LCA for HARC Points to Steel Framing

The Houston Advanced Research Center's new headquarters building was completed in March. (Photo: Walter P Moore)

The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) desired a headquarters building designed to not only provide office space, but to also serve as an educational tool for sustainable technologies. HARC leadership worked with Walter P Moore and their director of sustainable design, Dirk Kestner, to perform a whole-building life-cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate multiple structural systems from the very outset of the building design process—and a steel frame with a minimized amount of concrete was proven to reduce carbon emissions.

The LCA process enabled HARC and the design and construction team to identify and quantify the environmental impacts of various materials and construction options so that better decisions were made. For example, concrete (specifically the Portland cement constituent) was found to be the largest contributor to the building’s embodied environmental impact. This led the design and construction team to specify a steel-framed structure, reducing the amount of cement used on the project, and to require concrete suppliers to provide environmental product declarations (EPDs) and the use of low-carbon concrete on site. The simple changes, understood early on in the process, saved 300,000 lb of CO2 emissions and resulted in impressive reductions in the building material's global warming (20%), acidification (25%) and smog formation (15%) potentials.

Recently complete, the 20,000-sq.-ft facility is tracking LEED Platinum Certification and Net Zero Energy Building Certification. The building was one of the first in Texas to be subjected to a whole-building LCA. Read more about the project here.