Embodied energy and materials

It is not just the energy consumed during the life of a building which has to be considered. Energy is involved in the extraction, manufacture and

transportation of building materials and this is known as the 'embodied energy' and directly relates to the gross carbon intensity of a material.

The overall environmental credentials of a building are affected by a number of factors:

• energy used over its estimated lifetime;

• energy used in the construction process;

• the extent to which recycled materials have been used (see Chapter 18);

• the presence of pollutants in a material such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs);

• toxic substances used in the production process;

• energy used in demolition;

• level of recyclable materials at demolition;

• materials used in refurbishment.

At the moment the consensus is that a building consumes much more energy during its lifetime than is involved in extraction, manufacture and transportation. However, it will increasingly be the case that the embodied energy will be a significant fraction of the total as buildings become more energy efficient. It can still be difficult to assess the full impact at present because of the scarcity of detailed information. This arises from a natural reluctance on the part of manufacturers to disclose too much information about their commercial processes and also because of natural variations in techniques, which can lead to a wide band of values for similar products.

It is clear, however, that the area of materials energy and environmental effect is one which can only grow in coming years. It is also a sphere where much more information is required in order to exploit opportunities associated with carbon taxes and other fiscal measures to improve design. A number of assessment tools and techniques are becoming available.

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