To explore the differences in carbon emissions over the whole life-cycle of different building structures, the published calculated carbon emissions from residential buildings in China and abroad were normalized. Embodied carbon emission flows, operations stage carbon emission flows, demolition and reclamation stage carbon emission flows and total life-cycle carbon emission flows from concrete, steel, and wood structures were obtained. This study is based on the theory of the social cost of carbon, with an adequately demonstrated social cost of carbon and social discount rate. Taking into consideration both static and dynamic situations and using a social discount rate of 3.5%, the total life-cycle carbon emission flows, absolute carbon emission and building carbon costs were calculated and assessed. The results indicated that concrete structures had the highest embodied carbon emission flows and negative carbon emission flows in the waste and reclamation stage. Wood structures that started the life-cycle with stored carbon had the lowest carbon emission flows in the operations stage and relatively high negative carbon emission flows in the reclamation stage. Wood structures present the smallest carbon footprints for residential buildings.
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