Thursday, April 11, 2013

Top 10 Structural Sustainability FAQs Answered by LCA

Despite the wealth of information now available about using life cycle assessment (LCA) as a sustainable design tool, straightforward answers to some basic questions can be difficult to find. The SEI Sustainability Committee’s LCA working group has prepared answers to ten of the most frequently asked questions by conscientious structural engineers.

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Below you will find nine questions, worded most closely to what a structural engineer might ask. Members of the LCA working group have answered them as succinctly as possible to improve clarity on the topic. Resources are also provided to deepen understanding.  You may be surprised to find yourself steered to altogether different questions, and the answers to them also.  Within each response we keep the structural engineer in mind, answering: “so what does this mean for you?”

Please check this website throughout the month of April as the LCA working group posts the responses to a few new questions each week leading up to the 2013 Structures Congress.
The final question will be determined by vote or submitted by a reader like you. Review the questions below and consider if we missed something. Use the comment feature on this page to propose a question. One question will be chosen soon after Structures Congress to receive top billing on this blog. Other pertinent questions will be answered at a later date.

The 10 FAQs are:

  1. Which is better - steel or concrete?  
  2. What are some of the most effective things I can do as a structural engineer?
  3. a) How do embodied impacts compare to operational?; b) Reducing operational Energy
  4. How much of total embodied comes from structure?  
  5. Does it matter if I use LCA data from different sources?
  6. How much do things seen in LEED (recycled content, local sourcing, etc.) matter? 
  7. What’s the difference between embodied energy and embodied carbon?  Can I just scale embodied carbon results to embodied energy?  
  8. What do the other LCA metrics (besides embodied carbon and embodied energy) mean and how important are they? 
  9. What is the environmental impact of seismic damage? How can comprehensive life cycle thinking impact how we design for disasters?  
  10. What is better for the environment, building reuse or new construction?
Official Top Ten Bibliography

2 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Many buildings get torn down in less than 50 years for various reasons.
    What can a design team do to make a structure more desirable to future users? What are the most common factors that cause an owner to decide to tear down a building vs work with what is existing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Suggestion for Q10: what is better - retrofitting and existing energy-hogging building, or building a new super-efficient building?

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