Traditionally, the emissions embodied in construction materials have not been considered important; however, they are becoming crucial due to the short time-frame in which the emissions should be reduced. Moreover, evaluating the environmental burden of construction materials has proven problematic and the reliability of the reported impact estimates is questionable. More reliable information from the construction sector is thus urgently needed to back and guide decision-making. Currently, the building sector environmental impact assessments predominantly employ commercial software with environmental impact databases and report results without knowledge about the impact of the software/database choice on the results. In this study, estimates for the embodied environmental impacts of residential construction from the two most widely used life cycle assessment (LCA) database-software combinations, ecoinvent with SimaPro software and GaBi, are compared to recognize the uniformities and inconsistencies. The impacts caused by two residential buildings of different types, a concrete-element multi-story residential building and a detached wooden house, both located in Finland, were assessed, including all building systems with a high level of detail. Based on the ReCiPe Midpoint method, fifteen impact categories were estimated and compared. The results confirm that the tool choice significantly affects the outcome. For the whole building, the difference is significant, around 15%, even in the most widely assessed category of Climate Change, and yields results that lean in different directions for the two cases. In the others, the estimates are entirely different, 40% or more in the majority of the categories and up to several thousand percentages of difference. The main conclusion is that extensive work is still urgently needed to improve the reliability of LCA tools in the building sector in order to provide reliable and trustworthy information for policy-making.
- Life cycle assessment