A different kind of emergency: Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service speeds towards carbon neutrality by 2035.
The world is facing a climate change emergency. As more public sector organisations set out their response to the challenges we face, a handful of buildings are breaking the mould and changing the way we think about designing and constructing the spaces where people support and protect our society.
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has unveiled a bold ambition to become carbon neutral by 2035. It’s a vision that it is pursuing with tenacity. ISG has worked with the service for six years, supporting as it evolves to meet the changing landscape of fire and rescue response. Now as the service looks to the environment, we are by their side as they tackle a new type of emergency.
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The latest project handed over at Chester Community Fire Station is carbon positive – in other words, it uses less energy than it creates. Every opportunity has been maximised on the project to reduce carbon emissions, with rigorous design integration and collaboration across consultants Bradshaw, Gass & Hope, IKG Consulting, T Clarke, Assent, Stroma, NOVO, and our internal design and building service teams, to the point where the design was overhauled post commencement on site to achieve the service’s new vision.
Chester Community Fire Station boasts modern training facilities including a new training tower, breathing apparatus building and road traffic collision training area. It has improved accessibility and houses improved community facilities.
“Breaking the mould is something we take pride in, and we knew we could help deliver this shared vision of climate change response,” says ISG design manager, Mike Varlow.
“We had already constructed the temporary fire station, and the ground works were underway. At that point, we could have continued with the construction as designed, but instead we took a flexible approach and saw a unique opportunity to drastically reduce the impact of the building on the environment,” he added.
With programme and cost in mind, the team worked hard to ensure that clear, concise information was presented to the client, allowing the service to make key decisions ahead of critical pinch points and maintaining programme targets.
As the programme progressed, the team revaluated the mechanical and electrical strategy, removing air conditioning and replacing it with air source heat pumps, controlled by the building management system, and a plate heat exchanger, to utilise excess heat generated. LED lighting, triggered by sensors, was also installed throughout, with 347 rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, covering an area of 583.7 m², generating 86,625 KWh of energy per year. We worked closely with Scottish Power, the Electricity Network Operator, to ensure surplus energy generated by the PV array could be exported to the grid.
We managed to lower the U-values – the rate of transfer of heat through a structure – and increase its airtightness – reducing heat loss – by enhancing the insulation in walls and under the slab and increasing the window specification. Switching the roof from a traditional design to composite cladding, we were able to improve its thermal performance without increasing its thickness, which would have impacted planning approval.
An air permeability rating of 3.51 m3/H (cubic meters per square metre of sample per hour) was achieved, against a revised target of 5.0m3/H, and an original design stage target of 7.0m3/H.
“Air permeability is now a key focus in the push to improve building performance. It has a major impact on the thermal modelling and environmental efficiency of a building. A rating of 10 m3/H is the minimum standard outlined by Building Regulations, with 7.0m3/H now considered a baseline. A rating of 5.0m3/H is a challenging target to set for this specialist building type, so a rating of 3.51m3/H is an incredible achievement, both for the client and project team,” says Mike.
“Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is an enlightened client, and as this project progressed, the learnings were captured and fed back into the design of future projects currently in development.”
The PV panels are expected to generate 86,625 KWh per year, covering the energy demand of the fire station and also generating an additional 13,426 kWh to send back to the grid every year.
The efficient design of Chester Community Fire Station is expected to deliver a saving of 236,420 kWh per annum compared to a typical fire station; if we also add the 86,625 KWh per year generated by the PV panels, the annual energy saving is 323,049 kWh, totalling over 75 tonnes of carbon saved per year – the equivalent to 26 houses per year or taking 49 petrol cars off the road.
Mark Cashin said: “A particularly pleasing aspect is that the building is carbon neutral, which I think sends a real message about our commitment to being an organisation that not only cares about its people and communities, but also about the environment around us.”
We have installed our Performing Places operational performance system to monitor energy efficiency against design predictions, and the first three months of data showed an under consumption. “We are constantly reviewing energy performance and will continue to review data from the building management system to assess performance in operation,” adds ISG’s building services manager, Dean Armstrong.
Flexibility and forward thinking go beyond performance for ISG. We have also worked with the service to ensure that the four-bay, two-crew station has the accommodation space to expand if it needs to in the future.
Mark adds: “ISG and the project team have implemented innovative measures to achieve our zero carbon target for the station, supporting our sustainability agenda. The project was effectively managed throughout and its on-time completion is noteworthy given the challenges presented by COVID-19 during the build.”
Chester’s new fire station will be serving its community in more ways than one for years to come, as we face emergencies on a number of fronts. Our next project with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is the redevelopment of Crewe Community Fire Station where we will be taking learning from Chester to build a similarly (and improved) carbon positive station.