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The structure of a typical office building contributes roughly one-quarter to one-third of the total embodied energy. Although the occupation phase of a building’s life cycle currently dominates energy use, as operational energy use is minimized through high-performance design, construction and equipment, embodied energy will play a larger role in the overall energy consumption of a building. Consequently, the structural system should be a primary target for reducing the embodied energy of a building. Parking garages offer an ideal case study for comparing the embodied energy of a variety of structural systems. As above grade parking garages have little operational energy use outside of lighting and have few materials or systems beside the structure, the embodied energy of the structure comprises a majority of the environmental impacts during its life-cycle. By selecting existing parking garages built over the last 10 years of similar height and in the same seismic zone, the design loads, column lengths and structural layouts are fairly consistent, making more accurate comparisons between systems possible. Using material take-offs of three existing one-way structures, one pre-cast concrete, one posttensioned concrete and one cellular steel, this study shows that there is little difference in the embodied energy of structural systems used for parking garages if steel with high-recycled con-tent is used.
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