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Choose the greenest – the development of design tools leads the way to sustainable design

By Peikko's blog team

March, 29, 2023

Sustainable design in the construction sector is no longer an exception or an extraordinary requirement. As ecological values are on the uprise, sustainable design has become the new standard. The design tools are continuously developing and offer new opportunities for a faster, safer, and more sustainable design that benefits everyone involved in the construction process, from the designer to the project developer and even the end user.

The building industry stands for 40% of all CO2 emissions in the world. Creating new solutions that allow for more sustainable ways to design and build will have a heavy impact on our future. The importance of development is understood, and now it is time for designers, construction companies, project developers, and material suppliers to unite their strengths and act.

Understanding the interrelation of different solutions and the emissions they create is essential for improvement. It is crucial already at the early stage of the project to compare and measure the carbon footprint and emissions of different solutions. These comparisons allow the designers to eventually choose the most sustainable solution for the entire lifespan of a building.

“The most important decisions that lead to reduced emissions are made at the beginning of the design phase, so it is crucial that reliable data about the emissions of different products and solutions are available. Developing the design tools and data they provide on emissions is essential", explained Anni Viitala, Team Leader of Sustainable Construction at Granlund.

Green construction starts from the designer’s desktop

The demand for sustainable solutions has increased, and the ways of thinking are renewing. Now, less is more – throughout the construction sector, the availability of materials is limited, and the negative environmental impact of the construction industry has become topical. We need to reduce emissions by reducing and rethinking materials. Even the buildings’ end users are now more concerned about thinking green, and environmental friendliness could be the decisive factor in the purchase.

“Some 7 years ago we faced the demand for emissions data in the design tools for the first time, and the rapid development in the sector has been ongoing for the last 5 years”, described Sampo Pilli-Sihvola, Director, Software Engineering at Peikko.

As data models have become more common, the variety of tools for designers has increased. Now the design process is smoother and more straightforward, and it is easier to see the interconnectivity of different solutions. The material suppliers are now creating their own tools as well as add-ons for the existing tools. For a supplier, this is an advantage that could turn into a must in the future. At some point, the lack of emissions data can even result in deals lost.

Emissions data becomes more accurate

The emissions data in the design tools allow for faster and more holistic decision-making. The design tools offer valuable information to make the right choices. The emissions data is already available in several pre-design tools, calculation tools, and modeling tools. When each tool in the different project phases offers data on emissions and carbon footprints, the data becomes more and more detailed and accurate. When aiming at complying with energy performance certificates or environmental certifications such as LEED and BREEAM, this data becomes crucial. With the data available in the different design tools and software, the designers can make justified and greener choices easily. 

Furthermore, to reach design professionals worldwide, it is important that as many different design tools as possible allow for emissions data – the use of different tools heavily depends on geographical areas as well.  

DELTABEAM® optimizes the frame solutions

“A building’s frame accounts for 20% of its total emissions. Furthermore, the beams, columns, and slabs stand for 50% of the frame’s emissions. From a CO2 perspective, choosing the right beam solution has a significant impact on a building's overall CO2 performance,” said Simo Hakkarainen, Peikko’s Business Director, DELTABEAM®.

Peikko’s DELTABEAM® Slim Floor Structure allows building open spaces even with architecturally demanding shapes. One of the most significant impacts of DELTABEAM® is how it contributes to making buildings more sustainable through its ability to make floors slimmer. Slim floor buildings require less cladding for the same usable interior volume which in turn reduces heating and cooling energy consumption. All the space saved between floors reduces the number of vertical components needed such as cladding, columns, or walls.

DELTABEAM® Slim Floor Structure greatly reduces waste due to optimized prefabricated components. The beams and columns use only the exact amount of material required to support floors while hollow-core slabs minimize the need for formwork on site. Additionally, the voids in the hollow-core slabs reduce the amount of concrete needed for the floors. The reduced weight of the slabs lightens the entire structure supporting the floors, which can in turn lead to reducing the size of the foundations.

The significance of the building’s frame from the emissions perspective was the starting point for Peikko to develop the emissions calculations for DELTABEAM®: a beam can really make an impact, and it is important to understand this impact. The carbon footprint calculation of DELTABEAM® is available in Tekla built as a branded assembly to One Click LCA calculation (OCLCA), and in Peikko’s own preselection tool DELTABEAM SELECT. StruSoft will have this feature soon as well. These design tools enable frame optimization throughout the different phases of the project.

Based on the basic parameters, DELTABEAM SELECT offers three optional frame designs for the designer to choose between. Each option includes the cost-efficiency index, beam profile, load-bearing capacity, and the emissions caused. If the emissions data is crucial for the project at hand, the solution can be optimized and the requirements met for instance by reducing the length of spans.

The green future of structural design

What kind of further development does the greener future hold for us? Firstly, the shared data models allow for the different parties to collaborate in the project to find the most optimal solution. When designing green, the gates are open for new architectural innovations and more sustainable solutions, new materials, and material combinations also known as a hybrid construction.

“Perhaps, in the future, AI and algorithms will run the design process to find the optimal outcomes from the environmental perspective. It will speed up the design even more”, proposed Pilli-Sihvola.

Mostly the development is now focused on the emissions during the building’s lifespan, but what happens after that? The legislators, in particular, are interested in the circularity and recyclability of the components. So far, the tools to calculate the emissions and find the optimal solution also from the end-of-life perspective do not exist, but the eyes are already turning toward them. So-called design for disassembly has been a hot potato of the construction industry for some time now; it enables maximization of the reuse of the components, which significantly reduces the emissions of the manufacturing phase and saves materials.

“Now we are mainly talking about reducing emissions, but the future will surely hold a wider perspective for the construction sector. Our targets will expand from the emissions reduction to the circular economy, design for disassembly, supply chain responsibility, and up to biodiversity as well”, envisioned Viitala.

Whereas designing and building green becomes a new standard, it will lead to reduced carbon footprint for the buildings. Supported by green roofs and other alternative solutions, the buildings can eventually even become carbon negative.

”At Peikko, we are already discovering the benefits of using green steel. It will surely take more foothold in our connections product range in the future; column shoes, fastening plates, bolts, shear reinforcements... Nevertheless, it is even more important to optimize the frame solutions. With slim floors, long spans, and reduced material use we can bring the construction industry to a new, greener level”, concluded Hakkarainen.

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