Think Wood: Tell us about EEBA. What is your mission?
Aaron Smith: In 1982, a group of builders from the US, Canada, and Scandinavia came together and said, “Let’s try to build more energy efficient homes.” We’ve seen that transition to energy efficiency through building science and education, but today I would say the focus for EEBA’s builders is healthy, electric, resilient, decarbonized, and net zero.
We’ve heard a lot about net zero energy homes but EEBA also has a focus on embodied carbon?
AS: We’re talking about both embodied and operational carbon now. The primary thing we’re trying to do is get people educated about what decarbonization is, what an environmental product declaration is, what a lifecycle assessment is. When I look at two different materials, what does it mean to think about the embodied carbon in that material?
Why does lowering carbon emissions matter to builders?
AS: It matters for a few reasons. First, builders have a pride of craftsmanship and they extend that same care to thinking about the environmental impact of the materials they use because they’re thinking about the future. My grandfather was a builder and he always asked, “Are you happy with what you did? Because it’s going to be there for 100 years.
And, we’re starting to see carbon codified across North America. California, Oregon, Washington, they’re headed in that direction. I’ve got a buddy in Texas who builds 1,000 homes a year. This year, his investment firm called him and said 20% of the product that you build for us now needs to be net zero. That’s not quite to decarbonization yet, but when finance starts telling production builders you need to do this, that’ll be a game changer.
What steps can builders take in the design phase to achieve low carbon homes?
AS: EEBA members asked us to research the best tools accessible to builders for calculating operational and embodied carbon. We counsel them to put their houses into a building information modeling (BIM) system like AutoCAD or Revit. You can import that into some whole-building life cycle analysis (WBLCA) tools and start to generate a carbon footprint for the home design. We’ve added kilograms per ton of CO2 for your home to EEBA’s intake form because we want to start benchmarking it, too. In the future, we’ll start to compare those benchmarks across the industry.
Can you tell us about your Gateway to Zero program?
AS: There is a path to zero for everyone, but with so many programs, guidelines, and standards, finding the one that’s right for you can be overwhelming. Though we know that “getting to zero” is not always a linear process, we’ve organized resources in categories from “base energy code” to “zero embodied carbon.” EEBA can help you become a more sustainable builder from wherever you’re starting. You may be at code today; you may then want to look at the Energy Star program. It’s free, and it’ll make you a better builder. And then you might want to move to one of the zero energy programs out there. We provide support throughout this entire journey.
Does building with wood provide any advantages when low carbon construction is the goal?
AS: Once you’re educated on how material selection impacts a home’s carbon footprint, I think it’s a little bit ‘back to the future’. You start to say, “Well, instead of putting the steel beam in, I could put a cross laminated timber beam in and have a carbon sink instead of a huge carbon cost to my home.” To reduce carbon, I think it’s going to be a return to wood in a lot of cases. Homes can literally be a carbon sink instead of emitting carbon.