The thief lurking in your building – indirect energy use

If you're interested in saving energy, you're probably familiar with the most obvious drains, but what about the not-so-obvious? Learn more about indirect energy use and how you can stop these sneaky culprits in their tracks.
  • Maria Sotberg




Indirect energy use in buildings
Photo by bridixon / Getty Images Signature

With high energy prices and concerns over energy dependence, reducing our consumption is on everyone's mind.

And when it comes to energy, you're likely familiar with direct energy use, which refers to the energy consumed by a building's mechanical and electrical systems, such as lighting, heating, and air conditioning. However, another form of usage is often overlooked – known as indirect energy use.

Indirect energy use: what is it?

Indirect energy use refers to the energy consumed during the production, transportation, and disposal of goods and services a building uses, such as the energy required to manufacture building materials, transport products to the location, or waste disposal.

Energy fact:

Indirect energy is also known as embodied energy or embodied carbon because it is "embedded" in the product or service.

Although indirect energy use may not be so noticeable, it can make up an important part of a building's overall footprint. For example, the energy required to produce a single brick is estimated to be about 1 kWh (making it a fairly average material choice). However, if thousands of bricks are required for construction, that's still a lot of indirect energy use.

Similarly, building materials such as concrete and steel have a much higher embodied energy than materials such as wood and bamboo.

How indirect energy use affects energy savings in buildings

Indirect energy use is closely related to energy savings in buildings, as it accounts for a big portion of a building's environmental impact. Reducing this type of energy in buildings is a crucial step in boosting savings and sustainability.

Here are some measures that can be taken:

1. Choose sustainable building materials

By selecting building materials that are sustainably sourced, energy-efficient, and have low embodied energy, you can reduce the indirect energy used in their production.

Choose building materials required for the purpose and expected life cycle.
Remember: Choosing materials with low embodied energy may result in higher energy use in operations, and materials with higher embodied energy can result in a building with lower operational energy. The most important part is to choose materials required for the purpose and expected life cycle. Photo by Rodolfo Quirós / Pexels.

Assessing the embodied energy of a material or whole building is a complex task. Re-using existing materials, choosing new materials made of recycled content, and designing for a long building life is a good guide. Learn more about calculating embodied energy.

2. Optimize building systems

By automating building systems such as lighting, HVAC, and ventilation, we can ensure that these systems only operate when needed. This can reduce energy waste and promote more efficient use of resources, also resulting in more environmental benefits.

Looking for options that allow you to add on other systems or solutions later is a great way to ensure scalable possibilities that you won't grow out of right away (and that you won't have to replace).

3. Re-use existing buildings and infrastructure

Re-using existing buildings reduces the environmental impact of construction by conserving resources and reducing waste. It also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing new materials.

With affordable solutions, we can make today's buildings much smarter just by upgrading the existing equipment. This is possible as long as the systems can talk to each other. Our open and flexible platform is built for that purpose.

Going green? It's complicated.

To truly understand a building's energy footprint, it is important to consider all the energy and resources that go into producing and operating a building, including both direct and indirect energy use.

Additionally, leveraging flexible automation solutions can help you achieve even greater energy savings, but this is just one part of the equation. Re-using existing buildings, choosing sustainable building materials, and implementing effective waste programs are just as important.

It's time to speed up building smartness. And to reach our climate targets, "smart" can't be synonymous with flashy new buildings. We must do something about all existing buildings, which is entirely possible.