How can we better understand embodied environmental impacts in order to expand the boundaries of sustainable design?
For years, architects, engineers, and contractors have focused their efforts on reducing the amount of energy used to operate buildings. As buildings become more energy-efficient, a larger percentage of the environmental impacts generated over the lifetime of a building comes from the manufacture, transportation, construction, and demolition of building materials. While many architects and engineers are aware of these embodied environmental impacts, few have the resources and expertise to be able to examine and compare the overall sustainability of different building material options. Tally answers this need for the design and building industry.
Understanding the impact of building materials traditionally involves Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), an in-depth form of analysis performed on whole buildings, manufactured building products and materials, and material assemblies. While LCAs provide a complete picture of the environmental impacts associated with a building, the practice of LCA is relatively new and confounding for most building professionals. Until recently, LCAs were typically conducted after construction, rather than during the design and planning process when the data could influence design decisions.
Building a Better Model
In principle, architects and other building professionals should be able to conduct LCAs using the Building Information Models (BIM) that are a part of standard architectural practice. In reality, however, building models do not contain all the ingredients that go into a building. A model might recognize a concrete assembly, for example, but it would not take into account that most concrete assemblies use a significant amount of steel reinforcement as well.
To address this challenge, KieranTimberlake's affiliate company, KT Innovations, partnered with Autodesk and thinkstep to create Tally. A Revit plugin, Tally allows Revit users to imbue their BIM with the complete information about the building materials and architectural products their structures will ultimately contain. Tally quantifies a building or material's embodied environmental impacts to land, air, and water systems. Essentially, Tally adds another layer of detail to BIM by recognizing materials that are not modeled explicitly, like the steel in concrete assemblies, and by taking into account a model's diverse range of material classes. In doing so, Tally gives its users the power to conduct whole building LCAs during design and to use LCA data to run comparative analyses of various design options that show their differing environmental impacts.
LCA at the Speed of Design
As Tally users design their buildings in Revit, they assign building materials and quantities to create a Bill of Materials for the full building or constituent parts. This Bill of Materials automatically updates as the design changes, allowing architects and engineers to see in real-time the impact their design choices have on their buildings' overall sustainability.
Consequently, Tally allows designers to move from typologies and "rule of thumb" environmental impact calculations to real-time assessments at pivotal moments. No other environmental assessment tool can achieve this kind of inventory at the same speed with the same level of accuracy.
Tally also facilitates communication between different groups within a project team by presenting its generated data clearly and legibly. By sorting, grouping, and displaying information simply and succinctly, Tally allows users to produce data graphics that are readily comprehensible and transparent. In this way, information that is normally abstract becomes very well defined, allowing clients, contractors, architects, and engineers alike to make accurate and nuanced decisions.
PARTNERING WITH INDUSTRY LEADERS
Recently, the Carbon Leadership Forum released a new tool called EC3 (Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator) to evaluate the carbon emissions of building materials during the design process. The developers of Tally and EC3 worked together to enable a bill of materials generated in Tally to be imported directly into EC3, where those materials are matched to manufacturer-specific products and associated embodied carbon figures based on Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). This practice ensures that the intent of the Tally Life Cycle Analysis is carried through to the completed project, empowering choices to reduce embodied carbon and bringing carbon accountability to the building material supply chain. We are looking forward to adding this powerful new step to our Tally workflow to reduce the embodied carbon of our projects further.
As energy efficiency becomes more and more crucial to the built environment—and as energy codes become increasingly stringent—the embodied energy, carbon counts, and other environmental impacts of building materials are becoming a better-understood and proactively calculated factor. Tally helps building professionals stay ahead of this curve. To learn more or to request a free trial, visit choosetally.com.
This project has been shared via the following peer-reviewed publications:
- Building and Environment, "Comparative Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment of Renovation and New Construction," Hasik, Escott, Bates, Carlisle, Faircloth, and Bilec, 2019
- Embodied Energy and Design: Making Architecture Between Metrics and Narratives, “Getting Beyond Energy: Environmental Impacts, Building Materials and Climate Change,” Carlisle, 2018
- PLEA 2013 Munich: Sustainable Architecture for a Renewable Future, “Quantifying the Embodied Environmental Impact of Building Materials During Design: A Building Information Modeling Based Methodology,” Bates, Carlisle, Welch, and Faircloth, 2013