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Implementing Embodied Carbon

at The Early Design Stages

One of the most common questions we are asked by newcomers to LCA is how can they implement LCAs at the earlier stage of the design process, when nothing has been drawn, yet they still need to be able to benchmark different structural frames and material combinations.

There are numerous advantages in implementing LCAs early on, including, but not limited to:

  1. Being able to obtain a Bill of Materials for a project early on.
  2. Achieve more certification credits, like LEED.
  3. Optimize design choices from an embodied carbon perspective.
  4. Get early feedback on carbon hotspots.
  5. Assess embodied carbon in tandem with cost implications.

At One Click LCA we developed Carbon Designer 3D (CD3D) to address the early carbon optimization challenge. The tool allows any team member to easily obtain carbon information on a project, from the beginning of the project. CD3D allows teams to easily generate designs, figure out the carbon hotspots, benchmark different structural frames, drill down to details for powerful comparative analyses and eventually move their desired design forward and perform full-blown Life-Cycle Assessments.

But how does Carbon Designer 3D work?

The entire process of creating a project using CD3D is essentially split into 4+1 guided steps!


Creating a design

First things first, the user has to input some very basic information about their project, such as the desired name (1), the reference building that will be used (2), rough gross floor area (3) and lastly, the calculation period (4). The calculation period is used to calculate the impacts coming from the use stage of the building and it essentially represents how long the building will be in use.

Choosing your building type

Since different building typologies have different requirements, choosing the correct building type will ensure that the most appropriate settings are applied. If your project is mixed-use, choose the type that best describes most of the project.

Scoping the project

At this point you’ll be asked to provide some additional details on the project (1), such as what building elements you want to get results for, the number of above and below ground floors (2), as well as what will be your baseline structural frame (3).

Calculating the project’s geometry

Carbon Designer 3D is a shoebox analysis tool, meaning that the resulting geometry will be a rectangle. However, you are still able to influence both the dimensions of the project as well as the actual quantities that will be used to calculate the final impacts.

Applying building templates

The last step, albeit optional, is of great importance as it effectively allows you to assign predefined building templates. Within CD3D, you also have the option to save your favourite configurations as entire building templates and use them on multiple projects. This is a boost for client communication as it allows you to demonstrate clients the benefits and impact of your own design and consultancy in practice.

Review your results and compare up to 4 design alternatives!

From a carbon heatmap to a carbon estimation of your project’s elements, Carbon Designer 3D provides a clear way to communicate the anticipated impacts of design choices.
Not only that, but as promised, Carbon Designer 3D provides a detailed list of all the material assemblies that were used in order to calculate the project’s carbon impact. If any of them don’t match your design choices, simply substitute them with options that do! In the example below, I’m not satisfied with the default choice on floor slabs, so I’m substituting the in-situ concrete slab assembly with a post-tensioned floor slab:

Substituting Assemblies in CD3D

The available alternatives are not enough? Fear not, you are able to use your own private constructions within Carbon Designer 3D for an even more personalized experience. If you want to learn more about how to set up your own private constructions, read this article from our helpdesk.

What about design comparison?

CD3D has the functionality to allow you to compare up to four different design alternatives and eventually export the one that your team chooses. In the example below we made some sample changes to the bill of materials of the floor slabs, using a post-tensioned slab as our baseline and then comparing it with a wooden-joist slab, a cast-in-place and finally with a composite concrete metal decking.

Can we use Carbon Designer 3D later

in the process?

The tool provides the most benefit early on, when no decisions have yet been finalized, but it has a role to play elsewhere in the process too. It can also prove very powerful in cases where there is an information gap. In many cases several elements are not drawn in BIM models, for instance, reinforcement in concrete, paints, etc. Since CD3D doesn’t only provide you with carbon numbers, but with actual bill of materials, you can fill in any missing information in your design. 

If that’s your use case then simply during the geometry calculation step, set all quantities for which you already have information to 0 and choose to merge the exported design with an existing one, instead of creating a new one!

Merging designs together

Optimize carbon before you start drawing

Carbon Designer 3D


Life Cycle Assessment for Buildings

Do you want to try Carbon Designer 3D?

Start a free trial now!