Thinking Globally . . .
In the realm of environmental sustainability the amount of energy needed to heat, cool and operate your home gets a lot of attention – a.k.a. “operational energy”. This is certainly a good thing since it has a direct impact on carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. But did you know that the elephant in the room is the “embodied energy” and associated “embodied carbon”?
The embodied carbon of a structure is all of the carbon emissions that are associated with the creation of the building materials and the process of building the structure, and that part of the structure’s carbon footprint is there on day one.
The context for all of this is that globally we need to significantly reduce our current rate of total carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the next 10 years with the hope of avoiding the most significant damages of global warming. The timeline is what makes this particularly important. The big “ah-ha” is to realize that over the next 10 years the majority of building-related carbon emissions is actually the embodied carbon and not the operational carbon.
The following two graphs from the Architecture 2030 Organization help visualize this nicely.
Long-term, the operational carbon will continue to add up as well and surpass the embodied carbon, so we cannot take our eye off of that either. Of course this leads us to the ideal of designing and constructing homes from materials that are low in embodied carbon that also require low amounts of energy to operate.
Acting Locally . . .
On the following project that is nearing completion, we implemented several strategies to reduce embodied carbon.
Lower Embodied Carbon Concrete:
Concrete typically has a significant amount of embodied carbon, but it is pretty difficult to build a home without it. We used the innovative Carbon Cure Concrete to reduce this.
100% recycled EPS insulation under slabs:
In general, where rigid insulation is needed, EPS has one of the lowest carbon footprints and one of the lowest global warming potential ratings. Finding a 100% recycled option helps even more!
12” thick double 2×4 stud walls for excellent energy efficiency with dense pack cellulose insulation:
In general, “wood is good” when it comes to lower embodied energy construction materials. Cellulose insulation actually reduces your overall carbon footprint because it is wood fiber that does not require a significant amount of energy to manufacture. There is also R80 cellulose insulation in the attic.
We’ll hopefully see you on a tour of this house in the future where you can see and feel the quality of its design and construction first hand!
Additional Source Information:
Carbon Smart Materials Palette: