Changes to Green Star – D&AB v1.2, Interiors v1.2 and Communities v1.1

The use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is gaining greater recognition in sustainability assessment.  An LCA credit is embedded as a core credit in the Green Star rating tools Design and As Built v1.2, Interiors v1.2 and Communities v1.1.

eTool have completed and peer reviewed over 50 LCAs for Green Star projects and we have a great group of eToolLCD users that are constantly providing feedback to improve the way we quantify and improve project performance using Life Cycle Design.

In early July 2017, Green Star released the 1.2 version for Design and As Built and Interiors rating tools and the Materials Life Cycle Impacts credit was further improved, as follows:

  • Points may now be easier to achieve for some projects provided there’s early engagement of LCA consultants
  • Projects registered with Green Star after September 2017 will need to engage early. Projects that wait until very late in the design process to begin the LCA may be limited to 4 points of the available 7.
  • Points allocation have been adjusted with operational energy reductions capped.
  • Further Additional Reporting initiatives were added with extra points available.
  • Additional guidance throughout to improve clarity and other updates.

Design and As Built v1.2 points breakdown – Up to 7 points in total:

  • Up to 6 points for performance (limited to 3 points for operational energy improvement)
  • Up to one point for LCA Design Review (early stage)
  • Up to 1 point for material changes informed by the LCA
  • Up to 1 point for construction process change informed by the LCA
  • Up to 1 point for reporting additional indicators
  • Innovation: 1 additional point where the cumulative impact reduction as defined within the credit is increased by 20% to a total of 150%.

Interiors v1.2 points breakdown – Up to 19 points in total:

  • Up to 18 points for performance (limited to 12 points for operational energy improvement)
  • Up to 1 point for reporting additional indicators
  • Up to 2 points for material changes informed by the LCA
  • Up to 2 points for construction process change informed by the LCA
  • Up to 2 points for LCA Design Review (early stage)
  • Innovation: 1 additional point where the cumulative impact reduction as defined within the credit is increased by 20% to a total of 150%.

Communities v1.1 points breakdown – Up to 5 points in total:

  • Up to 4 points for performance (whole of site impact reduction)
  • Up to 1 point for reporting additional indicators

The Life Cycle Design process using eTool services will now be:

  • Target Setting Study conducted at Concept Design Stage
  • Life Cycle Design Services conducted later in the design project when energy modelling has been undertaken

Note to eToolLCD users: The Indicator verse Life Cycle Phase Summary report can be used for LCA Design Review. The Target Setting report will be updated soon to include multiple indicators.

eTool hosted a webinar to present the recent changes in Materials Life Cycle credit and how to maximise design value using LCA methodology.

Stay tuned for other updates and get in touch if you need further details.

 

ACV de Edificação – Mais fácil e perto de você (Portuguese)

Quantificar sustentabilidade ambiental foi o desafio que deu origem à empresa eTool. Desde 2010, os amigos e engenheiros australianos Richard e Alex desenvolvem o software eToolLCD para realizar cálculo de impacto ambiental na construção e promovem uso da metodologia Avaliação de Ciclo de Vida (ACV) para garantir performance ambiental genuína nos projetos em que participam.

Desde então, a equipe da eTool cresceu e expandiu da Austrália para a Europa e agora também para as Américas. A empresa já completou mais de 200 análises de projetos residenciais, comerciais e de infraestrutura, prestando serviço de consultoria ou fornecendo solução de software para a equipe de projeto.

O software eToolLCD é totalmente web-based, atende às normas ISO 14044 e EN15978 (específica para ACV de edificação), possui atualmente mais de 1.500 usuários ao redor do mundo e pode ser utilizado para obter pontos na certificação Green Star, BREEAM, LEED, entre outras.

Eu trabalho com a eTool desde 2012, onde me especializei em Avaliação de Ciclo de Vida e fui líder da equipe responsável por conduzir os estudos técnicos e colaborar com a equipe de desenvolvimento de software. Depois de morar cinco anos na Austrália, voltei para o Brasil para dar continuidade ao trabalho que iniciei em 2014, mas agora em definitivo para desenvolver a eTool Américas. É um grande desafio e também uma realização pessoal e profissional trazer para o Brasil uma metodologia que ainda não é muito utilizada, mas tem um grande potencial para auxiliar equipes de projeto a reduzir o impacto ambiental das construções e também demonstrar viabilidade financeira por meio da Análise de Custo do Ciclo de Vida.

Somos uma empresa apaixonada em projetar melhor e garantir bem estar social e harmonia com o meio ambiente. Estou entusiasmado para trabalharmos juntos.

5 Ways to add value to your services using Life Cycle Design

Life Cycle Design (LCD) has quickly become the go-to method for defining sustainability in buildings in governments, green building councils and organisations around the world. It is considered best practice for good building design by the International Standard Organization (ISO 14044) and is a powerful methodology for ensuring genuinely sustainable and high performance outcomes.

This article and video recording provide an overview of Life Cycle Design and explain five ways to add value to your services using LCD. Be inspired by how LCD has been incorporated in different sectors and projects, and how key stakeholders have taken it on board.

Some of the topics covered include:

What is Life Cycle Design and the methodology
The importance of green buildings and measuring building environmental performance
Green Star projects – general overview
LCA as a required part of ESD tender documentation
ISCA and use of LCD as an integrated desgin approach
LCD for regulatory approvals
Marketing and sales campaign
eToolLCD software 

 

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LoveLCD_Banner

{#3} Why Love LCD? – It offers an integrated design process.

Our “Love LCD” campaign is now in full swing and we’re excited to release our videos over the coming weeks. We started this campaign because we are passionate about reducing carbon in buildings and to us, life cycle design is the best way to do that. We want to spread our love of LCD and hope others will be inspired to learn more and use Life Cycle Design too!

Why Love LCD?

{Reason #3} LCD Offers an Integrated Design Process.

Watch Alex Bruce (eTool Co-founder and Business Development Director) tell us why he loves Life Cycle Design.

Check out our other ‘Love LCD’ videos:


{#1} Life cycle assessment allows you to identify the sometimes surprising aspects of a design that can be improved.


{#2} LCD takes the guesswork out of sustainability


carpark

Car Park Lighting Sensors

So if you’re designing an apartment building and you’re stuck with an underground car park things can get pretty nasty with energy consumption.  With no natural light and a clear safety requirement to keep the area lit all things point to an energy hungry lighting solution.   Even the most efficient lamps will still burn a lot of power running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The most obvious solution to drop run time is lighting controls.  Specifically motion sensors.  But how should these be set up, and how does the set up (number of lamps per sensor and lamp shutoff delay) actually effect the energy savings the controls will achieve?  The short answer is, make sure they turn off really quickly after the car or person is out of the area.  The long answer is below:

It’s Complex…

The interplay between the car park layout, vehicle traffic, pedestrian traffic, simultaneous use of certain areas of the car park, probability of a specific car bay being accessed, the shut-off delay timing and the distribution of sensors means calculating light run time is very complex.  Pondering the possibilities got the better of me and I ended up running a simulation to determine effect of some key parameters.

A Conceptual Car Park

The conceptual car park looked like the below pick.  Effectively 150 bays with one pedestrian access and a main vehicle exit point at one end.

Car Park Map

I used some basic lighting design to work out how many lights would be needed (single globe T5s) to achieve an adequate light levels (50lx).  The calcs indicated a requirement of about 80 lamps.  I just placed these in the road ways and walk ways in my conceptual design.  These are the numbers with the x in front of them.  In reality they’d be probably be spaced more evenly but this satisfies the requirements of the model which is just to see how many lights would be triggered when each bay was accessed.

Which Car Bay Triggers which Lamp?

That was a manual process of thinking about how a person will walk from the lift to the car, and then how they will drive out (or vice versa).  The below diagram shows that if car bay 125 is accessed the blue line will be traversed by the car driver and passengers, whilst the red line will be travelled by the car.  All the lamps highlighted in red will subsequently need to fire.

Car Park Map - Lights Triggered By Bay 125

Simulation

I got some stats on how many trips and average household does from here and here.  The Sydney data also gave these neat graphs on when the trips occur as well.  This enabled me to put a probability on a given car being accessed at a certain time of the day.  The sensors are obviously going to give the most benefit during lower trip frequency times.  But depending on the set up, you can even get a reduced run time during the peak times in this car park (not every day, but some days there’ll be savings due to the random nature of when people take a car trip).

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 2.59.53 pm

After some sense checking I ran the simulation for different combinations of motion sensor parameters.  The focus was on:

  • The delay before the lamp is shut down after the motion sensor is activated (or re-activated)
  • The number of lamps per sensor (if you whole car park is wired to one sensor, you’re not going to get as much benefit)

The below chart shows the results.  It looks pretty clear that the most important attribute is the delay before the lights are shut down again.  Amazingly, with 10 lamps per sensor a 90% run time reduction could be achieved if the lamps only fired for a minute.  10 lamps per sensor is probably as sparsely as you’d want to space the sensors to make sure they fired when there was movement

Simulated Car Park Lighting Energy with Sensors

Pit Falls

The simulation is obviously not a real live thing so I want to note some possible pit falls.

  • I got lazy and didn’t model weekend days separately.  So the actual savings are probably greater than what I’ve reported above.
  • If you car park is full or big rodents that trigger motion sensors 24 hours a day, the savings won’t be achieved.
  • My “Shut off delay time (mins)” is actually the lamp run time from when the motion sensor is first fired during a particular event, not from when it was last fired during that event.  So for you to achieve the 1 minute shut-off delay, you’ll probably want the light to go down 5 or 10 seconds after there was no motion in an area.  Perhaps this would cancel out the additional savings you’d get from lower weekend trips.

Other Car Park Lighting Ideas

Although motion sensors in car parks are an absolute no-brainer, there are also other things that can be done to make car park lighting smarter, a few of which I’ll include below.

Lux sensors may also be utilised with dimmable lamps to ensure light levels over the requirements are not delivered and hence energy savings may be achieved due to lower average lamp power.  The benefit of lux sensors in underground car parks is limited however due to a lack of natural light.

A better coefficient of utilisation can be achieved with light coloured rooms (more reflectance, so better light utilisation from your lamps which means you’ll need less lamps).

The lamp itself should be considered carefully and in conjunction with the lighting controls.  The most efficient globe in the world may be the wrong choice if you need more of them than necessary.  Similarly, if it won’t handle being turned on and off all the time, that’s going to be a problem.

The light housing can also help if it’s got a nice reflective backing to disperse the light where it’s needed (down and sideways) instead of where it’s not (up).

Sustainable Design Principles 101 – Multi-Residential Australia

This post is designed to guide design teams during early design stages prior to any form of drawing mark-up. It describes a pathway of continuous building improvement through easy low hanging fruit strategies to incorporation of renewable technologies and advanced design principles. As sustainability becomes engrained in the construction industry it is important that stakeholders maintain an understanding of what the market expects both presently and going forwards into a low carbon future.

Capture

Achieving Targets – The Basics

Generally a multi-residential apartment building built to BCA standards (electric hot water, 6 star Nathers and standard air conditioner) will have approximately the same impacts as the benchmark average dwelling (4.2 tonnes/person/year). They tend to be smaller (less space to heat and cool), have longer design lives and high occupancy (reducing the impacts on a per person per year basis). The chart below represents the life cycle Impacts of a typical multi-residential apartment building.

Capture 2

Typically there are a number of “low hanging fruit” design improvements that are low cost and low risk to implement. The measures focus on operational energy which generally makes up 70%-80% of the total life cycle impacts. The measures are detailed below for a standard apartment building with a mix of one and 2 bed apartments, please note these are indicative figures and will vary depending on final design, density, services and materials used.

Sustainability Measure

Typical percentage improvement
Gas hot water system 25%-30%
Lighting motion sensors/timers in common areas 6%-8%
Apartment Energy Monitoring 2%-4%
Behavioural Change Programs 2%-4%
Low flow shower heads (5l/minute) 1%-2%
Limit refrigeration space to less than 750mm 0.6%-0.7%
Ventilated refrigeration cabinetry 0.4%-5%
Total approximate 37%-45%

 

With implementation of the above measures the building will achieve approximately a 37% to 45% improvement sitting at a Silver medal rating. To achieve greater improvements renewable technologies are needed.

 

Renewable Technology Typical percentage improvement
Solar Hot Water (1m2 per dwelling) 3%-4%
Solar PV (1kW/ 10m2 per apartment) 5%-7%

 

The majority of medium rise flat roofs can easily accommodate the above with room left over for other elements such as flues and skylights. The low hanging fruit combined with some renewable generation will typically achieve around a 45-55% improvement.

 

 Achieving Targets – Best Practise

For higher ratings to be achieved, there will need to be upwards of 1 kW and per apartment and over 10m2 of roof space available alongside the measures detailed above. This can require careful consideration of roof designs from the outside and in some instances, consideration of options off-site such as community owned solar PV farms may be required.

Renewable Technology Typical percentage improvement
Solar PV (2kW/ 20m2 per apartment) 10%-14%
Solar PV (3kW/ 30m2 per apartment) 15%-20%
Solar PV (4kW/ 40m2 per apartment) 20%-28%

 

Roof Orientation for PV:

Capture3Once a residential building gets above 4 storeys, or a commercial building gets above 3 storeys, it will likely end up in a position where the solar technologies that are required are constrained by the roof space that is available. In this situation the design team should take roof design into consideration from an early stage and optimise it for solar panel installations. The following guidelines should be considered:

  • By installing panels “flat” on a roof, many moor panels can fit because they do not need separating for shading.
  • Shading from surrounding objects and buildings is an important consideration however it is rarely a problem in multi-residential buildings taller than their surroundings. PV can be very worthwhile even if partially shaded and can may still deliver significant carbon savings compared to other measures.
  • For designing roofs in this situation, the following considerations should be made.  Note that the below loss figure for varying orientation and pitch are applicable to Perth (latitude of 32 degrees):
  • The orientation of the roof can significantly aid the amount of PV or Solar Hot Water that can be installed in the diagram above

– North facing panels at 32 degree pitch gives optimum energy gain over the whole year (100%)

– Dropping pitch to 5 degrees only results in a loss of approximately 9% (91% of optimal generation)

  • If panels are to be pitched at lower than 10 degrees, consideration should be given to at least annual cleaning until it is proven that soiling is not effecting generation.
  • If possible, avoid hips in roofs as these significantly reduce the amount of PV that can be installed.  It is far better to pitch the roof in two directions only.  Even pitching north and south in two directions is likely to result in a better overall result than in four directions.  The south facing panels may generate less power per panel than the east or west, but more panels will be able to be installed because hips won’t have to be avoided and this will more than make up for the slight loss of efficiency in south facing panels.
  • Very wide gutters can significantly affect the available roof space for solar collectors.  Consider overhanging the roof structure over a required large gutter.
  • Protruding services that break up the roof space should be designed if possible on the south side of the building.  This reduces the losses due to shade for solar collectors across the whole roof.
  • Roofs with multiple heights are complex due to overshadowing.  If possible avoid this.

For solar hot water systems the same rules apply however slighting more consideration may be required to match demand with pitch, so a higher pitch to meet the higher winter water heating demand.  This is not such an issue with PV as it can be fed into the grid when generation is higher than demand.

 

Advanced Design

Some of the recommendations listed below represent paradigm shifts not only in actual construction but also in the marketing and sales strategies that may be required to ensure a developments viability. There may be times when it makes more sense to invest the money that would go into some of these expensive onsite solutions to other local projects that can deliver more value and higher CO2e savings. Examples of this may include Investments in street light upgrades, existing housing retrofits, solar panels on local schools and buildings, behaviour programs, community farms, bicycle infrastructure etc.

Functionality

The more people a building can house the less impact per person that building will have. Furthermore for every person that is housed in a sustainable building that takes one more person out of the average, unsustainable building – moving society towards a low carbon economy faster.

Typical multi-residential buildings have approximately 50% of the total floor area dedicated to actual living space, the rest tends to get tied up in common areas, car parks, plant rooms etc. By minimising the common areas you reduce impacts on two fronts: living area available for the same volume of materials, and reducing the operational energy required to light and ventilate the common spaces (this can typically take up to 15% of the total CO2e emissions).

 

ratio net dwellable area/gross Floor Area Life Cycle Reduction in Emissions
45%
50% -3.1%
55% -5.6%
60% -7.7%
70% -11.0%
80% -13.5%

 

There are numerous ways that common areas can be reduced:

Capture 8

Space efficiencies can also be gained by increasing the number of stairwells whilst reducing the common walkway areas.

Capture4

Although stairs are likely to be the more expensive option, this could be recouped by adding the spare hallway space into each apartment, in the example above this provides an extra 8.75m2 per apartment.

Typology (Beds and bathrooms)

Environmental impacts can be reduced through increasing the occupancy of the apartments themselves. Whilst 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartments are fashionable, with good design that (rarely used) spare bathroom could be a third bedroom instead. This provides an increase in the overall sustainable living space of the building without impacting on the floor area being constructed

 Materials

In many ways embodied carbon is equally (and perhaps more) important a consideration than operational energy. eTool LCAs will typically assume current grid intensities throughout the 100+ year predicted design life of a building. This means operational energy makes up around 80% of the total impacts. In reality over the next 100 years the grid will decarbonise and operational energy will contribute much less over time. The embodied carbon in materials on the other hand is locked in from the year the material is manufactured and transported to the site. There are many low impact alternatives to common materials in construction. Timber and CLT can be used in place of concrete and steel. Where concrete is necessary fly-ash or blast furnaces slag blends should be incorporated, these are waste products that can directly replace a proportion of the concrete thereby reducing its impacts.

graph 1

Timber veneers and plywood should be avoided due to the high impact of the glues and resins used in these products. Plasterboard also has very high impacts. Alternatives such as plain hardwood, bamboo or MDF represent significant savings. IF plasterboard is to be used 6mm sheets should be preferred to 12 mm sheets with acoustic requirements met through insulation which is typically low in CO2e emissions.

graph 2

Carpets (especially wool) should be avoided with cork or polished concrete finish preferable. If absolutely necessary carpets should be dark coloured (to avoid replacement through soiling) and plant based materials such as jute and sisal should be specified that have natural/non-synthetic rubber backing.

graph 3

Lighting

There tends to be little difference in terms of environmental benefit between CFL lights and L.E.D lighting Increasing natural light levels using solar-tubes, skylights or similar means less use of artificial lighting energy. Specifying lighter matte colours to surfaces such as the balcony, ceiling and walls will bounce light deeper into the dwelling thus increasing natural lighting. Light shelves in windows is another passive way to divert and bounce light deeper into the dwelling. Similar systems using adjustable louvres can also be used. Providing translucent shading material in addition to heavier curtains allow the option of diffused daylight to penetrate whilst maintaining privacy. The top of the windows is where light penetrates deepest into the dwelling, so it is important to ensure that this part of the window is not obstructed by drapery or blinds. Translucent partitions between rooms also allow light to be drawn into deeper rooms. Clerestory windows also provide a method of introducing more natural light into central rooms.  Ideally these should be utilised with higher ceilings and high reflectance surfaces in order to encourage light to penetrate.  In order to prove the value of these initiatives a daylighting simulation should be undertaken to ensure expense is not incurred for no benefit.  This will likely make this recommendation hard to justify economically (there will be many far easier wins elsewhere in the building.

Gas cookers over electric

In regions with fossil fuel dominated electricity grids such as WA, gas represents a large advantage over electricity for providing energy to cook with.  This is due to the heat and electricity losses associated with distributed power.  Burning the fuel (gas) at the source eliminates these losses and is a more efficient way of using the fuel. The majority of gas cookers sold today include safety features that automatically turn off the gas when no flame is present. Rinnai has also developed the ‘inner flame’ technology that produces a flame that is directed inwards which is about 27% more efficient than standard gas stoves. The drawback to moving to gas cooking is that a gas pipeline may need to be installed. If the implementation of this strategy is outside of the project budget the developer may offer the strategy as an upgrade package for purchasers. This eliminates the need for upfront capital while promoting best practices and educating the public.

Or Induction cooktops

An all induction cook-top is an alternative that could deliver carbon savings over a standard electric cook-top.  Induction cook-tops work by transferring electrical energy through induction from a coil directly to the magnetic pan. Only the area in contact with the coil heats up and therefore the cooker can be up to 12% more efficient than a standard electric conduction cooker.  The controls on an induction cooker are also far more precise giving a greater range of cooking techniques.

Car Park Ventilation

By applying a detailed engineering design to the car park ventilation systems, it is expected that the fan run times could be considerably cut down especially when natural ventilation is utilised.  Computational fluid dynamics would be utilised in this technique to determine how to best move air through the car park to maintain acceptable CO2 levels with minimum energy demand.  Gains may also be achieved in reduced ducting.  At least a 20% saving in ventilation may be achieved.

Biodigesters

Biodigesters turn food and or human waste into gas that can be used in cooking. Although not well established in western countries this technology has been used for hundreds of years in China and India. Communal or individual systems exist that may be incorporated into an innovative building design.

 Appliances

The appliances that go into the building can make a significant proportion of the recurring impacts.  Modern appliances tend to have fairly small warranty periods in relation to the lifespan of a building.  TVs in particular can often not last more than 10 years.  Ensuring that appliances are purchased second hand and those that are purchased new have a long warranty and are kept for as long as possible can provide significant carbon savings.  In this recommendation we have assumed each appliances lasts twice as long as the standard warranty. Where appliances are installed they should also be of the higher MEPS rating bands for energy efficiency.

Thermal Performance

Modern 6 star dwellings in Western Australia need very little in the form of heating/cooling. The developer with sustainability in mind will provide only ceiling fans for cooling and renewable biomass pellet heaters for heating. Bio Where air conditioners are provided they should be single split units which can obtain higher efficiencies generally than multi splits. A COP/EER of 5 is exemplary.

Tri-generation, deep geothermal and shallow ground source heat pumps can also be appropriate in very large developments with high demands such as precincts with swimming pools. However they entail very high outgoing capital costs and the environmental benefit should be considered carefully against other technologies.

Swimming Pools

Most importantly swimming pools should be appropriate for the size of the development. Proportionally 50m2 pool shared amongst 100 dwellings will have 100x fewer impacts per dwelling than the same size pool provided for a single dwelling. Where pools are installed they should ideally be naturally heated through ambient air and install pool covers that contain the heat when the pool is not in use. Typically including a pool cover which can operate automatically or manually for 8hrs per day during the pools closed hours has a 28% saving in the pools heating energy demand. Pool pumps efficiency should also be considered carefully, high-efficiency pool pumps of up to 9 stars MEPs rating are currently available on the market.

 Hot Water

Alongside solar thermal technology and low flow shower heads, an opportunity exists to warm the inlet temperature of the water by using a heat exchanger. Water exiting apartments in the sewerage drains will have a higher temperature than the normal inlet temperature of water coming into the building from the mains, particularly in winter.  By passing the inlet water over the warmer outgoing water, the temperature can be increased. A 5% reduction in energy demand of the hot water system can be achieved.

For communal systems there will be significant heat losses in the pipe carrying the hot water around the building as well as from the individual water storage tanks. Based on the conservative assumptions of a 25mm pipe with 25mm of insulation (125mm total diameter) the heat losses are estimated to increase the hot water demand by 10%. Correctly installed 50mm pipework insulation could therefore reduce the losses through hot water pipe by approximately 5%.

 

eTool

The door is always open at eTool for questions surrounding design decisions. If a project is in concept phase we are happy to sit down for an hour and discuss potential strategies and targets. Full targeting sessions are also available at low cost to determine more accurately the costs involved in achieving design aspirations. Following this our full LCA will provide the most detailed environmental assessment available.

 

CPHlowres (1)

ArchiBlox Creates Australia’s First Carbon Positive Pre-Fab Home

Going beyond carbon zero.

Archiblox’s latest project is a carbon positive modular home that boasts a difficult to attain eTool Platinum rating. Achieving a platinum rating means the design achieved a 90 per cent overall improvement in CO2e emissions compared to the Australian benchmark along with a minimum of 60 per cent improvement in each category (embodied carbon and operational carbon).

What does it mean to be carbon positive?

A net carbon positive outcome means the building offsets more carbon than it uses in construction and operation throughout the life of the building.

Check out the following press about ArchiBlox’s carbon positive home and if you are in Melbourne, you can check the house out at the Sustainable Festival running until 1 March.

Australia’s first carbon positive pre-fab home– SBS News

Can you compete with a carbon positive prefab home?” – Architecture & Design

“World’s first carbon positive prefab house” Green Magazine

“World’s first carbon positive prefab house?” – ArchitectureAu

“The World’s First Carbon-Positive prefab house” – Dwell Magazine

“Prefabricated house in Melbourne’s City Square can produce more energy than it uses” – Dezeen Magazine

Sun Room in the Modular Design. Click to view the full case study >

Sun Room in the Modular Design. Click to view the full case study >

 

Zero-Carbon Buildings? It’s the Wrong Target

Well this is a bit of an odd post as it’s result of me getting carried away in a LinkedIn conversation and blowing the word limit considerably. I’ve ended up posting only the key points on the “linked in” conversation and the detailed response here.

To understand the background please have a look at this conversation (I think you’ll have to sign up to be part of the group) and this blog article. From there you will see where the rest of this following rant comes from.


 

I think this is pretty massive topic requiring a lot of discussion to get some good outcomes. I’ve ended up with a 50page response as a result.

It also has taken a few tangents which I’ll try to bring back into line with the original topic by breaking it down into four points:

  1. If you are taking aim at a particular legislation be very clear in your article that is your purpose.
  2. Don’t be prescriptive in your design approach and push only one strategy (such as passive house) or you’ll get perverse outcomes.
  3. Don’t write off onsite renewable energy it’s on the increase for some good reasons and is only set to grow even further – embrace it where it works.
  4. I’ve also gone to address several of your points in detail to provide some more structure to your original article

Those points in detail for those interested enough to read the 50 pages now….

 1. If you are taking aim at a particular legislation be very clear in your article that is your purpose.

I was lead to believe it was all about reducing carbon and what targets to set to get there.

I’ll repeat – I’m not across the UK definition of “zero carbon house” and again if your aim was to identify flaws in it then please reword your opening paragraph as well as the bulk to ensure it’s more “explicitly” stated throughout the article. Otherwise it will continue to read as anti onsite renewables, pro passivehouse and not UK specific. This is really dangerous and we will continue to have people around the world blindly following a design strategy that can often result in bad outcomes for the planet.

You have also introduced “comfort targets” into the conversation which I agree is an important element to good design. However if we are targeting CO2e reductions “comfort targets” need to be defined as what is sustainable for 7b people on the planet and not just a lucky few who can live in large “eco” houses. I think this is another topic for another conversation….

If you’re aim in the article was to create some healthy debate then it was spot on 😉

2. Don’t be prescriptive in your design approach and push only one strategy (such as passive house) or you’ll get perverse outcomes.

If reducing CO2e is the goal then CO2e is the only priority when it comes to design strategy. More importantly CO2e should be the basis of your target not “energy efficiency”.

I am totally agnostic in regards to which strategies (be it passivehaus or solar pv) should be prioritised in a project until we have kicked of with Life Cycle Design. Then and only then can you start to see which strategies will provide a genuine reduction in CO2e over the buildings life cycle.

In my home city of Perth we have a Goldilocks climate and very carbon intensive grid which is no where near being destabilised by PV. Unfortunately we still have the vast majority of “eco” designers using all of their clients money to design something that doesn’t need an air-conditioner while having no budget left for solar hot water or solar pv. They’ll reduce their carbon footprint by 10% while the guy down the road in a standard design with solar hot water and solar pv will have a 90% reduction in carbon, lower operating costs and all with less than half the capital cost.

Worse still they’ll chuck large volumes of concrete into the design for thermal mass in the push to achieve the magic “energy efficient” design resulting in an overall increase in life cycle carbon (even with a carbon intensive grid).

If you took the same example up to Kununurra, with a hydro dominated grid, then the solar pv would be a waste of embodied carbon as would the majority of the “radical energy efficiency” strategies. In that circumstance it would all be about the embodied carbon in the materials, transport, construction and maintenance.

Shift it again to various locations in the UK and I bet you’ll find a whole set of new variables and changes in priorities for strategies. Again starting with blanket statements about what should be prioritised without checking each project variables first will result in perverse outcomes.

I know you guys have a much colder climate than we do but I’m still pretty confident that with a proper LCD approach onsite renewables (PV, solar hot water, pellet heater etc) will still come into the mix for a low carbon design.

LCD ensures you apply a rigorous and unbiased approach to each project and provide something that planet and the occupant can be happy with. I would suggest that become familiar with standards such as EN15978 as it will allow you to integrate passivehouse within a much more holistic design philosophy. EN15978 is scientific approach to assessing the environmental performance of a building and is not biased by any existing rating system, design concepts or technology. It’s fast becoming the new benchmark for good design

 

3. Don’t write off onsite renewable energy it’s on the increase for some good reasons and is only set to grow even further – embrace it where it works.

“It is less costly and more effective to consume radically less energy and emit less CO2 by design, rather than to meet higher energy demand with building mounted ‘Zero-Carbon’ renewable generation.”

Sorry, but this statement is just not true. In some cases the opposite is more accurate. Again horses for courses! I think I addressed this point somewhat above.

Solar PV has dropped in price dramatically and continues to do so. Distributed storage is now doing the same. So if you continue to ignore it or try to push it to the side you will be left behind. Yes it does have it’s challenges as does any developing technology but they are disappearing fast.

I did read that article from Japan and it’s interesting we had a very similar situation in Australia a few years back. In small isolated network there was a really fast uptake in PV and the local utility got scared of stability issues and put a halt on further installations. As a result the industry responded by integrating cost effective distributed storage and away it went again. I’d almost guarantee we’ll see similar responses around the globe not to mention increase in electric vehicles.

Installing PV on roof in Perth can be as cheap as a solar farm ($1-2/Wp). There is already frames (the roof), electrical infrastructure (existing switchboard and meters) and no land costs. More importantly they are off the shelf items without need for expensive engineering, approvals and regulations. As far as this scary maintenance cost the systems I’m familiar with in Perth over 8years old have never skipped a beat. It just comes down to a life cycle cost analysis and trust me it looks pretty good with people taking it up purely on a cost basis with no rebates.

4. Specific points in your original article

“4. ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ may increase national CO2 emissions”

Why can’t these buildings also run gas and have the best of both? This is a pretty massive long bow to draw and very misleading to say that it will increase demand on the network.

“In the dark freezing depths of winter, with a gale howling outside, everyone has their heating turned up high and all the lights switched on … and since the sun isn’t shining the photovoltaic systems on the ‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ aren’t generating electricity. And since the wind is gale force and highly changeable the wind turbines have switched to safety-mode and aren’t generating electricity!”

Wow, this is sounding like some of the anti renewable energy climate change skeptics. Again can’t the house have both renewables and gas? Furthermore distributed storage is on the way and on the way fast. If you don’t think so then have a think about the people who said mobile phones would never get past one per 200 people.

Houses with onsite renewable energy somehow increase the demand on the network even in hot climates?? Well I can tell you from personal experience in Perth we saw the government build another $300m power station to deal with this peak only to find that solar pv cut the peak dramatically and they never turned it on. Again you need to ensure you’re treating each project on it’s merits and not casting blanket statements or you’ll get tripped up.

 8.‘Zero-Carbon Buildings’ is an abstract and unreliable idea

Sorry this is totally incorrect and also damaging to the progress we are making in getting people to think about CO2e. EN15978 lays it out pretty simply. Run a Life Cycle Assessment and you’ll have a much more reliable picture of reducing CO2e in a building.

Energy is not CO2e much like food cost is not measured in volume of food. Saying the only way to reduce CO2e in a house is to focus on radical energy efficiency is like saying we are going to cut our weekly food bill by eating less volume. So off you go to the shops and buy cheese wine and caviar and cut out the bread, rice and fruit (too much volume), furthermore you stop eating the produce from your own veggie garden. Somehow your food cost went up?

Many forms of energy have really low carbon intensities, some you can grow at home with very small carbon intensities and sometimes investing large amounts in energy efficiency can increase your carbon emissions.

Please explain how tackling CO2e by looking at energy and not CO2e be can less abstract than just targeting the CO2e in first place?

 

To wrap it up in conclusion this whole article first up appeared to be about reducing CO2e associated with houses. If this is the goal (which it should be) then setting a “zero carbon” target is exactly what we need to do. Simple….

Regards,

Alex

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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.

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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.

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