Sustainable building and design


CarolinaFireJournal - STEVE BAIRD
04/26/2010 -

Responsibility to community -- Every place of business should provide their employees an environmentally friendly and safe workplace. Fire stations and emergency response facilities are no exception. They know the importance of clean air. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is only one of many ways we should move toward a more environmentally friendly place of work. One the most recognizable methods of IAQ in fire stations are separation of chemicals and installation and maintenance of proper ventilation and exhaust systems that remove air borne chemicals from living and administrative areas. Emergency response personnel are exposed to chemicals of some kind on nearly every 911 response. Even the decontamination areas are treated with special care — isolating from living quarters. Precautions are not an option, but a mandate for the safety of all.


As we all know, fire stations and emergency response facilities are a necessity in our communities. The public considers us to be their leaders in the community regarding safety. Our responsibility should extend beyond the individual needs of the emergency response facilities and into the community. If more environmentally friendly products were used in residential and commercial buildings, they would not only improve the IAQ, the chemical contamination from being exposed to heat and fire may also be minimized with certain products.

Incorporating Green elements in buildings should go beyond the need for clean air. Every project being planned for construction should ask the question: What are we able to do to provide a more environmentally and energy efficient building? This includes everything from water run-off from the site to the long term maintenance and energy consumption.

Architects, engineers and contractors engaging in practices of recycling to innovative ideas for the protection of the environment and economy should be our first choice. The process begins with a thought and is implemented through action when everyone involved with the process shares a common interest of being good stewards of our natural resources.

Are there different levels of Green and LEED?

Determining the level of Green or LEED certification as it applies to construction begins long before groundbreaking. Green is a global term widely used and has an ever changing definition. Green in construction means: concerned with or supporting environment, preserve environmental quality and being recyclable, sustainable, biodegradable or nonpolluting. It can be difficult to discern which products are actually earth-friendly. It is also important to consult with professionals in the industry that are familiar with these type products. Finding products that are sustainable, recycled and local is a good start in knowing we are doing our part to help the environment.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), providing standards for the environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation of buildings and neighborhoods. There are different levels of LEED certification determined by a point grading system obtained through the process. 

The concept of being a leader in environmental and energy design begins with the proper site selection. Choose a site that will allow for minimal disturbance to nature and one that maximizes natural energy. You should consult with design professionals to explore the possibilities and costs associated with the prospective site. Preserving the natural vegetation in most cases is less costly than replanting. The growth of new vegetation takes much longer to minimize heat gains and hot spots than protecting mature growth; reducing energy usage. It’s a simplistic and sensible approach.

The next steps to a LEED project are design elements. The design includes every aspect of minimizing the impact of construction on the environment, to long term energy consumption. Choosing design elements should be a partnership between architects, engineers, contractors and owners. This insures the end result will be in line with the customers’ needs and requirements.

Long Term Return on Investment (ROI)

Whether you own a county or city fire and emergency response facility, chances are it was designed to stand the test of time. Going Green may have very little if any impact on the costs of construction from simple and practical methods and practices to long term operation logistics. The costs of a certified LEED project may impact the initial costs; however factoring in long term maintenance and energy usage often times defers those costs. Having a design build team that understands how to apply these environmental and energy savings will allow you to make educated decisions from the very beginning. 

Regular and long term maintenance costs should be factored in during the design process. Materials that do not require regular maintenance or replacement, native landscaping to reduce water consumption and minimizing long term energy use through proper lighting and climate control, all contribute greatly to the ROI.

One of the most obvious energy considerations for any facility that operates 24/7 is proper lighting. Lighting begins with site selection and continues through building operations. Utilizing the sun and natural lighting for the initial design should minimize the energy consumption. Adding sensors, lighting controls and using the proper lighting type, all add up to a more environmentally friendly and cost effective investment.

Return on investment is often referred to how much time it takes to recover from the initial costs. The environmental ROI is applying practical and sensible solutions of recycling and sustainable products for the benefit of future generations. The importance of our ROI is a combination of making environmentally good decisions as well as balancing the initial costs.

Steve Baird can be reached at Bobbitt Design Build, 803-731-5550 or e-mail [email protected].
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