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Exploring the Role of Airtightness for Achieving Carbon Neutrality in Canadian Residential Buildings: A Streamlined Life Cycle Assessment

J. J. Gu1,X. Y. Xin1 *, Q. Zhang2, X. L. Wu1

  1. Department of Civil Engineering, Smith Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada
  2. Robert M. Buchan Department of Mining, Smith Engineering, Queen’s University, Kingston K7L 3N6, Canada

*Corresponding author. Tel.: 613-533-6000; fax: 613-533-2128. E-mail address: (X. Y. Xin).


This study delves into the relationship between airtightness levels and the entire life cycle carbon emissions of buildings across diverse Canadian climates. With the 2020 update of the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings, whole-building airtightness testing was introduced as an option, prompting discussions on its mandatory nature. Using a net zero target, our assessment unfolds in two phases. Initially, we employ three-dimension (3D) modeling in Revit to replicate a typical Canadian detached house’s architectural features and material compositions. Subsequently, the model was imported into One Click life cycle assessment (LCA) to set parameters such as lifetime, gross interior area, and annual electricity consumption. Our analysis is bifurcated into assessing climatic conditions in Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver, alongside examining code-specified airtightness levels. We compared annual energy loss per unit area at varying airtightness levels accounting for the general deterioration of airtightness in new buildings during the pre-service phase to pinpoint the optimal airtightness value (ACH50) during the design stage. The subsequent phase evaluated increased carbon emissions from material replacement to meet this optimal airtightness condition and passive energy savings. Findings underscore that designing airtightness to an ACH50 value of 1.0 is the most energy-efficient. Comparative analysis reveals that achieving carbon neutrality solely through increased envelope airtightness and passive energy savings, is viable in Edmonton (18.4 years) owing to regional energy source disparities. In contrast, Toronto and Vancouver necessitate active energy-saving devices to attain carbon neutrality over the design lifetime.

Keywords: airtightness, carbon neutrality, Canadian residential buildings, life cycle assessment, National Energy Code of Canada

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