Executive Summary
The energy services required by residential, commercial, and industrial buildings produce approx 
imately 43 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO
2
) emissions. Given the magnitude of this statistic, many
assessments of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction opportunities focus principally on technologies and
policies that promote the more efficient use of energy in buildings. This report expands on this view and
includes the effects of alternative urban designs; the potential for on site power generation; and the life 
cycle GHG emissions from building construction, materials, and equipment. This broader perspective
leads to the conclusion that any U.S. climate change strategy must consider not only how buildings in the
future are to be constructed and used, but also how they will interface with the electric grid and where
they will be located in terms of urban densities and access to employment and services. The report
considers both near term strategies for reducing GHGs from the current building stock as well as longer 
term strategies for buildings and communities yet to be constructed. 
The United States has made remarkable progress in reducing the energy and carbon intensity of
its building stock and operations. Energy use in buildings since 1972 has increased at less than half the
rate of growth of the nation's gross domestic product, despite the growth in home size and building energy
services such as air conditioning and consumer and office electronic equipment. Although great strides
have been made, abundant untapped opportunities still exist for further reductions in energy use and
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emissions. Many of these especially energy efficient building designs and equipment would require
only modest levels of investment and would provide quick pay back to consumers through reduced energy
bills. By exploiting these opportunities, the United States could have a more competitive economy, cleaner
air, lower GHG emissions, and greater energy security. 
GHG Emissions: Sources and Trends
GHG emissions from the building sector in the United States have been increasing at almost 
2 percent per year since 1990, and CO
2
emissions from residential and commercial buildings are expected
to continue to increase at a rate of 1.4 percent annually through 2025. These emissions come principally
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from the generation and transmission of electricity used in buildings, which account for 71 percent of the
total. Due to the increase in products that run on electricity, emissions from electricity are expected to
grow more rapidly than emissions from other fuels used in buildings. In contrast, direct combustion of
natural gas (e.g., in furnaces and water heaters) accounts for about 20 percent of energy related emissions
in buildings, and fuel oil heating in the Northeast and Midwest accounts for the majority of the remaining
energy related emissions. Based on energy usage, opportunities to reduce GHG emissions appear to be
most significant for space heating, air conditioning, lighting, and water heating. 
iii
Towards a Climate Friendly  
Built Environment
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