverez Doran is an Architect at MASS Design Group and an instructor at the University of Toronto. He runs a Research Studio called Ha/f Studio focused on looking at the impacts of embodied carbon in architecture. Highly recommend a follow.
As always - thanks for reading this issue of The Carbon Architect! If you enjoyed it, I’d love to hear from you.