10 ways to make your existing station 'green'

These technologies and practices can help a department pursue a "greener" goal


Over the past couple of months, we've featured several newly constructed fire stations that were constructed using LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines.

Having the ability and resources to build a new fire station that's more energy efficient with a smaller carbon "footprint" is certainly desirable, but what about sustainability challenges for existing stations out there?

What is sustainability?
Sustainable development was first presented by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. It promotes the idea that social, environmental, and economic progress are all attainable within the limits of our earth's natural resources. Sustainable development approaches everything in the world as being connected through space, time and quality of life.

For fire departments and the communities that they serve, there are several significant opportunities for decreasing the carbon footprint and improving the sustainability for their existing facilities. Two such areas are reduction in energy and water consumption. Another is reducing the amount of waste materials that reach the local landfill.

The good news is that there a many options for "re-engineering" a department's physical facilities so that they are "greener." 

Here are 10 technologies and practices that can help a department to pursue that goal.

  1. Targeted use of electricity from solar panels
    By targeting those appliances and building equipment that consume electricity and taking them "off the grid," a department can realize significant energy and dollar savings. This can easily be achieved by installing off-the-grid solar kits that are customized and ready to be installed. For example, a package that will supply daily electricity for a coffee maker (12 hours), microwave oven (30 minutes); dishwasher (90 minutes), and an 18-cubic-foot refrigerator (6 hours of operation) can be purchased for less than $10K. The money saved through lower electricity costs can be used to purchase additional equipment to take other areas of the station "off the grid."
  2. Replace old and inefficient heating and cooling equipment with zoned heating and cooling equipment
    Ductless heating and cooling systems are highly efficient products that deliver warm or cool air directly into different zones in a building instead of routing it through ducts first. They are often referred to as mini-split, multi-split or variable refrigerant flow heat pump systems. Ductless systems from manufacturers such as GREE, Pridiom, Ramsond, Amvet, Celiera, and Mitsubishi Electric, are an increasingly popular, cost-effective solution to replace inefficient baseboard electric heating and window air conditioners in older buildings. The installation is relatively straight-forward; many contractors familiar with the technology find it easier to install than traditional heating and cooling systems.
  3. Rainwater collection from flat roofs using "blue roof" technology
    Blue roofs are non-vegetated source controls that detain storm water which can then be routed to a storage tank. When partnered with a rainwater harvesting system, the collected rain water can then be treated and recycled for non-potable water uses. (Cost: blue roof system, approximately $1/square foot; rainwater harvesting and storage system with 1700 gallon storage, $4K).
  4. Reduce water usage and reuse water
    Low-gallonage shower heads and dual-flush toilets reduce the total amount of water used in a facility. A greywater recovery system is a cost-effective way to recycle water used in baths, showers, washing machines and bathroom sinks (Complete systems start at less than $1,000). Greywater is suitable for irrigating most garden areas including flower beds, shade trees and lawns. Even native gardens can thrive with greywater, simply alter your laundry detergent to one that is low or has no phosphorus.
  5. Re-landscape the station's exterior
    Reduce the amount of grass that needs to be irrigated and cut using water conservation landscaping techniques.
  6. Replace existing light bulbs with LED lights and replace fluorescent light tubes with LED tubes
    There's no need to change a station’s existing lighting fixtures to take advantage of the electricity savings afforded by LED lighting technology, and also the reduction in heat output from incandescent light bulbs.
  7. Turn off the lights when rooms are not occupied
    Occupancy sensors have become more sophisticated — they’re not just high tech motion detectors — and can detect the presence of people even without movement. There are wireless systems on the market that make it easy to retro-fit a system to an existing facility without the additional costs associated with running wires throughout the building.
  8. Heat water with solar energy
    Installing a solar water heating system can cut a department's annual water heating costs in half. A department can save $140 annually or $2,900 over the lifetime of the water heater, if it combines solar with a backup gas storage water heater instead of using the gas water heater alone.

    The savings increase to roughly $280 or $5,200 over the lifetime of the water heater each year on electricity bills if a department uses an electric tank water heater for back-up instead of a gas water heater for backup storage.
  9. Install awnings on windows that face south for lower air conditioning costs in summer
    Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65 percent on south-facing windows and 77 percent on west-facing windows.

    In the past, most awnings were made of metal or canvas, which need to be re-covered every five to seven years. Today, awnings are made from synthetic fabrics such as acrylic and polyvinyl laminates that are water-repellent and treated to resist mildew and fading. Whatever the fabric, you should choose one that is opaque and tightly woven. A light-colored awning will reflect more sunlight.
  10. Create a recycling strategy for office paper, newspapers, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles
    Departments spend a lot of money getting rid of their garbage. Fire departments can significantly reduce their hauling costs by reducing the amount of waste they produce. They can also set a good example for recycling in their communities by making a conscious effort to reduce waste which can motivate people and other businesses to do the same.

    Conduct a waste audit for each of your department’s stations to determine what kind of waste is being generated and thrown away. Then, look for ways to reduce the amount of waste your department’s stations are generating, integrate recycling into your operations, and create zero waste loops.

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