For the last few years, there has been a growing threat due to climate change, and it has been felt by every living species on the planet. Every time a piece of news around climate change is flashed, we feel a weird twitch and move on within the next few minutes. As a living species on this planet, there is a growing need for us to be more mindful of all the products that are used in daily life. And with the building sector rising exponentially, it is high time for architects and designers to be mindful of the material choices they make as every ounce of energy saved gets us closer to delaying the coming threats. 

What is Embodied energy?

The definition of embodied energy, when searched for, is very simple. Embodied energy is the energy associated with the manufacturing of a product or service. Every material that is used in the daily life of a human has embodied energy.

The door from where you enter your homes.

The handle of that door.

The walls where you hang up your photographs.

The brick was used to build that wall.

Embodied energy includes the energy used for extracting and processing raw materials, manufacturing construction materials, transportation and distribution, and assembly and construction.

What is embodied energy in materials and in a building? - Sheet1
Embodied energy_©

In a world where more and more energy is being utilized daily to satisfy the needs of man, it starts to take a huge toll on nature, which provides us with the raw material to satisfy those very needs. As we turn a blind eye to nature and keep going by manufacturing and producing these materials with high embodied energy, it is obvious that at some point or regular intervals, nature will try to heal itself, which in turn will cause man’s suffering. The only way to turn the tides would be to reduce as much energy use as possible and follow the 6 Rs of sustainability.

What is embodied energy in materials and in a building? - Sheet2

Life cycle analysis of materials | 

As architects and designers keep looking toward innovation and strive to create the best possible designs, a wide range of materials are considered for executing the designs. The decision usually revolves around cost and visual appeal. Another important aspect that has to be taken into consideration is the environmental impact. Life Cycle Assessment is a tool used to calculate the environmental impact of material taking into account the various factors like –

  1. Energy consumption 
  2. Resource consumption
  3. Waste
  4. Pollution
  5. Greenhouse gas emissions
What is embodied energy in materials and in a building? - Sheet3
Life cycle assessment_©

A simple activity of tracing the roots of a material or product can be conducted keeping in mind the above points along with transportation and assembly of considered material and product. Every material or product finds its roots in a natural resource that is extracted for the production and manufacturing of the end product. Natural raw material has been extracted, manufactured, assembled, and transported to you for use. Producing an inventory of products and evaluating the impacts of their use, eventually making an informed decision, would be the right pathway towards a truly sustainable way of construction. The inclusion of Life Cycle Assessment in the decision-making process of architects and designers will certainly start a cycle of sustainability. 

What is embodied energy in materials and in a building? - Sheet4
Life cycle of a building_©

Embodied energy of materials

Construction and infrastructure are one of the most demanding industries in today’s world, which uses a variety of different materials and products where the designers go to great extents to satisfy the client and satisfy their design mind. The building sector in India is responsible for 40% of the primary energy use, along with 24% of carbon emissions. The embodied energy depends not only on the energy input during the manufacturing and production of the material but also on the energy input due to transportation of materials to the site and energy used on-site during construction, repairs, and renovations during the whole life of a building. The capacities of different materials to be recycled or reused also differ, which is another key factor in determining the choice of material to be used.   

A typical RCC two-storeyed structure majorly uses cement, steel, and bricks as major building materials. The embodied energy of this building has been researched and analyzed by experts and found to be 2.95 GJ/sq.m. While the embodied energy of the same building using alternative materials like stabilized mud block masonry, filler slabs, and terracotta flooring would be 1.53 GJ/sq.m. For high-rise structures, embodied energy increases exponentially. Material-wise, the weight of a steel building may be low but it has high embodied energy, higher than RCC buildings, which are heavier in weight. Most of the alternative materials show a reduction in embodied energy by almost 50%.

High embodied energies of materials and buildings_©
Use of stabilized mud blocks_©

Some major building materials and their embodied energies

  • Cement – 2.38 to 3.72
  • Steel reinforcement or profiles – 32.24
  • Glass – 7.88
  • Aluminum profiles – 220 to 330

Wall materials –

  • Burnt clay brick – 3.6 to 4.4
  • Stabilized Mud Block – 0.50 to 0.60
  • Fly ash brick – 1.00 to 1.35
  • AAC blocks – 3.7

Bonding agents – 

  • Mud plaster – 0.46
  • Cement mortar – 1.1

Architects and designers play a vital role in the times to come with a growing industry and an important part to play in delaying the effects of climate change. Inculcation of important topics like circular economy and zero waste living in the course curriculum would lead to an early start to thinking and acting upon the solutions. Sustainability should not only be a trend and a new market but also a way of living in the times to come.

References: Embodied energy

  1. Embodied Energy of Materials (January 20).  

Available at : 

  1. Robert Crawford (2020). Embodied Energy 

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  1. K.I. Praseeda, B.V Venkatarama Reddy, Monto Mani (2014). Embodied energy assessment of building materials in India using process and input–output analysis

Available at : 

  1. Vincent J.L Gan (2017). A comparative analysis of embodied carbon in high-rise buildings regarding different design parameters 

Available at : 

  1. Naveen Kishore ( June 2014). Embodied Energy Assessment and Comparisons for a Residential Building Using Conventional and Alternative Materials in Indian Context. 

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Poornima is an architect from the city of Pune. Being a heritage enthusiast, she loves to explore the various threads of architecture, culture, and ecology that tie a community. She hopes to bring about a change in the perception of development in India.