Case Study: Firelane Form and Function

By Don Eberly and Laura Drotleff

Photos courtesy of Big River Industries / ERTH Products.The Broadstone at 2115 Piedmont Apartments Development is a vibrant new development in the Piedmont Avenue area of Atlanta, where green living is highly valued. Chic and modern, sleek and stylish, it instantly asserts itself as part of the city, simultaneously embracing and enhancing the surrounding neighborhood. It stands to become an exciting part of the area’s ongoing rebirth, which includes the multi-year preservation of historic Piedmont Park, the most visited in green space in Atlanta.

When the apartment complex was in its early planning stages, developer Alliance Residential was adamant about using sustainable methods to add green space to the area while complying with safety codes, including installing a required firelane between apartment buildings. The company views the future with responsible stewardship and understands the legacy created by the communities it develops and manages.

The firelane’s location was purposed for between two buildings with window and balcony views looking out on the space. It was essential the firelane had the appearance and use of a lush green landscape. However, being pleasing to the eye was only part of the equation. Fire safety code required the space to meet standards for the potential of fire truck and equipment use.

The developer worked together with landscape contractor Sitescapes and ERTH Products, a company specializing in the manufacturing and engineering of specialty soils utilizing compost and lightweight aggregates, to design a solution. As an alternative to using typical materials, such as grid pavers, to build the required firelane, ERTH Products proposed using its cost-effective Structural Firelane Soil beneath the surface, which would allow Sitescapes to install a sustainable landscape. The pervious green firelane would then serve a dual purpose, providing a lawn for residents to enjoy while bringing the area up to code.

Structural savings

ERTH Products’ Firelane Structural Soil was paramount for the project since it is engineered to provide the structural integrity to support emergency vehicles, while also having the biological and horticultural properties to create a sustainable landscape. HydRocks, the same material used in lightweight concrete, provides the structural strength in the soil mix, while the special blend of clay and ERTH Food provides the microbes and nutrients to create a living soil able to breakdown contaminants, cycle nutrients, and feed the landscape.

With high compressive strength, HydRocks will not compress or crush under normal conditions, yet it is lightweight, making it easy to mix. The inert, inorganic granules enhance soils by absorbing and holding moisture, releasing stored water and nutrients to the root system as the surrounding soil dries. It contains voids for additional surface area for plant feeder roots and prevents soil compaction, providing superior drainage and air space for stormwater runoff.

Even before HydRocks was specified, testing was necessary. Big River Industries, the company that manufactures the HydRocks lightweight expanded clay aggregate product through a kiln-fired process, engaged engineering consultants to test soil blends, helping ERTH Products provide a product with the highest structural integrity for the project. The testing yielded information that substantiated the amended soil and its viability for the developer and local fire marshal.

The firelane, measuring 150 feet long by 30 feet wide, used 225 cubic yards of ERTH Products Structural Firelane soil, installed in a six-inch layer beneath the sod. The traffic-bearing layer was applied above a six-inch compacted aggregate base. Both the grass lawn and surrounding landscape beds benefit biologically from the engineered soil’s components. “The result is a firelane that has horticultural and stormwater benefits, while providing the structural integrity to support emergency vehicles at 30% to 40% less cost than competing products,” said Scott King of ERTH Products.

By using ERTH Products’ Firelane Structural Soil featuring Big River Industries’ lightweight expanded clay aggregate, the firelane retains stormwater on site and helps breakdown contaminants that would otherwise wash into the city water supply. It reduces the urban heat quotient significantly and provides a recreational area and landscape beds that improve the apartment development’s residents’ quality of life.

Don Eberly is president / CEO of Eberly & Collard Public Relations, Laura Drotleff is a writer for the firm. The company ( specializes in landscape, design, construction, and architecture industry public / media relations, social media and writing.


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