Screenshot 2014-10-28 12.47.13

The Green Swing Wins National HIA Award

We’d like to extend a huge congratulations to The Green Swing, whose developments have recently won the 2014 HIA GreenSmart Townhouse/Villa Development Award!

The Green Swing was started by a group of passionate Perth residents who decided to build their low carbon houses on a small plot in the Victoria Park suburb. They have won a number of awards due to their impressive environmental performance for the development. Check out their case study from their life cycle assessment on our projects page here.

A few other eTool clients also made it to the list of HIA GreenSmart awards. Congratulations to all! Check out the full list here.


The Green Swing - 2014 HIA GreenSmart Townhouse/Villa Development Winner

Construction of a mud brick home

Earth Buildings – Proving the Importance of Embodied Energy

Fei Ngeow, eTool LCD Engineer, recently attended the 2014 EBAA Conference: ‘Earth Building – Towards Zero Carbon’, in NSW. The two-day conference was held the the Bamarang Bush retreat in buildings constructed with mud brick and included workshops and guest speakers on varying topics related to earth buildings.

Fei presented on the topic “The opportunity for earth buildings to achieve true environmental sustainability.” Some of our findings when comparing emissions of a brick veneer house with a mud brick house are shown below:

Life Cycle Performance Comparison

External Wall Comparison

Life cycle analysis shows that a 250mm mud brick wall has a 95% improvement in embodied CO2 over a 110mm rendered brick veneer wall.

  • Mud brick wall – 250mm puddled mud brick wall made onsite, finished with 10mm clay/bitumen render.
  • Brick veneer wall – 110 brick, insulation, plasterboard paint internal finish, render external finish.
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Embodied Energy Comparison
When you consider the impacts for a whole house for the brick veneer and mud brick house, the embodied emissions are lower for a mud brick construction when compared to a benchmark brick veneer house.
Brick veneer house versus mud brick house - total embodied energy only
According to the IPCC, 1 tonne CO2/person/year  is considered the safe limit to maintain a stabilised climate  for  Interestingly, the embodied emissions in both situations are actually higher than this leaving no emissions spare for all other aspects of life such as transport, food, goods and services.  Assuming we leave around 0.7 tonnes/occupant per year for all other aspects of life we have a sustainable budget of about 0.3 tonnes/occupant/year for our dwellings.
Embodied & Operational Comparison
When the services (heating, cooling, hot water, cooking, appliances, and lighting) are included, the savings are not as clear, due largely in part to the NatHERS 6.5 star rating for standard insulated brick veneer house versus an uninsulated 4 star mud brick house.  Arguably, this reflects limitations in the NAThers modelling such as natural ventilation and use of non-standard designs or materials.  In reality a mud brick house has been claimed to outperform brick veneer in terms of thermal comfort.
Assumptions (for both houses):
  • reverse cycle heat pump (CoP = 3.65, EER = 3.4)
  • 85% efficient gas HWS
  • CFL lighting
  • gas cooking
Brick veneer versus mud brick

The house comparisons have been modeled in a cold climate zone (Tomerong)  and therefore have a minimal cooling requirement and high heating requirement. When low carbon alternative heating solutions such as wood pellet heaters are incorporated, the embodied emissions make up a larger proportion of the total.


Although the mud brick still requires more heating, because the heating source is very low in emissions in both cases the total operational energy decreases meaning, the embodied emissions proportionally increase.  The relative savings from the mud brick walls then become more significant. If houses can be designed optimally, to minimise cooling requirements, low carbon outcomes are easier to achieve through the use of renewable heat sources.

The grid emissions in the above two scenarios are assumed constant throughout the life cycle of the building.  In reality the grid emissions will decarbonise if Australia is to meet its commitments to Kyoto (80% reduction in CO2 by 2050).  Again the embodied emissions become more  significant because the operational makes up a smaller proportion of the overall emissions.



The operational use can have a significant impact on the environmental performance over the life of the building.  However, embodied emissions can be arguably as important particularly when low carbon heating sources or future grid intensities are taken into account.  Operational energy use can be very variable depending on how conscientious the end-user is, it is also much easier to tackle through use of renewables and energy efficiency – measures that can often often be applied retrospectively. The embodied emissions on the other hand are locked in from the time the building is built.  By using low impact materials such as mud bricks these impacts are reduced significantly and the savings are locked in for the lifetime of the building no matter what kind of user moves in.
Likewise Earth builders still need to be knowledgeable about the services that go into the building and their life-cycle impacts to ensure that these won’t negate the environmental benefits of their earth home. This is where Life Cycle Design can be very handy – providing big picture comparisons to help the builder make choices that are better for the planet.
A big thanks to the Earth Building Association of Australia for putting on a great conference!

eToolLCD Data Update

eToolLCD Data Update

A host of new materials have been added to eToolLCD recently to enable even more design flexibility. As well as the new data, existing materials and energy processes have been updated also to achieve greater data consistency and accuracy. All the datasets are now based on AusLCI and the Ecoinvent 2.2 background modified with AusLCI inputs. Most figures for Global Warming Potential (GWP) are consistent with the previous background data with the exception of some outliers, key examples are listed below:
  • Timber data now includes the sequestration of carbon dioxide during the growth phase (which is then re-released into the atmosphere in end of life scenarios)
  • Copper and brass now using improved processing assumptions, decrease in global warming potential, increase in most other indicators
  • Glass fibre insulation has increased due to improved process assumptions
  • Natural polished stone has increased quite dramatically due to mapping electricity inputs back to carbon intensive Australian electricity
  • ABS, Nylon and Expanded Polystyrene impacts have all increased for GWP due to an update in processes (incumbant data was as old as 1990)
  • ​The land use figures have also changed quite a bit due to accuracy improvements in background LCI processes
We are literally in the thick of this update as I write this so still unsure of the changes at a building level. Our educated guess at this stage is any significant use of timber in a building will lead to a much greater saving in GWP compared to the older database. This may also make the benchmarks slightly tougher for some types of buildings (e.g. Residential).

Why 1% for the Planet?

I have to confess, the main reason I floated this idea with the eTool team was because I idolise Yvon Chouinard.   For those who have never heard of him he’s a climber/alpinist who started the Patagonia brand.  He’s now 76 years old so his life experiences make him a very worthy elder.  Check out the movie 180 Degrees South to get an taste. Climbers, surfers, business people and conservationists all revere him for his feats in only their own specialties, his aggregate achievements across all these disciplines is incredible. Yet, humble would have to be the most appropriate word I can muster to describe him, an incredible human.

But my lofty idea based on an infatuation with Yvon Chouinard wouldn’t have amounted to anything had the cause been anything less than noble. The 1% for the Planet cause is noble, and it’s pretty simple. A commitment to give 1% of your company’s sales to non-profits operating in the environmental space. Yes, that’s right, 1% of sales (not profit). It’s a pretty big call, and one that eTool could hardly afford to make given we’re a boot-strapped environmental software startup with very meagre financial resources. Nevertheless, we bit the bullet and joined up. Two years in I think we’re pretty happy we did. It’s a good thing to be a part of, and eTool really hope that those reading this get involved. If you need a bit more motivation, check out this intro to 1% for the Planet (featuring Yvon himself, member #1)…


Psaros Announced as Finalist in Australia’s Prestigious Sustainability Awards

A long standing client of eTool has recently been announced as a finalist for the Banksia Sustainability Awards.

Psaros has been leading the way in sustainable multi-residential buildings in Australia through conducting eTool Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for each of their developments, with one of their more recent developments Edge, winning an International Property Award in the 2014 Asia Pacific regional competition.

Edge by Psaros Thumb

Edge by Psaros

Recently, Psaros and the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA) formed a partnership to help encourage sustainable apartment developments in Perth City. They have commissioned market research to help understand community attitudes towards sustainable apartment-style living the future of Perth city.

Read the Psaros press release here.

We’d like to say a a big ‘congratulations!’ to Psaros from all of us here at eTool. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the Psaros Banskia Award!


eTool is now a member of Spacecubed!

Spacecubed is an inner city co-working office space that facilitates community engagement, collaboration, and innovation to help Western Australian startups, businesses and organisations grow.

eTool has recently joined as a community member at Spacecubed to support and participate in the growing startup and innovation community in WA. If you haven’t heard of Spacecubed, check it out here. 



We’re Going Global

Miss our September Newsletter? …We have some exciting news! 

eTool is growing some wings and heading off on a global journey…

From the very beginning, Richard and Alex created eTool and the eToolLCD software to achieve one mission – to create a global solution for a global challenge: global warming. After many years of hard work, struggle, briefly being the “LCA nerds”, and a great deal of patience, we now watch with excitement as the world embraces Life Cycle Assessment as a standard component of good building design.

To reflect our desire to improve the built form around the world, we’ve breathed new life into our website, created a succinct “Life Cycle Design Explained video“, and changed our domain name to Let it be noted: the latter was not an easy decision. The word ‘global’ had a certain “evil global domination” feel, much to the disdain of the team. However after many discussions, global seemed to be best word to signify our ultimate goal – so we are taking the world global back and giving it a new and positive reputation.

To date, eTool has conducted over 200 LCAs of all sorts of building projects with over 1,500 registered eToolLCD users across 61 different countries.

So while our global journey has already begun, we really look forward to continuing to work with you all in achieving global domination… domination of genuinely sustainable buildings that is!


-The eTool Team
Richard, Alex, Fei, Patrick, Portia & Henrique


All Essential List of 12 For a Carbon Zero Lifestyle

[Find original publication here]

A Carbon Zero Lifestyle

Alex hi res- Jan 2013I often get asked by homeowners and self-builders what really makes the biggest difference to the carbon footprint of a home design. Here are my 12 essential bases to cover if you want to go zero carbon but have a strict budget.

1. Life cycle design philosophy

What’s this “Life Cycle Assessment” or LCA thing about? Life Cycle Assessment can be used to calculate all the impacts of your design choices in terms of carbon, cost, greenhouse gas emissions, water, toxicity and more. Quantify and compare to improve your design and don’t forget to question everything.

2. Make it financially attractive
There isn’t much point making a house carbon neutral if it costs the earth, so invest in areas that are going to give you the best return financially and maximise your positive impact on the planet. Before you commit to any design decision, ensure you understand the capital outlay, cost savings and importantly the resulting carbon footprint.

3. Design for the future
Is your design a fashion fad or a timeless classic? Unfortunately, most houses in Australia are lucky to hit their 40th birthday before they are knocked down, so it’s important to consider the following:
• Planning and density – don’t build a detached house in a high density suburb or it will just get knocked over and replaced with townhouses.
• Future proof it – think ahead to what people might want after you’ve finished living there.
• Quality build – a house that is energy efficient, comfortable, functional, well built and well finished is going to last a lot longer than a dated, impractical, energy guzzling beast.
• Durability – if you are aiming for the house to live to a ripe old age, use durable materials.

4. Make it functional
The more people a house can house, the less impact per person that house will have on the environment – it’s that simple. Plus, the more functional a building is, the more likely it will live to retirement instead of retrenchment.

5. Quality not quantity
In Australia, our dwellings have grown 40% in size in the past 20 years, with 10% less people living in them.That means a house built in 1990 is 40% smaller than what we are building now and pretty much has 40% more impact on energy bills and the environment. So, build a smarter, smaller house with the architecture that works well and feels comfortable.

6. Low embodied energy materials
Try to use materials that aren’t responsible for too much – or zero – environmental damage in their manufacture. Think about where and how that product started its life and how it got here. As we transition towards renewable energy, the carbon impact of operating a house (like air-conditioning) will be reduced.

7. Reduce, reuse, recycle materials
Yep, this old chestnut again. Reduce – redundant materials and use raw or natural finishes that don’t require ongoing maintenance. Reuse – whatever you can from the last building or other local “retrenched” (knocked down) buildings. Recycle – materials from the last building and incorporate recycled and recyclable materials into the design.

8. Local, local, local but sometimes not
It makes sense to use locally produced materials and trades as less transport usually means less carbon. However, sometimes you’ll be looking at a compromise between a material that is local but with a high embodied energy versus an imported product that might be recycled. And when you’re considering transportation, investigate efficiency: could shipping from China be less than trucking from Perth to Melbourne?

9. Make it “climate sensible”
After embodied energy,“heating and cooling” are big factors when it comes to your home’s carbon footprint.We are getting better at this impact and Australia now has “six star” regulations that ensure that any new home build will have a fairly good level of thermal performance. It’s good to aim higher than this, but make sure you’re not compromising other aspects of your carbon footprint or return on investment. Consider how much energy and cost went into making that concrete slab you’ve used to get thermal mass and star rating up.

10. Hot water (don’t land in it)
When it comes to running your home, hot water and appliances will impact your energy bills the most, so consider them right from the start. Hot water systems such as solar hot water shouldn’t be viewed as a “bolt on” or “wait and see if we’ve got the budget” item. Make an informed decision on capital outlay versus ongoing savings.

11. Renewable energy
We all love renewables.They can provide a great return on investment and at the same time lower your overall carbon footprint. That said, try not to fall into the trap of thinking “no dramas, I’ll just add a few more solar panels to deal with that”.The embodied energy that goes into making things can never be recovered so make sure you always go back to where did it come from?

12. Low carbon doesn’t always mean sustainable
Reducing your home’s carbon footprint is only one metric of sustainability and it’s just as important to consider the way we behave in our own homes.Technology like real time energy monitoring has shown to reduce energy consumption by around 10% by affecting occupant behaviour. That’s a bigger impact than increasing star rating from six to seven stars.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) vs Life Cycle Design (LCD)

While people are still coming to terms with what Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is, and why it is such a powerful tool to improve the way we build, here at eTool we’ve already moved to referring to Life Cycle Design or LCD.

Yes, it kind of does sound like some new audio visual technology or maybe even a hallucinogenic, but we think it’s super important put the word “Design” into the picture early on.

Heres why: eTool was always founded on the core concept of improving the way we design and build and definitely did not want to create another rating system. Our software eToolLCD is first and foremost a design tool, and it’s in the early design concept phase where you’ll get the best value for the planet and the economy.

Unfortunately, the building industry too often see ESD (again, not another hallucinogenic) or green rating systems as something you tack onto the end of a design process, and LCA definitely ran the same risk. While it’s just a word, “Assessment” at the end of “Life Cycle” just helped project stakeholders think that it should be pushed to the end of the design rather than right up front.

It’s almost guaranteed that outcome will be improved by having basic discussions around functionality before the client put pen to paper developing a design brief. Please ensure you get in contact with us as early as possible to discuss your next project or concept.