An Embodied Carbon Iceberg Lies Under Our Homes and Buildings

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In much of North America, houses are built with concrete basements that are often delivered as unfinished spaces used for storage. And if they are finished, they are often second-rate spaces with low ceilings, tiny windows, and poor air quality. It’s a big load of concrete and foam that nobody sees, that lies beneath the surface, contributing to the upfront carbon emissions that may sink us all.

That’s why I was surprised, once again, by a recent post where Builders for Climate Action calculated that 35.5% of the carbon emissions from homes were from the concrete that forms the footings, foundation walls, and slabs that make up the basement and hold up the house. Another 15% is in the insulation, much of which is rigid foam wrapping the basement. As much as 50% of the carbon footprint of the house is unseen, below grade. An earlier EMBARC study of houses in Ontario, Canada, put it at 60%.

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