Embodied carbon footprint can be reduced by using conventional materials

High-SCM concrete, and cellulose and wood fiber insulation among the greener alternatives.

April 15, 2020 |

Courtesy Pixabay

Builders for Climate Action have found that embodied carbon accounted for an outsized portion of greenhouse gas emissions for new low-rise construction.

A new white paper from the group says that the carbon footprint can be significantly reduced by using conventional materials. The highest embodied carbon came from a building with high-Portland-cement concrete, and extruded polystyrene and spray-foam insulation. A typical model included concrete with some supplemental cementitious materials (SCMs), along with mineral wool insulation.

A lower-carbon alternative, called a “drawdown building” incorporated high-SCM concrete, and cellulose and wood fiber insulation. The carbon-storing model included:

· Insulated concrete forms with high-SCM concrete

· Expanded glass sub-grade insulation

· Straw and wood fiberboard insulation

· Wood cladding

· Compressed straw panel interior walls

· ReWall interior finishes

· Wood windows

· Linoleum and Forest Stewardship Council-certified softwood flooring

· Cedar shake roofing

An energy-efficient drawdown building located in Toronto and using renewable grid electricity would avoid 614 metric tons of carbon emissions over 30 years, according to the report. One caveat: Drawdown buildings rely heavily on wood products, and there are emerging questions about whether wood is universally a carbon-storing material.

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