Revisiting ‘Green Building’ for Fire Stations

“Green building” is not a new concept, but sustainability in construction has evolved over the past decade. Green building aims to reduce or eliminate adverse effects and create positive impacts on the climate and natural environment during all phases of the building’s construction, as well as in its ongoing operation. As the construction industry strives to preserve valuable natural resources and improve the quality of life for those who occupy the building, green construction practices are increasingly important.

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While there are many ways to define green building, most experts today agree that these underlying principles apply:

  • Site development that results in minimal disturbance to the surrounding eco-system
  • Materials sourcing that has little to no environmental impact
  • Efficiencies that reduce operating costs and CO2 emissions
  • Indoor environment that promotes health and well-being for building occupants

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), provides a concise framework to help building owners and operators identify and implement practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance approaches. The USGBC goes a step further by offering Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification that delivers numerous advantages.

So, why consider green building for your fire station construction or renovation?

Environmental Stewardship

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), buildings and building construction combined “are responsible for 36 percent of global final energy consumption and nearly 40 percent of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions.”1 Considering this level of impact on the environment, it’s easy to make a case for adopting more eco-friendly construction and facility operational practices.

Public and private sectors alike are embracing sustainability as a societal imperative, and green building is an important step. Fire stations, community buildings and town halls that rely on unchecked consumption and unlimited resources are a thing of the past and over time will be replaced with better models that can serve communities well into the future.

A primary goal of green building is to reduce the environmental impact of the construction process. This includes waste reduction achieved through eco-conscious site selection, accurate materials procurement, recycling unused materials, preserving natural spaces and wildlife habitats, soil erosion reduction and minimizing water and energy consumption.

But green building is about more than just saving the environment. Multiple studies have shown that new green buildings and green retrofits reduce facility operating costs, result in shorter payback periods and increase asset value.2 When thinking about fire station sustainability, there are benefits for the building owner — the department or municipality — as well as for the firefighters who work there and the community at large.

Cost Savings for the Department

There is evidence in recent years to debunk the misconception that green building costs more than traditional construction. If a fire department pursues green building early in the design process, there is often little to no economic impact compared to conventional construction, especially when you calculate the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the station.

Green fire stations offer savings through reduced energy and water consumption, leading to lower costs for electricity, heating, cooling and water. LEED buildings have been shown to reduce building maintenance costs by up to 20 percent compared to conventional commercial buildings, and green building retrofits can decrease operational expenses by up to 10 percent.2

Employee Health and Productivity

As your fire and rescue personnel are your most valuable asset, maintaining an optimal work environment is paramount. By providing employees with natural light and fresh air, as well as reducing or eliminating the harmful VOC content found in conventional building materials (e.g., hazardous paints, adhesives, solvents, caulks, wood composites, carpets and sealants), you can enhance the health and well-being of your firefighters. Improved indoor air quality can even increase productivity and reduce absenteeism caused by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression and stress, according to USGBC studies.

As sustainable municipal operations go from “nice to have” to “must have,” fire departments are talking more about the business side of sustainability. Looking at the benefits for personnel, communities and the bottom line, green building is a win-win-win for all involved.

  1. https://www.iea.org/topics/energyefficiency/buildings/
  2. https://new.usgbc.org/press/benefits-of-green-building

A LEED Gold Case Study: Durham Station #17

The new Durham Fire and EMS Station #17, a LEED-certified facility built by Bobbitt Design Build, was completed in 2019. The 11,430-square-foot station fulfills the City of Durham’s requirements for an environmentally responsible building and achieved Gold-level certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The City of Durham worked closely with Bobbitt on this high-profile public design-build project to achieve eco-friendly standards and incorporate additional high-performance green building measures, including solar panel installation.

The single-story, four-bay station serves as a municipal home for both fire and EMS functions. The design accommodates separate operational differences between EMS and the fire department and includes provisions for specific staff and community needs: specialized storage and equipment accommodations; building access; and semi-private, public and shared spaces.

Chris Goins is a Project Developer and a LEED Green Associate at Bobbitt Design Build. As a green builder and member of the USGBC, Bobbitt delivers significant value to clients and the community with its sustainable building expertise.

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