Earlier this week, a group out of Highland Park, Illinois (the May T. Watts Appreciation Society) went live with a fantastic website that provides an embodied energy calculator. Check out the calculator at www.thegreenestbuilding.org – and the associated blog.
With minimal information – the size of a building and the building type – users can generate an estimate of the amount of embodied energy in any building, and calculate the total energy wasted by demolishing a building and constructing another structure in its place.
Bravo to the Watts Appreciation Society for taking on this task! This will make it easier for preservationists everywhere to help build a convincing case for the environmental benefits of building reuse.
The work can’t stop here though. Embodied energy only tells us part of the story. While knowing the embodied energy in a building enables us to understand how building construction and demolition compares to other energy intensive activities, such as auto use, it doesn’t help with much else. It doesn’t tell us anything about toxins that are released as a byproducts of extraction, manufacturing, construction and demolition – or the natural resources consumed in the process.
The National Trust is developing a research agenda to help quantifying the other negative environmental impacts associated with building demolition and construction. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) provides a means to do just this. LCA quantifies the energy and materials usage and environmental releases at each stage of a product’s life cycle, including extraction of resources, manufacturing of goods, construction, use and disposal.
LCA is in its infancy – and unfortunately doesn’t lend itself very well to a handy calculator of the variety the Watts Appreciation Society has created. But the Trust is committed to harnessing LCA to help articulate the benefits of building preservation. Stay tuned to the blog for as the details of our research agenda are finalized.
In the meantime – congrats to the folks in Highland Park, and happy embodied energy calculating to the rest of us.
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