10 Essential Facts about Building Life Cycle Assessment(Almost) everything I know about Building LCA in a handy list
Maybe you don’t know much about Building Life Cycle Assessment, or maybe you are a Green Building expert with years of experiences. In any case, here are 10 facts about Building LCA that you might not know.
Building Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology
Calculating a Building Life Cycle Assessment means calculating the Life Cycle Assessment of a building. Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology used to calculate the environmental impacts, including carbon footprint, of a product, service, or process. It is possible to calculate the LCA of a building to find out how it will affect the environment through its whole existence, from extraction of raw materials to construction phase, use, and finally demolition and disposal.
Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment ≠ Carbon Footprint
Is Carbon Footprint the same as Building Life Cycle Assessment? The short answer is that Building LCA is more than just Carbon Footprint. By measuring Carbon Footprint, we know how much CO2 will be released into the atmosphere by a specific process. So, it is possible to calculate the carbon footprint on a building and learn how much C02 it will release through its whole lifecycle. However, Building Life Cycle Assessment does not evaluate only carbon footprint, but many more impact categories, in order to fully understand the effects of a building on the ecosystem. For example, Global warming potential, which is one of the official impact categories measured in Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment according to European standards, measures the impact of all greenhouses gases emissions, including but not limited to carbon.
Impact categories help us evaluate how different actions in the built environment affect the environment: for example, Ozone depletion potential measures the potential of specific substances to erode the ozone layer, and Acidification potential measures the potential of pollutants to cause the acidification of soil and water.
To solve this, a solution can be adjusting results according to local conditions, something that One Click LCA does with a data regionalization methodology developed according to CEN/TR 15941:2010 and verified by BRE.
Thirdly, while there is more awareness surrounding the impact of the built environment on Climate Change, there is a need for stronger incentives and legislative initiatives. While the European Union with Level(s) and countries, like Finland, France, and Norway, are pushing for zero carbon buildings, there is a still a lot of work to be done to make the business case for building life cycle assessment even stronger.
Building Life Cycle Assessment helps fight Climate Change
Performing a Building Life Cycle Analysis is currently the most reliable way to evaluate the sustainability of a building. The adoption of LCA by building professionals followed the backlash against vague eco-labeling and increasing awareness of how buildings affect global warming.
There are three main reasons why Building Life Cycle Analysis is important:
- Building Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific methodology that can support the efforts of Green Building professionals to build more sustainable buildings.
- Construction professionals need to be aware of how buildings affect climate change. Buildings cause 40% of global carbon emissions, which have a proven effect on global warming
- Healthy and affordable living is one of our sustainable development goals. As more people around the world access better housing, we have to make sure the buildings we all build won’t bring Planet Earth to the brink of destruction
Life Cycle Assessment of Building materials. Yes, it’s a thing
Materials are a very important part of Building Life Cycle Assessment. By performing a Building materials Life Cycle Assessment, we are able to assess the environmental impacts of a specific material or product. This often takes the form of Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs and it basically means calculating the LCA of a product, from cradle to cradle, or from extraction of the material to disposal and recycling.
In fact, building materials already embodied impacts when they are purchased and brought to the building site: their production has caused certain gases to be released in the atmosphere, the transportation of the materials to the manufacturing facilities has caused other impacts, and so on. If an EPD of that material is available, it means that the impacts of the material through its whole life cycle are known to us, and that makes it easier to calculate the environmental impacts of the building. This is why many countries are pushing towards creating EPD databases of materials produced by local manufacturers.
Building LCA can be used for more than Ecodesign
There are numerous Life Cycle Assessment applications in construction. Not only you can conduct a Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment, but you can also measure the impacts of the building site, use it for land sales competition, contests, refurbishments, or city planning, perform the Life Cycle Assessment of an Infrastructure project, or achieve credits for Green Building certification schemes like LEED and BREEAM.
Moreover, many certification schemes around the world include Building Life Cycle Assessment credits.
Building Life Cycle Costing: save money the smart way
Building Life Cycle Costing is the analysis of the costs of your building over the whole life cycle, and can help to assess long-term savings and costs. Often, it is calculated along Building Life Cycle Assessment, and LCC is also a credit in many Green Building certification credits.
Similarly to Building LCA, the earliest in the design process you calculate Building Life Cycle Costing analysis, the most savings you can achieve. Moreover, in both cases, you can compare design alternatives to find out which is better over the whole life cycle of the building. For example, if you perform LCC calculations you might find out that a product that has a cheaper initial cost might end up being much more expansive in the long run because it will need to be replaced more times during the building use phase, which is usually around 60 years. In short, the business case for Building Life Cycle Costing is a strong one. What Building LCC does is to provide reliable metrics on costs and savings over the whole lifetime of the building, and when paired with LCA, it can help design buildings that are more sustainable both from an environmental and financial perspective.
You can automate Building Cycle Assessment
So, what do you need in order to calculate Building LCA? First of all, you need the bill of materials for your project. This information can be stored in BIM, a Revit model, a gbXML file, or even an Excel spreadsheet. You will also need the calculated energy performance of your building. As the industry moves towards a wider adoption of Building Information Modeling and the use of modeling software, the possibilities of automation for Building Life Cycle Assessment have increased dramatically with the development of plugins and integrations.
Since buildings are complex systems, usually the use of a Building Life Cycle Assessment software is required. A Building Life Cycle Assessment tool can automate the calculations, making it easier and faster to calculate LCA, and, therefore, economically feasible to integrated LCA in the design phase. Selecting a Building Life Cycle Assessment tool is a process that requires identifying your needs, evaluating productivity, and finding out how much you can achieve with that specific tool.
You need to use an LCA database
Most Building Life Cycle Assessment tools come with an LCA database of building materials. This allows users to map material choices from their model to the software. Assessing the impacts of building materials is a necessary part of calculating Building LCA and an LCA database helps to achieve exactly that goal. There are two types of Life Cycle Inventory Databases: LCA databases can use generic materials, EPDs, or both. An EPD database incorporates Environmental Product Declarations, which allows you to choose a specific material produced by a specific manufacturer and access all the Life Cycle Assessment data of that material. On the other hand, a generic database is based on industry averages, which means that highly performing materials are put in the same basket as materials that emit a lot of CO2. For more transparent and reliable results, an EPD database is your best bet.
Building Life Cycle Assessment is growing, but not fast enough
There are some challenges to the wider adoption of Building Life Cycle Assessment. First of all, Life Cycle Assessment used to be costly and time-consuming, requiring weeks and even months to be completed. This has been solved by the development of dedicated tools that can automate the calculations and cut down the time required for an LCA by 85%. Secondly, the lack of a database can be an obstacle for Green Building professionals working in countries without their own EPD database. To solve this, a solution can be adjusting results according to local conditions, something that One Click LCA does with a data regionalization methodology developed according to CEN/TR 15941:2010 and verified by BRE. Thirdly, while there is more awareness surrounding the impact of the built environment on Climate Change, there is a need for stronger incentives and legislative initiatives. While the European Union with Level(s) and countries, like Finland, France, and Norway, are pushing for zero carbon buildings, there is a still a lot of work to be done to make the business case for building life cycle assessment even stronger.
You too can become a Building LCA expert
We care about LCA because we think all buildings need to be sustainable, and we want to make it easy to understand for everybody, even children. At the same time, Building Life Cycle Assessment is a complex topic that cannot be fully summarized in a list. If this list has piqued your interest, there are a lot of ways you can develop your expertise in Building Life Cycle Assessment.
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