Recognising eTool LCA for International Urban Development

Over the last year, PhD students and lecturers at Curtin and Murdoch Universities have been been conducting worldwide research into tools that can measure and model carbon emissions and carbon consequences of variations of design in urban developments. Along with one other tool, eTool LCA was highlighted as the best in the world for quantifying and lowering the environmental impact of the built form through design. The paper was recently published by the International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses and covers the following…

Abstract: This paper examines a framework for calculating carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) emissions in urban developments, including emissions inherent in: materials, construction, operation, transport, water, and waste processes over the life cycle of a development. The paper takes a holistic approach to urban design, to include not only the CO₂-e emissions inherent in the individual buildings but also in the infrastructure and service provision of the community as a whole metabolic system.

A range of carbon assessment tools is examined to assess their capacity for measuring CO₂-e emissions in terms of this framework. The tools are reviewed for their applicability to four case studies in Western Australia: Peri-urban development (greenfield), Urban redevelopment (brownfield), Mining camps, and Indigenous communities, which demonstrate the type of settlement patterns that carbon assessment tools must respond to. The case studies are also indicative of the challenges facing other urban developments around the world in cutting CO₂-e emissions and enhancing sustainability.

The results of the study show that two tools are currently available that can measure and model carbon emissions and carbon consequences of variations of design in urban developments. The tools CCAPPrecint and eTool are highlighted in this paper as outstanding examples.

Read the full paper here

The Green Swing Project Update

The Green Swing project is an innovative, sustainable development of four dwellings in Perth’s inner city.

Building their very own dream sustainable homes are couples Mark and Alana Dowley and Helmut and Eugenie Stockman. They want to demonstrate that you can create small scale inner city living environments in Perth which:

  • Are the most sustainable
  • Promote community feel and encourage creativity
  • Are of high quality
  • Become a showcase for future increased density sustainable development
  • Generate interest and inspire real change.

The project in short

  • 96 Rutland Avenue, Lathlain
  • Block size 837sqm
  • Zoning R40/60
  • About 5km from CBD
  • 400m from train station
  • Close to shops & facilities
  • 2 townhouses, 2 apartments
  • Purchase land January 2010
  • Planning approval December 2010
  • Building approval October 2011

After two years of intensive planning, building work started in December 2011.

The project consists of two townhouses and two units which have been designed using three construction types: reverse brick veneer, strawbale with earthen render and double brick.

Design features include:

  • Solar passive design
  • Grey and rainwater harvesting
  • Solar PV system
  • Solar hot water system
  • Green concrete
  • Double glazed windows with wooden frames
  • Insulation using recyled wool and Greenstuf (plastic)
  • Recycled materials: straw, bricks, timber, interior wood, wool, plastic bottles.

Although straw bale construction is considered an usual material choice, it is becoming more popular due to its excellent insulation properties. It is also a waste product that can be sourced locally product, offers the thermal mass needed and is biodegradable and recyclable.

Helmut and Eugenie chose to build with straw bale and are making great progress. The perfectly straight two story walls went up at the start of August and the render was put on just last week.

Last November, eTool helped the couples calculate the total impact of the entire development. Due to them building a medium density development, in a low density area, their design life is 115 years which is very high for inner city architecture. Overall, they achieved a Gold rating and saved a huge 108% of carbon against the benchmark. The full case study can be found here.

The Green Swing have also arranged a lease arrangement between the local council and local community garden association which allows for the re-vegetation of the “Sump” drain site next door at 98 Rutland Avenue to create a community garden and for everyone to enjoy. With the help of Josh Byrne, they have come up with this landscaping concept including native vegetation and a food forest.

Construction is on track to be finished by the end of the year/start of next year and The Green Swing couples and kids can’t wait to start enjoying all of their hard work in their very own dream, sustainable homes!

To follow the progress of The Green Swing project, find them on Facebook or visit their website.

eTool V2 is here!

eTool V2 was dreamed up even before we released V1, I think the idea of continual improvement is ingrained in the eTool psychie! But getting to the point of actually rolling out V2 has been a pretty long process. Our first step of course was to prioritise the improvements which was quite a task.  Although we would love to press the magic button and fulfil the “holy grail” of sustainable design (3D optimisation of thermal performance and embodied impacts of materials) baby steps are required.  We asked you guys what you wanted to see; surveys went out to past clients who we have conducted LCAs for, and also our users (who are growing in number and geographical diversity every day).

The key enhancements that people flagged for us were:

  • More reporting functionality (particularly involving costs)
  • More environmental indicators (not just carbon and energy use)
  • More transparent user interface (simpler, clearer)
  • More templates, materials and equipment options in our libraries

So this is where we’ve been focussing our efforts. If you log into eTool V2, you’ll see many features aimed at tackling the above key enhancements, and we’re not done yet! We will be continuing development on V2  until September.

Here’s a quick summary of what’s been implemented:

  • A better materials categorisation system and over 50 new materials to make selection easier.
  • Ability for materials manufacturers to submit their own materials for listing in eTool LCA.
  • Addition of new environmental impact categories (see this listed in the current release, we’re currently populating the data bases so these will become functional over time).
  • Default costs for all materials, equipment, grids and energy sources. As well as the existing detailed carbon and energy metrics, you now also get an LCA cost estimation by only entering in quantities of materials, equipment run time and operational energy.
  • Financial performance comparison chart for buildings to highlight maintenance and operational cost benefits or excesses.
  • Improved user interface for templates, and allowing “nested” templates for much faster LCA projects.
  • Share LCAs with other users.
  • More transparent and editable distance calculations for materials.
  • Annual energy cost summary.
  • Additional grids (all Australian grids now entered).
  • Expression builder for some fields e.g. you can now build a template for operational energy that takes the number of occupants and fully enclosed building area into consideration within a formula to calculate your energy demand.
  • Improved calculations and coefficients for better accuracy.
  • Ability to calculate operational water consumption.

And what’s still to come before we wind up development in September:

  • More reports!
  • Additional Environmental Impact intensities (e.g. embodied water, toxicity etc)
  • Regional LCI databases (data availability / access pending).
  • Ability to add custom distribution grids.
  • Still more templates, materials, equipment, distribution grids etc.

This article was written by Rich

 

eTool V2 Part 1 Complete

Our first step of course was to prioritise the improvements which was quite a task. Although we would love to press the magic button and fulfil the “holy grail” of sustainable design (3D optimisation of thermal performance and embodied impacts of materials) baby steps are required.

We asked you guys what you wanted to see; surveys went out to past clients who we have conducted LCAs for, and also our users (who are growing in number and geographical diversity every day).

The key enhancements that people flagged for us were:

  • More reporting functionality (particularly involving costs)
  • More environmental indicators (not just carbon and energy use)
  • More transparent user interface (simpler, clearer)
  • More templates, materials and equipment options in our libraries

So this is where we’ve been focussing our efforts.
If you log into eTool V2, you’ll see many features aimed at tackling the above key enhancements, and we’re not done yet! We will be continuing development on V2 until September.

Here’s a quick summary of what’s been implemented:

  • A better materials categorisation system and over 50 new materials to make selection easier.
  • Ability for materials manufacturers to submit their own materials for listing in eTool LCA.
  • Addition of new environmental impact categories (see this listed in the current release, we’re currently populating the data bases so these will become functional over time).
  • Default costs for all materials, equipment, grids and energy sources. As well as the existing detailed carbon and energy metrics, you now also get an LCA cost estimation by only entering in quantities of materials, equipment run time and operational energy.
  • Financial performance comparison chart for buildings to highlight maintenance and operational cost benefits or excesses.
  • Improved user interface for templates, and allowing “nested” templates for much faster LCA projects.
  • Share LCAs with other users.
  • More transparent and editable distance calculations for materials.
  • Annual energy cost summary.
  • Additional grids (all Australian grids now entered).
  • Expression builder for some fields e.g. you can now build a template for operational energy that takes the number of occupants and fully enclosed building area into consideration within a formula to calculate your energy demand.
  • Improved calculations and coefficients for better accuracy.
  • Ability to calculate operational water consumption.

And what’s still to come before we wind up development in September:

  • More reports!
  • Additional Environmental Impact intensities (e.g. embodied water, toxicity etc)
  • Regional LCI databases (data availability / access pending).
  • Ability to add custom distribution grids.
  • Still more templates, materials, equipment, distribution grids etc.

The Carbon Tax : Friend or Foe?

Many Australian families are understandably concerned about how much impact the carbon tax will have on their households, particularly when it comes to the cost of building a new home. Some housing and construction industry lobby groups continue to claim that the carbon tax will increase the cost of an average new home by over $6,000, but we’re not so sure.

One of our co-founders Richard has done the figures himself and thinks the cost is more likely to around $2,000 for the average Australian home, or possibly even less.

“Based on the available data, the average 3×2 brick veneer home in Australia creates around 80 metric tons of carbon due to its construction, operation and maintenance over its entire design life,” says Richard.

“If the proposed carbon price is to be $23 per ton of carbon, this equates to only around $1,840 as an additional cost for the average new home due to the carbon tax. The extra cost may not even be as high as that as many trade exposed industries such as cement, steel, aluminium and glassmaking qualify for up to a 94.5% shielding from the tax. The end cost to someone building a new home may only be around $100 for the average Australian home.”

Whatever the size of your project, there are lots of easy, cost effective ways to reduce the amount of embodied carbon and energy created by building a new home. “For example, you could specify fly-ash as a substitute for cement in concrete, which would significantly reduce the embodied carbon of a new home. There are a number of cost effective, low carbon building materials available on the market by making smart choices, the carbon tax will have a negligible cost impact on the construction of new homes,” says Richard.

Sid, our resident architect and managing director says that selecting low carbon materials is just the first step in preparing for a low carbon economy. “We should also be designing our homes so they require less energy for heating and cooling, have optimum orientation for solar hot water and solar PV, and be selecting energy efficient lighting and appliances. All of which will reduce our energy consumption and carbon production without compromising our lifestyle.”

But it’s important to start early and consider intelligent design at the planning stage as Sid explains, “these strategies are easy to integrate in the early design stages of a project, and will also create homes that are more enjoyable to live in and that will grow in value as home buyers increasingly recognise these as desirable design features.”

Both Richard and Sid argue that the housing and construction industry need to embrace this as an opportunity for innovation and excellence in the design and construction of new homes. “The transition to a low carbon economy is inevitable for all countries if we are to minimise the impact of dangerous climate change,” says Richard. “Prospective home buyers are becoming increasingly savvy about the design possibilities, and want to minimise their impact on the environment. This represents a fantastic opportunity for home building companies all around Australia.”

What do you think about the new carbon tax? Join the discussion on our Facebook page

Embodied Energy Building Regulations: Yes or No?

We read this great report from the College of Architecture, Texas A&M University that reviews whether there is a need to put in place regulations to enforce measuring embodied energy in our buildings.
At eTool we think a ‘whole of house’ approach is extremely important to give you the bigger picture when measuring your environmental impact and thought you would enjoy reading this too!

Here is the abstract summary:

Buildings consume a vast amount of energy during the life cycle stages of construction, use and demolition. Total life cycle energy use in a building consists of two components: embodied and operational energy. Embodied energy is expended in the processes of building material production, on-site delivery, construction, maintenance, renovation and final demolition. Operational energy is consumed in operating the buildings. Studies have revealed the growing signicance of embodied energy inherent in buildings and have demonstrated its relationship to carbon emissions.

Current interpretations of embodied energy are quite unclear and vary greatly, and embodied energy databases suffer from the problems of variation and incomparability. Parameters differ and cause significant variation in reported embodied energy figures. Studies either followed the international Life CycleAssessment (LCA) standards or did not mention compliance with any standard. Literature states that the current LCA standards fail to provide complete guidance and do not address some important issues. It also recommends developing a set of standards to streamline the embodied energy calculation process.

This paper discusses parameters causing problems in embodied energy data and identifies unresolved issues in current LCA standards. We also recommend an approach to derive guidelines that could be developed into a globally accepted protocol.

Click here to read the full report.

Reach beyond the stars

With the introduction of the mandatory 6 star rating this month to Western Australia, the bar has been raised for energy efficient buildings, but in our minds only just a little…

Contrary to what the average home buyer might think, the star rating only really accounts for the thermal performance of the house, about 25% of the total energy and carbon footprint. At eTool, we think if you’re genuine about intelligent and sustainable design you need to consider the entire picture, from the embodied energy in the construction through to all the operational energy over the design life of the building.

Rather than concentrating on thermal performance alone and ticking a few boxes, we want to see innovative building design that really tackles our energy consumption problem, lowers our carbon emissions and ensures we’re spending our money in the right places. We would love to know what you think too, so tell us on Facebook

The carbon tax will have negligible impact on the cost of new homes

Discussion of the proposed carbon tax is practically inescapable for most Australians at the moment, but the proliferation of information doesn’t mean that homeowners understand the potential impact on them! And that’s where eTool can help.

As seen recently on ABC TV’s New Inventors, eTool LCA is a free, online tool that calculates the embodied energy and carbon for building and construction projects, and it is likely to be of particular interest to those looking at building a new home.

Some housing and construction industry lobby groups claim that the carbon tax will increase the cost of an average new home by over $6,000, however according to engineer Richard Haynes, the technical development manager of ETOOL PTY LTD, the cost is likely to be much less than that.

“For someone in Australia building an average sized new home, the end cost of the proposed carbon tax may only be as low as $100,” explains Haynes. “This is due to many trade-exposed industries such as cement, steel, aluminium and glass-making qualifying for up to 94.5 percent shielding from the tax.”*

In addition, Haynes says those building homes can request a number of easy, cost-effective ways to reduce the amount of embodied carbon and energy contained within a new home. This will also reduce the financial impact.

“For example, you could specify fly-ash as a substitute for cement in concrete, which would significantly reduce the embodied carbon of a new home, without affecting its structural integrity. There are also a number of cost-effective, low-carbon building materials available on the market. By making smart choices, the proposed carbon tax could have a negligible cost impact on the construction of new homes.”

Sid Thoo, architect and managing director of eTool says that selecting low-carbon materials is just the first step in preparing for a low-carbon economy. “We should also be designing our homes so they require less energy for heating and cooling, be selecting energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and considering renewable energy alternatives. All of these steps help to reduce our energy consumption and carbon emissions, without compromising our lifestyle.”

Simple steps such as these are easy to integrate in the early design stages of a project, and will create homes that are more enjoyable to live in. As the focus on sustainability increases, these elements of design will grow in value as homebuyers increasingly recognize these as desirable design features.

Both Haynes and Thoo see the positives in the proposed carbon tax and argue that the housing and construction industry should be embracing the opportunity it presents for innovation and excellence in the design and construction of new homes.

“The transition to a low-carbon economy is inevitable for all countries if we are to minimize the impact of dangerous climate change,” says Haynes. “Prospective homebuyers are becoming increasingly savvy about the design possibilities, and people want to minimize their impact on the environment. This represents a fantastic opportunity for home builders all around Australia.”

Please contact eTool for further information

*Based on the available data, the average 3×2 brick veneer home in Australia creates around 80 metric tons of carbon due to its materials, construction, and maintenance over its entire design life. If the proposed carbon price is to be $23 per ton of carbon, this equates to only around $1,840 in additional cost for the average new home due to the carbon tax. As many trade-exposed industries such as cement, steel, aluminium and glass-making qualify for up to 94.5 percent shielding from the tax, the resulting end cost may not be as high as that. The end-cost to someone building a new home may only be around $100 for the average Australian home.

eTool joins the Zero Carbon Challenge

Renewal SA, previously Land Management Corporation (LMC), in partnership with the Integrated Design Commission (IDC), is challenging the development industry to aim for zero carbon, in an exciting new competition that could offer a glimpse into the future of housing in South Australia.

The “Zero Carbon Challenge” aims to engage the architectural, development and construction industries to submit a design, and for the winning team to construct a ‘zero carbon’ house at Lot 61, Lochiel Park.

Finalists will be utilising eTool LCA software to quantify the total carbon footprint of their designs including both embodied and operational energy. Through this exciting initiative LMC aims to see the first “Zero Carbon” house built in South Australia.

To learn more from Renewal SA click here.

When will eTool LCA be available to the public?

eTool LCA is now available free to the public.  A Life Cycle Assessment program specifically built for measuring and improving the sustainability of buildings is now accessible to all.

Please access the software here.  eTool LCA was officially launched this morning (Wednesday 25th of May 2011) to coincide with our appearance on the nationally broadcast show New Inventors.