Low Carbon Building Materials
Do you work in the building sector, or are you getting ready to build your own home? Are you interested in finding ways to reduce the emissions of your building project?
In late 2020, the City of Nelson identified the need to enhance its approach to reducing the impact of our buildings by taking embodied carbon (otherwise referred to as material carbon emissions or embodied emissions) into consideration alongside operational carbon. While operational carbon refers to the greenhouse gas emissions emitted through building energy use such as heating, cooling, and lighting, embodied carbon refers to the emissions produced through the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.
With financial support from FortisBC and the City of Castlegar, the City of Nelson created the Low Carbon Homes Pilot in early 2021 to complement our existing energy efficiency programming and begin to find ways to reduce embodied carbon within our building sector.
This page lists the guides, reports, briefs, case studies, and videos developed as part of the LCHP. To learn more about the topic and how you can act on climate change by choosing lower carbon building materials, check out the following resources:
In 2021, a study was conducted by the City of Nelson – with support from the City of Castlegar - to jumpstart work in the region to address embodied carbon emissions. This phase sought to determine the average amount of embodied carbon emissions associated with new construction in Nelson and Castlegar.
This second phase of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot has involved assembling an Embodied Carbon Advisory Group, completing a series of free embodied carbon analyses and consultations for projects across the Region, and hosting three educational workshops on how to reduce embodied carbon emissions within building projects.
- Embodied Carbon Brief (May 2021) This document was published ahead of the 2021 research study to introduce the building community to the concept of embodied carbon and summarize the intentions of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot.
- Building Better: Moving Beyond Energy Efficiency (September 2021) This presentation introduces the topic of embodied carbon, highlights its importance to emission reduction efforts in the building sector, and discusses the findings of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot. A key takeaway is that efforts to improve energy efficiency can lead to higher carbon emissions when the embodied carbon of building materials is not considered.
- ZEBx Decarb Lunch Series: Reducing Embodied Carbon for Step Code Homes (January 2022) This presentation summarized the Low Carbon Homes Pilot findings and how these relate to embodied carbon research projects underway in other parts of the country. It highlights that it is possible and necessary to reduce operational and embodied carbon emissions in new low-rise residential construction. The audio and slides from the presentation are available on the ZEBx website.
- Material Carbon Emissions Guide (March 2022) This document is designed to help municipal staff, builders, and others better understand the material carbon emissions associated with different building materials. It highlights the largest emitting material categories in Nelson and Castlegar and offers generalizable product rankings to give folks a sense of the emissions intensity associated with different building materials. The guide seeks to support the overall goal of improving the reliability, transparency, and ubiquity of high-quality material carbon emissions data and highlight the need for continued research on the topic.
- Benchmarking Report (March 2022) This document summarizes the work conducted in the Low Carbon Homes Pilot. It includes an overview of the methodology, a discussion of the findings, and a list of actions that building designers, energy advisors, builders/contractors, and municipal staff and regulators can take to reduce embodied carbon emissions.
In 2022, the City of Nelson received additional FortisBC funding to apply the lessons learnt in 2021.This second phase of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot involved assembling an Embodied Carbon Advisory Group, completing a series of free embodied carbon analyses and consultations for projects across the Region, hosting three educational workshops on how to reduce embodied carbon emissions within building projects, and the completion of 4 informational documents (see below).
- Building Better: Intro to Embodied Carbon (October 2022) This workshop recording includes discussion of the concept of embodied carbon and carbon use intensity, how Nelson’s embodied carbon averages compare to other Canadian cities, and preliminary actions to reduce embodied carbon (i.e., material substitutions). Here are the slides from this introductory workshop and another advanced workshop that was hosted in fall 2022.
- Building Better in the Kootenays: A Free Embodied Carbon Consultation Case Study (March 2023) This document summarizes the process and key findings from a series of free embodied carbon analyses and consultations offered to building projects within the Kootenays between August and October 2022. The Appendix outlines all material substitution recommendations made as part of the consultations and the key topics covered.
- Building Better in the Kootenays: A Natural Building Case Study (March 2023) This case study describes some key features of a single detached dwelling built in the Kootenays that employed a natural building technique that helped this building achieve Step 5 (i.e., highly energy efficient) and led to comparatively few embodied carbon emissions. This light clay straw house demonstrates how embodied carbon can be considered alongside energy efficiency, healthy materials, and community building priorities.
- Building Better in the Kootenays: Addressing Embodied Carbon in Energy Retrofits (March 2023) This informational brief urges more consideration of embodied carbon emissions in energy retrofits projects and outlines a series of actions that can reduce emissions while also pursuing ambitious operational emission reductions.
- Building Better in the Kootenays: Addressing Embodied Carbon in Concrete (March 2023) This informational brief describes why concrete is an important building material to target when addressing embodied carbon in buildings and describes some actions that one can take to reduce emissions associated with its use.
In late 2022, the City of Nelson received confirmation from FortisBC that they would continue to support this initiative. Phase III of the Low Carbon Homes Pilot seeks to further embed the lessons learnt over the past 2 years into internal City processes and build more awareness about embodied carbon in the community at large.
This project is underlined by a belief that Nelson is well positioned to lead the region and help support other municipalities, small and large, integrate ambitious building emissions reduction strategies within strict resource limits and prepare for future embodied carbon regulation.