When it comes to green build, energy is first-born, and water the red-headed step child. At least it has been until recently, as the infernal drought in California has grabbed headlines and alarmed many of us west of the Mississippi.
Nine cities in the United States are literally running out of water, and 100 percent of those are in California. Not only could zero water foreshadow emigrations from cities and perhaps entire regions, think what dry faucets would do to real estate property values. (Las Vegas - I'm talkin' to YOU.)
A number of green-building certifications like LEED are ahead of the curve, incentivizing water savings and aquifer recharge by requiring owners to “infiltrate” rain on-site (soak it up like a sponge) rather than dumping it into the streets and storm sewers. The goal? Use as little potable water and recharge as much as possible.
One of my private clients in Boulder did just that. Their project is seeking LEED certification (gold), and the landscape designer, Khalana Gocken of Ethos Landscaping, designed gorgeous on-site features that keep water on-site. French drains, swales and permeable pavers channel water from the roof to an on-site rain garden.
The upshot? The yard requires almost no water, the native buffalo grass never needs mowing, and the Xeric (low-water) plantings are gorgeous.
RAIN GARDEN – The back of the lot was a low spot (top photo). Rather than in-fill it, Gocken designed a patio and created a gorgeous rain garden behind it – a low spot to serve as a basin for rain runoff that feeds pretty native plantings.
FRENCH DRAINS & SWALES – French drains are pipes, sometimes porous and usually buried, laid over a gravel bed. As water runs through them, they seep water and divert it. And swales are low vegetated channels that direct water yet also allow for ground absorption.
At this residence, the right side of the house is on the high side of the hill, and heavy rain runoff threatened to flood the client’s basement. So the builder raised the foundation walls two feet, and Gocken ran a French drain along that side of the house, diverting the water away from the basement walls.
On the left side (pictured in the two photos above), she ran rain from the front of the house and the roof gutters through a swale that fed the rain garden with rain runoff.
PERMEABLE PAVERS – Rather than pour a conventional concrete driveway which would channel runoff to the street, the client instead used stamped, colored pavers to allow the rain hitting the driveway to be absorbed around the concrete pads.
Permeable pavers are starting to be used all over the country, and the city of Chicago is even now re-paving alleys with pavement that allows water to flow through it rather than off it to inundate its old stormwater system. The stamped, colored pavers used here came at a premium, but basic concrete pads wouldn’t be significantly more expensive than a solid pour.
The process isn't as instant-grat as having a landscaping crew unfurl rolls of thirsty turf like carpet, tamp 'em down and call it good. This process took about a year, in part because all work (and growing) ceases in winter.
But the yard looks great, needs little water, pesticides or herbicides. When it comes to water, less is more.
Gocken will ofer a $100 discount off a landscape design if you mention you read this blog ($1,000 minimum). Also, the landscape plan of site below courtesy of Khalana Gocken & Ethos Landscaping. For a copy, email me.