Bringing life cycle analysis into the building industry

Friday, 21 July, 2006

Architects and designers can now evaluate the life cycle impact of their choices for commercial buildings in just a few hours.

Never before have architects and designers been able to assess the full environmental impact of the building materials used in a commercial construction and the process of building. We have produced a digital tool that is designed for this task.

Our Australian industry partners have been instrumental in developing the new LCADesign tool produced by the CRC for Construction Innovation.

Based on research undertaken by our partners, the Queensland Department of Public Works and the CSIRO, this new tool measures the amount of embodied energy and water that is consumed in production of building materials and construction of a building. The research showed that the energy and water used in these two areas was equivalent to the impact of about 20 years' operation of the building. This is a significant environmental impact.

The tool is made up of three components: an interface with 3D CAD model; a database which contains life cycle indicators of materials and components; and a reasoning rule that maps the elements of the building that you want to analyse to the environmental data we have. It's the reasoning rule that analyses the impact.

We have customised it to Australian conditions, however we are also conducting trials in Europe and America.

The main benefit that this product offers to building owners and operators is the ability to differentiate themselves and provide data to prospective tenants about the environmental advantages and savings that are possible in a building designed using LCADesign.

The CRC for Construction Innovation has allocated additional funding to integrate the tool with existing building ratings schemes that measure operational impacts of buildings.

With LCADesign, architects and environmental engineers will be able to set up an existing 3D CAD model for analysis within a few hours. They can then change the parameters to compare the environmental impacts. For instance, they may analyse a pre-cast concrete façade and contrast this against bricks.

You can also compare the whole building analysis with a best practice benchmark and use it to identify hot spots where the environmental burdens are greatest.

As an example, you might put high environmental performance glass into a building that reflects heat and absorbs light. It might indicate on LCADesign that this option will mean an extra 25% of embodied energy but its use will also halve operational costs. The tool will also highlight the areas in which you won't receive value, particularly in trying to reduce the impact of something that already has a low impact.

LCADesign is the flagship project of our range of environmental projects and we see it moving into the market in the next 12-18 months. As Australia begins to embrace sustainability concepts more fully we see further opportunities for this tool to be developed for use in the design of houses, schools etc.

We are currently trialling LCADesign on a major retrofit program in Melbourne and we plan to make modifications that will allow it to be used for upgrading the large stock of existing buildings in Australia.

To date there has been a lot of emphasis on the operating costs of buildings and our immediate need to use energy more efficiently, and we have taken this a step further. By understanding the embodied water and energy in building materials and processes, our commercial buildings can lighten their environmental footprint from their conception.

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