The Low Down On Green Living
January 20th, 2009
If you want to see the difference between a conventional home and a water-wise home firsthand, just stop by the Treepeople Center for Community Forestry in Los Angeles. This relatively new educational facility has a hands-on La Kretz Urban Watershed Demonstration Garden– with two small model homes! These exhibits will be very instructive to residents of Los Angeles or another area where water is a rare commodity that we must all learn to treasure and protect.
Each house even has a showerhead above the roof to simulate rain — and to show what happens to that rainwater once it falls on the houses. The interactive exhibit’s especially popular with kids, who ooh and aah as they watch the water’s journey — But for those who can’t make the trip to see the houses themselves, here’s an illustrated guide:
First, let’s look at the “conventional” home. As you can see, almost everything is paved over, which prevents rainwater from naturally soaking into the ground to replenish our groundwater. In fact, even the water that falls on the the roof’s collected to shoot through a downspout — that empties onto the paved driveway.
All the rainwater — plus additional water used to hose down the driveway or wash the car — then flows over the paved surfaces to collect the detritus on the streets — motor oil, rubber tire bits, discarted potato chip wrappers. Next, that dirty water goes down the storm drains to go straight into our oceans and rivers, polluting them. Treepeople’s garden illustrates this by letting the “rain” flow from the roof, down a mock storm drain, and into a mock ocean:
The few areas of the conventional house that aren’t cemented over are planted with water-intensive lawns and plants. So not only does this house fail to make any use of the free rainwater, it ends up buying and using tap water to feed the thirsty grass and garden — wasting our water resources, and the homeowners’ money, while severely disrupting natural water cycles.
The good news is that all of this can be fixed with a few small changes to your home! And the payoff for making these eco-changes benefits not just the environment, but also your wallet. You’ll save money on your water bills year after year! Here’s what a water-wise “home” looks like:
And these are the steps you can take to make your own home water-wise:
1. Opt for permeable pavement. Let rainwater soak into the ground by opting for more porous pavement. You’ll help refill the underground water table and prevent runoff pollution — and you’ll still have a sturdy surface for your car! Find landscape architects and general contractors in your area who can help with runoff-reducing paving projects.
2. Get a rain barrel. One of the easiest ways to capture rainwater is by simply placing a rain barrel below a roof downspout! That collected clean water can then water your trees and plants, cutting down on your water bills. Browse through our selection of rain barrels and other rain storage systems here.
3. Choose water-wise plants and use mulch. Traditional grass lawns are very water intensive, so many environmentalists are planting drought-resistant plants instead. Make the switch, and your water-wise lawn will save you time and money for years to come. Find out more about eco-friendly lawn care here.
4. Create a rain garden or bioswale. Go one step further to make your garden even more water-savvy! A rain garden or bioswale — slightly depressed areas that intercept runoff from your property to fill up with water during a rain storm — will let even more rainwater soak naturally into the ground. Get your hands dirty by following these instructions on how to create a rain garden of your own.
5. Plant a tree. Trees can trap water in its leaves and branches, as well as act as a giant storage tank for rain water, letting more water go through a natural cycle instead of draining into the ocean. Plus, the shade from the tree could save you money on your cooling bills too!
These changes will directly reduce your water bill, but you could see more indirect financial benefits too. Cities and states often spend a lot of money — that would be your tax dollars — on storm drains to alleviate urban flooding, on measures to prevent water shortages, and on cleanup efforts to get the gunk out of our oceans. Do more to prevent small-scale versions of these problems at home, and the less we’ll need to spend solving larger water-related crises.
Photos by Siel
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