First things first

Hello everyone. Welcome to my Diary journal!

I’m Fire Station 219, Mesa’s first LEED Fire Station! What does LEED stand for, how does it change my construction process, and what does that mean for the community and the environment? That’s exactly what I wondered and why I decided to write about myself! If you made it here, then that probably means you are as curious as I am.

In order to be sustainable and save paper (save a tree!), and get my message out to as many of you as possible, I decided to write my journal as a blog – basically a tool for publishing your thoughts and ideas on a website. So my diary entries below are arranged from the most recent entries at the top, and the oldest ones (when I was just a twinkle in my architect’s eye) start at the bottom.

If you are just visiting my site for the first time, and want to get the best idea of my LEED maturing process from the beginning to the end of my construction, then I suggest you start at the bottom of the page and work your way up. For example… I’ll tell you what LEED means for goodness sake!

So feel free to take look around, linger for a while, and if you get inspired leave a comment…oh, and please enjoy!

Sincerely,

Fire Station 219

Solar Panels add to my Sustainable Style!

Dear Diary, I woke up this morning feeling extra amped and full of energy!  That’s because Salt River Project  (SRP), our local power company, is here to inspect and power up my photovoltaic (PV) grid-tied solar electric (Photo 1) and solar hot water systems! Now, not only will I receive energy from SRP, but I can now utilize that natural clean energy of the Sun for my daily functions!

Photo 1:Brand new photovoltaic solar panels on top of my roof soaking up the Sun’s energy.

What exactly does my inspection consist of? The first step is to ensure that all the components of my systems are working properly before flipping the switch. In addition, the tilt angles on the panels are tested to ensure I get the maximum amount of sunlight I can. Also, my PV Inverter had to be switched to convert the DC (Direct Current) I receive from the sun to AC (Alternating Current) to use for my daily functions. SRP was very thorough with making sure everything was prepared for the big activation!

Photo 2:From Left to Right: City of Mesa Construction Inspector Erich Hanwell examines the solar hot water heating system Joe Chavez and Joel Dickenson from SRP. Measurements of the tilt angle of the panels had to be taken as well as inspecting the insulation.

Along with the inspection of my PV system, the solar water heating panels were also checked to ensure optimization (Photos 2 & 3). With these two systems functioning, I’ll be able to utilize the natural clean energy of the sun for my daily energy needs, such as producing hot water for my firefighter occupants after a hard day’s work. Since Mesa gets over 325 sun-drenched days a year, it makes sense to have these solar panels on my roof soaking up all that Sun! If you ask me, these panels on my roof make me look really trendy. I’m glad I get to show off my sustainable style!

 Photo 3:Joel Dickenson and Joe Chavez inspect the solar water heater as well as piping insulation.

So what exactly are the costs and benefits for my solar system you might ask? As you can see in Table 1, I get great incentives for installation which allows me to utilize this sustainable technology and reap the benefits as well!

Table 1: This table shows various savings in energy and dollar amounts for both solar systems, as well as return on investment. kWh refers to Kilowatt Hours which is a unit of energy that SRP uses for electricity measurement.

While 28 years might seem a long time for return on investment, what else can you think of that pays for itself over time? In addition, residential and commercial installations have an even faster return on investment rate due to rebates and tax incentives on the state and federal level.

Now that I’m fully operational, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Greg Kinkel who is an Energy and LEED Analyst with Quest Energy. (See my Diary entry on 11-23-11.) He explained to me how important it is to optimize my energy before taking my renewable energy performance into account.  By doing this, we are able to reduce energy costs first, which allows us to take full advantage of my solar PV system! That’s what being sustainable is all about; efficiency that benefits both myself and the environment!

Finally, how does all this help with my LEED Certification goals? Optimizing my energy performance was an important goal during my preliminary LEED assessment. Everyone kept this goal in mind as I was designed and constructed. I am well on my way to earning my LEED Gold qualifications, and my solar panels play a very important role when it comes to being certified! Under Energy & Atmosphere (EA) Credit 1, I can earn 8 points if energy efficient construction and renewable energy technology improves my performance by 35% compared to similar buildings. Greg Kinkel’s energy modeling predicted I would meet these goals. A measurement and verification program will collect data over the next year to see if I perform up to my expectations. More on that fancy stuff later. This solar installation puts me one more step closer to my certification goal! I can’t wait to adorn that shiny plaque on my wall for everyone to see!

The little fire station that could! Almost ready for my big grand opening!

Like a Breath of Fresh Air

Dear Diary,

Being built to LEED standards is very exciting, but I sometimes find that I need to take a deep breath as everyone working on me is scrutinizing the points I’ll need to earn for my certification. So when I found out that most of our exposure to environmental pollutants occurs by breathing air indoors, I wondered if I could take that deep breath after all?! I was also concerned about my future occupants, the firefighters, who work so hard spending a lot of time out in the community saving lives and protecting property.

So I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the Indoor Environmental Quality credit (EQ) can earn me up to 15 points (the second highest total) towards my LEED certification. My designer knew from the start that well-chosen building materials and construction methods would contribute to the health and well-being of my occupants. The LEED Reference guide (Version 2.2) for New Construction and Major Renovation points out that Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors, and pollutants can typically be from two to five times higher than outdoors. That just goes to show you how important it is to have high indoor air quality standards.

Photo 1: Covers sealing out dust, debris, and contaminants from the ventilation system during construction

During construction the contractor followed SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Guidelines for Occupied Buildings under Construction. I know, it sure is a funny name but it really does help to protect the HVAC (Heating Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system during construction from pollutants such as dust and debris. As I heard someone once say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I learned of another project under construction in the City that did not follow these procedures. Dust got into the duct work during construction and when the HVAC unit was tested, rooms filled with dust. Multiple cleanings over several weeks were necessary to clean up the mess that could have been avoided by covering the duct openings during construction.

Another way my indoor air quality was protected during construction was that the contractor made sure that absorptive material, like insulation, carpeting and drywall were protected and not exposed to weather and moisture. Keeping materials protected and dry reduces the chances of mold growth that could cause dangerous indoor air conditions. All of this hard work not only keeps my air safe and clean, but it also goes towards meeting the LEED Environmental Quality (EQ) Prerequisite 1 for the Minimum Indoor Air Quality requirements.

Photo 2: City of Mesa intern noticing the covers that help to improve indoor air quality.

The contractor also carefully selected products that reduced the amount of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating, and harmful to the health of workers during construction, and that also means cleaner air for the firefighters after they move in. Every label was checked to make sure the paints, sealants, adhesives, carpet systems and composite wood products such as cabinets, contained no or very low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Organic chemicals are found in many products that we use in our homes and buildings. The VOC’s which are emitted into the air as gases can have short and long-term health effects.

Photo 3: Example of some green cleaning products.

So, keeping my air clean during construction is important but what about after everybody moves in? It’s also important to think about what is being brought inside my doors after my occupants move in. One easy way to maintain a high level of indoor air quality is to use green cleaning products for all the times I need to be cleaned up to look my best.  Cleaning products that are made from non-toxic and environmentally safe ingredients are effective without that strong chemical odor that can really affect the firefighters who live here or the people who visit me, especially the ones who have asthma, allergies, or are highly sensitive to VOC’s.

All of these choices not only help to earn the points for LEED credits 4.1-4.4 (4 points) but they also add up to making a healthier and safer work environment that enhances the quality of life, and reduces long-term health and environmental consequences. It might sound simple but being able to take in a breath of clean, fresh air can make a world of difference.

Looking good!

Getting closer to my big day

Flushing Out the Details to “Rain” in My Water Use

Dear Diary,

I am fully functional, attractive and inspirational – I hope I don’t sound too arrogant! The City set high goals for me and I don’t want to disappoint them. My architects designed me to use 30% less water than typical fire stations. Saving water will earn me 3 of my LEED points needed in the Water Efficiency (WE) category. I have no doubt that my occupants, the firefighters, will support my water saving efforts! Who better realizes how important water is to a community?

Photo 1: Xeriscape landscaping provides shade and color for landscapes and includes desert-adapted plants to save water.

Outside, a concept of landscaping called Xeriscape (Photo 1) was used to design a landscape that will reduce the use of water for irrigation by 50%! Soon beautiful desert plants, many that are native to the Sonoran Desert where I live, will be planted around my site. Plants have been selected that will shade the ground – cooling it during the summertime, and many will attract butterflies and birds. They thrive during hot days of summer and can survive cold snaps that occasionally occur during the winter.

My new low-water use desert landscaping!

I am proud to tell you that these plants were also selected from a great source, Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert, because those featured on this resource have been determined to be water thrifty. However, even water-thrifty plants need a little irrigation to get established and to stay healthy and beautiful, so the landscape architect had the contractor install drip-irrigation and climate-based controllers that are highly efficient. All combined, this means my water efficient landscaping will reduce potable (suitable for drinking) water use by the required 50%, which earned me one of the three Water Efficiency (WE) points!

Inside the station, I am state of the art of course, so careful selection was made of appliances and fixtures.  Special low flow toilets, shower heads and faucets deliver water with the same cleaning potential with less water. Many boast the WaterSense label, a relatively new EPA program similar to ENERGY STAR.  Clothes washers and dishwashers also use less water with each load.

So then, I was wondering… what happens to water when it goes down the drain? As it turns out, Mesa has developed a very sophisticated and clever approach to harvesting and reusing wastewater (Figure 1). Potable water is delivered to homes, businesses and fire stations throughout the City. After water is used, the wastewater flows to a Mesa water reclamation facility for treatment where:

  • by-products are used to produce power,
  • solids removed during treatment are used to fertilize local farms,
  • liquids are treated and reused to irrigate Gila River Indian Community Farms, irrigate golf courses and cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Power plant and
  • liquids are also treated and pumped back into the ground to recharge the aquifer.
Figure 1: Diagram shows how wastewater gets redistributed after use.

So with reduced water for irrigation outside and low-water use fixtures inside, I think my practical inner workings are pretty impressive. I sure hope that businesses and residents in my community will join my occupant fire fighters and be inspired by my awesome water saving performance. After all, as they say at Water – Use It Wisely, “There are a number of ways to save water, and they all start with you!”

Growing up fast

Looking good with a new pair of sunglasses, and a shiny roof!