A step-by-step guide to achieving net-zero carbon in construction

As the construction industry steps up its contribution to tackling the climate emergency, scroll down to explore six simple steps you can take to achieve net zero in your building projects.

What's covered below

The difference construction is making

What does net-zero carbon mean?

Six steps to achieve net-zero in construction

A.

The difference construction is making

The potential to make a positive impact in the fight against climate change is huge

42%

of the total carbon footprint of the UK is attributable to the built environment

22%

was from the operational and embodied carbon in buildings, showing the huge potential for us to make a difference

B.

What does net-zero carbon mean?

When the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building's embodied and operational impacts over the life of the building, including its disposal, are zero or negative.

Whole life carbon

Operational carbon

A building that is net-zero carbon operational is highly energy efficient and fully powered by renewable energy sources. The amount of carbon emissions from operating it on an annual basis would be zero or negative.

Embodied carbon

The carbon that is released during the manufacturing, production, transportation and the destruction of a building after its life span. This can be reduced or eliminated through the use of low carbon-material, offsetting and on-site renewable energy use.

C.

Six steps to achieve net zero in construction

Achieving net-zero in construction doesn't need to be complex. 
Here's six simple steps to get you started:

1

Take a fabric-first approach
Take a fabric-first approach. Use a design and materials that minimise a building’s energy demands. This could include maximising air tightness or using super high insultation. You should also consider materials that will minimise embodied carbon.

2

Focus on renewable heating and energy
You'll need to install photovoltaic (PV) panels and heat pumps. But before you do this, consider the position of the development to maximise the impact of renewable energy. We can help you think through things like orientation and position of windows where small changes can make a big difference.

3

Ensure you can achieve net-zero operational
The steps above are a crucial part of ensuring that your net-zero building is highly energy efficient and powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.

4

Mind the performance gap
The carbon emissions from new build homes can be 2.5 times higher on average than design estimates. Going net-zero carbon operational can eliminate that gap and ensure your project meets post-occupancy monitoring requirements, which are becoming increasingly commonplace. If you’d like help with reducing your performance gap, book a time to chat with us. Wherever you are in the process, we’re always happy to chat you through the best options availble to you.

5

Minimise your carbon offsetting requirements
Any remaining carbon can be offset using a recognised framework. Minimising how much carbon you offset is increasingly important as many planning authorities now require developers to pay for carbon they haven’t eliminated.

6

Ensure you can achieve net-zero operational
The steps above are a crucial part of ensuring that your net-zero building is highly energy efficient and powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.

A whole life carbon cycle

Whole Life Cycle Carbon

Choosing low carbon materials

The energy used to create the material x the volume used x its life expectancy x its recyclability
Energy used
to create it
Volume used
Life expectancy
Recyclability

Five ways to reduce embodied carbon

1.

Less is best. If you don't need to build something, don't

2.

Consider your use of aluminium – don’t use it just for aesthetics as there's a high environmental cost to producing it.

3.

Reduce the volume of concrete used in foundations

4.

Use plant-based alternatives such as timber or hemp which take less energy to produce

5.

Look for strong recyclable materials such as metals and steel
We can support you with modelling the various options for low carbon materials to see what works best for your project. Book a time to chat to us, we're here for you.
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