General

Should I use eTool at the beginning of my project as a design tool or at the end as an assessment tool?

eToolLCD is as much a “Design” tool as it is an “Assessment” tool.
To achieve the biggest improvements in your design it is best to use eToolLCD right from the conceptual stages of your design. As part of the standard eTool Assessment, we will provide recommendations for improvement and a short consultation session with you or your designer.
That said, you can use eToolLCD at any stage of the design and construction process to make improvements. Customers even use eTool on completion to quantify the final carbon footprint of their design and then offset it with certified carbon credits.

What design detail is required to get started?

Requirements for Life Cycle Target Setting Service:

  • Design brief documents (pre concept design)

Minimum Requirements for basic comparative LCA modelling:

  • Conceptual design / sketches

Required for EN15978 compliant LCA:

  • Detailed architectural plans
  • Construction specification
  • Structural Drawings
  • Building energy modelling reports including thermal control, hot water, lighting, vertical transport and other building integrated systems
  • Equipment specification including details of any onsite generation, energy monitoring etc

Desirable Supplementary or Complementary Information:

  • Hydraulic, Elec. Struct. Engineers drawings and reports
  • Intended occupancy data (hours, number etc)
  • 3D BIM Model (ArchiCAD, gbXML, Sketchup, IFC)
  • Actual energy data if retrospective assessment

How is eToolLCD and Life Cycle Assessment different from other energy and carbon assessment tools?

eTool uses a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method to include both the “Embodied Energy” and the “Operational Energy” over the total design life of the building or development.
Most other assessment tools only assess the operational aspects and hence miss half of the equation when it comes to quantifying the total energy and carbon footprint of a design.
Further to that eToolLCD is web based, free and very user friendly. This enables us to ensure LCA becomes a standard design philosophy for the built form.

What is the difference between an “Assessment” and a “Certification”?

An “Assessment” is where you supply the design details and we do all the work to provide you with a report, recommendations and ultimately a “Certification”.

A “Certification” is where you use the eToolLCD yourself to conduct your own “Assessment”.
Once you are finished we just check through your work to ensure it meets the basic assessment criteria, then we certify it and supply the associated “Certification” documents.

How does eTool “certify” my eToolLCD model?

eTool have an internal procedure for certifying designs that evolves with our software and our experience.  Essentially we check the users inputs to ensure that the LCA model complies with the system boundary, scope, and accuracy requirements.  We have a mix of automatic reports and manual processes that we run through to check the users inputs.  We also compare the project to similar projects in the growing eToolLCD database which provides a good ‘sense check’ on not only the over-all result but also individual elements in the building.

Why do we “certify” eToolLCD user’s inputs?

There’s a host of reasons why we certify users designs, here’s a few:

  • From day one eTool recognised the importance of comparable and accurate results flowing from our software.  By checking users’s inputs eTool can ensure comparability.
  • Industry is renowned for criticising software, and software companies are renowned for pointing the finger at user’s inputs (garbage in garbage out).  We wanted a different relationship between users and eToolLCD where there was no need for finger pointing
  • ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards for LCA call for all studies to be verified by a third party, it made sense for us to offer this service as we understand the inner workings of the software which is important for an LCA verification.
  • It provided us with a revenue model that didn’t require large upfront fees, and this allows the proliferation of affordable LCAs, and lower impact buildings (project budget is no longer a key factor in commissioning an LCA)

If access to eToolLCD software is free how do you expect to generate revenue?

Our primary aim is to make LCA philosophy a standard component to all design processes.
In order to achieve this the software had to be extremely accessible and hence the decision to make it free. We do understand that in order to achieve our primary aim we also need to generate revenue to advance and improve the software; as a result our current revenue streams are based on the following components:

  • Assessments: We offer the service of completing an assessment for people who don’t have the time or desire to use the software themselves. These assessments are charged at a rate that covers our time and work required for eTool to gather the data from your design and conduct the assessment. The service also comes with standard recommendations that allow you to improve your designs.
  • Certifications: We ask that anyone who uses the software for commercial gain (please see our software “Terms and Conditions” when you first register for use) to “certify” their designs. Essentially this is a service where we will check your assessment to ensure it has been completed correctly and present you with a report and certificate that allows you to publish your results to clients.
    If you choose not to certify you cannot in any form claim reference to eTool software outputs.

We feel that through the above revenue streams we will be able to continue to support and develop our software while ensuring it remains as accessible as possible to the greatest number of users.

eTool LCA Medals Explained

eTool thoroughly believes in the science of LCA and is committed to following international standards for reporting results. We also recognise that many people are more inclined to concise information summaries in the format of certificates or ratings. For this reason we developed a rating system that summarises the LCA performance of your building and chose a medal system to reward best practice design.
True to LCA standards, we measure the performance of buildings against a benchmark, and the medals are awarded according to the carbon emissions reduction for the improved designs. Our benchmarks are “average” buildings of like utility, in a similar climate zone to the building being assessed. For example, if assessing a new home, we will choose a residential benchmark in the same climatic zone as the building being assessed.

The all important functional units then come into play to allow fair comparison between building life spans and size. For example, a residential buliding will have its carbon emissions reduction measured per year per occupant, where as a commercial building will be measured per year per square meter. Longer design lives and increased functionality are therefore rewarded in eTool ratings.

The ratings system is summarised below:

Bronze Medal Saving of up to 30% equivalent green house gas emissions measured in mass of CO2 equivalent measured against the applicable benchmark
Silver Medal 30 to 60% Saving
Gold Medal 60 to 90% Saving
Platinum Medal More than 90% Saving. In addition, to receiving an overall platinum rating, a gold medal must be achieved in both operational and embodied carbon.

Getting an overall platinum medal is a very difficult feat. This is due to the difficulty in significantly reducing your embodied impacts. Our lifestyles have become so accustomed to externalising environmental damage through the indirect use of cheap fossil fuel energy, we rarely spare a thought for the impact of our expenditure on goods, even if we are quite conscious of our home or transport related energy use.

To date, eTool has only awarded one overall platinum medal for a building project. In this case, they were able to achieve the result by preserving the majority of the structure, it was a residential renovation with extension. Other methods of achieving low embodied impacts include:

  • Extending design life or functionality
  • Use of recycled materials
  • Re-use of materials
  • Low carbon materials

For more detail on low carbon design principles, consider an eTool training session which we are now running online.

Please contact us for more information.

eTool LCA Certificate Explained

Please click here for a detailed overview of the eTool LCA certificate.

eToolLCD Methodology

What LCA standards does eToolLCD comply with?

There are no ISO standards that we can measure our software against that are specific to life cycle assessment.  There are however a number of standards that eToolLCD can be used to report against.  The user still has a responsibility to ensure their report writing (publishing the numbers from eToolLCD) and inputs into eToolLCD are robust and compliant with the standard.  The standards that eTool methodology and calculations are currently compliant with include:

  • ISO 14040  2006:  Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework
  • ISO 14044  2006:  Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines
  • EN 15978  2011: Sustainability of construction works. Assessment of environmental performance of buildings. Calculation method

Can materials manufacturers load their products into eToolLCD?

Yes, but there are some data requirements. As a minimum, a supplier should have conducted an environmental product declaration on their product. We also look for EPDs that are registered with a member of the ECO EPD Platform. Members are listed here: http://www.eco-platform.org/who-is-participating.html

Reasons for choosing one of these program operators are:

  • Ensures compliance with ISO 14025 (it’s not an EPD if it isn’t registered with an EPD program operator) which also ensures it’s thorough, objective and likely to be reliable
  • The ECO EPD platform includes all the main EPD program operators who are currently aligning their product category rules for construction products so that all EPDs between programs will be entirely comparable. Essentially they’re creating the currency for environmental product information for the construction sector.
  • Europe lead the way with EPD activity and this system will likely become the dominant international system for construction products.
  • ALCAS and ALCANZ (the Australian and New Zealand representative bodies for LCA) are initiating a local EPD program which aligns with the International EPD System who are also members of the ECO EPD platform
  • The ECO EPD system will also comply with EN15804 and can therefore be used in whole building LCA studies compliant with EN15978

These factors essentially mean that it’s the best way of ensuring an EPD is relevant and recognised in Australia, NZ and also Internationally.

In addition, if material manufacturers are undertaking EPDs, they should extend their reporting of environmental indicators to include the GBCA’s current list of environmental indicators required for the whole of life, whole of building LCA credits as follows:

  • Climate change (Kg CO2, equivalent IPCC AR4)
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion potential (Kg CFC 11 equivalent, WMO 1999)
  • Acidification potential of land and water (Kg SO2 equivalent, CML)
  • Eutrophication potential (kg PO4 equivalent, CML)
  • Tropospheric ozone formation potential (Photochemical Ozone Creation Potential Ethylene equivalents, CML)
  • Mineral and fossil fuel depletion (abiotic depletion) (Kg Sb equivalent, CML)

The following indicators also enable an extra Green Star point can be obtained:

  • Human Toxicity (Kg 1,4 DB equivalent, DALY)
  • Land use Land Transformation (m2 UNEP/SETAC Land Use Indicator Value Calculation in Life Cycle Assessment)
  • Resource depletion – water (m3 water use related to local scarcity of water, Water Stress Indicator)
  • Ionising Radiation (kg U-235 equivalent to air Human Health Effect model)
  • Particulate Matter (kg PM2.5 equivalent RiskPoll)

The indicators that are currently required for EN15978 are listed in green, those that are not required are red, and those that have different characterisation methods are orange. So if a manufacturer is producing an EPD and want it to be useful for Green Star purposes, it’s a good idea to include all these indicators regardless of whether they’re strictly required for the EPD.

A list of Australian practitioners is available on the ALCAS web site (link below), many of whom could provide EPD services. http://www.alcas.asn.au/resources/practitioners

We’re happy to answer questions from suppliers about EPDs.

What Functional Units does eToolLCD use?

In order to normalise assessments between building types the environmental and cost impacts are expressed in terms of an applicable functional unit.  Typically eTool uses the following functional units for different project types:

  • Commercial Office: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Residential buildings: Impacts measured per occupant per year
  • Community, healthcare, retail: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Industrial buildings: Impacts measured per m2 per year

All the functional units rely on a prediction of design life, which has a very large effect on their comparable sustainability. Although difficult to predict, eTool uses a methodology aimed at producing fair and repeatable comparisons between building designs. Individual building life spans will deviate significantly from the design lives calculated using this methodology, however the aim is to predict the mean expected life of all buildings with similar characteristics and circumstances.

Although studies that quantify the actual life span of buildings are lacking, the reasons for demolition of buildings are quite well documented. Studies conducted in Australia (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009) and the US (Athena Institute, 2004) indicate that less than 10% of buildings are demolished due to reaching the end of their strutural service life. It is other factors that usually dictate service life, namely:

  • Redevelopment for economic reasons (surrounding land has increased in value to the extent that it is more profitable to increase the density or use of the buliding)
  • Redevelopment for aesthetic reasons (the building is no longer in fasion)
  • Fire or other disaster

For this reason the following characteristics are also considered when estimating design life:

  • Building density
  • Density of the surrounding suburb
  • Design quality

Best practice building design attempts to match the durability with the redevelopment potential of the building.

The eTool estimated design lives often differ compared to industry perceptions of building life span. Architects in Australia for example expect detached residential buildings to last over 60 years (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009).

What are the System Boundaries of eToolLCD?

The current eToolLCD scope is shown in the below diagram.  Although broad, the omission of demolition and recycling impacts must be noted as this has potential to be significant in an unbounded LCA.  eTool is working now to include demolition, disposal and recycling and as credible data becomes available this will be built into subsequent versions of eToolLCD..  The eTool database does however store an estimated percentage of recyclable materials used in the construction of the building which can be reported on separately. Please contact us for more information.

What data sources does eToolLCD use?

Some detail regarding the data sources used by eToolLCD is provided below.  Please note the dates within and if significant time has lapsed it may be worth contacting us to ensure the below data sources are still relevant.  A goal of eToolLCD is to introduce greater transparency within the software itself, this will likely be tackled as a development priority during 2014 & 2015:

The default materials and energy LCI database was provided by Life Cycle Strategies and is an Australasian specific dataset. Prior to the use of this data we used publicly available carbon and energy figures predominantly sourced from the Inventory of Carbon and Energy published by Batch University (http://www.bath.ac.uk/mech-eng/research/sert/). Whilst this is a brilliant source of information it only quantifies Energy and Carbon associated with materials manufacturing. It is also not regional specific as it aggregates the results of studies from all over the world. Hence our move to extend the selectable databases in eToolLCD. The Australian dataset has been introduced which has extended environmental indicators and includes recycling and disposal impacts (or credits). We are testing the ability to select from other databases in our test environment. Once this functionality has been released we will upload European and the US specific datasets. We are also in discussions with a third party to supply some hybrid data for Australia also. Eventually we hope to have a very comprehensive selection of datasets that would give eToolLCD some additional sensitivity functionality (sensitivity to data sets could be tested). In addition to the default data for each material, we have branded materials that draw on EPD information to further the accuracy of your LCAs. Materials manufacturers interested in uploading their own data should contact eTool (it’s a free service, we just need compliant data).

Other Data Sets: eToolLCD will be introducing functionality to enable users to use alternative data sets.  We have successfully demonstrated this functionality in testing and are ironing out some difficulties / challenges to make sure this is user friendly and robust.  Watch this space!  

A note on BPIC LCI data: eTool are eagerly awaiting the full release of well documented cradle to gate LCI data from the BPIC LCI database. Unfortunately at present the database is mainly only populated with gate-to-gate information which, without significant additional manipulation, cannot be used by eTool in LCAs of buildings. The BPIC LCI also has some quite stringent protocols dictating the use of the data, once a comprehensive and full dataset becomes available the protocols will have to be met within eToolLCD, which will require some reprogramming. In other words, don’t hold your breath, BPIC LCI Data may take some time. This has prompted eTool to source an alternative Australian data set in the form of the Australasian Database currently available in SimaPro.

In relation to cost estimations, eTool has sought industry estimates for materials and energy consumption. This approach leads to significant under-estimation in the cost of highly processed goods (for example, the steel used for concrete reinforcing will cost a lot less than the steel used in a door handle, despite being of a very similar specification, the door handle has been value added significantly compared to the reinforcement. eToolLCD on the other hand will price these two uses of the same steel product equally).

Do we use the BP LCI database for materials?

Not at this stage. The BP LCI Data is unfortunately “Gate to Gate” data which does not account for the impact of the input of materials to the manufacturing process. The BP LCI team acknowledge this shortcoming and hope to expand their assessment boundary to include cradle to gate impacts.

In the meantime eToolLCD uses international LCI data. We hope to incorporate the BP LCI in one form or another as soon as the data provides cradle to gate, weighted and normalised LCA data.

eToolLCD Software

Can eToolLCD account for depreciation in carbon intensity of energy?

Yes, simply select a a grid from the electricity grid library that represents the future carbon intensity of the grid you want to model.  We have set up some examples already:

  • 2030 Australian Generic Grid
  • 2050 Australian Generic Grid

If the future grid you want to model doesn’t exist, choose an existing grid with a similar carbon intensity.  Please note that modelling impacts of future grid scenarios may effect your compliance to some standards.  We recommend only running this as a scenario rather than a base case for your LCA.

Does eToolLCD integrate with 3D CAD packages or BIM?

Not yet. Interestingly this was one of our number on goals for software development three years ago. It just keeps getting surpassed in the priority list by other new features that we introduce.  Here’s some reasons why this happens:

  • A large majority of our current customer base are still working in 2D design formats.
  • BIM is complicated due to inconsistency in how it is applied and managed around the industry. BIM also has all the hallmarks of a typical ‘network’ technology uptake where one system gains all the market share because it’s easiest to then collaborate. We want to make sure we back the winner in terms of exchange protocols and categorisation systems etc so we’ve been pretty happy sitting and waiting to see which systems win the race.
  • LCA should be done as early in the design phase as possible. Most 3D drawings are completed well into the design phase, and we don’t want to lock designers into detail design before getting design feedback. We really only need a very simple line diagram to give us areas of walls, windows, floors etc. This is a much more simple than your average 3D design drawings, and we’d rather do our first LCA model based on an architects concept drawing they scribbled on a napkin over lunch than wait until they’ve completed a comprehensive 3D model, which may be too late to influence.
  • The current method for data entry into eTool is actually fast and reliable. At eTool we do a lot of LCAs ourselves, we’re probably the biggest single user of our own software, so we know where the time in spent in conducting an LCA from start to finish. The data entry is actually really quick (averages less than 10% of time taken for an LCA).  So technically the potential benefits of 3D or BIM integration are surprisingly minor.
  • We want to make sure we don’t actually end up making the LCA harder. There is a risk that the users spend so much time cleaning up the 3D drawing or BIM model that it would have been quicker for them to have just entered manually.
  • There is a reasonable amount of information that is entered into the LCA which doesn’t relate to the 3D geometry of the building (for example, water use and appliance energy use). This probably won’t be entered into eToolLCD through a 3D drawing interface, again, reducing the real benefits of 3D integration.

We will complete this feature, and the reason is that we’d really like people to be able to run a 3D package that gives them thermal performance feedback and also full LCA feedback in the same place. This is the goal and we want to achieve that. Some of the above barriers are dwindling so we expect to achieve this some time in 2014 or early 2015. Watch this space!

Who certifies eToolLCD?

Please click here for a very detailed answer.

What are the Goals of eToolLCD?

The goals of an eTool LCA are to:

  • Quantify the environmental impacts of the clients design (normal eTool assessments pay particular attention to CO2 equivalent emissions, CO2e)
  • Compare these impacts against a typical ‘business as usual’ benchmark
  • Provide recommendations that will ideally reduce the total impacts of the building
  • Conduct this in a cost effective, auditable and repeatable manner

A typical eTool assessment allows reporting of numerous impacts:

  • Global Warming Potential
  • Primary Energy
  • Water Use
  • Land Use
  • Costs

Most commonly however we only report on Global Warming Potential.

It is the goal of eTool to estimate impacts with enough accuracy to compare different design options. The aim is to be vaguely right not precisely wrong. Estimating impacts to high levels of confidence requires detailed resources. In the case of buildings, this will usually be overshadowed by the influence of occupant behavior on operational impacts, or the actual building life that will deviate significantly from that estimated in this assessment. The assessment does not attempt to predict the affects of future changes to:

  • Grid Power Sources (which hopefully by the time this building is actually nearing it’s design life will be predominantly renewable) Inflation of building materials (for maintenance), labour costs or energy costs
  • The assessment therefore represents a snapshot in time, all else being equal, of the building performance.

What Functional Units does eToolLCD use?

In order to normalise assessments between building types the environmental and cost impacts are expressed in terms of an applicable functional unit.  Typically eTool uses the following functional units for different project types:

  • Commercial Office: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Residential buildings: Impacts measured per occupant per year
  • Community, healthcare, retail: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Industrial buildings: Impacts measured per m2 per year

All the functional units rely on a prediction of design life, which has a very large effect on their comparable sustainability. Although difficult to predict, eTool uses a methodology aimed at producing fair and repeatable comparisons between building designs. Individual building life spans will deviate significantly from the design lives calculated using this methodology, however the aim is to predict the mean expected life of all buildings with similar characteristics and circumstances.

Although studies that quantify the actual life span of buildings are lacking, the reasons for demolition of buildings are quite well documented. Studies conducted in Australia (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009) and the US (Athena Institute, 2004) indicate that less than 10% of buildings are demolished due to reaching the end of their strutural service life. It is other factors that usually dictate service life, namely:

  • Redevelopment for economic reasons (surrounding land has increased in value to the extent that it is more profitable to increase the density or use of the buliding)
  • Redevelopment for aesthetic reasons (the building is no longer in fasion)
  • Fire or other disaster

For this reason the following characteristics are also considered when estimating design life:

  • Building density
  • Density of the surrounding suburb
  • Design quality

Best practice building design attempts to match the durability with the redevelopment potential of the building.

The eTool estimated design lives often differ compared to industry perceptions of building life span. Architects in Australia for example expect detached residential buildings to last over 60 years (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009).

How secure is eToolLCD software?

All of eTool’s services are built on top of very secure foundations. Using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to host eToolLCD ensures a high level of security and protection against malicious attacks at the infrastructure level.

The eTool website itself is built using Microsoft’s latest and most secure web technology ASP.NET MVC.  It leverages the ASP.NET Forms Authentication library to provide the highest level of security to users accounts and their content.  Users are required to use a combination of email address and password to gain access to their eTool workspace.  Passwords must meet minimum complexity requirements and we follow industry best practice by not storing users passwords but rather salted hashes.

Has eToolLCD been independently verified?

Please click here for a detailed answer.

How do I learn to use eToolLCD software?

The demand for LCA of the built form is growing rapidly. To ensure we can maximise our current available resources to help accelerate LCD we  encourage you to use our online help videos to learn the basics of eTool.

Of course, face to face training is the best way to learn, and we offer a range of subscription packages. Please register your interest here for the next training session in your nearest capital city.

How do I use the eToolLCD Expressions?

eToolLCD V2 introduced some pretty neat functionality that allows users to enter formulas or expressions into some fields.  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.

We also have a number of variables that relate to the design that can be used in expressions.  The list of these is provided below (with default values that are used in library template calculations before loading into a design):

Name

Property

 Default Value 

Occupancy Occupancy of the structure 2
Fully Enclosed Building Area Fully enclosed building area of the design 225
Estimated Design Life Estimated design life of the structure 50
Maximum Durability Ceiling The maximum structural life of the structure 150
Design Template Quantity The template quantity field that is filled out when uploading a template into a design 100

 

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

Technical

Who recognises LCA?

Life Cycle Assessment is recognised internationally in standards, rating tools and even legislation.

Standards

Life Cycle Assessment is recognised by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) through standards 14040 and 14044 which deal directly with LCA.  LCA is also heavily referenced or relied upon in many other ISO standards covering environmental assessment of products, services, buildings and civil structures.  Essentially, when it comes to assessing environmental performance, ISO standards prefer the use of LCA.

The European Centre for Standardisation (CEN) also heavily rely on LCA for assessing the environmental performance of buildings and building products (standards EN15978 and EN15804 respectively).  These standards are quickly becoming recognised internationally.

Of course this all makes sense, when you do stand back and think carefully about how to guarantee that a design decision you’re making truly leads to a net improvement in performance, you need to understand the life cycle impacts associated with that decision.  It’s really the only way to be sure a design choice isn’t leading to poor trade off’s.  The technical committees that were tasked with standardising “Assessment of the Environmental Performance of Buildings” had many existing systems and approaches to choose from around the world.  LCA emerged as the best option available.

Building Rating Systems

The uptake of whole building life cycle assessment has been accelerating in recent times as it becomes  more practical to implement. Even existing rating systems are quickly embracing and integrating it into their systems.  These systems include:

  • US Green Building Council: LEED
  • BRE (UK): BREEAM
  • Living Future Institute (US): Living Building Challenge
  • BioRegional (UK): One Planet Living
  • Green Building Initiative: Green Globes
  • German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB): DGNB System
  • Green Building Council of Australia: Green Star

LCA is utilised differently by these different systems.  In the case of the DGNB it’s a very significant part of the total scoring system, where as other systems are only just starting to introduce LCA.  Whole of building LCA has only become practical reasonably recently, and it’s uptake is accelerating, both in the number of systems that are incorporating it, and also the weighting.

Legislation

Governments are beginning to recognise that the way we are running our economy is unsustainable, particularly with the issue of climate change. The world needs to reduce GHG emissions per capita by approximately 80%, and developed countries by 95% to achieve sustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In the construction sector, although no regulations have yet specified LCA of whole buildings, this avenue is being seriously considered. Washington State Senate commissioned a study to explore the potential of integrating life cycle assessment methods, data and/or standards into the state building code. Findings supported implementation but not immediately as the industry needs time to develop LCA skills and data. External to building regulations a number of product labelling programs have also unfolded to introduce transparency regarding embodied carbon of products.  These programs rely on LCA to determine a product’s carbon footprint.  The following programs are all using LCA to quantify and compare environmental impacts of consumer products.

  • France introduced a national pilot program of LCA based environmental labelling under the Grenelle 2 Act.
  • South Korea initiated a carbon labelling program for consumer goods and services. The system is voluntary but instigated by “The Fundamental Law for Low Carbon Green Growth, 2010”. 600 goods and services currently certified and labelled.
  • Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry started a pilot labelling program in 2008. Over 300 retailers and manufacturers are involved across 53 product categories.
  • Thailand have introduced a pilot CO2 labelling program through the GHG Management Organisation. Launched in 2010, 458 products from 100 companies are carrying the label.

How much CO2 is the built environment responsible for?

A number of sources are now confirming the huge impact of buildings on the environment.
When both embodied and operational emissions are accounted for, most estimates seem to fall between 30 and 40%, although some studies indicate it is even higher.

“Worldwide, 30-40% of all primary energy is used in buildings.” United Nations Environmental Program, 2007

“The commercial and residential building sector accounts for 39% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States.” United States Green Building Council, 2009

“According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), nearly half (46.7%) of all CO2 emissions in 2009 came from the Building Sector.” Architecture 2030, 2011

What is Life Cycle Assessment or “LCA”?

LCA is an accounting method that assesses each and every impact associated with all stages of a product or process over its life span. The approach is sometimes referred to as a “Cradle to Cradle” assessment if it accounts for full recycling at the end of the products design life or just “Cradle to Grave” if it takes the product through to disposal only.

For more details please download our paper on the science of LCA in the built form here.

How does LCA relate to the built environment in regards to energy and carbon?

LCA of the built form involves quantifying the total “Embodied Energy” and the “Operational Energy” over the entire design life of the building (click here to see LCA graphic). Energy can then be converted in CO2e using applicable coefficients relevant to the primary energy source and efficiency.

For more details please download our paper on the science of LCA in the built form here.

What does “Embodied Energy” mean in reference to the built environment?

Embodied Energy refers to the energy and/or carbon required to construct and maintain a building over its entire design life (click here to see LCA graphic).
Embodied Energy can be broken down into the following components:

  • Materials – Energy used to extract the raw materials and process them into useable building products available at the gate of the factory (“Cradle to Gate”).
  • Transport – Energy used to transport the building materials from the factory gate to the building site.
  • Assembly – Energy used to construct and create the building.
  • Recurring – Energy used to maintain and replace certain building elements over the entire life span of the building.
  • Demolition and Recycling – Energy used to demolish and recycle the building and feed the resultant materials back into the building materials “food chain”.

For more details please download our paper on the science of LCA in the built form here.

What does “Operational Energy” mean in reference to the built environment?

The “Operational Energy” is the amount of energy required to run the building over its design life and includes appliances such as Air-Conditioners, Hot Water systems, Refridgeration and Lighting.

How much “Embodied Energy” is there in an “average” building?

As there are limited numbers of LCA’s of buildings completed in Australia, the sample group is too small to quote what an “average” might be. However after conducting numerous LCA’s on “benchmark” or “standard” Australian residential designs we have found that “Embodied Energy” is responsible for approximately 35% of the a buildings carbon footprint.

As we rapidly populate our database of designs globally we will be better positioned to provide more accurate statistics on “average” values. To put this in perspective, in Australia air conditioning is responsible for approximately 23% of the buildings total carbon footrpint over its design life. With “Embodied Energy” at 35% we feel that it is imperative that the use of eTool and LCA compliment the legislated design requirements for the thermal performance of buildings in Australia.

How can LCA compare different types of buildings?

eTool have “Benchmark” buildings for different primary building uses.  Benchmarks are a weighted average calculation of embodied and operational carbon for the new buildings of that primary purpose.  For example, our residential benchmark reflects the new residential dwelling mix in Australia.  That is, we’ve looked at the national Australian Bureau of Statistics data for new dwellings, determined the mix of low, medium and high density buildings, established a weighted average size of dwelling and then determined the embodied carbon of that size of dwelling.  We have then profiled average energy consumption for new homes, adjusted for the climate region (which affects the thermal performance component).  We have ensured that all energy consumption stats are calculated on building code compliant structural, design and energy efficiency measures.  This gives us a measuring stick against which all new residential premises can be compared, our “Benchmark”.  Ideally we want to reduce the impact in comparison to this “average” for new dwellings.

The obvious question regarding the above approach is that we’re not comparing like for like. For example, how can we compare a detached house to a multistory residential apartment block?.  By using a functional unit of “impacts / occupant / year” we are normalising results to allow comparisons despite wildly varying building sizes, styles, densities etc.  Without the functional unit the eTool benchmark buildings would be useless to compare against.  The power of the functional unit is that it enables all buildings to be compared, thereby the advantages (or otherwise) of totally different housing approaches can be assessed against the “business as usual” approach.

LCA v LCCA

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is covered by ISO 14040 and 14044; it is a method of assessing the environmental impacts of a product or service. LCCA (Life Cycle Cost Assessment) is covered by ISO 15686 – 5 and gives guidelines for performing life cycle cost analysis of buildings and constructed assets.
eToolLCD has been developed to meet LCA standards, and although is a very useful tool for life cycle cost assessments, the standard reports generated by eToolLCD don’t necessarily meet ISO 15686 – 5 (LCCA).  Neither of these standards are particularly well known and we have been providing both services to clients in the past to their satisfaction.

Do you account for building design life?

Absolutely, design life is a critical component of good LCA performance.  The studies suggest that for buildings, the actual service life is dictated by redevelopment pressure, not durability.  If it’s a detached residential building in a high density area it is likely to be subject to very high redevelopment pressure in the not to distant future.  If however a building is very high density, or in a very low density area it’s not going to be under nearly the same pressure for redevelopment.  Further to this, by applying good future proofing design principles and superior design quality, design life may also be extended.  In determining the environmental impacts of a building design life and functionality can be the biggest determinants.

How is the benchmark building created? Who manages this, and how do you stop people from manipulating the benchmark buildings?

eTool model the benchmark buildings based on a weighted average building density, size and functionality of new stock for the type of building undergoing the LCA.  In essence, the benchmark is a nominal statistical average of buildings that provide the same function.  For example, for residential buildings, we look at the weighted mix of existing housing stock, the size and occupancy.  From there we make adjustments to ensure modern day code compliance.  The benchmarks have to be specific for each region to account for building codes and climate variables  For example, there are major differences between a code compliant building in the US verse Australia.  Our current published benchmarks are all Australian buildings at present but we’re extending the library internationally as we speak.  eTool create and manage all the benchmarks, it’s not a user defined thing and therefore all LCAs conducted in eTool are comparable for a particular building type in a particular region.

Which materials should we shift away from and what should we stick with to get a better LCA result?

It’s really dependant on the building.  Sometimes it actually makes sense to use high embodied impact materials because they provide durability, but this is only justified in buildings that are likely to still be standing in 100 years or more.  It also depends on the interaction between thermal performance and the materials.  There’s often a few iterations involved to perfect the mix.  General rules of thumb though would be, for buildings with a short expected life span, light frame construction is preferable, for buildings with a long life span, the focus often has to be on reducing recurring impacts from maintenance activities (paint, carpets, plasterboard etc).  Natural finishes are a good way of combatting this.

How Does eTool Define Building Areas?

The following table shoes how eTool will be soon defining areas within the software (if not already!):

Australian Construction Handbook Definitions (Rawlinsons) Simplified eTool Notes UK Equivalent
Term Abbreviation Description
Gross Floor Area  GLA The sum of the Fully Enclosed Covered Area and Unenclosed Covered Area as defined. No Change Gross External Area
Fully Enclosed Covered Area FECA The 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, computed by measuring from the normal inside face of exterior walls but ignoring any projections such as plinths, columns, piers, and the like which project from the normal inside face of exterior walls but ignoring any projections such as plinths, columns, piers, and the like which project from the normal inside face of exterior walls.  It shall not include open courts, light wells, connecting or isolated covered ways and net open areas of upper portions of rooms, lobbies, halls, interstitial spaces and the like, which extend through the storey being computed. As for Rawlinsons but projectiosn are generally included in the measurement and measurement may be from the outside, centre or inside of external walls depending on the models and plans used to develop the inventory Gross Internal Area
Unenclosed Covered Area UCA The 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, computed my measuring the area between the enclosing walls or balustrade (i.e. from the inside face of the UCA. excluding the wall or balustrade thickness).  When measurements shall be taken to the edge of the paving or to the edge of the cover, whichever is the lesser.  UCA shall not include eves, overhangs, sun shading, awnings and the like where these do not relate to clearly defined trafficable covered areas, nor shall if include connecting or isolated covered ways. As for Rawlinsons but area of balustrades is generally included and measurement may be from the outside, centre or inside of external walls depending on the models and plans used to develop the inventory
Building Area BA The total enclosed and unenclosed area of the building at all building floor levels measured between the normal outside face of any enclosing walls, balustrades and supports. No Change
Usable Floor Area UFA The sum of the floor areas measured at floor level from the general inside face of walls and all interior spaces related to the primary function of the building.  This will normally be computed by calculating the Fully Enclosed Covered Floor Area (FECA) and deducting all the following areas supplementary to the primary building function:
– Common Use Areas: All floored areas in the building for the circulation and standard facilities provided for the common use of occupiers, tenants and / or the public such as lobbies and foyers to entrances, lifts, landings, and fire escapes, verandahs and balconies, corridors and passages, toilet and rest room areas, cloak and locker areas, cleaners rooms including stores and cupboards, tea making and similar amenities.
– Service Areas: All areas set aside for the building plant supplying services and facilities common to the building for the use of occupants, tenants, and / or the public such as mechanical plant and equipment rooms, electrical equipment and switch rooms, tank rooms, lift motor rooms, meter cupboards, telecommunication switch rooms, refuse collection areas, loading bays and all car parks including access ways thereto.
– Non Habitable Areas: All non-habitable building space such as that occupied by internal columns and other structural supports, internal walls and permanent partitions, lift shafts, service ducts and the like.
As for Rawlinsons but will generally include non habital areas. Net Internal Area
Treated Area TA The sum of all areas at all building levels to which a particular engineering services is provided.  The area is computed by measuring from the normal inside f ace of exterior walls, but ignoring any projections such as plinths, columns, piers, and the like which project from the normal inside face of exterior walls, to the center line of internal walls, as applicable, which enclose the area treated.   NOTE:  Treated area may need to be calculated separately for each engineering service.  The treated area to such services as space heating, ventilation, evaporative cooling and air-conditioning should include all areas to which the treated air is supplied.  The treated areas for fire protection comprises the sum of protected floor space, the area of protected ceiling spaces and the area of protected under floor spaces. As for Rawlinsons, generally only appried to “Conditioned Area”
Net Lettable Area, Office Buildings NLA The sum of all lettable areas within a commercial type office building, measured from the internal finished surfaces of permanent walls and from the internal finished surfaces of dominant portions of the permanent outer building walls, and including the area occupied by structural columns, and engaged perimeter columns, all in accordance with the Method for the Measurement for Lettable Area issued by the Property Council of Australia.  Deductions from NLA:
– All stairs, toilets, cleaners cupboards, lift shafts, escalators, and tea rooms where provided as standard facilities in the building.
– Lobbies between lifts facing other lifts serving the same floor
– Areas set aside as public space or thoroughfares and not used exclusively by occupiers of the building (NOTE: Excludes any additional common areas resulting from subdivision of a whole floor to accommodate more than one tenant)
– Areas set aside as plant and lift motor rooms of for the provision of facilities or services to the building and not for the exclusive use of an occupier or occupiers of the building
– Areas set aside for use by service vehicles and for delivery of goods and access ways thereto
– Areas set aside for car parking and access thereto
– Areas where clear height is less than 1.5m
As for Rawlinsons but will generally include non habital areas.

 

 

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