Athena Sustainable Materials Institute

Impact Estimator (IE) for Buildings


The Impact Estimator for Buildings gives architects, engineers and analysts access to advanced life cycle inventory data without requiring advanced skills.

This whole-building tool is used by design teams to explore the environmental footprint of different material choices and core-and-shell system options. It was first released in 2002 and has undergone numerous updates since then. The IE for Buildings was developed in collaboration with Morrison Hershfield. It’s development and maintenance is funded by our supporters.

The Athena Impact Estimator is applicable for new construction, renovations and additions in all North American building types. It can model over 1,200 structural and envelope assembly combinations. It allows for quick and easy comparison of multiple design options.

The Impact Estimator provides a cradle-to-grave life cycle inventory profile for a whole building. The inventory results comprise the flows from and to nature: energy and raw material flows plus emissions to air, water and land.

How it Works

Users quickly describe building assemblies through dialogue boxes that request simple information like bay sizes and loads—the software does the rest, calculating a bill of materials and the associated environmental impacts. Users have flexibility to add materials as needed.

The software reports footprint data for the following environmental impact measures consistent with the US EPA TRACI methodology(1): global warming potential, acidification potential, human health respiratory effects potential, ozone depletion potential, smog potential, and eutrophication potential. The Impact Estimator additionally reports fossil fuel consumption.

The software is regionally customized—appropriate electricity grids, transportation modes and distances, and product manufacturing technologies are applied depending on the building location. Other user inputs such as building service life and type of building also affect the results.

Operating energy can be included in the building LCA if the user inputs an estimate for annual operating fuel consumption. The software will calculate total energy, including pre-combustion energy (the energy used to extract, refine and deliver energy) and the related emissions to air, water and land over the life cycle of the building. The software can subsequently compare and contrast the life cycle operating and embodied energy and other environmental effects of various design options, allowing the user to better understand the inherent trade-offs between (for example) adding more insulation and reduction in operating energy use.

The Impact Estimator takes into account the environmental impacts of the following life cycle stages: material manufacturing, including resource extraction and recycled content; related transportation; on-site construction; maintenance and replacement effects; and demolition and disposal. Decomposition of materials in landfill is not included.

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