Fire stations are excellent candidates for energy-efficiency initiatives because they are incredibly consistent; a fire station usually is operated for many years by the same organization, with very consistent levels of staffing, and with the same kind of work being done inside. This stability removes one of the biggest barriers to energy efficiency: uncertainty over occupancy. For example, an office or medical practice might want to make an efficiency upgrade that has a reasonable payback period of five years. The owners might decide against doing so because they think the business will expand in the next three years and need to move, and they aren’t sure if the upgrade cost can be recouped in the sale price. Fire stations rarely will encounter this sort of problem; by and large, a fire station will be a fire station for decades.
There are hundreds of ways to reduce a building’s energy consumption. Some involve equipment replacement, such as upgrading old and inefficient HVAC system components, appliances, and fluorescent-lighting ballasts. Some focus on better energy management, such as installing building automation controls and software that reacts to occupancy changes. Some are basic measures, such as insulating and sealing drafty buildings and keeping proper maintenance schedules. Others reduce load by simply training personnel to be more vigilant about energy waste.
Begin researching possible measures for your fire department. The American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a series of steps for building operators to take in its Energy Efficiency Guide for Existing Commercial Buildings: The Business Case for Building Owners and Managers. At the outset, collect data on building energy usage and costs, evaluate building performance, and implement low- and no-cost measures immediately. Building operators should have access to utility statements, but as mentioned above, it is not truly possible at this point in time to evaluate fire station performance through comparisons to other stations, as there is not enough data to do so. Fire departments can, however, implement low-cost options. For example, setting reasonable temperature ranges on thermostats, sealing obvious leaks in the building, and powering down office equipment during overnight periods. Firefighters usually can point out the trouble spots in their own stations, which can speed evaluation.
The next important step is an energy audit (also called an energy survey) that can identify key ways to improve building energy performance. ASHRAE has guidelines for three different levels of energy audit:
- A Level I audit is a walk-through survey of the building, identifying both low-cost upgrades and capital improvements.
- A Level II audit reviews the design and operation of mechanical systems, analyze the whole building’s energy usage, and evaluate various capital improvements and costs and potential savings.
- A Level III will performs testing and monitoring of system performance, and provide detailed financial evaluation of major capital improvements (see ASHRAE’s Procedures for Commercial Building Energy Audits, 2nd Edition, for more details).
Energy audits generally are performed by utilities and third-party companies. Utilities and state energy offices can provide a list of companies that perform audits, and utilities sometimes have rebate programs that pay for part or all of the cost.
It is imperative, before any large capital improvement is made, that a true Lifecycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) is performed. An LCCA compares the total cost to purchase, operate, maintain and dispose of competing options. A highly efficient system or appliance might have a higher “first cost” than others, but cost less to operate over its lifespan. Or, one option might be known to last 50% longer before needing replacement. Several software packages can perform LCCAs, including the free “Building Lifecycle Cost” program developed by the .
Implementing large-scale capital improvements can require huge investments of time and money, which can be in short supply in fire departments. But guidance and funding for larger projects is available.
For more on creating energy efficiencies in fire stations, look to the November print edition of FIRE CHIEF.
Jeffrey A. Snow (BA, NREMT-I) is the Deputy Chief of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in Fairfax County, VA. He is an energy efficiency consultant and a LEED AP+ (Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org