Archive for the ‘Eco-Friendly Landscaping’ Category
February 9th, 2009
Written by Keith Rockmael, courtesy of GreenBuildingElements.com
With the economy in turmoil, a real estate prices dropping, green communities and green building will become more important. It’s easy to see how broken our current community model is in terms of the urban sprawl; the average American commute continues to grow longer. Between 1969 and 2001, the number of vehicle miles traveled for commuting jumped from 4,180 to 5,720.
The Sierra Club notes that today’s average American driver spends what amounts to 55 eight hour workdays behind the wheel every year. Gas won’t stay at the current level so we need to look at developing more sustainable communities.
San Francisco area architect Michelle Kaufmann and Kelly Melia-Teevan came up with a top 10 (sorry Letterman) EcoPrinciples for Communities.
1. Smart Design
Some architects play God; instead of working with nature they go against it. Building orientation remains a big, no cost key, as well as designing to use less, and to collaborate with the landscape.
2. Energy Efficiency
Kind of a no brainer here. Everyone from Obama on down seems to be talking about energy efficiency. While some aspects remain somewhat pricey such as photovoltaic systems, other energy saving methods such as passive solar layouts, sealing building envelopes with super efficient insulation and glass and harnessing alternative energy sources offer not only a decent ROI but save the Earth’s resources as well.
3. Water Conservation
Here in the Bay Area we are headed for a drought. Ideas for water savings include basic ideas such as xeriscaping. Who needs a lawn anyway? Sculpting bioswales into the land, irrigating with rainwater catchment systems and paving with only pervious ground surfaces can conserve gallons without much added cost.
4. Reduce Waste
As one of the Three R’s, Kauffman suggests designing easy to access, easy to use recycling centers. How smart can it be to drive with a plastic bag of aluminum cans to the faraway recycling center? Also, she offers ideas such as integrating on-site composting, and facilitating “living machines” (engineered waste treatment system designed to process a building’s sanitary drainage on-site).
5. Healthy Environment
Everyone seems to forget this area in terms of Green Building. It won’t do much good to maintain a clean environment but have sick people living in unhealthy homes. A sustainable neighborhood will offer easy access to exercise, encourage cooking classes and establishing on-site food production instead of driving to some fast food joint for a completely unsustainable meal.
Cities such as San Francisco thrive because of the richness of diversity. A sustainable community will create an assortment of residents from different backgrounds, ages and cultures. The housing will offer both market rate and affordable rate housing options.
7. Smart Location
The name says it all. Kauffman suggests building and designing for environmental, social, and economic benefits. Might builders think about building near easy access to mass transit and choosing areas near sources of quality food? Is that too progressive?
8. Respect the Land
Something that seems to have disappeared from the vocabulary – r-e-s-p-e-c-t. That’s right just like Aretha. New green communities would protect the existing landscape and ecology by adopting functional, comfortable density, minimizing site disturbance and protecting biodiversity by maintaining native ecosystem.
9. Smart Auto Strategy
As much as we’d like to rid ourselves of cars completely it just isn’t going to happen. However, we can lessen the intrusion and impact of automobiles in communities by implementing smart parking requirements, and separating parking streets from pedestrian streets and bike lanes. Constructing more narrow streets in an effort to encourage walking and biking rather than driving isn’t rocket science.
10. Shared Resources
Create more community within the community (see how that works) by introducing resource sharing (bikes, cars, tools, garden equipment, child care), establish community victory gardens, and building playgrounds, parks, athletic fields, picnic areas, etc rather than just concrete jungles.
Let the greening begin.
Popularity: 5% [?]
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
Popularity: 4% [?]
December 10th, 2008
One of our Low Impact Living friends in San Diego let us know of a brilliant program there called “Adopt a Christmas Tree.” An enterprising group of environmentalists there harvest local pine trees, put them in pots, and bring the potted tree to your home. There you can enjoy the tree and then re-plant it after the holiday season! Or, if you don’t have land for planting, they will come reclaim the tree and plant it for you in the fire-ravaged areas of Eastern San Diego. This is such a cool idea I practically smacked my head when I read about it! Check out their website here.
Listen to them as the make their articulate environmental argument for the Adopt-A-Tree approach:
“Dear fellow San Diegan,
Have you ever stopped to think about the environmental impact of the estimated 32 million Christmas trees sold in America each year? Dying trees release greenhouse gasses when they decompose and overcrowd our landfills. Most of California’s cut trees are trucked in from Oregon or Washington which also wastes fuel and emits CO2.
Would you like for your family to share the fragrant smell and festive look of a live tree in your living room–without feeling guilty? So do we. We are committed to a creating win-win solutions to:
- Create a memorable holiday experience
- Support local environmental causes
- Reduce greenhouse gasses globally
- Employ starving San Diego actors and musicians
- And of course, save time & money!”
This is so gooooood! Does anyone know of anything like this in other cities?
Popularity: 1% [?]
November 5th, 2008
If the current buyers’ market has you ready to buy the eco-home of your dreams, pick up a copy of Your Eco-Friendly Home: Buying, Building, Remodeling Green by Sid Davis. This guide gives you all the general home building, buying or renovating information you need, be it the low down on mortgages, credit scores, or contracting. But Your Eco-Friendly Home then takes you a step further, explaining how to make your home as green as possible while keeping your budgetary and other individual needs in mind.
Your Eco-Friendly Home is divided into 3 sections — buying, building, and remodeling — so readers can skip ahead to the section that’s most relevant to them. This no-nonsense book wastes no time convincing you why a green home’s desirable, as anyone who picks up the book is likely already aware of both the environmental and personal benefits a green living space provides. Instead, Your Eco-Friendly Home dives right into the thick of things, kicking off the first chapter by explaining why you should begin your home search not by immediately looking at houses, but by get your loan pre-approval letter.
Throughout the book, Your Eco-Friendly Home provides helpful checklists, such as “11 Things to Consider Before Making an Offer” and “Avoiding the 7 Biggest Mistakes that Many New Green Homeowners Make.” There’s advice on finding the help you need, whether it’s an eco-friendly real estate agent, a green architect, or a knowledgeable contractor. And there’s easy-to-understand information on how you can accrue passive energy savings, pick out the best ventilation system, and decide on whether to invest in solar and wind power, among other helpful tips.
Smaller remodeling projects — from creating a green roof to simply setting up a composter — are also covered, along with some basic information on cost-benefit analyses in evaluating what project to undertake. Of course, LIL’s own Environmental Impact Calculator can help you crunch the numbers on green renovation projects you have in mind!
I especially loved the way Your Eco-Friendly Home shows how green living extends outside the home by emphasizing the importance of location. As many environmentalists have pointed out, an eco-mansion in a far-off suburb that requires a lot of driving to get anywhere still gives you a pretty big carbon footprint. The book strongly recommends considering issues such as proximity to good schools, work, and amenities, with an eye to keeping your footprint as small as possible.
The appendix points to a wealth of resources and green websites to help you towards your eco-friendly journey — and even includes tips on selling an eco-friendly home!
Popularity: 3% [?]
October 28th, 2008
Bird lovers: Here’s an eco-option for your feathered friends — GreenBird EarthCraft Birdhouses. Made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper with a biodegradable aqueous coating, these eco-birdhouses can be painted and decorated to fit your own creative design!
Wondering if bird feeding’s a green activity? Well, the answer’s complex. According to Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch, studies are few and far between, though one study found that “any benefits of feeding only appear to occur sporadically under extreme climactic conditions.”
On the other hand, bird feeding — and the bird watching that comes along with it — can also make people care more about birds — getting them engaged and concerned about bird populations, habitats and the environment at large. To that end, GreenBird has developed classroom lesson plans to educate children about birds, bird habitat loss, climate change, and local ecosystems — combining all of that with the fun artsy project of decorating the birdhouses. In addition, GreenBird donates 1% of its sales to the National Audubon Society.
GreenBird offers the plain EarthCraft Birdhouses for $12.99 each, alongside eco-friendly paints to personalize them with. The houses are made to last just one season, after which they can be composted, making the product green from cradle to grave. GreenBird’s website does also claim that the birdhouses can be recycled, but since most recycling programs do not accept soiled paper, composting’s your best bet.
For more on bird feeding and birdhouse maintenance, here’s Umbra of Grist’s advice on eco-bird-befriending.
Popularity: 2% [?]