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19 March 2024
Apurva Jain

Achieving Net Zero Goals with Effective Façade Engineering Design

‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’

Sadly, few can deny that we are still passing the buck. For example, nearly 40% of carbon emissions worldwide come from the construction industry, according to the Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction. Exploring renewable energy integration, innovative strategies, technologies and materials to move towards a universal sustainability goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, therefore, becomes more than a desirable goal for the construction industry and sustainable architecture. It has become a genuine necessity. Although there are several segments of the construction industry that can be modified to aim for sustainability goals, façade engineering and building envelope design is frequently overlooked. Façades contribute to 20% of a building’s embodied carbon footprint. Minimising emissions can help reduce a project’s overall environmental impact.

Solutions to develop effective façade engineering design involve passive design strategies, technologies, materials and much more. Starting with materials, let’s look at how low-carbon glass, low-carbon concrete and lightweight materials as well as other design strategies can contribute to a low-impact architectural design.

Low-Carbon Glass – Innovatively Transparent

Many modern carbon-neutral building façades incorporate extensive glass components, which can contribute significantly to overall energy consumption and carbon emissions. Utilising low-carbon glass, boasting a composition of 64% recycled materials, presents a tangible opportunity to mitigate a building’s environmental impact. When coupled with high-performance coatings, this glass variant demonstrates remarkable potential in reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout a building’s operational lifespan. Considerations such as daylight utilisation, solar control and thermal insulation efficacy are paramount in optimising glazing performance.

Also, solar control glass in façade panelling plays a pivotal role in enhancing occupancy comfort and energy efficiency. Through specialised coatings, it effectively limits solar heat gain, thereby alleviating the reliance on active cooling systems. Integrating such materials into architectural design necessitates the strategic application of triple silver control glass across various building elements, including façades, windows, roofs, expansive glazed areas and skylights.

Concrete Change with Low-carbon Solutions

Cement usage in concrete production constitutes for approximately 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Façades also contribute to this environmental impact. This stems from the considerable energy requirements and the inherent carbon intensity of the constituent materials used in mixing concrete. Consequently, prioritising the development of low-carbon cement formulations emerges as a critical strategy in curbing emissions and facilitating the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

Through the integration of specialised concrete admixtures and cement additives, the production of low or ultra-low carbon cement and concrete becomes feasible. Supplementary materials, including fly ash, slag, pozzolan or calcined clay, play a pivotal role in this endeavour, facilitating reductions in the carbon footprint of concrete used in façades by up to 50%.

Featherweight Solutions: Lightweight Materials

Innovations with lightweight materials help drive a decarbonised approach with drywall and facade insulation strategies that strive to reduce material density. Using lightweight façades makes for an energy-efficient approach that can be flexible and adaptable. Lightweight façades are characterised by the opportunities for rapid installation, as the façade can be cut at the factory and then assembled with a dry process.

These façade solutions include thermal, acoustic, environmental and economic benefits for new and existing buildings. In addition to reducing the environmental impact during a building’s life cycle, these solutions provide space, time and cost savings that contribute to a net zero future.

However, in major cities across the Middle East and other warm countries, skyscrapers have begun to take over urban landscapes. Most of the time, they incorporate fully glazed façades. Failing to account for the specific regional climate, these design concepts are fundamentally inefficient. Impacting the operational energy consumption of buildings, especially in warm countries, involves façade insulation that limits heat ingress by controlling solar radiation, thermal conduction and air infiltration.

In such cases, to improve building sustainability, it is necessary for local building codes to incorporate sustainable building features with insulation and compliance with green building certifications, such as LEED certification.

Façade Forward with BIM for Net Zero Ambitions

Façades are critical to mitigating a building’s energy consumption and thermal performance by effectively harnessing environmental energy sources and daylighting optimisation. Employing BIM proves instrumental in conducting tailored façade energy modelling for specific projects. Particularly during the initial design phases, BIM methodologies provide invaluable insights into the key elements necessary for crafting energy-efficient structures. Through BIM, it becomes feasible to meticulously evaluate a façade’s thermal properties and susceptibility to condensation well in advance of construction. Furthermore, BIM facilitates comprehensive assessment throughout the building’s entire lifecycle, enabling informed decision-making regarding maintenance schedules and the replacement of façade components.

Clear Sustainable Vision with Glazing Glass

Specialised solar coatings can help filter out considerably large portions of the infrared wavelength while retaining the ability of visible light to get through. Interlayers can provide diverse solar performance controls, enhance architectural appearances, acoustic and structural performances. Modern glass surface treatments make glass more durable and require limited maintenance, while frit technologies (glass frit bonding, also known as glass soldering or seal glass bonding, with an intermediate glass layer) have developed, and digital printing has become mainstream.

Photochromic or electrochromic dynamic glass that responds to varying daylight levels can be installed as part of the façade. Dynamic light and energy filters can help improve façade design efficiency. For example, Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) and solar photovoltaics can boost efficiency and reduce costs. Design considerations for BIPVs include the choice of appropriate PV type based on efficiency at different temperatures, optimising solar incidence by considering orientation, inclination and the cleaning process of the façade, while integrating PVs within the glass panel.

Vertical Gardens to Elevate Green-air-y

Vertical gardens do more than add a splash of green and contribute to the green lungs of urban landscapes-they’re nature’s multitaskers. Beyond providing shade and cooling buildings, they act as natural air purifiers. From pumping out oxygen to gobbling up nasty vehicular emissions and dust, these living walls are superheroes at saving our cities’ air quality.

Therefore, façade engineering and its many facets play a significant role in realising a building’s net-zero energy aspirations. By embracing sustainable design principles and harnessing innovative technologies, designers are empowered to craft structures that prioritise energy efficiency and ensure environmental stewardship. Integrating sustainable practices and cutting-edge solutions, well-planned façade engineering design can successfully promote building sustainability and resilience.

XS CAD has valuable experience as one of the best CAD designers in India providing BIM solutions and CAD solutions for global consultants, contractors and construction design partners. Our range CAD design solutions, CAD engineering solutions and CAD to BIM services for global firms include architectural BIM consulting services and BIM software solutions. We offer retained teams when required, and we create these models, drawings and BIM services by using Revit, AutoCAD, BIM management software and BIM Collaborate Pro for cloud collaboration.