Notes from 2020 Zero Net Carbon Training Day

Notes from the 2020 Zero Carbon Training Day Seminar

by Guy Van Meulebrouck PE

Hello everyone. For those who weren’t able to attend the Zero Carbon Conference this year, here are some notes. This conference offered two things: 1. A Basic understanding of the Building Carbon subject so that one can at least talk about it when the subject comes up. 2. Actual training on how to do Building Carbon studies (it is cheaper and easier to do than you might think).

  1. Basic Understanding of Embodied Carbon of buildings:

Net Zero Carbon is an expansion of Net Zero Energy buildings. The whole subject of Net Zero Carbon for buildings is yet another complication in an already complicated building design procedure. But it is the future. Right now, there are several larger sized general contractors in southern California who routinely provide carbon studies for architects and building owners. Embodied Carbon is a term that describes the energy that is tied up in the weight of the building itself. The game is to offset the energy used to create a building with the energy saved/created by the building.

To get a better understanding of what Building Carbon is all about: One expands the concept of buildings requiring minimal input from the power and gas companies into considering the energy it takes to make and transport the building materials as well as what happens to the materials at their end of life (demolition and disposal). It also includes the considerations of “Less is More”. Meaning reducing pounds from a building whether by interior finishes, structure, or foundations means a Greener building and less impact on air quality. ((in cases like rammed earth, hay bail, or adobe—mass is no problem )). So in the end, the amount of energy a building saves could theoretically balance the energy it took to make, transport, and construct the building itself.

  1. How to compare design options for green buildings:

This whole concept of carbon involved in any particular building has slowly moved along during the years to the point where the various building materials have data sheets which are readily available in free software (called EC3). You can access this software and materials database at: https://www.buildingtransparency.org/ .

This site has templates for use in the on line software for all types of buildings. After inputting a building from scratch (or editing a template), the architect has the ability to play with various scenarios of substituting interior finish materials, structure types etc to get ideas of how to build an overall greener building, and not necessarily for more money either. You see, the bottom line of most building studies are that lighter is better (less is more). Clearly polished and dyed concrete floors are lighter and more cost effective than carpet with pads.

Here is an example of the materials data base (which grows monthly):

The software produces interesting graphs/pie charts that make selling the green concepts to building owners much more straightforward and simple. It helps to be able to compare the carbon savings in a building design to cars removed off the road. That is something anyone can understand.

Here is an example of one of the output graphs:

Conclusion:

Here might be some everyday decisions that come up in designing and some selling points architects can use to push for greener buildings. If for example allowing concrete imported from China is important to the budget of the project (because it is cheaper), one could find ways to offset all of the energy it took to ship the concrete across the ocean by say, eliminating ceilings and going for the exposed open look. Another example might be: by changing from block to advanced framing, a building project might produce the same environmental impact of taking 1,400 cars off the road every year. One building presented at the conference found substantial environmental impact by knowing the difference between Electric Arc versus Basic Oxygen Furnace methods of making steel and specifying the lower carbon method.

The best examples would be finding ways to offer a building for cheaper or the same price that also gives the owner bragging rights about how environmentally friendly their new building is.

Here are some photos of buildings which were built with low embodied carbon:

This conference was available globally on line for a nominal fee. Be on the lookout next year at this time if you want to attend next year’s conference. I have been to about 9 green building seminars. It is safe to say that building owners attend these seminars more than architects. This suggests that there aren’t enough architects around who are actively involved in net zero and zero net carbon buildings to meet up with demand 😉

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