Downsizing and the use of timber as embodied carbon reduction strategies for new-build housing: A partial life cycle assessment

Cynthia Souaid*, Pieter Nick ten Caat, Arjen Meijer, Henk Visscher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The 2050 decarbonization goals coupled with the growing housing shortage in Europe intensify the pressure on new-build dwellings to enhance their energy performance. Beyond a zero operational energy, the focus has shifted towards reducing embodied carbon (EC). Against this backdrop, this study investigates the simultaneous impact of downsizing and the use of timber in new-build dwellings, EC reduction strategies seldom explored concurrently. Through partial life cycle assessments, three scenarios are modelled: the Small, Medium, and Large House, with two construction variations for each, comparing a modular timber design to a conventional concrete alternative. Designs are based on dwellings built in Almere, the Netherlands. Data is extracted from the Swiss Ecoinvent database using the TOTEM tool and the static −1/+1 approach for biogenic carbon accounting is adopted. Results show a total EC ranging from 42,608 to 70,384 kgCO2eq for the timber designs versus 54,681 to 91,270 kgCO2eq for their concrete counterparts. Findings suggest that the relationship between house size and EC is sublinear whereby a house twice the size entails less than twice the EC emissions. Only the simultaneous implementation of downsizing and the use of timber achieved 53% carbon savings. The discussion explores implications of outcomes across academic, industry and policy perspectives, challenges in implementing smaller timber dwellings, and study limitations and future research. Beyond its empirical contribution, this paper offers a practical contribution with its hierarchical data analysis approach covering building, element and component. This approach can be implemented by researchers and practitioners alike to inform their design process.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111285
Number of pages22
JournalBuilding and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2024


This research is funded by Interreg North-West Europe as part of the Housing 4.0 Energy: Affordable and Sustainable Housing through Digitization project, grant number NWE705. The authors would also like to thank project partners in Almere for their contribution.


  • Embodied carbon
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Timber construction
  • Downsizing
  • House size
  • Housing


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