Modelling the embodied carbon cost of UK domestic building construction: Today to 2050

Michal Drewniok, C. F. Dunant, Julian Allwood, Tim Ibell, Will Hawkins

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Abstract

The construction of new domestic properties contributes 2% of UK territorial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The UK government aims to increase construction of new homes in England by almost a third, to 300,000 per year by the mid-2020s, whilst simultaneously reducing emissions in line with its net zero 2050 commitment. In this paper, for the first time, the upfront embodied carbon cost of constructing domestic properties in the UK by 2050 is quantified. A bottom-up analysis modelling seven domestic building typologies was used, with the material use for each based on current UK practice. Possible interventions to reduce the embodied carbon cost are then analysed. The results show that maintaining today's levels of construction will use the remaining 2050 carbon budget apportioned to house building (160 MtCO 2e) by 2036, and cause a substantial increase in domestic floor area per capita. However, construction could reduce and cease entirely by 2035 without reducing today's living floor area per capita (37.5 m 2), resulting in a substantially reduced cumulative embodied carbon of 88 MtCO 2e by 2050. Increasing living floor area per capita to the EU average of 40.5 m 2, can be achieved within the carbon budget and with zero emissions by 2050. In contrast, increasing house building to government targets will result in double the cumulative emissions than the budget allows. A number of carbon reduction interventions were then investigated. It was found that of to 75% embodied carbon savings can be achieved by simultaneously changing the typology share, increasing material efficiency, increasing conversion from non-residential buildings and increasing the use of timber for structural purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107725
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Economics
Volume205
Early online date20 Dec 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by UKRI EPSRC programme grant ‘UK FIRES’ Ref. EP/S019111/1 ; A part of this study was supported by UKRI EPSRC grant ‘TransFIRe’ Ref. EP/V054627/1

Keywords

  • Building materials
  • Embodied carbon budget
  • Embodied carbon cost
  • Mitigation strategies
  • UK domestic building stock

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Economics and Econometrics

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