MIT: 60-Year Life-Cycle Assessment Indicates Concrete Homes Have Lower Global Warming Potential

In 2009, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and MIT teamed up to establish the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. A report released by the hub, Methods, Impacts, and Opportunities in the Concrete Building Life Cycle, is the result of a study regarding the 60-year life-cycle assessment of homes constructed primarily of concrete, compared to more conventionally constructed wood-framed homes.

In its environmental assessment, MIT researchers found concrete homes produce lower greenhouse gas emissions than current best practice code – compliant wood-frame residences throughout a 60-year service life.

Concrete homes did have a higher embodied global warming potential (GWP) associated with the pre-use phase of LCA when raw materials are harvested and turned into construction materials, transported to the site, and assembled into the finished home.  However, this phase accounts for only about 2 to 12 percent of the overall global warming potential for the life of the home.  For the 60-year period of the study, houses constructed with insulated concrete forms have 5 to 8 percent lower GWP than current code compliant light frame wood houses, based on greater thermal mass and higher R-values.  Researchers found similar results when evaluating multifamily residences.

Commercial office buildings built with a concrete structural frame produce slightly less greenhouse gas emissions over a 60-year service life than commercial structures built with steel frames, based on the results of the comprehensive MIT assessment.

Categories Sustainability and Building Science

3 thoughts on “MIT: 60-Year Life-Cycle Assessment Indicates Concrete Homes Have Lower Global Warming Potential

  1. yes, but they tested against "best practice code – compliant wood-frame residences". they did not compare apples to apples, they compared code compliant wood to way above code concrete. Had they properly compared wood buildings designed to the same R value as their concrete buildings, they would have had a completely different result. I know I am in a minority here but when I wrote about this study last year I titled my post: "Big Surprise: New Study Shows Insulated Concrete Forms Are Better Than Crap." Lets compare quality construction with green materials, not ICF against "code compliant."

    1. I hear you, Lloyd. Thanks for stopping by!

      It is really tough, it seems, to find peer-reviewed scientific research to adequately address issues pertaining to building science. Even the Evaluation Reports that ICC-ES produce lack any rigor. I published this article simply as news. The news here: PCA hired a firm to produce research that is favorable to PCA’s interests. Unfortunately, I am not in a position right now to conduct testing to substantiate or refute the claims made. But if you have some data, I’m glad to pass it on. Perhaps you’ll have something up on Treehugger to set the record straight?

      Take care, Lloyd, and keep fighting the good fight.

  2. yes, but they tested against "best practice code – compliant wood-frame residences". they did not compare apples to apples, they compared code compliant wood to way above code concrete. Had they properly compared wood buildings designed to the same R value as their concrete buildings, they would have had a completely different result. I know I am in a minority here but when I wrote about this study last year I titled my post: "Big Surprise: New Study Shows Insulated Concrete Forms Are Better Than Crap." Lets compare quality construction with green materials, not ICF against "code compliant."

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