Thanks to all who came out to the Zero-Energy Home tours!
And a BIG thank you to Sustainable Connections for co-hosting! We had a great turn out both nights educating the community about what a Zero-Energy home is all about, and how it differentiates from conventional home building.
Learn more about the embodied carbon and the utilities (calculated by Talia & Nicole) saved by this Zero-Energy House in this case study!
At TC Legend Homes, we have dedicated ourselves to pursing the vision of zero-energy homes for all. We strive to be pioneers in energy efficiency, seeking to create a healthy and clean carbon neutral future that allows the next generation to thrive. Our history of excellence in reducing or eliminating the operational emissions of our homes speaks for itself. Through extensive energy efficiency measures, quality craftsmanship, and a combination of passive solar design and rooftop photovoltaic, we have created a building model that allows us to make our affordable, zero-energy home vision a reality. Over the past 7 years, we have built more than 20 homes and ADU’s that are zero energy ready at a minimum with more than 12 of the 20 being net positive homes. Now it is time for TC Legend to expand our focus to address the other element of emissions in buildings, the embodied carbon.
The carbon footprint of any building is comprised of two elements: the commonly focused upon operational carbon and the less commonly addressed embodied carbon. Since our building model has successfully addressed the operational aspect of this footprint, we are now expanding our focus to addressing the embodied component while still maintaining excellence within the operational emissions.
What is Embodied Carbon and Why does it Matter?
You might ask, “What exactly is embodied carbon and why do we care about it?” Simply put, embodied carbon is the upfront “carbon footprint” of a product. For buildings, you can think of it as the emissions that are produced to create the parts of the building, encompassing all emissions that occur before it is functioning as a home. This includes all emissions from material production and those produced during construction. In contrast the operational carbon of a home is the emissions released to heat, cool, and electrify the home over its lifetime.
Figure 1: Carbon Foot Print Formula
Since embodied carbon emissions are “stored” in the home before it is operating, the embodied carbon sets the baseline for the total footprint of the home. Even if a house is exceptionally efficient, producing little to no operational emissions, the total carbon footprint of the house is not zero because of the upfront emissions. This is why embodied carbon matters. If we solely focus on operational carbon and the future emissions of the home, we do not consider the significant portion of emissions being released NOW. And, according to the 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, drastically reducing emissions now is what will have the greatest impact on avoiding the most severe elements of climate disaster. For years, scientists have warned of the catastrophic results to the climate and environment if the world reaches an average temperature of 1.5-2° C above prehistoric levels. The 2022 IPCC report notes that we are on a trajectory to reach the 1.5° C in the next two decades, highlighting the only way to stop this impending disaster is to focus on emission on the today-10 year timeline. Since the majority of building emissions occurring in the first 10-15 years of a highly efficient or zero-energy home are embodied emissions, these need to be our focus moving forward. While we do not want to give up operational efficiency, we need to focus on reducing the embodied carbon emissions that are produced now, and work to reduce the overall emissions of our buildings.
The below graphs illustrate how a reduction in the embodied carbon has a significant impact on the total emissions of a home on the ten year time horizon, given that the majority of emissions on this time scale are from embodied carbon. House #1 and House #2 demonstrate two houses with the same design, producing similar operational emissions. However, if we are careful in selecting materials with lower embodied carbon, we can see a significant difference in the total emissions of a house, as demonstrated by the house #2 graph. These two graphs illustrate a high efficiency home designed without a focus on embodied carbon (house #1) vs one where there is attention given to reducing embodied carbon (house #2).
Figure 2: Total Emissions of a Home on the Ten Year Time Horizon
As a company that strives to create a healthy future for all, it is our responsibility to do our part in the next 10 years. By expanding our focus to better address our homes “now” emissions through modeling and decreasing our embodied carbon, we are working to be part of the necessary change. Tackling the biggest issues and working to refine our model to achieve excellence in both areas of home emissions is our newest goal, and one we hope that through education of the public and adjustment without our own building model, we can help lead the building industry in the right direction.
We will share additional posts on the topic of embodied carbon with more details on what embodied carbon is, how its calculated, and how we are making changes in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
In our last blog about indoor air quality (IAQ), we discussed what influences IAQ, what effects it has on humans and nature, and how to create healthier IAQ in your home.
As a recap, IAQ is measured by the quantity and type of pollutants in the air within a building. The pollutants that decrease the IAQ (make the quality worse) can be anything from biological pollutants such as mold and mildew, bacteria, dust or pollen, to carbon monoxide or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)4. These pollutants can cause a wide variety of health problems for humans and animals, from mild skin irritations all the way to damaging internal organs and causing cancer.2,5
While ventilation is just one of the many factors that affect IAQ mentioned in our previous blog, it is a multifaceted topic and requires a deeper dive than we were able to give.
We’ve already established that healthy IAQ is important, but how does ventilation impact it and what are the current shortcomings of code-standard ventilation systems?
Firstly, IAQ can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air quality6; therefore, it is vital to expel a greater quantity of indoor air and intake more outdoor air to increase a building’s overall IAQ.
However, not all ventilation systems are made equally. Often, with forced air-heating and traditional air-conditioning systems, the main method of ventilation is infiltration or purely natural ventilation (opening windows)3.
This is problematic, because there will not be a great enough flow of air to expel the polluted indoor air and the outdoor air comes into the building’s envelope untreated. While outdoor air is generally less polluted than indoor air, it would be counterproductive to bring in smoky, smoggy or pollen filled air, for example, and should still be filtered before entering the building.
When mechanical ventilation is installed in a simply code-standard building, the typical system must be manually turned on and off and doesn’t have the capacity for higher airflows or continual airflows. For this reason, conscious builders like TC Legend Homes go above and beyond the less-than-optimal code-standard systems and always uses a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV).
HRV units allow for continual filtered airflow. They are also capable of utilizing smart technology with sensors to detect CO2 and humidity within the house, allowing the system to automatically adjust air flow.
The humidity tracking and management is a huge advantage because it creates a more comfortable environment to people, pets and indoor plants alike and helps keep mold and mildew growth in check. On top of increasing airflow and managing humidity, the HRV also contains HEPA air filters to ensure the incoming air is stripped of as many pollutants as possible.
Of course, the extra benefit to these systems beyond increased IAQ is that they “recover up to 90% of the heat and contribute to an energy savings of up to 50%.”1
This means HRV systems save money by lowering the overall energy bill, as well as decrease the building’s carbon footprint by using energy more consciously resulting in less consumption of energy, fossil fuels and other precious materials.
In all, choosing the best ventilation system can mean creating a healthier home, as well as reducing your wasted energy consumption and having a lesser impact on the environment.
2“Biological Pollutants’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
5“Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
Impact of Eco-Conscious Living Series: Indoor Air Quality
Just as you may think about the poor outdoor air quality on a smoky day or the smog that surrounds large cities, every building has its own body of air with varying degrees of quality and pollution that make up the indoor air quality (IAQ). IAQ is incredibly important for your own health and is, unfortunately, frequently under accounted for by mainstream building practices. It is, however, an attribute of eco-conscious building techniques for its impact on human and animal health, interlinked outcome of house longevity, and subsequent decrease in environmental footprint.
Taking a deeper dive into what IAQ actually is, IAQ can be anything from biological pollutants such as mold and mildew, bacteria, dust or pollen, to carbon monoxide or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)5. Each pollutant effects humans, animals and the environment differently and the effects on humans can also vary depending on personal sensitivities. Exposure to just biological pollutant could lead to “skin irritation, sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever, and digestive problems”1. Other pollutants, such as VOC’s, can cause more severe symptoms such as “eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination and nausea, damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system,” with some VOC’s known or suspected to even cause cancer in humans or animals6. For information about all the individual indoor pollutants and their sources, visit https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/indoor-pollutants-and-sources.
Many of these pollutants are unavoidable as they can occur naturally, but we can take steps to reduce them to levels that will be less harmful or eliminate them almost entirely. If you hire TC Legend Homes, then before you even step into your house, we have already been working on increasing your home’s IAQ by using low toxicity products such as SIPs, low/zero VOC paints and finishes, low toxicity flooring and more. The SIPs we use eliminate the ozone depleting chemicals HCFCs and CFCs, as well as reduce moisture in between the walls that lead to mold growth.2 This, accompanied by the superior heating and ventilation installed, will set your home up for much healthier air. The next blog post in this series will discuss the details of ventilation and its impact.
Once moved into your new home, it is still important to take daily steps to maintain a healthier IAQ. Be sure to vacuum and dust regularly, clean fabric items frequently, reduce household clutter3, avoid harsh cleaning products, maintain a lower humidity level, repair leaks, run your exhaust fan during and after showering, maintain your ventilation system and change the filters frequently4.
Many eco-conscious building methods and results are interconnected, including IAQ, house longevity and environmental footprint. The nature of obtaining and maintaining good IAQ, means ensuring your home is being fixed of any issues which will result in the deterioration of your home and therefore cause indoor pollutants such as mold and mildew. Immediately fixing smaller issues that come up, like leaks or a filter in need of changing, will decrease the likelihood of the issues becoming so large that it is irreversible or will require more replacements to the system or surrounding area in the future. To this same note, upkeeping your home regularly and fixing issues as soon as they turn up, means using less resources in the long run, as replacement will be less frequent. As we know, using less resources helps to lower your overall carbon footprint. Moreover, maintaining good IAQ requires use of less toxic materials including those containing toxins and pollutants that are harmful to the environment such as greenhouse gases like VOCs or potent chemicals like pesticides. This in turn reduces the negative impact on the environment.
Taking all these steps to obtain and maintain your IAQ, will not only help you and your family’s health, but help reduce pollution outdoors and increase the longevity of your home.
Written by: Nicole Miller
1“Biological Pollutants’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/biological-pollutants-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
2“Building With Sips Creates Healthier, More Comfortable Interiors.” Insulspan, https://www.insulspan.com/advantages/health-comfort/. 3/2/2022.
3“Easy ways you can improve indoor air quality.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/easy-ways-you-can-improve-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.
6“Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), EPA.gov, https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality. 2/10/2022.