How do buildings contribute to climate change?
Britannica defines climate change as a “periodic modification of Earth’s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the earth system.”
In layman’s terms, climate change is the effect on which the activities we carry out on earth affect the climatic condition long-term.
As humans, we do many activities that are capable of affecting the atmosphere in the long run—activities such as burning fuel while driving, smoking, etc.—all of these resulting in the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But for this article, the cynosure of attention is on how our buildings affect and contribute to climate change.
The apparent cause of global warming today is the combustion of fossil fuels which generates high levels of CO2 into the atmosphere. In one Climate Change Forum hosted by CNN, Sen. Elizabeth Warren thinks that the three areas where most carbon pollution generates from in America right now are our buildings, our cars, and our carbon-based electricity. This is just one of many progressive leaders and other experts who mentioned buildings as the leading cause of CO2 emission before anything else.
What is the Carbon Footprint of a Building?
It is much easier to explain the CO2 emissions sector by sector because each area is intertwined.
Understanding how buildings contribute to carbon emissions is critical for tackling the issue. Buildings contribute to carbon emissions on several levels—how they are built, how they are used, and where they are located.
The US Energy Information Administration, in 2020, published that the residential and commercial sectors accounted for about 22% and 18%, totaling 40% of total U.S. energy consumption.
Furthermore, Architecture2030 estimated that the transport, assembly, and manufacture of building materials such as steel, concrete, and wood account for 8% of energy use. These stats make sense when you discover that coal-burning power plants generate around 30% of the electricity buildings use, releasing greenhouse gases, consequently causing climate change.
Building emissions, as they are commonly quantified, are a combination of two factors. The first is day-to-day energy use, often known as “operational carbon emissions” from heating, cooling, and lighting. Suffice it to note that building activities account for approximately 28% of global emissions each year. The second factor is the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacturing of building materials, transportation of materials to construction sites, and the actual construction process—what is known as a building’s “embodied carbon,” which accounts for roughly one-quarter of a building’s total life-cycle carbon emissions. Buildings’ embedded carbon accounts for around 11% of global emissions.
How can the building sector reduce carbon emissions?
The question is, can the building sector even reduce carbon emissions? Yes, it definitely can. However, there’s a tug of war between the policies put in place to reduce carbon emissions and the ever-increasing number of new buildings erected daily in the US. Globally, the building sector’s energy intensity improves by around 1.5% per year; nevertheless, the number of buildings is increasing—global floor area rises by about 2.3% per year—offsetting part of those energy intensity improvements. Carbon emissions from buildings are predicted to double by 2050 if no intentional and meaningful action is taken.
The goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, is directly targeted at the immediate need to reduce CO2 emission from buildings amidst a rising number of installations. According to UN Environment, to fulfill the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, a measure of how much energy buildings use will need to improve by 30% come 2030.
Therefore, in a relentless effort to achieve this feat, countries work towards attaining a worldwide peak in greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible in order to achieve climate neutrality by mid-century.
So, given the predicaments, how is it possible?
Decarbonization, or attempting to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, can take various forms in the construction sector. Despite the fact that all buildings must be net-zero carbon by 2050 to fulfill the Paris Agreement’s goals, “not even 1% of structures are deemed net-zero carbon today.” In fact, it is more wishful thinking given the situation.
Because buildings have such high energy needs, designing and developing energy-efficient structures may result in significant and essential savings in energy usage. Nonetheless, despite substantial advances in the energy efficiency of individual components and appliances since the 1973 oil crisis, building energy consumption is rising. New buildings are being constructed, a slew of contemporary devices and appliances create “plug load,” and energy is being squandered. Most new buildings are not planned to maximize energy performance. The majority of older structures have not been updated with even the most basic and cost-effective energy efficiency techniques. Homeowners, in general, have little knowledge of how their houses utilize energy, and landlords frequently transfer the burden of rising energy expenses to their tenants by raising rental rates.
Recognizing these problems is precisely why Intellihot was established to help increase efficient use of energy. Since its inception, Intellihot products have eliminated 3.1 billion tons of CO2.
Fortunately, a rising number of astute business owners, recognizing that energy efficiency may save them hundreds or even thousands of dollars, have used Intellihot products including Neuron, i Series, Deionized, etc., to take care of their hot water needs without stress. All these products are trusted to reduce Co2 emissions.
Many construction and renovation specialists understand how to design and remodel structures to be energy efficient, green, high-performance, renewable-ready, and even totally independent of fossil fuels.