Counting Carb(on)s: Glazing Impact on Embodied Carbon and Building Performance

K. Natividad
NSG Pilkington,
United States

Keywords: carbon, construction, building materials


As discussion and research around climate change continues, the reality of human impacts and effects have become more dire calling for a sense of urgency to act across all industries. Climate change goals will require significant improvements in the way buildings are constructed and operated. Building reuse can combat climate change as it minimizes the embodied carbon to create materials and energy required to build a new structure. Windows present a significant challenge within building reuse as traditional treatments either require full replacement to achieve reasonable performance or utilize restoration methods with minimal embodied carbon impacts albeit at a lower gain in operational performance. More importantly, the operational and embodied carbon impacts aren’t both currently required to be evaluated in project scope. As a result, there may be untapped potential for climate change impact. By promotion of building reuse and restoration, significant step changes can be made to shift this embodied carbon/operating carbon paradigm and provide better solutions to the carbon crunch. In the existing building stock, significant performance upgrades can be made with emerging technologies such as vacuum insulating glass (VIG), thin glass in secondary glazing, and the thin triple insulating glass unit (IGU). Each of these allow for step-change improvements in building operations with only a minor increase in embodied carbon. An in-depth analysis of existing building performance across the US was completed to showcase a methodology for this process. Evaluating the different potential options and comparing the overall carbon impacts both in terms of embodied and operational carbon offers insight into the impacts of treatments. This complete analysis addresses the full impact of choices and carbon impacts with intention to promote adaptive reuse technologies and reduce global warming potential from existing building stock.