Benchmarking Philosophy

eTool recently changed from offering numerous fairly localised benchmark options to a single international average benchmark for each building type.  The decision making process was interesting so I thought I’d quickly document it.

The purpose of the eToolLCD benchmark is:

  • To establish a common measuring stick against which all projects are assessed so that any project can be comparable to another (for the same building type);
  • To create a starting point, or “average, business as usual case” from which to measure improvements.

From the outset we’ve always understood that a benchmark needs to be function specific.  That is, there needs to be a residential benchmark for measuring residential buildings against etc.  The first point essentially addresses this.

The second point introduces some complexity.  What is, or should be, “average, business as usual”?  More specifically, are people interested in understanding how their building performs when compared compared locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally?

When we started trying to answer this question, some scenarios were very helpful.  If a designer wants to compare locally, the benchmark needs to reflect the things that are most important to the overall LCA results.  The two most critical things are probably electricity grid and climate zone.  Localising just these two inputs gets pretty tricky and the number of possible benchmark permutations starts to add up pretty quickly.  In Australia there are four main independent electricity grids (NEM, SWIS, NWIS and Darwin).  In the Building Code of Australia there’s 10 climate zones.  Accounting for which climate zones occur within each grid, there’s about 20 different benchmarks required.  To add to the complexity though, the NEM is split into different states (New South Wales, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia).  Generally, because the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting guidance splits the NEM into different states, the NEM is usually considered as six different grids. So there’s upwards of 50 different benchmarks we’d need to create and maintain for Australia alone just to localise electricity grids and climate zone.

One disadvantage of this method is it’s still not all-accommodating.  It doesn’t account for remote grids of which there are many in Australia.  An example is Kunnanurra which is 100% hydro power.  So even in this scenario where we had 50 or so benchmarks for Australia, there’s still big potential for a designer patting themselves on the back for a great comparison to the benchmark when really it’s just a local condition, and vice versa.  The same can be said about an off grid scenario (effectively just a micro grid of it’s own).

The other disadvantage is maintenance of all these benchmarks.  Expanding the above scenario internationally there could easily be 1000’s of possible benchmarks.  There’s so many that it would be hard for eTool to initially create them, and even harder to subsequently maintain them.  Clearly the localised benchmark option had some big challenges.

At the other end of the benchmarking philosophy we considered just having generic benchmarks, or even one global benchmark.  This is perhaps a more user-centric, or building occupant sensitive system.  That is, the building occupants are probably more interested in this measure as it’s more about how they live compared to the global community.  So a building may be “average” compared to the local context, but actually be very low impact compared to the broader average (due to favourable local conditions).  Conceivably, the local conditions contributing to the ease with which a building can perform may be part of people’s motivation for living in a particular area.

The disadvantage of the generic benchmarking approach is that it isn’t as useful for a designer to compare their building’s performance against this as the local conditions (which may create a significant advantage of disadvantage) aren’t considered.  This was a big consideration for us, eToolLCD is a design tool, it has to be relevant to designers.  Interestingly though, the way eToolLCD is generally used is the base design is modelled, and then improvements are identified against this base design.  The benchmark is usually only used towards the end of the process as a communication and marketing tool.

Also, there’s no reason why the designer can’t model their own local benchmark, for example, a code compliant version of their own design.

This topic spurred some serious debate at eTool.  In the end, the deciding factors were:

  • A local approach couldn’t really be adopted without localising at least the grid and climate zone for each benchmark option.  That is, it would have been too difficult to go half way with localisation (for example, only localising climate zone and not grid), as this really just revoked the whole advantage of localising the benchmarks.
  • Taking the very localised approach was going to put a huge benchmark creation and maintenance burden on eTool which wasn’t necessarily productive
  • The choice of a generic benchmark didn’t detract from the function of eToolLCD as a design tool.
  • Greenhouse Gas pollution is a global problem not a local problem, we feel people probably need to measure and improve their performance against a global benchmark rather than a local one.

So the single global benchmark was the direction we choose.  Once this decision was made, we needed to determine how to statistically represent global averages.  We decided to choose an aspirational mix of countries to make up the global benchmark, that is, select the standard of living that we felt most people in the world aspire to and determine the average environmental impacts of buildings in these demographic locations.   This does mean the global benchmarks are generally higher than the actual global average building stock for a given function.  That doesn’t stop us from estimating what the sustainable level of GHG savings is against this aspirational benchmark (90%+).  It also enables us to strive for this level of savings without adversely effecting our standard of living aspirations (globally).  The global benchmark created using this approach is the residential benchmark.  More information about how this was conducted can be found here.

For those people or organisations that would like a customised benchmark, eTool can provide this service.  Please get in touch.

Brown Paper Background

eTool International Residential Benchmark (Methodology Summary)

Below is a summary of our approach to the International residential benchmark.  A full EN15978 report on the benchmark model can be found here.  International Residential Benchmark Weighted x10 dwellings v28

In light of eTool’s recent exploration into global markets, we thought it prudent to create a “global” benchmark for housing developments.  eTool will be using this benchmark for all future housing projects. The reasons an international statistically mixed use benchmark is the most robust model to compare designs against are as follows:

  • The planet does not care what kind of house you build only how close it is to zero carbon. A mixed use benchmark provides a fair comparison of performance across different house types be it apartments, detached, maisonettes etc.
  • The planet does not care where you build your building, only how close it gets to zero carbon. Climate change is a global problem, whilst regional benchmarks can be useful for comparing similar buildings in the same area they can produce unfair results.  For example, a house built in a low carbon grid area (e.g. Brazil) may have emissions of 2 ton/person/year.  This may only be a small improvement against the average Brazil house as they both have the benefit of a low carbon grid.  Conversely a building in WA may have higher emissions (say 3 ton/person/year)  but despite having higher emissions than the Brazil case could show a larger improvement against the average WA house.  A single benchmark is the only way to give correct credit for the true sustainability performance of a building.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, it’s important to understand the purpose of the eTool benchmark, which is:

  • To establish a common measuring stick against which all projects are assessed so that any project can be comparable to another.
  • To create a starting point, or “average, business as usual case” from which to measure improvements.

Benchmark Form and Structure

The benchmark has been created to represent an average dwelling built in a developed country, the statistics for a range of developed countries have been population weighted and combined into a single theoretical average dwelling.


The statistics used in the benchmark are based on data obtained for each country. The construction type and dwelling size statistics take new build data wherever available, as this data is generally reliable and represents a picture of the way buildings are currently being built across the developed world. For residential buildings there is a mix of houses and apartments. This is the latest breakdown of the new dwellings density mix across the countries considered in 2010:


The occupancy is calculated by dividing teh countries population by the number of dwellings to give an average. This is weighted by population to give a global average of 2.52.
For the single dwelling element (59% of our average dwelling) a building structure has been modelled taking a cross section of commonly used construction techniques. In this instance, the data was obtained for U.S.A.  The U.S.A makes up the largest proportion of new housing in the developed world and is considered to represent a fair “average house.”  Construction techniques are unlikely to differ significantly enough to impact on the overall modelling, whilst brick houses may be more common in the U.K. and Germany, timber framing is far more prevalent in Japan and Sweden.


A similar approach was taken with windows, internal walls, floors and roofs. The vast majority of those installed in new builds across America and Europe are double glazed and allowances have also been made for the smaller proportions of other window framing options currently in common use.


For the multi-family dwellings, a standard concrete frame structure has been taken with one level of car parking and typical auxiliary and common layouts, such that the apartment living area represents approximately 50% of the total floor area of the building.  The total impacts of this building have been weighted on a per m2 basis and 56 m2 has been added to the model to represent the apartment element.

Benchmark Operational

Existing data has been used for operational energy, and arguably new build data would be preferable, but total existing data is generally a lot more robust (and readily available). Whilst new build energy figures were available for some countries, the figures tend to be from modelling completed for regulatory purposes and are therefore theoretical. In many countries there is a perceived “performance gap” between modelling results and actual consumption mainly due to differences in occupant behaviour, but also because of limitations in software and methodologies used for the modelling. The hope is that there will be continued industry effort towards monitoring of new build housing performances. Until further data in this area is available, we have a robust snapshot of how average buildings are currently performing by taking existing housing data.

The data for total residential fuel consumption was divided by the total number of dwellings in each country analysed. This was then weighted according to population to give a final figure for the average energy consumption of a developed country dwelling.


End-use percentage estimates were then used to determine where this energy is being used in the dwellings.  Again, U.S. data[ix] has been used to represent the average.


Other impacts such as appliances and cabinetry and finishes have also been included by the estimated proportion of dwellings estimated to include these.

The global average water consumption is considered fairly consistent across most developed countries with America and Australia having higher water consumption due to larger garden sizes.  A conservative nominal 169l/person/day has been assumed for water supply and treatment.


[i] Populations by country 2010

[ii] Characteristics of New Housing U.S.A

[iii] Statistics Bureau Japan

[iv] EU Odysee Data 2008 downloaded on 11.7.2014

[v] Australian Bureau of Statistics Average floor area of new residential dwellings 2012

[vi] U.S. Energy Information Administration – Annual Energy Outlook 2014 – Energy Consumption by Sector and Source,ref2014-d102413a

[vii] Odysee energy database for EU and Norway (2008) downloaded from in July 2014

[viii] Statistics Bureau Japan Chapter 10 Energy and Water

[ix] U.S. Energy Information Administration Residential Sector Key Indicators and Consumption,ref2014-d102413a



Impact Category Definitions

What are all these new impact categories eTool can now measure?  Below are some definitions:

Climate Change impacts result in a warming effect of the earth’s surface due to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, measured in mass of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion is caused by the release of gaseous chemicals that react with and destroy stratospheric ozone. Although the Montreal treaty has significantly reduced the use of the most damaging substances and there is evidence that the abundance of ozone depleting gases is reducing in the atmosphere, some releases of ozone depleting chemicals still occur.

Acidification Potential provides a measure of the decrease in the pH-value of rainwater and fog, which has the effect of ecosystem damage due to, for example, nutrients being washed out of soils and increased solubility of metals into soils. Acidification potential is generally a regional impact and is measured in mass of sulphur dioxide equivalents. The mechanism dominating the acidification impacts is the combustion of fossil fuels, release of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide which dissolves with condensed water in the atmosphere and falls as rain. The term acid rain describes severe incidents of this mechanism.

In general terms, Eutrophication Potential provides a measure of nutrient enrichment in aquatic or terrestrial environments, which leads to ecosystem damage to those locations from over enrichment and is measured in mass of phosphate equivalents.

Tropospheric Ozone Formation Potential is the creation of lower atmospheric ozone (commonly known as smog) due to the mechanism of VOCs reacting with sunlight. In particular, the release of carbon monoxide from steel production is predominant; however other releases such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and methane also contribute significantly to POCP.

Mineral & Fossil Fuel Depletion (Abiotic Depletion) provides an indication of the potential depletion (or scarcity) of non-energetic natural resources (or elements) in the earth’s crust, such as iron ores, aluminium or precious metals, and it accounts for the ultimate geological reserves (not the economically feasible reserves) and the anticipated depletion rates. It is measured in mass of antimony equivalents.

Human Toxicity, in general terms, refers to the impact on humans, as a result of emissions of toxic substances to air, water and soil, and is expressed in terms of damage to human health by the index mDALY (1/1000th of a disability adjusted life year)

Land Use is measured in years of use of arable land (m2.year). This describes the area and time land is occupied by production systems both natural and industrial for the production of the building materials but not the occupation of the building itself. While not strictly an impact category it is linked to general land use pressure and is therefore a proxy for biodiversity and other land competition impacts.

Resource Depletion (Water) provides an indication of the total net input of water used throughout the life cycle of the building.

Ionising Radiation covers the impacts arising from the release of radioactive substances as well as direct exposure to radiation. The impact is expressed in terms of damage to human health by the index uDALY (1/1,000,000th) of a disability adjusted life year.

Ecotoxicity refers to effects of chemical outputs on nonhuman living organisms. Expressed in comparative toxic units (CTUe) it provides an estimate of the potentially affected fraction of species integrated over time and volume per unit mass of a chemical emitted.

Particulate Matter is defined as a mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances resulting from human activities and suspended in the atmosphere. Several studies show that PM causes serious adverse health effects, including reduced life expectancy, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, low birth weight, and premature birth. Precursors involved in PM formation include sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), and volatile and semivolatile organic compounds. Measured as either PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) or PM10 (particulate matter between 2.5 to 10 micrometers). Finer particles can travel deeper into the lungs and are usually made up of materials that are more toxic therefore PM2.5 can have worse health effects than the coarser PM10.


eTool LCA Software Updates – Autumn 2014

eTool LCA for Any Project

We conducted a retrospective LCA on the harbour bridge a while back, which highlighted how versatile eTool LCA was.  It was clunky though.  Whilst setting up the harbour bridge project we had to answer questions in the eTool LCA interface like “Number of bedrooms”.  We weren’t quite sure how we were going to solve this little quandary once and for all.  There seemed to be an unmanageably large number of different types of structures with potentially unique functional attributes.  For example, in the OmniClass classification there’s 748 different “Facility Types”.  When you also add all the possible iterations of mixed type facilities we really started scratching our heads.  Why?  Here’s a few reasons:

  • The result was bigger than the biggest number that excel could calculate (1.79 x 10308)
  • If we provided the software uses with a drop down to choose from this list, the drop down would extend past he bottom of your screen, through the Earth, out of our solar system, out of the milky way and through a bunch of other galaxies.
  • If you could navigate through that list of different functions at the speed of light, and the one you wanted happened to be half way down the list, it would take you longer than the time between the big bang and now
  • The amount of data stored in that list would take your computer about the same length of time to retrieve the list from the internet

Anyway, we knew we needed another method.  We needed an ability to not only choose from the list of facility types, but enable custom combinations of these facility types in the one design.  For example, a mixed development with residential, retail and commercial space.

This feature also started us on our journey of BIM integration.  Thus far we’ve drawn on COBIE as our categorisation standard, but in the future we hope to map this to other standards so users can report however they see fit.  The flexibility of eTool LCA just exploded (without the clunkiness, or waiting until the next big bang for your list of facility types to download).

eTool LCA for Infrastructure

In our new list of possible design functions we have infrastructure elements such as roads, rail, air ports, bridges, stadiums etc.  We even have applicable functional attributes that users can choose for the appropriate infrastructure.  For example, a road designer may choose to measure their impacts per:

  • passenger transported
  • tonne of freight transported
  • workload unit (one passenger or 100kg of freight)
  • unit area of pavement
  • unit length of the road

Hopefully this drives some serious though about what the function of that infrastructure is, and how the movement of passengers or freight may be better done with lower carbon alternatives such as rail!  After all this is one of the beauties of LCA.

eTool LCA for Energy Generators

Another neat example of facilities that can now be assessed with eTool LCA is electricity generators.  Fancy running an environmental life cycle assessment of a wind turbine verse solar PV verses coal fired plant?  Knock your socks off!  The functional unit you’ll probably be choosing here is impacts per life cycle kWh generated.

eTool LCA for Data Centres

A little left field, but how to you compare the sustainability of data centres?  Have a go in eTool LCA!  You can choose from the below functional units to ensure you’re making fair comparisons between different options:

  • Annual data stored
  • Life cycle data stored
  • Annual data transmitted
  • Life cycle data transmitted
  • Net usable area

What next for eTool LCA?

For those who are rushing to check out the above functionality, bare in mind this is hot off the press and we’re yet to develop a library of templates that support these new types of construction entities.  This will come though, especially with the template validation functionality that is already helping our library grow.

In the mean time, software features continue to roll on.  The two big projects we’re working on at the moment is BRE IMPACT compliance.  We’re excited about this as it’s a third party verification system specifically designed for what eTool LCA does – LCA of Construction Projects.  Not only is this a big indication of the mainstreaming of LCA, it’ll also be really nice to have an official seal of approval on the accuracy of eTool LCA.

The other big project is a push on reporting.  We’re introducing a whole heap of cool new reports aimed at users to generate promotional and marketing ideas for their improved buildings.  Is this core to LCA, absolutely now.  Is it important to ensure that environmentally sustainable buildings proliferate?  Absolutely.  We don’t have our pulse on this globally but we hazard to guess the biggest impediment to truly sustainable buildings in Australia is a total disinterest within the real estate industry.  And eTool LCA is will hopefully spark this interest a little more by providing agents with really useful info to help them sell better buildings.

Past that, refer to our product roadmap which (although partially implemented) gives a good idea of where we’re heading longer term.


eTool LCA Software Updates – Summer 2014

EN15978 Compliance

The last few months have been hectic for our software development team. We brought the software into line with the European standard EN15978 – Sustainability of construction works – Assessment of environmental performance of buildings – Calculation method.  We undertook so eTool could be used to gain innovation credits in Green Star projects.  For out international audience, this is a environmental rating scheme managed by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Technically the update was a big challenge, EN15978 a very comprehensive standard with quite strict rules regarding how the LCA calculations should be conducted.  It’s a piece of work we planned back in 2012, we did need that little commercial push to undertake the change, and the opportunity to utilise eTool LCA for Green Star projects provided this.  We are really happy that we managed to complete this piece of work.  We really think the planet has a lot to benefit from through this standard, and hopefully through the use of eTool LCA.  Here’s some reasons:

  • EN15978 was written by CEN technical committee 350 who are also developing other standards to meet there overall mandate of delivering standards to holistically assess the sustainability of construction works.  This is really exciting.  It effectively draws a line in the sand and gives really solid guidance on how we should be assessing the buildings.  It includes social, economic and environmental considerations for sustainability.
  • A good Life Cycle Assessment is without doubt the best way to measure and improve the environmental performance of something.  This has been recognised by CEN TC 350 who have relied on it nearly exclusively for the environmental assessment of buildings.
  • CEN TC 350 also developed a standard for the assessment of building products.  These will be used by the new ECO EPD framework being developed in Europe which will align most of the major EPD Program operators.  Now this is exciting.  Finally, we have an international system that reports truly comparable data for construction products.  It’s equivalent to nutrition labelling for building products (substituting health info with environmental info).

All this means the stars are nicely aligning for low impact buildings.  There’s a huge opportunity to cut through the greenwash if industry uptakes this approach.  One of the things we love about this approach is it actually enables policy makers to set budgets in order to ensure we hit sustainability goals.  I’ve written about this concept and how it might be approached here.

Software Speed Improvements

Users during the last 12 months would have noticed that at times, particularly for very big designs, the software laboured.  It was getting pretty frustrating for our ops team who were working more and more on complex LCA models for large projects.  We’d delayed tackling this problem because it required a massive re-write of the back end.  There’s nothing worse than spending two months labouring on a software improvement project, then delivering the result which looks exactly the same!  It was a very nice change though, to give you an idea of the performance improvement, we had a large test design that was taking the best part of four minutes to save, now it’s taking just two seconds.  The big driver for this was actually to enable more features to be introduced to eTool LCA that would have otherwise slowed it down further.  There’s more coming!

Record Recommendations

This is probably  my favourite new feature.  It makes the job if modelling and tracking improvement ideas very easy.  I can honestly say this has enabled our operations team to significantly increase the research time we can allocate to identifying more improvement ideas.  Less time doing little admin tasks like copying and pasting data between eTool and spreadsheets, and more time focusing on reducing the impacts of the design.  All users need to do now is hit record, model the improvements, hit stop and every change to an impact due to that improvement will be recorded at different life cycle stages of the building.  And it’s recorded for every indicator too, so you can see how much carbon you saved verses how much money you saved.   I love using this feature.  Check it out.

Other LCA Tools

LCA is awesome! And if using eTool LCA software doesn’t leave you with that feeling then don’t point the finger at LCA, find some software that suits your needs better. Here’s a list of other tools to explore.

BEATDanish Building Research InstituteEurope (Denmark)
e-LICCOe-LICCOEurope (France)
eTooleToolGlobal (From Australia)
GaBiPE InternationalGlobal (From Europe)
GreenflyRMIT University
Sustainability Fund (Victoria)
Design Institute of Australia
Global (From Australia)
Impact EstimatorThe Athena Sustainable Materials InstituteNorth America
KlimagassregnskapStatsbygg (Norway)Europe (Norway)
LCA CalculatorIDCGlobal (From UK)
SimaProPRE SustainabilityGlobal (From Europe)
Sustainable MindsSustainable MindsGlobal (From US)
TallyKieranTimberlakeNorth America
EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

EN 15978

In 2011 the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) released a new standard for measuring the environmental sustainability of buildings.  We grabbed a copy of this standard, EN 15978 soon after it was published to understand how eTool stacked up against the requirements.  We breathed a sigh of relief, although we had a few things to tidy up, what we were happy with was that we actually needed to reduce the scope and system boundary of a normal eToolLCA to report to EN15978.

Background to EN15978

This standard was one of the first to be released by CEN Technical Committee 350.  It was part of a much broader project to fully define how to measure the sustainability of buildings.  Within TC 350 there were working groups determining how to measure a building’s:

  • Environmental Performance,
  • Social Performance, and
  • Economic Performance.

Impressive.  The full suite of sustainability covered under one set group of standards.  And it doesn’t stop there, there are also working groups covering civil works and construction products.  Incredibly, they are making very good headway through this arduous scope with 8 standards already published and another four under development.  EN15978 is the key to measuring the environmental pillar of sustainability.

How Does it Work?

Well, it’s kind of complex you have to read the detail of the standard, and a good number of the standards referenced.  That said, we will summarise as best we can.  The basic philosophy is to rely 100% on LCA as the method of measuring environmental performance.  So there is hence a heavy reliance on ISO 14040, 14044 and 14025 which eTool LCA software also heavily draws on.  The standard gives guidance on how to apply LCA to buildings.  It effectively defines the goal, scope and method for LCA practitioners working on buildings.

The System Boundary

The diagram below shows the system boundary of EN 15978 is shown below.  For existing users of eTool LCA, or those who rely on eTool ratings, our standard system boundary is also shown.  We think the EN 15978 have essentially done a fantastic job putting this together (with a few exceptions we discuss below).

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

EN 15978 and eTool LCA Normal System Boundary

The largest omission from the system boundary is what EN15978 calls “non building related energy use”.  They essentially include HVAC, domestic hot water and lighting but exclude all other energy used within the building.  This makes sense at first glance, after all, these areas are certainly the most heavily influenced by the building designers, and other energy use is very heavily occupant driven.  There are however some strong arguments for including all energy used within the building, a few of which are listed below:

  • A building designer can influence occupant behaviour, and as such these aspects should be considered by architects and engineers, for example:
    • Energy monitoring has been proven to influence occupant behaviour in both commercial and residential buildings and should be considered by the design team
    • In residential buildings, energy use per occupant generally drops off with higher occupants per dwellings due to the base loads (refrigeration, living area entertainment, standby loads, lighting and heat losses from hot water systems) being spread between more occupants.  Buildings that allow and encourage more occupants per dwelling will (all else being equal) use less energy per occupant, and hence should be differentiated.
    • In commercial buildings, an integrated fit out of work stations can have huge positive impacts on energy use through the use of central servers for data storage and processing and mini computers at work stations drawing very little power.  A seamless implementation of such systems may require architectural and engineering consideration during the design of the building so should be factored.
  • Building integrated renewable energy systems should if possible be sized to meet the entire load of the building, not just the base building loads, so designers should be aware of the entire loads.
  • Developers can have a large influence on the building performance (at least initially) through the final fit out of appliances (residential) and work stations (commercial) so this should be within scope so we don’t drop the ball on this opportunity.
  • Vertical transport (elevators, escalators etc) for medium rise buildings can be heavily influenced by design:
    • The building envelope needs to cater for the most efficient plant geometrically
    • The use of stairs or ramps should be encouraged through design to reduce reliance on plant
    • The building electrical systems should be designed to cater for regenerative drives etc
  • Communicating the total impact of buildings without accounting for occupant energy use is very misleading.  Imagine moving into a building marketed as ‘energy neutral’ building only to find your power bill only drops 25%

Environmental Indicators

The suggested list of reported indicators is quite comprehensive for EN15978 and is shown in the below summary table:

 EN15978 Indicators

EN15978 does state that not all indicators need to be reported, but the documentation must specify the reasons for omission.  Interestingly toxicity, land use, biodiversity are missing from the above list.  The standard states that this is due to there being no scientifically agreed calculation method within the context of LCA for these indicators.  We’ll watch this space as we know some of these missing indicators are of great interest to many users of eTool.

EN 15978 and eTool LCA

After we read EN15978, we documented the required changes, pushed them into our product roadmap we got back to other work.  It wasn’t for another year though before it hit us how important this standard was.  All of a sudden, we weren’t “those guys from Western Australia who think they’ve nutted out how to truly improve the environmental performance of buildings”, EN15978 established that LCA was indeed the most appropriate tool for profiling green buildings.  Standards such as this one lend huge credibility to solutions like eTool that were released prior to the standard.  We were definitely barking up the right tree when we naively stood in front of the cameras on the ABC’s New Inventors and demonstrated the humble beginnings of eTool!

The recent uptake of LCA by the Green Building Council of Australia in their Greenstar tool heavily references  EN15978.  This has prompted us to build a suite of reports that are compliant with the standard, and those it references.  Importantly, we’re not going to remove any functionality form eTool, or contract the scope or system boundary.  Users will simply have the opportunity to report to either the EN15978 scope or the more expansive eTool LCA scope.  Similarly we’ll continue to upload more indicators into eTool LCA, our focus for the next 12 months will be plugging the gaps for EN15978 reporting.  There’s likely to be a lot of low hanging fruit here, and some trickier ones that may take some additional programming so we’re not entirely sure when we’ll be reporting on all 22 indicators just yet.  Our reports will be compliant with EN15978 though by still listing these additional indicators with “INA” (Indicator Not Assessed) in place of the calculated values which is accepted in the standard.  We’ll also allow users to report indicators currently available in eTool that aren’t required by EN15978.  Our general position on indicators is that global warming is our biggest environmental problem and hence our main efforts will continue to focus on solving this.

LCA_Alex home_basic design

eTool and Internet Explorer

We’re pushing the envelope a little with what’s possible for web based software and Microsoft Internet Explorer has been a pretty challenging for us, it seems that we fix it up to work in one version, and those fixes break something in another version.  Needless to say, if you’re happy using safari, chrome, firefox or basically any other browser by MS Internet Explorer you shouldn’t have any issues.  If you’re stuck with MS IE, or love using it, here’s the work around for using the eTool app…


eTool LCA Software Updates – Spring 2013

eTool is always busy in the background updating the libraries available to users.  Lately we’ve ramped up the activities in a big with with some major updates to our libraries.  Even more exciting is that we’re improving the functionality of eTool with some big software development projects.  I thought I’d take some time to update you.

Library Updates

Earlier in the year we conducted a large LCA study on a cutting edge development in the UK, One Brighton.  The study was commissioned by Bio Regional who run the One Planet Living sustainable living framework.  We will be publishing the results of this study before the end of the year.  During the modelling we adapted a pretty cool approach to modelling the UK Benchmarks where we morphed a number of different density buildings, based on the new build mix, to create a weighted average density and size building.  Our previous approach to this was to pick the most popular density building and adjust it’s size and other characteristics appropriately.  We liked the new approach so have also applied that to Australia.  This was timely as the density mix in Australia is also changing pretty dramatically as we embrace higher density living, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney is now building more apartments and semi-detached dwellings than detached).  The new residential benchmarks are loaded up into the eTool Library read to compare your project against.  We’re also working on some office building benchmarks also, and looking into community buildings.  Watch this space!

Out templates library is also undergoing a bit of an overhaul.  There’s more to come but essentially we’ve be consolidating the current templates library and adding new templates where needed.  This will be an eternally evolving project and we have some really cool ideas about how users can share templates that we’re mocking up at the moment with implementation in mind.

Our materials, transport, equipment and energy databases are about to get an overhaul to.  You may have heard the GBCA has introduced credits for LCA.  Some of the indicators they’ve chosen weren’t being tracked by eTool so we’re in the process of updating this data.  Some interim updates have been performed including updating electricity grid coefficients to match the latest NGERs figures in Australia, and updates to some water grid figures (notably Perth to account for the increasing reliance on desalination).

Software Updates

Some big projects are now underway to take the eTool software to the next level.  See our product road map to get an understanding of the long term goals.  The focus is on aligning eTool with relevant international standards (in particular EN15978).  In the process we’re also fixing bugs along the way and generally improving the user experience.  Recent or impending improvements are listed below.


Improved speed for the app.  You may have noticed that working on large designs the app started to labour a bit, or a lot if you were working on really big designs.  We’ve cut the save / clone time down by 75% which although is a good start is just the tip of the iceberg, we’re aiming to get a 95% improvement in performance in speed through a project that is revolutionising the back end of eTool.  I won’t go into the details, I’ll just say it’s a big project but is going to pay big dividends to users.

We’ve also changed the UI a little. Projects will soon be listed more conveniently (most recent on the top of the list when you log in).  There’s a big expansion in functionality for documenting project recommendations and our reports are about to get some serious attention also.

Bug Fixes

A few pesky bugs have also been fixed:

  • All design details now clone properly
  • Custom template details now clone properly
  • Reports on a design can be seen by all users accessing that design
  • Updates to certificate calculations to include PV generation and limit overall rating when gold savings aren’t achieved in both embodied and operational categories



eToolLCD Expressions

eToolLCD V2 introduced some pretty neat functionality that allows users to enter “expressions” into some fields in a similar way formulas are used in a spreadsheet. This is particularly useful for building operational energy templates, for example, based on building size or occupancy. We have used a third party calculation library to enable this functionality, the list of available operators and functions is available here.

This functionality has dramatically improved the ease at which we can predict operational energy in designs and we’re enjoying using it here at eTool. We will be adding more stored variables as time passes, watch this space. To learn how to utilise this functionality, please get in touch for some training.

We also have a number of variables that relate to the design and can be used in expressions. The list of these is provided below. The default values that are used in library template calculations before loading into a design, or when a variable is left blank. The full list of variables is here:

NameUnitCodeDefault ValueModel LevelCategoryDescription
Annual Data TransmittedTBDT100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Data Transmitted
Annual Energy GeneratedkWhEG100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Generated
Annual Energy StoredkWhES1,000,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Stored
Annual Energy TransmittedkWhET1,000,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Energy Transmitted
Annual Freight ThroughputtFT100,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Freight Throughput
Annual Horizontal Infrared RadiationWh/m2Sol_H6,500ProjectAnnual Horizontal Infrared Radiation
Annual Operating HourshrsOH2,000FunctionAttributeAnnual operating hours of the building for its intended functional use.
Annual Passenger Throughput#PT60,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Passenger Throughput
Annual Standard Axles#SA600,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Standard Axles
Annual Throughput Volumem3TV6,000FunctionAttributeAnnual Throughput Volume
Artificially Lit Aream2ALA1,200FunctionServicesArea artificially lit
Average Ambient Temperature Whilst CoolingDegrees CACT35DesignHiddenAverage ambient temperature whilst cooling weighted for heating times and loads
Average Ambient Temperature Whilst HeatingDegrees CAHT5DesignHiddenAverage ambient temperature whilst heating weighted for heating times and loads
Average Daytime Occupancyhrs/dayDTO8DesignHiddenAverage daytime occupancy hours for the building
Average Nighttime Occupancyhrs/dayNTO8DesignHiddenAverage nighttime occupancy hours for the building
Average water Inlet TemperatureDegrees CIWT15ProjectAverage Water Inlet Temperature
Bedrooms#BR3FunctionAttributeNumber of bedrooms
Cooling LoadMJ/m2/AnnumCL900FunctionServicesCooling load required of mechanical HVAC plant to control building temperature
Data Storage CapacityTBDS10,000FunctionAttributeData Storage Capacity
Default Indoor Illumination RequirementLxLTA900FunctionServicesDefault illumination intensity required in the building
Direct Solar RadiationWh/m2Sol_D7,000ProjectDirect Solar Radiation
Durability Life ExpectancyyearsDLE100DesignDurability life expectancy which does not account for redevelopment pressure
Dwellings#DW1FunctionAttributeNumber of dwellings (or tenancies) in the building
Energy Monitoring Adjustment Factor0%EMAF1ProjectEnergy monitoring adjustment factor for consumption rates
Expected OccupantsyearsO10DesignExpected occupancy of the building
Expected Service LifeyearsLE50DesignExpected Service Life
Fully Enclosed Covered Aream2FECA1,200FunctionAreaThe sum of all such areas at all building floor levels, including basements (except unexcavated portions), floored roof spaces and attics, garages, penthouses, enclosed porches and attached enclosed covered ways alongside buildings
Gross Floor Aream2GFA1,400FunctionAreaThe sum of the Fully Enclosed Covered Area and Unenclosed Covered Area as defined
Heating LoadMJ/m2/AnnumHL900FunctionServicesHeating load required of mechanical HVAC plant to control building temperature
Indoor thermostat set point (Summer)Degrees CICT24DesignHiddenIndoor thermostat set point during summer
Indoor thermostat set point (winter)Degrees CIHT20DesignHiddenIndoor thermostat set point during winter
Land Aream2LA2,000ProjectLand associated with the building project (footprint of building, parking and landscaping)
Life Cycle Bed - Nights#LCBNCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Bed - Nights
Life Cycle Data TransmittedTBLCDTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Data Transmitted
Life Cycle Energy GeneratedkWhLCEGCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Generated
Life Cycle Energy StoredkWhLCESCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Stored
Life Cycle Energy TransmittedkWhLCETCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Energy Transmitted
Life Cycle Freight Distancet.kmsLCFDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Freight kms
Life Cycle Freight ThroughputtLCFTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Freight Throughput
Life Cycle Occupant HourshrsLCOHCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife cycle operating hours of the building for its intended functional use.
Life Cycle Passenger Distance#.kmsLCPDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Passenger kms
Life Cycle Passenger Throughput#LCPTCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Passenger Throughput
Life Cycle Standard Axles#LCSACalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Standard Axles
Life Cycle Throughput Volumem3LCTVCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Throughput Volume
Life Cycle Workload Unit Distance#.kmsLCWLUDCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Workload Unit kms
Life Cycle Workload Units (1p = 100kg)#LCWLUCalculatedFunctionAttributeLife Cycle Workload Units (1p = 100kg)
Lighting LuxlxLX150FunctionServicesSpeficied light requirements of the lit area
Lighting Runtimehrs / yearLRT2,500FunctionServicesAnnual lamp run time
Mechanical Ventilation Runtimehrs / yearMRT2,500FunctionServicesAnnual operating hours of mechanical ventilation system
Net Lettable Aream2NLA1,000FunctionAreaThe sum of all lettable areas within a commercial type office building
Pavement Aream2PA62,500,000FunctionAttributePavement Area
Project Occupancy#P_O10ProjectOccupancy of the entire project
Storage Volumem3SV2,000FunctionAttributeStorage Volume
Stories#ST1DesignNumber of stories (or levels) in the building
Tenancies#TE1FunctionAttributeNumber of tenancies
Treated Area - Coolingm2CA900FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to cool
Treated Area - Heatingm2HA900FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to heat
Treated Area - Mechanical Ventilationm2MA1,000FunctionServicesInternal area conditioned by mechanical HVAC plant equipped to heat
Unenclosed Covered Aream2UCA200FunctionAreaThe sum of all such area at all building floor levels, including roofed balconies, open verandahs, porches, porticos, attached open covered ways alongside buildings, undercrofts and useable space under buildings, unenclosed access galleries (including ground floor) and any other trafficable covered areas of the building which are not totally enclosed by full height walls
Usable Floor Aream2UFA1,000FunctionAreaFully enclosed building area
Vacancy Rate0%VR0FunctionAttributeVacancy Rate
Vehicle Spaces#VS40FunctionAttributeVehicle Spaces
Work Stations#WS2FunctionAttributeNumber of workspaces and/or bedrooms in the building