Saturday, December 26, 2009

Carbon Neutral Buildings

Presented at the 1st Regional Symposium on Sustainable Construction Materials and Building System (SUCOMBS) 2009Towards a Green Future in the Construction Industry.
12 October 2009 (Monday), Midvalley Boulevard Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Carbon Neutral Buildings – An Overview

Kamarudin Mohd Nor
Academic Adviser, The London College of Professional Training, 370-376 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London W12 7LL.
Email: . Blog :
Tel: +44 (0) 7552426416

This paper discusses carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal gas, from a mix of external and internal reductions. The surge in the man-made or anthropogenic GHG emissions since the industrial revolution is linked to the unprecedented increase in the average surface temperatures globally that, in turn, drives climate change. External reductions are steps taken by the world community to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming. Among them are the development of green technologies to generate renewables and reduce GHG emissions and the clean development mechanism (CDM) for carbon offsetting as sanctioned by the Kyoto protocol. Internal reductions are measures to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings. These can be achieved by encouraging building owners and users to reduce energy consumption, help produce renewables on a smaller scale and adopt green buildings practices for new development and the renovation of existing stocks.

Keywords: carbon neutral, zero-carbon, low-carbon, carbon footprint, greenhouse gases, green building, clean development mechanism, carbon offsetting, green technologies, sequestration, carbon capture and storage.

1.0 Introduction
The aim of this paper is to discuss carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal gas, from a mix of external and internal reductions (The CarbonNeutral Company, 2008, p.54). For the purposes of this paper, carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2[e] is used interchangeably with CO2. The CO2[e] is a combination of CO2 and other listed greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol as shown in the following table:

Global warming potential (over a century)
Atmospheric lifetime (years)

CO2[Carbon dioxide]
CH4 [Methane]
N2O [Nitrous oxide]
CFCs [Chlorofluorocarbons]-various
HFCs [Hydrofluorocarbons]-various
SF6 [Sulphur hexafluoride]

Table 1: GHG adapted from Lynas (2007, p.9)

As a word of caution, the misleading term “carbon” by itself is used sparingly since it does not represent the intended meaning of CO2. This is often erratically used by some writers and policy makers to refer to GHG. As a clarification, carbon is 3.67 times heavier than CO2.

The intensity of the man-made or anthropogenic GHG emissions since the industrial revolution has been linked to the unprecedented spiralling of the global average surface temperatures causing “global warming” that, in turn, drives “ climate change”.

External reductions are steps taken by the world community to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming. This paper outlines three common external reductions approaches. They are macro level iniatives that are external to buildings. First is the development of green technologies to generate renewables and be less dependent on fossil fuels. The aim is to reduce CO2 emissions at the source. Second the clean development mechanism (CDM) for carbon offsetting as an economic instrument, sanctioned by the Kyoto protocol (Bell & McGillivray, 2008 pp.239-244).

At the outset, it must be pointed out that carbon offsetting does not really reduce GHG as it was envisaged to achieve. It is rather a “problem-pushing-around” mechanism. Carbon offsetting involves trading of CO2 via carbon credits (Tan 2009a, p.T2).
Third is the adoption of sustainable concepts in designing and developing low-carbon new urban areas.
The first and second approaches will be discussed in more details later. The third approach will now be mentioned in passing and will not be discussed further.
In countries adopting low-carbon economy, new cities are increasingly planned to incorporate green features (Loder 2009, p.107). They are equipped with green infrastructure including photovoltaic farms to generate power and operate sustainable water supply, drainage, sewerage and waste disposal systems. Nicholas, (2007) discusses the guidelines on the development of green cities in some details.

Examples of the green cities proposals a are the new Masdar City development in Abu Dhabi; Dontan and Tianjin eco-cities in China; and Vauban in Germany.
Internal reductions are measures to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings themselves. These can be achieved by encouraging building owners and users to reduce energy consumption, help produce renewables on a smaller scale and adopt green buildings practices for new development and the renovation of existing stocks.
Green building practices like Passivhaus, Potton Lighthouse and Eco-Renovations are presented as examples. Green building rating and certification initiaves like LEED, BREEAM, CRISP, GREEN STAR, HK-BEAM, CASBEE, NABERS, ABGR, EcoProfile, EcoEffect, Green Mark System and Green Building Index will be tabled as a reference.

2.0 Carbon neutral buildings in the context of global warming
The need for buildings to be carbon neutral must be looked at holistically. It has to be discussed within the context of global warming.
Buildings are increasingly blamed to consume a substantial amount of energy and emit almost an equivalent amount of CO2. The European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport in 2006 estimated that 40 per cent of all European Union (EU) energy consumption (mainly electricity and gas) is attributable to buildings (Kenna, 2008, p. 78).
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) similarly estimated that the world’s buildings consume the same per centage of energy and produce, by a simple deduction 40 per cent GHG (Fortson, 2009, p.11).

The estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2001 assessmenr report [AR] on CO2 emissions is as follows (Henson, 2008 p.36):
· Industry: more than 40 per cent
· Buildings (homes, offices and the like): about 31 per cent
· Transportation: around 22 per cent
· Agriculture: about 4 per cent

However, since the AR 2001 report was released, CO2 emissions of buildings must have increased substantially. As such the threshold of 40 per cent is not far-fetched and it is adopted to reflect this increase over the years. Based on this percentage CO2 emissions by weight is roughly equal to 64 billion tonnes. The estimated total amount of CO2 hovering in the atmosphere now is around 160 billion tonnes. About 26 billion tonnes of CO2 are produced every year. The emissions keep on rising sharply, more so as the world economy grows (the case in point is the coal-driven economic boom in China).
Buildings should not be isolated as a major source of GHG emissions as the almost forgotten shipping industry is to be blamed too. The 100,000 cargo ships plying the seas do emit substantial amount of GHG (especially sulphur oxide (SOx) due to the burning of 289 tonnes of cheap and contaminated fossil fuel each year) (Leake, 2009a, p.4). It is difficult to estimate the ships’ emissions but a rough figure of around 2 percent should not be too far off.
Besides shipping, the aviation industry also contributes around 2 per cent of the GHG emissions (Tan 2009a, p.T4). This amount keeps on rising fast as air travel expands. Aviation emissions, including water vapours [the contrails] and N2O are more damaging as they are discharged directly into the upper atmosphere. The warming effect of aircraft emissions is estimated to be 2.7 times that of CO2 itself (Lynas, op. cit. pp.110-113).

Another source of emissions is attributable to computing and telecommunications which emit around 2 per cent GHG yearly and this rate keeps on growing fast as communications via cyberspace are becoming an essential part of modern life (Heap 2009, p.23).
The world’s top ten GHG emitters contributed around 65 per cent of the global CO2 emissions. in 2004 ( Henson, op. cit. p.41). The US alone emitted around 21 percent CO2. This was followed by China (18 percent) which is outpacing the US currently.
The United Kingdom Government estimated that out of the 40 per cent CO2 emissions by buildings at least 27 per cent of them come from houses. Most of the emissions are as a result of heating, meaning a substantial amount of money is spent on paying energy bills to heat homes. This moved the government to announce an energy efficiency budget of £435m [RM2.53b] to be distributed to homes under the Social Housing Energy Saving Programme [SHESP] They will be insulated and repaired to reduce CO2 emissions by 380,000 tonnes over the next 2 years (Vidal, et. al., 2009,p.12 and Oyekanmi 2009, p.1).
For the past 420,000 years before the industrial revolution, CO2[e]’s count was only around 280 ppm. The estimated CO2[e] level by 2050 will be around 550ppm (Duncan, 2009, p.55) raising the average surface temperature by 4 C to a staggering 40 C. If left unchecked,we can expect a number of megadisasters that will threaten millions (Erwin, 2009 p.22). The 2006 Stern Review was of the opinion the world should aim for the level of emissions between 450 and 550ppm CO2[e] (Adam,2008).

2.1 Scientific evidence on global warming

It is hard not to believe, based on concrete scientific evidence, that the level of CO2 emissions has a strong link with global warming. The evidence is well-documented by Flannery (2007), Wilson and Law (2007), Goodwin (2008), Friedman (2008), The Britannica Guide (2008), Burley and Haslam (2008), and Henson (op. cit. 2008) to cite a few.
The rising temperatures may release methane hydrate from underneath the oceans (Lynas, op. cit., pp.26&27). Methane as a GHG is 23 times most likely to contribute to a faster global warming in comparison to CO2 as shown in the table 1 in the introduction.
It was reported that nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the main man-made substance damaging the ozone layer according to a study by the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration recently. N2O, is emitted around 10m tonnes a year. 30 per cent of it is due to human activities. It has overtaken CFCs and is expected to remain in the atmosphere until the end of the century (Doyle 2009).

Table 2 presents the forecasted upsurge in CO2 emissions and their corresponding temperatures (Adapted from Lynas, op. cit., p.29) as follows:
CO2 Level
Degree Change
Action Needed
380 ppm
1 degree
Not possible to reduce
400 ppm
2 degrees
Cut global emissions by 2015 to stay below 2degreeC
450 ppm
3 degrees
Seriously reduce emissions
550 ppm
4 degrees
Can’t do much as methane is released
650 ppm
5 degrees
Not possible since most of the world is uninhabitable
800 ppm
6 degrees
Humanity’s survival is questionable

Table 2: the forecasted upsurge in CO2 emissions and their corresponding temperatures (Adapted from Lynas, op. cit., p.29)

NB: ppm is “parts per million”.

Incidentally, the level of CO2 recorded as recent as April this year (2009) at the Zappelin research station at Svalbard, Norway has reached record high in 50 million years. It peaked at more than 397 ppm (the average before this was 386ppm). The rate of change is getting faster than before. The global annual mean growth rate was 2.14 ppm in 2007 higher than the annual average of 1.5ppm from 1970-2000. This is worrying as the earth might not be able to adapt to this speed of change. The best bet is to try to bring down to an average 350ppm, which is near impossible to achieve (Vidal, 2009, p.19).

2.3 Climate change sceptics

However, there are still individuals and groups who think that global warming is a hoax. They call themselves the sceptics or climate change deniers. Notable among them is Lawson (2009) who claims that the wisdom on the subject of climate change or global warming as he prefers to call it, is flawed and that the scientific findings are unsettled. So, the proposed solutions, according to him, would be more damaging

Clark (2009, pp.29-31) has raised the possibility that global warming is not so much human induced but may be caused in a greater part by the sun’s magnetic activity that causes the hot cosmic rays to reach Earth in greater doses [or solar storms referred to as the “Carrington events”] every 11 year cycle. This is sheer hypothetical and should not be deviated from the fact that the present global warming is human induced.
Carr (2009, p.26) has brought about concern on the possibility of errors in computer models on global warming as questions are raised as to why the world is not heating up recently as the models suggested they should be.

2.4 The Copenhagen Summit 2009

Pondering on the coming Copenhagen summit (under the official name of the 15th Conference of the Parties or COP15), the chances of success of the 192 countries (that ratified the Kyoto Protocol) in coming to terms with the US, China and India have been improved by President Barack Obama’s stated intention to achieve an 80 per cent reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 relative to 1990 (Edge, 2009 and Duncan, E., 2009, p.105). A secret back-channel negotiations between the US and China aims at securing understanding on climate change holds some promises in agreeing to the possibility of cuts in the coming COP15 meeting (Goldenberg 2009a, pp.1&2). This only points to the belief that climate change could well be mitigated with the advancement of pertinent technologies. It is only the human attitude and political barriers that hinder positive actions towards abating the issue.

2.5 Pledges on the abatement of GHG
Many governments are serious on the need to decarbonise their respective countries by adopting low-carbon economic doctrine. In response to this, some of the developed countries have unilaterally pledged to reduce their GHG emissions by 2050 are as follows (Adam, op. cit. 2008). They are as follows:

· The United Kingdom: 60 per cent relative to 1990
· France : 75 per cent relative to 2000
· Germany: 80 per cent relative to 1990
· Sweden: 50 per cent relative to 2004
· Canada: 80 per cent relative to 1990

Karen Harbert of the American Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy opined that the American medium-term goal to cut CO2 emissions to at least 14 per cent in relative to 2005 level would mean that the country will have to build 320 new zero emission 500 megawatt coal fired power plants or 130 new nuclear power stations (Duncan, op. cit.).
3.0 External reductions approaches
For external reductions, the approaches are producing renewables through clean technologies to generate power, implementing carbon sequestration and scrubbing and involving in carbon offsetting via clean development mechanism (CDM) sanctioned by the Kyoto Protocol. However, carbon offsetting does not really reduce the GHG emissions but rather transfer the problem to others who sell the carbon credits, a mechanism of the CDM (Tan, op. cit.).
Carbon sequestration can be done through carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, the technique is still at its infancy stage and the impacts of the possible CO2 escape from the storage areas are less known. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom Government is optimistic on the technology and has instructed that all coal plants should have CCS fully fitted by the early 2020s (Webb and Macalister, 2009, p.28)

3.1 Green technologies to produce renewables and reduce GHG

The aim for any country now is to go for a low-carbon economy, slashing its dependency on fossil fuels for power generation. The UK government is determined to increase the amount of energy generated from renewables from the present 6 per cent to at least 31 per cent by 2020 (Webster and Pagnamenta, 2009, p.3). Among the renewables are: solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power and biofuels.
Nuclear will be reduced from the pre
sent 13 per cent to a mere 8 per cent and this is quite surprising as nuclear itself is a low-carbon energy resource (Fortson, 2009a p.8). The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology to reduce CO2 emissions will be a compulsory add-on to the new and existing coal-fired power stations (Webb and Macalister, op. cit.).
Macalister (2009a, p.6) reported the following target distribution of both fossil fuels and renewables or energy generation mix between now and 2020 in the UK:

Fuel Resource
6 per cent
31 per cent
32 per cent
22 per cent
13 per cent
8 per cent
45 per cent
29 per cent

Touching on the intended reduction of nuclear as a fuel source to be replaced by renewables like wind power, Macalister (2009b, p.15) provides the following comparison:
Table3: Comparison between Wind Farm and Nuclear Power Station

Overall cost of generating electricity/KWh
5.42p [31.44 sen]
2.8p [16.24 sen]
Cost of fuel per MWh
£4 [RM23.20]
Speed of build
5 years
8 years+
15 years
50 years
Waste Produced
Several grades of radioactive substances, some that remain dangerous for thousands of years
Lifetime carbon footprint[g CO2 equivalent/KWh]
4.64g [onshore]
5.25g [offshore]
Source: Macalister, T (2009, p.15)

Obviously, looking at the table, a nuclear power station is more efficient than a host of turbines in a wind farm to generate the grid parity of per kWh of electricity. Furthermore a nuclear station will last longer.

3.2 A rough guide to the green technologies
There are moves to develop green technologies that could harness low-carbon renewables and abate CO2 emissions. Goodall (2008, passim) summarises these technologies in his book “Ten Technologies to Save the Planet” as follows:
· Capturing the wind – large-scale turbines collectively constructed in wind farms (which are actively pursued by many developed countries);
· Harnessing solar energy – large installation of solar photovoltaic thin-film panels [PV] and concentrated solar thermal power plants [CSP]. Jansen (2009, p.11) has reported a group of serious players in Europe is planning to invest US 560 bn [RM 1.9 trillion] to implement the CSP plants in the Sahara desert to provide 15 per cent of EU power. However, its implementation is doubtful as the cost of producing electricity via the CSP is around Euro 0.15 per kW against Euro 0.06 per kW produced by coal or nuclear stations.
· Electricity from the oceans – tidal-stream energy machines [like the Lunar Energy, OpenHydro and MCT turbines], power from the waves [like the Pelamis (off the coast of Portugal) or Finavera wave collector/generator or “Anaconda”, see McGourty, 2009], the Gulf Stream/other ocean currents using the larger version of the MCT and lastly, exploiting the difference in temperature between the warm surface waters and the colder depths [an experimental but most likely not feasible proposal is the OTEC or ocean thermal energy conversion plant];
· Combined heat and power or CHP [example, Ceramic Fuel Cells and district heat and power];
· Super-efficient homes system – Passivhaus (to be discussed in the later part of this paper), carbon neutral buildings, zero carbon house and eco-renovations;
· Cellulose-ethanol second-generation biofuels to run motors. The irony about biofuels is that large scale deforestation activities in developing countries like Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia are being carried out to be replaced by crops like oil palm as the price of such green fuel rose by 45 per cent this year (2009). Massive cutting down of trees and widespread burning of forests have resulted in the pollution of waterways, liberation of methane from the soil and reduction of carbon sinks (Sheridan 2009, p.28)
· Carbon sequestration – carbon capture and storage [CCS], Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle [IGCC], large scale algae bio fixation plants, ambient scrubbing devices like GRT machines for “scrubbing” the air to capture C02.
· Biochar – sequestering carbon as charcoals. Biochar [bio-charcoal] to be added to the soil to increase fertility to speed up the growth of plants and crops on a massive scale that will in turn consume more CO2.
Beside the above-mentioned technologies, Morris (2009, p.9) reported on a proposed geothermal plant in Cornwall, England by pumping water into shafts of 4 kilometers deep into hot rocks. The percolated hot water to a temperature of around 150C will then be pumped up to generate power. Geothermal plants utilising hot springs, however, are already in use in countries like Iceland.
Gary Spirnak, founder of Solaren Corp in the US, is developing futuristic orbiting solar farms comprising satellites with arrays of solar panels that will convert the power generated into radio frequency transmissions. The radio waves, unaffected by day/night weather or seasons, would then be beamed back down to ground-based antennae that will convert them to electricity (Goldenberg, 2009b p.3). When others fail, this technology may look promising in the future.
Leake (2009b, p.11) has reported that the Royal Society is backing a geo-engineering research into stimulated volcanic eruptions, spraying sulphate-based particles into the stratosphere that could reflect extra sunlight into space. If feasible, the technique is expected to reduce surface temperature by 2C. Other curious ideas are the “synthetic trees” to strip CO2 from the atmosphere (The Economist 2009, p.16&18); “space sunshades” to block sunlight; and “cloud ships” to generate clouds that could reflect sunlight back into space.
In the construction industry, a start-up called Novacem has been developing in its lab at the Imperial College, London, “an eco-friendly concrete that eats up CO2 “(Stone 2009a, p.10). Novacem uses magnesium oxide and other mineral additives in its innovative cement that hardens up by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.
However, on the ardent quest to develop and implement green technologies to reduce energy consumption and thus abating their accompanying emissions, Cambridge University physicist Professor David Mackay poses an interesting question: “...will a switch to advanced technologies allow us to eliminate carbon-dioxide pollution without changing our lifestyle?” (MacKay 2009, p.10 and his arguments in his online free book assessable at
The inability to change our lifestyle and the need for developing countries like China to develop strong export-based manufacturing remain a stumbling block to the effectiveness of implementing policies and new technologies on GHG emissions ( Jun 2009, p.28).

4.0 Internal reductions approaches

For internal reductions, various approaches are continuously being explored. Among them are the choice of appropriate designs and construction techniques; the quest for a comfort level within the internal space by depending less on electrical and mechanical aids; the choice of sustainable materials, elements, components and their disposition that consume less energy and produce less CO2 in manufacturing, transporting and assembling them (the whole supply chain); and the reduction of the utilization of energy and thereby reducing associated GHG emissions to operate and maintain the buildings. Internal reductions measures have been incorporated in various green building methods/standards/codes/rating systems.
In the UK, the low-carbon features are now mandatory under the UK’s Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 and the Energy Performance of Building Directive - Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and Council 2003. This directive must be implemented by member countries by 4th January 2006 (Gibson 2006). The goal is to reduce the buildings’ consumption of energy by 22 per cent from the present 40 per cent by 2010.
For England and Wales, the major requirement is the thermal insulation of buildings to the target U-value detailed in the Building Regulations 2000 Approved Document Part L1 [dwellings and Part L2 [non-domestic]. In Scotland the building regulations requirements are detailed in Part J – Conservation of Fuel and Power effective from 4 March 2002 (DCLG 2006).
The Carbon Index [CI] rating system is adopted as a method of compliance. The CI method is based on CO2 emissions and adjusted for the floor area.
The choice of materials is emphasised. They must be from sustainable source, recyclability, disposal impact, low embodied energy, zero ozone depleting potential [ODP] and zero Global Warming Potential [GWP]. For the purposes of rating, materials are grouped together to form building elements like external walls, internal walls, partitions and roofs.
However, during this period of economic depression, it may well be difficult for developers to comply with the regulations. They may be willing to pay the fine and shun such demand (that buildings in the UK must be carbon neutral by 2016) (see Stone, 2009b p.9).
There are several guidelines or rating systems on the development of such buildings. Among them are:
· LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [USA]
· BREEAM or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method [UK]
· GREEN STAR [Building Council of Australia]
· HK-BEAM or Hong-Kong – Building Environment Assessment Method
· CASBEE or Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency [Japan]
· NABERS or (The) National Australian Built Environment Rating System
· ABGR or Australian Building Greenhouse Rating
· EcoProfile [Sweden]
· EcoEffect [Sweden]
· ByggaBoDialogen or Building-Living Dialogue [Sweden]
· Green Mark System [Singapore]
· GBI or Green Building Index [Malaysia]

4.1 Cursory highlights on the UK and Malaysia’s green buildings rating systems

Under its “ Green Guide to Specification” in selecting materials and components on their environmental impacts across their entire life cycle. The environmental impacts measured by the Green Guide rating system are: Climate change; Water extraction; Mineral resource extraction; Stratospheric ozone depletion; Human toxicity; Ecotoxity to land; Waste disposal; Fossil fuel; Eutrophication; Photochemical ozone creation; and Acidification.
The Green Building Index is developed by Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM). The rating system provides opportunity for developers to design and construct green, sustainable buildings that can provide energy savings, water savings, a healthier indoor environment, better connectivity to public transport and the adoption of recycling and greenery for their projects. Buildings will be awarded the GBI Malaysia rating based on 6 key criteria:• Energy Efficiency• Indoor Environmental Quality• Sustainable Site Planning and Management• Materials and Resources• Water Efficiency• Innovation
Under the GBI assessment framework, points will also be awarded for achieving and incorporating environment-friendly features peculiar to Malaysian needs which are above current industry practice.
Buildings are awarded GBI Malaysia - Platinum, Gold, Silver or Certified ratings depending on the scores achieved.
As a guide, there are many useful books on the design of green buildings to meet the low-energy demand that can be referred to. Among them are the texts by Roaf and Hancock (1992), Anik et. al. (1998), Berge (2000), Vale and Vale (2000), Roaf et. al. (2001), Waterfield (2000); Kilbert (2005); Hall (2006); Griffiths (2007); Low et. al. (2007) and Berman (2008).
4.2 The Passivhaus buildings and Potton Lighthouse
The Passivhaus is a building design concept mooted by a group of Swedish academic architects led by German engineer, Dr Wolfgang Feist in an attempt to meet the need of low-cabon demand in the built environment. Passivhaus buildings are so well insulated and smartly designed that they do not require a full heating system nor air-conditioner for the summer (Godall, op. cit. 2008, pp. 119-142).
The first buildings using the Passivhaus concept are terrace homes in Darmstadt, Germany in 1991. There are now 10,000 certified Passivhaus homes around the world.
A properly constructed Passivhaus home, insulated to the highest standards, should have energy consumption for heating of less than 10 kWh a year for each metre square of floor area (about sixteen times less than the average home in the UK). As such there is no need for expensive photovoltaic panels or domestic wind turbines, except, perhaps, a few solar collectors for heating water.
According to Wolfgang Feist, achieving energy efficiency “...simply requires the builder or renovator to focus on five key principles: excellent wall insulation; small high-quality three-layered glass with thermal barriers windows; air tightness; a lack of ‘bridges’ that coduct cold into the house from the outside air; and a ventilation system that brings fresh air into the house and preheats it using warm, stale air extracted from the main rooms” (Goodall, op.cit. p.123).
The Passivhaus principles were also used to refurbish/renovate homes. It has been proven that houses refurbished to Passivhaus standards have achieved a reduction of 25 kWh/metre2 of energy for heating compared to the original 180kWh/m2 before being refurbished (case study: the 1957 apartment block in Linz, Austria, see Goodall, op. cit. pp.138&139).
Almost similarly is the Low-carbon home, nicknamed the “ Potton Lighthouse” developed by a British firm, Kingspan. It has photovoltaic panels on the roof combined with high standard insulation and airtightness. As wood is not categorised in the zero-cabon calculation [being a renewable], a wood-burning boiler providing supplementary heat is part of the concept.

5.0 Conclusion

This paper has discussed carbon neutral buildings as an initiative to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and contribute to the abatement of global warming. A carbon neutral building sets to balance the production and emissions of the GHG from a mix of external and internal reductions. External reductions are steps taken in the development of green technologies to generate renewables and reduce GHG emissions, carbon offsetting and green urban development.
Internal reductions are attempts to reduce energy consumption and decrease GHG emissions of buildings.
However, low-carbon buildings come with a price that is higher than the conventional ones. For example, the break even for solar panels to generate electricity for a typical low-carbon house could well be at least 32 years (Ali Hussain 2009, pp.4&5). Even dedicated green building materials and components cost between 30 and 40 per cent more that the conventional ones. That may well discourage builders and building owners to adopt green construction methods in the development of new buildings and the renovation of the existing stocks unless the authorities commit to subsidise them. However there are responsible developers that will invest in green buildings now rather than later which will prove to be more costly.


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Surveyor Dato' Dr Kamarudin M. Nor DSDK, AMK, PJK BSc [HBP-Architecture] USM, MSc [Construction Management] Heriot-Watt University, PhD [Architecture] University of Wales, FISM, FRICS, MBEng., MCIArb. Dato’ Dr Kamarudin is a corporate building surveyor and building engineer. He was trained as an architect. Before living in London, he was a Visiting Professor in Environmental Engineering with UniMAP [University of Malaysia at Perlis]

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