Building Green

Building Green

New fire station includes environmentally friendly design.

In the next six to eight weeks, groundbreaking will occur on the new Crosspointe Fire Station at the intersection of Hampton Road and Ox Road in Lorton, but this station will be different from most other fire stations. The Crosspointe station is being built green.

"Green buildings are buildings that are good for the environment and good for taxpayers' wallets," said Carey Needham, who works for the building design branch of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. "Green buildings help the county save money in the long run because they conserve energy and water use."

The Crosspointe Fire Station is one of two test projects for green buildings that Fairfax County is constructing. The building, which is scheduled to be completed sometime around November 2006, will be designed and constructed with energy and water conservation in mind. To do this, Fairfax County is following the United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) guidelines for construction. These guidelines are known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Building Program (LEED).

"LEED certification is a rating system for buildings that are developed with USGBC," said Taryn Holowka of the USGBC. The system is based on points that are awarded for aspects of the building that are environmentally friendly. For instance, if the building is constructed near public transportation in order to decrease the number of employees driving to work it will receive a point, or if a building collects rain water to be used for irrigation instead of just letting the water run off, it may receive a point. Points can also be garnered through more conventional ways such as solar panels and low flow water fixtures. The LEED certification contains four levels: basic, silver, gold and platinum. Total points can go up to 69, with a building needing 29 points to be certified as basic.

The Crosspointe Station is geared for a silver rating, but Needham admitted that it's difficult to determine a building's rating until construction is completed.

"Our goal is to decrease the negative environmental impact of the buildings that we build and to increase the energy efficiency in those buildings," said Needham.

TO ACCOMPLISH this goal, the station will be constructed with many environmentally friendly aspects. Natural day light will be used to light the building, thus decreasing the energy used for lighting as well as heating.

"At the Crosspointe Fire Station, the overhangs at the day lighting monitors were designed to allow direct access of the lower winter sun to permit solar gain, while the high summer sun is reflected into the space allowing the day lighting without the unwanted heat in the summer," said F. Thomas Lee of Samaha Associates, the project's architect.

The building will also be built with water conservation in mind, including low flow toilets and other efficient plumbing fixtures. Recycled and renewable materials will be used as much as possible in the station. For instance, the floors will be covered with bamboo, cork, recycled tires and tiles made out of recycled airplane windshields.

The benefits for constructing a building under LEED guidelines are many. Other than the environmental aspects of the design Holowka points to a 20 to 50 percent decrease in energy bills and a decrease in water usage. County officials estimate that $10,000 per year will be saved in energy consumption and 85,000 gallons of water annually will be conserved in comparison to traditionally designed stations.

"I think there are a number of benefits," said Lee, "The environmental benefits of course, but also the natural day lighting, improved indoor air quality and radiant heat from passive solar gain will create a better environment for the firefighters who use the station 24 hours a day." Holowka added that an increase in productivity and a decreased absence in employees can be seen in most green buildings.

Though green buildings may be more expensive to construct due to the cost of materials and the need for a special design knowledge, Needham said that the difference is negligible in the Crosspointe Station. "We haven't really been able to identify any price increase specifically," he said. He pointed out that any cost difference would most likely be made up in the life span of the building because of the energy and water conserved.

"When the green aspects of a project are integral to its design then the inclusion of these green building practices have not shown a significant cost increase," Lee said.

HOLOWKA SAID that LEED-certified green buildings are gaining popularity across the country since the program's launch in 2000. While only 260 LEED-certified buildings have been built in the United States, 2,080 are awaiting a rating upon their completion. "Five percent of the commercial market is building to the LEED standard now, that is an increase of 1 percent each year," she said.

The USGBC is also growing in popularity since it's launched the LEED program. "What we are trying to do is educate people on green building," said Holowka. "We believe LEED is a better way of working in all aspects of building construction." The USGBC has guidelines for updating existing buildings so that they are green and will soon be putting out guidelines for homes.

Lee, who is a USGBC LEED Accredited Professional, said that Samaha Associates has been working hard to design green buildings. "We've been doing sustainable designs for many years, particularly on federal projects," he said. "We've only done a handful of projects using the relatively new USGBC's LEED rating system though."

Samaha Associates has designed green buildings for Arlington County and a number of buildings for the Department of the Navy.

The Crosspointe Fire Station is not the only building being built green by Fairfax County. "We've got several other buildings under design through the green building approach," said Needham. These buildings include the Fairfax Center Fire Station and the new Oakton and Burke Centre libraries.

"Through this pilot program, we are getting a better understanding of the way these buildings work and the benefits of them," Needham said.