Upgrades Under 1 Percent

During a construction project many clients have a wish list that is a “make or break deal” for them. Some items the client will simply not live without and those are the items I will be certain to include in our Design-Build project budget and amplify during that phase of construction to ensure it is installed properly.


A couple of examples are the following; trench drains in the truck days and stain grade baseboard in the living quarters. While these two items are asked for on a semi-regular basis, they are not mandatory by code and not always found in every firehouse. I don’t consider these items as upgrades but rather building attributes that are functional in the station. Other items I do consider to be upgrades, and those items can range from eight percent of the construction budget to less than one percent of the construction budget.

The first item that is a mainstay with most Design-Build projects and is an upgrade that is less than one percent of the budget is plastic pipe bollard sleeves. This item, while extremely inexpensive, is always seen, 365 days a year, as the taxpayers of your station drive by. In lieu of painting your pipe bollards, buy plastic sleeves to go over your steel pipe protectors. Or, if you are in the market to enhance or upgrade your overhead doors, consider also upgrading your exterior pipe bollards with plastic sleeves.

Staying in the steel family and adding another inexpensive upgrade to your new construction project is galvanized steel lintels and pipe bollards. This will give your steel, that is installed in the brick, further longevity and prevent rust streaking on your brick. Also, standard prime painted steel pipe bollards, after you install your bollard sleeves, will eventually start to rust and streak your concrete. If the steel in galvanized, this deterioration process will start much later, likely never be seen by the current fire station administration.

For the interior of a station, if constructing a metal building, painting the steel beams can give the station a uniform look and give a simple building frame feature an architectural look with color. Painting the frames and columns black, or red, or a gray and white combo brings light into the station and gives the building a full and complete look. This attribute can also be done as a renovation or retrofit feature in an existing building. Changing out the lights and giving your truck bay a new paint face lift, including walls, ceiling, and frames can give a rejuvenated feel.

Two design features that are not expensive when constructing your building are:

  1. Multiple colored mortar in the brick
  2. Multiple brick choices in one wall.

While, these items do take extra time to lay, which ultimately leads to further expense during the construction process, the monetary value of these items are little compared to the end product value when the building has all the extra pop and dimension as your local residents are proud to have an outstanding building in their district.

As we venture inside the living quarters of the building there are a couple items that quickly come to mind when talking about inexpensive upgrades. First, the hallways and large community rooms, Level 5 Drywall Finish is an enhancement that will give the most uniform paint finish and ultimately best looking and smooth drywall finish. A Level 5 finish does not need to be used in every small room in the building, but any room that has multiple windows and a large amount of natural light, a Level 5 finish is a good place to spend your money for an enhanced appearance.

The second interior upgrade that I recommend in a building is hallway LED Can Lights and Directional Lighting for display enhancement. The standard lighting package would likely have 2×2 or 2×4 LED lighting in most offices, common spaces and hallways, but giving a different feel to the hallways with can lights will separate the spaces in a physiological manner and ideally allowing your brain to differentiate between your last task and your next task. Also, directional lighting placed within the hallways can help support your decorations or station memorabilia, giving addition light in places that you want to standout. Directional lighting options come in many different forms and can be supported in the same fashion as all the other lighting within the building, typically within the drop ceiling grid.

While discussing ceiling grid and tiles, another upgrade that is common in high quality buildings, is high quality ceiling tiles. These tiles with reveal edges, not flat, can give the ceiling a more defined look and expensive feel. A reveal edge, high insulated, ceiling tile will help with temperature control as well as the acoustics within the room. Keeping the temperature at a constant level below the ceiling will keep the power bill low and keeping the temperature stable in the attic space will keep the humidity down and reduce the chance of mold. With stations on different schedules and crew shift members wanting to interact in different ways, keeping the acoustic noise at its lowest level is key to everyone’s ability to live, work and be prepared when the call comes in.

Last on my list of upgrades that come at a low price is Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) flooring. This flooring, in lieu of VCT, has a high Commercial warranty and comes in many different forms, shapes, colors and patterns. This flooring can be floating or glue down and is simply “mop and go” for maintenance. The standard VCT flooring will have continued maintenance over its lifetime and only comes in a small number of choices.

When thinking about upgrading your building or if you are in the beginning stages of a new project, find a Design-Build General Contractor with experience with Fire Station construction. Ask about these upgrades and any other they recommend based off experience.

Goosie Kennedy is a Project Manager for D. R. Reynolds Company, Inc., a Design-Build General Contractor.

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