We undertake Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the cumulative energy demand (CED) and global warming potential (GWP) for a portfolio of 10 multi-family residences in the U.S. We argue that prior LCA studies of buildings use an inconsistent boundary for processes to be included in the supply chain: The operational phase includes all energy use in a building, but supply chains for the production of appliances, equipment and consumables associated with activities done in the building are neglected. We correct this by starting the analysis with an explicit definition of a functional unit, providing climate controlled space, and including processes associated with this functional unit. Using a hybrid LCA approach, the CED for low, mid and high-rise multi-family residences is found to increase from 30, 34, to 39 GJ/m2, respectively. This increase is due to the need for energy-intensive structural materials such as concrete and steel in taller buildings. With our approach, the share of materials and construction of total life cycle energy doubles to 26%, compared with a 13% share that would be obtained with inconsistent system boundaries used in prior studies. We thus argue that explicit definition of functional unit leads to an increase in the contribution of supply chains to building energy life cycles.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Publication Date



Originally published in "Challenges" 2015, doi:10.3390/challe6010098

Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

Sustainable Systems (GIS)


RIT – Main Campus