Embodied life cycle assessment and potential environmental impacts of improvement options for detached single-family houses in Atlanta

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Shirazi, Arezoo
Ashuri, Baabak
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20% of US energy consumption and the consequential environmental impacts are associated with the building sector. Previous studies showed that approximately 30% of a building's life cycle energy is attributed to its embodied energy. The residential housing market alone has a significant impact on US emissions. According to a recent report from the Washington Post, detached single-family houses represent the most common style of housing in major US cities and it is close to 40% for Atlanta. This study focuses on residential buildings in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The overarching objective of this research is to include the changes of building construction methods and building energy codes into an embodied Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model to evaluate the long-term impacts of improvement options for the residential buildings in the region. The primary contributions of this research are: (1) benchmarking the generic characteristics of existing residential buildings considering building codes and construction changes in the region; (2) investigating the trend of embodied energy and emissions of benchmarked buildings considering the 1970s transition in the construction industry; and (3) identifying potential improvement options for benchmarked buildings and comparing the embodied energy and environmental impacts of identified options. The main findings of this research showed: (1) lower embodied energy and environmental impacts per unit area for houses built before 1970s; (2) lower embodied energy and impacts per unit area for 2-story houses; (3) a range of 1.8 to 3.9 Gj/m2 embodied energy for residential buildings in the region; (4) highest environmental impacts for attic/knee insulation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units replacement through retrofitting residential buildings; and (5) significant environmental impacts for foundation wall insulation and window upgrading through retrofitting dwellings built before the 1970s. The results of this research highlight the role of the life cycle approach for selecting low emission options during the design and implementation of construction and retrofit actions for residential dwellings. The results could further be used to investigate the potential improvement options for an optimum energy usage while reducing life cycle emissions by renovating existing residential buildings in a region.
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