Resources for Material Selection

I’m a residential builder who has recently been looking for resources the are easy to use and will quickly help me make decisions that will help reduce the embodied carbon of future projects.

I haven’t found many that are easy to use as quick reference guides, but here is the list of resources I’ve come across. Sorry if this is redundant on the CLF, I haven’t come another post yet.

https://www.buildingtransparency.org/en/

https://materialspalette.org/

Does anyone know of any other resources? I know Builders for Climate Action will be releasing the BEAM calculator at some point, but other than that I’m not sure what else is out there.

@jharmony the Materials Pyramid is a tool that offers an overview of the CO2impact of the materials of your construction project. It is limited to the early life cycle stages A1-A3 but gives a good ballpark for what materials are most carbon intensive in comparison to others. The online tool also has a calculator to configure an Online Material Pyramid for a specific project. Access it in Google chrome to translate to English.

https://www.materialepyramiden.dk/

I would highly recommend the book The New Carbon Architecture. There are loads of resources and tools referenced in there. The New Carbon Architecture

I would be careful using the pyramid website in trying to educate others or make decisions about which material is better than another as the values displayed are normalized by volume (m3) or mass (kg). Steel definitely has a high embodied carbon “density” than concrete, but you use much less steel in a span than you do concrete. It is misleading to say steel is worse than concrete, which this pyramid seems to suggest. These values also don’t account for variations in recycled content or other factors that create a range of embodied carbon values for a given material. I would second The New Carbon Architecture as a good overview of embodied carbon and major building materials, but it doesn’t really target the residential builder. Overall - I would agree that there isn’t a good single source for residential builders that I know of - you listed some links I would have recommended like Materials Palette. Building Green has good primers on different aspects of embodied carbon that are accessible and address multiple pros/cons of material selection like this article:

Thank you all for the links!

I just got a copy of The New Carbon Architecture last week and am working my way through it, if I find other resources I’ll update my post.

@corey thanks for the warning about material conversions, it’s easy to forget to look for that when you’re not dealing with the physical objects. I came across the same problem with the EC3 tool when trying to compare wood framing members, measured by the cubic yard, and metal framing members, measured by the pound. Then I spent 30 minutes figuring out the conversion.

Chris Magwood does a good job in his books of exploring alternatives building materials/wall assemblies in functional units that are useful for those in residential construction (including cost data where he can).

His book Essential Hempcrete Construction has a nice table that compares the embodied carbon of a 4’ by 8’ section of wall using different types of insulation. It highlights the advantages of hempcrete (and dense packed cellulose) over other insulation materials used in residential construction. Here is a link to the introduction the publisher provides that includes this table:

http://nsp-blurbs.s3-website-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/9780865718197_excerpt.pdf