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Last edited 12 Feb 2021
Low carbon in the construction industry
Carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts, manufacturing, construction, heating and cooling etc, accumulates in the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse effect and consequently climate change. It is for this reason that achieving a low-carbon economy has become an objective for many countries, regions, businesses and individuals.
Being low-carbon (or decarbonised) essentially requires reducing the direct use of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – and also, activities which rely indirectly on fossil fuels, such as cooking and washing, which usually require gas or electricity generated at power stations using fossil fuels (e.g coal and oil). A low fossil-fuel economy (LFFE) is also therefore a low-carbon economy.
Activities or buildings which emit relatively low amounts of carbon dioxide are said to have a low carbon footprint. This may be achieved by designs which focus on renewable energy technology, such as passive solar space/water heating, photovoltaics, triple glazing, high levels of insulation, energy-efficient condensing boilers, building design and orientation and so on. Their inclusion can help reduce a building’s operating costs – lower heating and cooling bills, reducing emissions and therefore lowering the carbon footprint.
Achieving this can also be aided by the materials used in constructing a building. For example, clay bricks tend to have a high embodied energy content. Large amounts of energy are required to make them e.g firing, which requires very high temperatures and is therefore energy intensive. This is why such materials are said to have a high embodied energy content. On the other hand, it can be argued that materials such as clay brick can offset their embodied energy content because they have been proven to last for centuries with minimal maintenance. Such whole-life considerations should be weighed-up when specifying materials of construction.
Building construction is considered to generate relatively high carbon emissions. Transitioning from a high- to a low-carbon construction sector can be difficult but may be achieved by strategies such as:
- Promoting good practice.
- Ensuring good quality workmanship on site.
- Reducing waste.
- Using low-embodied energy, local products and materials.
- Using recycled and recyclable products and materials.
- Designing for deconstruction.
- On-site energy generation and storage.
- Reducing the use of vehicles.
- High levels of insulation.
- Low infiltration rates.
- Low water and power-consuming appliances.
- Carbon capture and storage.
- Passive design techniques.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Carbon dioxide.
- Climate change Act.
- Code for sustainable homes.
- Energy Act.
- Energy Performance Certificates.
- Energy Related Products Regulations.
- Energy targets.
- Government Construction Strategy.
- Home Quality Mark.
- How much carbon are your buildings responsible for?
- Mean lean green.
- Routes to low carbon energy.
- Sustainable materials.
- Zero carbon homes.
- Zero carbon non-domestic buildings.
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