Comparison of Energy-based Indicators used in LCA Tools

Traditionally, building rating systems focused on, among others, energy used during operational stage. Recently, there is a strong push by these rating systems to include the life cycle energy use of buildings, particularly using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), by offering credits that can be used to achieve higher certification levels. As LCA-based tools are evolving to meet this growing demand, it is important to include methods that also quantify the impact of energy being used by ecosystems that indirectly contribute to building life cycle energy use. Using a case-study building, this work provides an up-to-date comparison of energy-based indicators in tools for building assessment, including those that report both conventional life cycle energy and those that also include a wider systems boundary that captures energy use even further upstream.

My recently published journal article in Building and Environment titled, Comparison of Energy-based Indicators used in Life Cycle Assessment Tools for Buildings applies two existing LCA tools, namely, an economic input–output based model, Economic Input–Output LCA, and a process-based model, ATHENA® Impact Estimator, to estimate life cycle energy use in an example building. In order to extend the assessment to address energy use further upstream, this paper also tests the Ecologically based LCA  (Eco-LCA) tool and an application of the Emergy methodology. All of these tools are applied to the full service life of the building, i.e., all stages, namely, raw material formation, product, construction, use, and end-of-life; and their results are compared. Besides contrasting the use of energy-based indicators in building life cycle tools, this paper uncovered major challenges that confront stakeholders in evaluating the built environments using LCA and similar approaches.

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The figure above shows the percent of embodied energy by CSI division (including maintenance energy for finishes and doors, frames and hardware).