Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a methodology for assessing the environmental performance of a product over its full life cycle, often referred to as cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-cradle analysis. The Athena Sustainable Materials Institute provides software, a community of users and sample cases to help you evaluate building materials. How could you use Athena's resources to make sustainable choices about your home remodeling or building projects?
Athena offers two software tools that can help you calculate the environmental impact of building materials. The EcoCalculator is a free tool that will allow you to calculate the impact of a building assembly. Athena offers a residential version that is suitable for single family, detached housing. The Impact Estimator is not a free tool and it will offer a more detailed analysis of the materials.
The EcoCalculator is a spreadsheet tool with pre-defined assembly and envelope configurations - the user needs only to input the square footage of any particular assembly to receive instantaneous embodied (does not include operating energy) life cycle impact assessment results. The results presented are the same as, and derived from the parent software, the Impact Estimator. However, the user is limited to the existing pre-defined assemblies and has no ability to modify them or create their own.
The Impact Estimator is a standalone program that allows users to model their own custom assembly and envelope configurations, allowing them the flexibility to more accurately model proposed designs and existing buildings. The user needs some technical knowledge, but does not need to be a structural engineer or architect in order to model a building in Impact Estimator. Although not an energy simulation tool, the Impact Estimator allows the user to input energy simulation results to calculate their operating effects alongside their embodied effects.
You can join a community of users to ask questions about LCA.
Conduct a Mini Life Cycle Assessment
(Image: Athena Sustainable Materials Institute)