The adventure begins: Demo
It was important to renovate an existing building versus starting from scratch because renovating avoids new embodied carbon emissions from across the lifecycle of materials and products used in new construction. During the demolition phase, we made a point to preserve as much of the structure as possible, including salvaging and repurposing existing wood buildings through renovation is a fundamental strategy to avoid additional embodied carbon emissions since “embodied carbon will account for a larger and larger share of the emissions from new buildings” as the net zero buildings become more common and lower carbon emissions from operational energy use in buildings.
The many carbon reducing benefits of wood framing
While still prevalent in residential construction, wood has largely been replaced by concrete and steel in most commercial building construction projects. At the Climate Innovation Center, we are minimizing the use of steel for framing and maximizing wood framing for interior walls. We used FSC-certified structural wood components including glulam beams and cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels for the roof, which can store carbon during the building’s lifetime and even capture additional carbon!
Compared to other materials, the manufacturing, transportation, and resource extraction processes of wood materials emits less carbon pollution than their carbon-intensive steel and concrete counterparts. According to a recent study by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Materials (CORRIM), wood framing is estimated to produce up to 31% less carbon emissions than concrete and steel.
Don’t overlook the importance of choosing the right insulation
We get it, insulation isn’t much to look at. But behind the ugly exterior, the spray foam used at the Climate Innovation Center is packed with emissions reducing beauty. Air leakage is a huge source of increased energy usage and using spray foam is one way to provide insulation while also greatly improve airtight constructing, thereby improving the overall energy efficiency and helping to meet our zero energy performance target.
In addition to reducing embodied carbon, it’s important to specify products that are safer from the climate by reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions during the construction process. When deciding on insulation, particularly spray foam insulation, it is imperative to find a product that has both a lower embodied carbon footprint and a low global warming potential (GWP). Most closed cell spray foams on the market today utilize climate damaging HFCs, which can be hundreds or thousands of times more damaging to the climate than CO2 (see pg. 16 of this report). Instead of using a standard spray foam material, Utah Clean Energy chose a spray foam product that uses hydrofluoroolefins (or “HFO”) called HEATLOK HFO Pro, which has a GWP of 1, a dramatic reduction compared to HFCs.