The calculation of embodied energy in new build UK housing

Reducing CO2 emissions to mitigate the impacts of climate change is now an international imperative. The built environment is responsible for nearly half of all CO2 emissions in the UK. Therefore, the reduction of carbon emissions from the products and processes involved in a building’s lifecycle are of paramount importance in meeting national and global emissions reduction targets. The energy used and consequent carbon emissions associated with construction materials and processes are usually calculated using the concept of embodied energy, albeit with significant variations in methodology. In general, the embodied energy of a building is considered to account for less than one-fifth of its whole-life energy use. However, as energy efficiency for new-build improves towards the zero carbon target in 2016, the embodied energy will assume an increasingly greater proportion, approaching 100% of the lifetime energy use and emissions. The research reported here is aimed at achieving a better understanding of the aspects of embodied energy of new-build UK houses (in particular, the focus is on the accuracy of various calculation procedures) that are often simplified to a few building types via a generalised and frequently non- UK, representation of the construction process. The need for a more standardised calculation method for embodied energy and resulting CO2 emissions is therefore discussed. Although considered in relation to the house building industry, this research is also applicable to the wider construction industry, as well as manufacturing.