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Life Cycle Analysis of Residential Buildings

Can Green Retrofits Significantly Reduce CO 2 Emissions?
May 9, 2013 Authors: Nick Romano and Alfred Rodriguez CVE 577 Green Engineering and Environmental Sustainability Prof. Vinka Craver


ABSTRACT A literature review of multiple Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) was performed to compare the carbon emissions of new traditionally built to code residential structures and residential structures that have been retrofitted with a green roof. The scope of this analysis covers the construction, usage, and demolition phases. It was found that although the construction phase emits large amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere in a very short period of time, the usage phase of residential structures accounts for more than 50% of these emissions over a 50 year lifetime. In comparison to the construction and usage phases, the demolition phase was found to be negligible for the discussion of CO2 emissions and mitigation. The installation of a green roof was found to provide a 13.6% reduction in carbon emissions over the same 50 year lifetime. These results should provide interest for further research to be conducted to further quantify the feasibility of green retrofits not only with respect to environmental concerns but also with respect to economic and social interests.

INTRODUCTION Residential buildings are a significant portion of the U.S. economy. The life cycles of these structures impact a variety of markets such as manufacturing, construction, and energy, and the activity between these markets has a major effect on the U.S. progression toward sustainability. Although sustainability lacks a standard definition, there is a unified understanding that environmental, economic, and social interests are at the heart of every sustainable technology or service. The feasibility of sustainable services or technologies may depend more on one said interest over another; for example, solar energy is a sustainable electric energy source that currently makes up less than 1% of all U.S. electric energy production and has not accounted for more of the energy market in previous years due to its high capital costs (Ali 2008). Green retrofits of structures are another service that has been heavily explored over the last decade mainly due to their promising benefits of reduced carbon emissions. Retrofitting structures addresses all environmental, social, and economic interests of sustainability through the reduction in energy consumption. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced when less energy is needed to, say, heat and cool a structure, allowing for economic savings, environmental preservation, and pollution prevention. One of the biggest opponents of retrofitting structures is the lack of quantitative data that supports academic claims of these perceived benefits. By conducting life cycle assessment analyses, one can quantitatively compare the
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benefits of retrofitting residential and commercial buildings compared to the other available alternatives, such as building brand new traditional structures (those that are not LEED certified) or maintaining the status quo. The impacts of transportation related construction costs, material production, or standardized retrofitting methods are all detailed alternatives not included in this literature review. The intent of this review is to evaluate a specific green retrofit practice, installation of a green roof, in order to present a quantitative comparison of carbon emissions between residential structures that are retrofitted and those that are simply newly built to code. The reason for this review on retrofitting structures is mainly due to the authors interests in structural engineering. As structural engineering graduate students, it is important to investigate the current and future status of the U.S. building sector as well as what can be done to reduce engineering footprints. Determining the feasibility of converting and upgrading existing structures to energy efficient ones rather than building new structures is one direction the industry is heading, and it is the responsibility of the civil engineer to understand how the problems within this industry relate to sustainability so that new projects pay closer attention to environmental, social, and economic concerns. METHODS The focus of this review is to compare the greenhouse gas emissions, namely CO2, between new, traditionally built to code residential structures and residential structures that have been retrofitted.
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In order to make this comparison, the specific retrofitting practice of installing green roofs is chosen to simplify and clarify this comparison for quantitative means. Throughout this review, traditional residential structures refer to new structures that are built to satisfy minimum code requirements. Green retrofits refer to any renovations of these structures that aim to improve the function, service, or efficiency of that residential structure. A literature review of multiple LCAs was performed to compare and quantify carbon emissions with an implied service of a residential structure as the amount of CO2 emissions during the construction, usage, and demolition phases. The functional unit for comparison is lbs CO2 per square foot. The life cycle of these structures is assumed to be a 50 year period. Any and all data used for comparison is extrapolated to account for this 50 year time frame so that the life cycle analysis and comparison can be performed.

A simple LCA performed by the authors (using the Carnegie Melon tool) of this review was used more as a benchmark to compare CO2 emissions (within the U.S. residential sectors) with other analyses, and these data was not used in calculating the final results. The LCA findings of the reviewed journals are used to formulate this reviews conclusions. One may refer to any of the provided references within this text to read, in further detail, the specifics of each journal articles methodology for performing their own LCA. The life cycle phases of interest along with the functional unit and service for this literature review are graphically shown below in Figure 1. The construction phase refers only to the brief period of time in which the structure is erected. The usage phase refers to the operation and maintenance period for the structure. The demolition phase is the end of the structures life, and the construction operations performed in the dismantling and removal of that structure.

Figure 1. Life Cycle Phases of Residential Buildings

Source: Composed by A. Rodriguez. Pictures gathered from online sources CVE 577 Green Engineering and Environmental Sustainability

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RESEARCH RESULTS AND DISCUSSION CO2 Emissions in Construction for New Traditional Residential Structures An EIO-LCA (Economic Input Output Life Cycle Assessment) is a useful tool in not only evaluating environmental impacts of a certain economic sector but also providing a baseline status from which recommendations can be made to improve current conditions and policies (Marshall 2012). In 1999, U.S. residences accounted for approximately 5% of the GPD, yet this sector consumed nearly 20% of the total energy (Ochoa 2002). Such over and inefficient use of energy is the epitome of past and present U.S. energy policy failures. In order to enlighten policy makers, an EIO-LCA performed by Ochoa, Hendrickson, and Matthews on the U.S. residential sector quantified carbon emissions in three phases - construction, usage, and demolition/disposal. When looking at the construction phase, one could obtain a breakdown of CO2 emissions of residential structures for certain materials. Figure 2 below displays the CO2 emissions during the construction phase for common building materials. Figure 2. CO2 Construction Emissions Induced by

and concrete, and emissions due to the use of glass are practically non-existent for apartment and multifamily style structures. Knowing that the average reported construction emissions are about 10% of the overall CO2 emission of residential buildings, researchers of a case study conducted in Finland investigated the construction stages ability to produce a spike of CO2 emissions of significant impact relative to the total amount emitted during the life of the building. After conducting the study, one of the findings was that it could take several decades for the use and maintenance phase emissions to offset the emissions produced during construction. To arrive to this conclusion, researchers conducted this study also performing an EIO- LCA. The focus was to analyze the environmental impact of the development of a small residential area applying traditional building construction and no major environmental raking application. The total building permit floor area was about 750,000 square feet which was composed of 70% stand-alone houses, and 30% of low-rise apartment houses, and with the intention to hold 1100 residents with a construction phase cost of around $183 million (Heinonen, Synjoki and Junnila 2011). LCA of the study was meant to target only the construction phase, and use and maintenance phase of the residential development. Focusing on the analysis of the construction stage, Figure 3 shows the allocation of CO2 emission during construction. Figure 3. The Division of the Construction Phase Carbon Emissions

Source: Seo and Hwang (2001) According to Figure 2, single family homes tend to use the most variety of materials, and as a result, contribute the most to carbon emissions. When looking at specific materials, steel and concrete contribute the most to carbon emissions when normalized over an area of 10m2. Wood, tile, and glass are much smaller in proportion to steel
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Source: Heinonen, Synjoki and Junnila (2011)

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The residential building refers to emissions from the actual construction and material input for the erection and enclosure of the building. Service buildings percentage is the emissions from the facilities, such as contractor trailers and storehouses, used during the construction. Infrastructures are the emissions from the construction of service lines such as water and electric conduits, sewers and others. The total CO2 emissions obtained from the construction phase evaluation was 140,000 tons equivalent to the total area mentioned above. One interesting finding is that 26% (36,000 tons) of the CO2 emissions during construction came from service buildings which can be a little high taking notice that these are just temporary facilities (Heinonen, Synjoki and Junnila 2011). Figure 5 demonstrates the comparison between those emissions generated during construction and those generated during the usage and maintenance stage. The total residential construction and infrastructure, not including service building, of CO2 emissions is 105,000 tons. The annual emission from use and maintenance is about 5000 tons. The no new construction line is the emission in the usage phase of other existing

residential buildings. The graph suggest that roughly two decades of usage phase emissions is necessary to produce the same amount that as the amount produced during construction. In other words, in a time frame of 25 years, construction phase produce about 50% of the total usage stage emissions. Research concluded that construction phase presents a significant impact to the CO2 emissions in the life cycle analysis of residential building and that further mitigation must be done to evaluate the efficiency of construction phase. CO2 Emissions in Usage/Demolition From an economic perspective the construction life cycle phase of residential structures accounts for 46% of the total economic activity within the sector but only 5% of the energy consumption (Ochoa 2002). The usage phase not only makes up 54% of the economic activity (demolition phase is negligible compared to usage and construction) but also 93% of the total energy consumed, contributing 92% of the life cycles greenhouse gas emissions (Ochoa 2002).

Figure 5. Total Emissions of the Residential Area During the 25 Year Life Cycle

Source: Source: Heinonen, Synjoki and Junnila (2011)

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A slightly more detailed breakdown for all three phases, relative to residential sector, is displayed below in Table 1.

It is not surprising that coal and oil sources of heating are the most detrimental to the environment, and emit three times as much carbon as liquefied petroleum gas when looking at single family homes. It is interesting that apartments and multi-family homes do not yield quite as much emissions as single family homes. This could be due in part because of the mere quantity and size of these structures. There is more of a shared energy use, such as central heating, and that can reduce the amount of energy used if efficient systems are present. Although it is interesting that the construction phase is responsible for large amounts of CO2 emissions in a relatively short period of time, the emissions for the usage phase are even greater due to the time frame one measures. This finding is expected and most studies seem to concur with said results. Comparison of Traditional Residential Structures and Retrofitted

Source: Ochoa 2002 As one can observe in Table 1, the usage phase accounts for 1,502 million tons of CO2 emissions. During the construction phase, 96% of the carbon emissions are due to the new residential 1-unit structures. The multi-unit structures are shown just for comparison purposes so one can appreciate the impact of these single unit structures. The demolition phase of residential structures is clearly insignificant, accounting for mere fractions of construction and usage phases impacts, especially concerning CO2 emissions. Seo and Hwang looked further into energy use and the carbon emissions that are a direct result. Figure 4 below displays some common energy sources for residential buildings and their associated carbon emissions on a yearly basis. Figure 4. CO2 Emissions from Operation of Residential Building (kg-C/10m2-year)

Ideally, demolition and rebuild of old homes and residential buildings have been seen as one of the solutions to the reduction of energy consumption and emissions, and to the increase of aesthetic values in a community. However, housing rebuild assessments have demonstrated that rehabilitation of housing structures to modern environmentally efficient conditions can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions released by the residential sector, and can improve communities quality of life in a cost effective manner. A study performed in the UK demonstrated the impact of housing retrofit. In this nation, 50% of their CO2 emissions was produced by their existing houses. While rebuilding new and sustainable houses may seem as a great alternative, there was still the need to incorporate thoughts to the existing structures which may still be around long enough to continue generating high levels of emissions. In UK, with about 24 million currently standing houses, it is estimated that about 87% will still be around by 2050. These houses will comprise about 70% of the total stock; meaning that energy standard will need to be increased to reach at least 60% reduction in energy use in order to maintain a sustainable level (Power 2008).

Source: Seo and Hwang (2001)

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To illustrate the benefits of retrofit vs rebuild, Figure 6 shows the results of a study conducted by the Empty Home Agency in UK. The purpose of the evaluation was to compare the emission caused by embodied energy and energy used over a life period of 50 years between new buildings and retrofitted buildings. To perform the study, they looked at 6 buildings; the three to the left of Figure 6 are buildings in construction, and the three to the right are buildings in renovation. As a result, the embodied energy for new construction generates 35% of the total CO2 emissions over a 50 year lifetime. On the other hand, the embodied energy of renovated building generates 7% of total CO2. These percentages are typical as it is understood that construction phase on a new structure requires more material than those that just need restoration. The total average amount of CO2 emission for new build properties was 174 tonne per home, and the total average for retrofitted properties was 194 tonne per home (Power 2008). These results imply that new buildings produce slightly less CO2 Figure 6. U.K. Study

emission over a 50 year period than renovated buildings; however renovation still offers a great value when looking at the efficiency of embodied energy and when other benefits discussed are balanced. In addition, sustainable evaluation of renewal of residential building have been ignoring the fact that implementing this method would not only reduce environmental impacts caused by by ineffective performance of the building, but would also provide affordable sustainable alternatives to low income population, less local environmental and residential disruption opposing to demolition, and preservation of basic structure. A Case Study: Green Roofs In order to evaluate the ability of green retrofits to reduce CO2 emissions, green roofs, a specific retrofit, are investigated to quantify their impacts on carbon mitigation. Green roofs are roof systems that cover either a portion of or the entire roof area with vegetation. There are also additional waterproofing and insulation layers within a green roof system. The assumed benefits of such a roof system are many, including but not limited to, reduced heating and cooling costs, reduced runoff, and capturing CO2 with vegetation (Blackhurst). Some of these benefits may be considered private meaning that only the property owner benefits from the reduced costs of, say, cooling a home or building whereas the overall benefit of reduced CO2 emissions and stormwater runoff are realized by society (Blackhurst 2010). Blackhurst conducted a study where a life cycle assessment analysis was performed for widespread installation of green roofs in an urban residential setting. Their functional unit for the analysis was 6.5 million sq. ft of traditional rooftop space would be converted to green roofs at a 3% annual rate for 30 years (Blackhurst 2010). Table 2 below summarizes the base impact assessment costs of retrofitting these homes with green roof systems.

Source: Power (2008) Note: 1 kg = 2.2 lbs

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Source Blackhurst (2010) The main takeaway from Table 2 is that, although green roofs are more expensive to install than conventional roofs, the reduction in annual electricity demand by 1 kWh/sq.ft in addition to the 50% annual reduction in excess runoff during the usage phase are significant benefits. Cost and GHG emissions are slightly higher for the material production and on-site construction phases due to uncertainty in specific designs of the green roofs to be installed. There are a variety of green roof systems, including intrusive and extrusive, and each contain a varying degree of plant systems (Blackhurst 2010). These assessment costs are therefore conservative; however, this initial finding suggests a positive long-term outlook for green roofs with respect to reduced energy consumption, and reduced consumption suggests minimizing CO2 emissions. When further evaluating the buildings use phase after installing green roofs, one can assess the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well as the realized societal benefits. Table 3 below summarizes Blackhursts findings for greenhouse gas reductions after replacing conventional roofs with green ones. As one can observe, the reduction in greenhouse gases across all structural categories is quantifiably significant. It is expected that 81,000 MT CO2 could be reduced, across all life cycle phases, over a 30 year period. For this literature review, commercial structures are not considered, so the total GHG mitigation would be 59,300 MT of CO2. This is equivalent to a mitigation 20 lb CO2/sq.ft. To quantify the societal benefits, over a million dollars in savings can be realized thanks to better quality living, reduced energy consumption, and cleaner air. This data also suggests that the largest reductions in emissions can be seen in the phenomenon known as the Urban Heat Island effect. The Urban Heat Island effect is not widely understood, but the principle is that the green roof medium enhances evapotranspiration in addition to raising the urban albedo, reducing the temperature within the area (Blackhurst 2010). A case study in Toronto in 2006 found that 50% green roof coverage in the city allowed the citys temperature to drop by 1% (Issa 2013). This may not sound significant, but if one were to consider climate change impacts and global temperature changes of one or two degrees Celsius, then a fraction of a degree is highly significant for an urban area.

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The findings of this study are limited by the fact that the feasibility of green roof construction is limited by geographic region. The savings illustrated within in this study are maximum for regions where there are high rates for electricity and climates that are able to realize changes to the Urban Heat Island effect with the introduction of green roofs. Building size may also fluctuate the studys findings in that residential buildings of multiple floors may have different construction and material costs that must be evaluated in the appropriate life cycle phase (Blackhurst 2010)..

etc., activity is included within the various sectors used by the Carnegie Melon tool to estimate life cycle carbon emissions. There are seemingly large differences between the emissions described as Power Generation and Supply from the Carnegie Melon EIO-LCA and Ochoas Electrical Services emissions rates (1100 MT vs 60.8 MT). One reason for this discrepancy could be attributed, as mentioned before, to the sectors included within the Carnegie Melon EIO-LCA for the above industry. Generally speaking, most of data relating to power and supply are gathered from the various contractors and tradesmen relating to those services.

EIO-LCA To compare the carbon emission findings of this literature review, an EIO-LCA is performed for residential single and multi-family structures using the Carnegie Melon Institutes EIO-LCA tool (Refer to Figure 7). The volume of economic activity covered in this analysis includes contributions from various sectors within the construction, usage, and demolition phases in addition to contributions from phases not covered in this literature review (such as transportation and manufacturing). This is because the Carnegie Melon tool compiles data from a multitude of related sectors. The input value for economic activity for the analysis is 430 billion (2002 dollars). Similarly to Ochoas study, the EIO-LCA lumps total carbon emissions for the sector. This means that any sort of renovation, retrofitting, Figure 7 Limitations and Recommendations

One major limitation of this review is that the EIO-LCA data is limited by those that have already conducted their studies. Therefore, in order to make a truly fair comparison, a more detailed and relevant EIO-LCA for the functional unit and service outlined at the beginning of this review should be performed. The Carnegie Melon tool used to perform a simple EIO-LCA for this purpose proves to be an important start in further researching and quantifying the benefits of green retrofits with respect to CO2 mitigation. Another limitation of this literature review is related to the overall lack of standardized data for quantifying and presenting the reduction of CO2 emissions in the presence of green retrofitting

Source: Carnegie Mellon University Green Design Institute. (2013) Economic InputOutput Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) US 2002 (428) model [Internet], Available from: <> [Accessed 9 Apr, 2013]

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practices. This is mainly due to the fact that much of the literature reviewed includes data on general residential renovating practices on the whole. The exact percentage of how much of these projects include green retrofitting is lost within the data, thereby limiting the scope of this research. The case study on green roofs, although accurate, is just one of many life cycle analyses that should be conducted in order to deem retrofitting practices significantly better than building traditional structures at reducing carbon emissions. Rather than renovating structures or building new LEED certified ones, it is important to further investigate the manner in which residential communities are developed. Engineers and architects must work together to design urban and suburban communities that incorporate mixed-uses. Mixed-use developments are thought to offer substantial benefits in GHG reduction by reducing the energy consumption through integrated systems, reducing carbon emissions directly related to transportation, and requiring less infrastructure for municipalities (Brown and Southworth 2006).

accounts for most of the CO2 emissions. Contrary to Ochoas analysis, the construction phase contributes significantly to the lifetime CO2 emissions, but is still less than 50% of the total emissions; however it is generally accepted that the demolition phase contributes very little to the entire life cycle analysis with respect to carbon emissions. It is estimated that for a new, traditional residential structure, the total CO2 emissions for a 50 year lifetime is about 347 lbs CO2 per square foot. If the same residential structure is retrofitted with a green roof rather than entirely rebuilt, then the total CO2 emissions for a 50 year lifetime are about 313.7 lbs CO2 per square foot. This is a mitigation of 33.3 lbs CO2 per square foot, or 13.6%, and the construction emissions that were produced during the construction phase would be recovered after 5 years (Refer to Appendix A for calculations). Overall the impact of one specific retrofitting practice, namely a green roof, can significantly reduce the CO2 emissions over the lifetime of a residential structure. These environmental benefits directly and indirectly lead to economic and social benefits as well. More research must be conducted in order to quantify these benefits, but the realized energy savings after installing a green roof as well as the resulting reduction in the urban heat island effect provide for interesting points of research to further prove the feasibility of green retrofits not only for residential structures, but for all building types.

CONCLUSIONS In order to simplify the findings of the multiple LCAs within this literature review, Table 4 below compiles and summarizes the pertinent findings regarding the effectiveness of green roofs in reducing carbon emissions. As expected and discussed throughout this review, the usage phase for residential structures

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Conversion factors: 1kg = 2.2lbs, 1 sq.m = 10.7693 sq.ft

CONSTRUCTION NEW 500*2.2 / 10.7639 = 102.2 lbs CO2 / sq.ft 3.2 lbs CO2/sq.ft = impact of installing a green roof USAGE NEW 1200 * 2.2 / 10.7639 = 245 lbs CO2/sq ft DEMOLITION negligible


TOTAL CO2 EMISSIONS (30yrs) - 2000 lbs/ton * 1.1 ton/metric ton * 59300 metric ton CO2 / 6.5 * 10^6 sq.ft. = 20 lbs CO2/sq.ft. TOTAL CO2 EMISSIONS MITIGATED (50yrs) - 20 lbs CO2/sq.ft. / 30 yrs = 0.66 lbs CO2/yr * 50 yrs = 33.33lbs CO2/sq.ft CO2 REDUCTION - 33.3/245 = 13.6%

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