Find out how to replace your lawn with a garden, make your landscape more permeable, install a greywater system and more
Water use in the landscape is a practical and environmental challenge that all regions face, regardless of whether they have too little or too much water. In the 2017 U.S. Houzz Landscape Trends Study, homeowners said drainage was their biggest challenge.
For this Earth Day, we’ve collected six outdoor improvement projects that will not only enhance your home’s beauty but also load it up with water-wise benefits. You’ll get details on how to improve drainage on your property, keep water and contaminants out of storm drains and cut down on water and energy use.
June Scott Design, original photo on Houzz
1. Replace Your Lawn With a Garden
For families with young kids or pets, lawns have their place, but if you have a lawn as a default landscape feature, consider your alternatives. In regions prone to drought, replacing, or decreasing the size of, your lawn with a garden can cut down on your water usage and also save you money. For areas where water is plentiful, other plants and garden features can do a better job of capturing, redirecting and draining water.
Gardens in all regions can benefit from losing the lawn, both aesthetically and environmentally. Not only will you gain a distinctive garden design you may be more likely to use, you can also increase your garden’s biodiversity, cut down on its maintenance — especially if you select plants native to the region — and increase wildlife habitat.
Cost: The cost varies with the size of the project, your site and what elements — trees, shrubs, perennials, paving — you are replacing your lawn with.
The Todd Group, original photo on Houzz
2. Lay a Path of Pavers and Gravel
Garden paths made of pavers and gravel are not only attractive, they’re also Earth-friendly, as their loose gravel joints allow water to drain directly back into the soil rather than running off to a drain required by hardscape materials such as solid concrete and mortared brick.
Cost: Cost varies widely depending on materials and size of the path. Landscape designer Zach Hammaker of ZH Design advises clients to budget between $25 and $50 per square foot for a professionally installed path. This range of cost includes materials and the installation.
Anne Roberts Gardens Inc, original photo on Houzz
3. Add a Rain Garden
Instead of sending the rainwater that lands on your property downstream via pipes and storm drains, rain gardens drain it on site, reducing strains on our stormwater systems, naturally cleaning the water as it percolates back down into the earth and creating habitat for local wildlife. Rain gardens can be as small as a planted bed at the bottom of a downspout or large enough to take up a significant portion of the landscape.
Rain gardens don’t only benefit rainy regions. In arid climates they help recharge the aquifers, and in areas with more regular rainfall they can prevent flooding and rainwater from overwhelming storm drains and water systems downstream, all while creating a beautifully planted space.
Cost: Expect to pay $3 to $5 per square foot to install one yourself, and $7 to $12 per square foot if you hire a professional.
The Shed Builder, original photo on Houzz
4. Design a Green Roof
This isn’t a weekend project, or one you’ll likely want to tackle yourself, but a green roof is a project that more people are considering to beautify their home’s exterior and help insulate their homes, reduce runoff pollution, save on energy costs and extend the life of their roofs. Once the roof is growing, small wildlife can also use this as an additional habitat. Some green roof designs even incorporate an outdoor seating area for homeowners.
Green roofs bring a permeable, planted surface closer to the source of rainfall. In lighter rains they can intercept and rerelease water as transpiration before it even runs off the roof. During longer and more intense rainstorms, green roofs can slow down and reduce runoff, lessening the load on other stormwater features in your landscape and minimizing the potential for downstream flooding.
If you like the idea of adding a green roof but don’t think it is possible for your home, consider installing one on a shed or other garden outbuilding.
Cost: Varies widely depending on where you live. You’re likely to spend $13 to $45 per square foot installed.
Shouldice Media, original photo on Houzz
5. Build a Permeable Driveway
Permeable paving doesn’t just have to stop with garden walkways — this is also something you can apply to where your cars go. From pavers with permeable joints to pavers where the actual material is porous, many options exist.
What is especially important about having your driveway drain into the garden, rather than running off site, is that anything your car tracked or dripped onto the driveway goes directly back into the ground, rather than down the storm drains and into the water systems. Soil mircroorganisms are able to clean out the pollutants and purify the water as it percolates through the soil.
Cost: Typically, you’ll pay $5 to $20 per square foot. The final cost will be affected by the type of paver, your location, the size of the project and the amount of site work required.
Greywater Corps, original photo on Houzz
6. Install a Greywater System
If you keep a bucket in your shower to collect water to use in your garden, then you’re already using a form of greywater, the gently used water from showers, bathtubs, laundry and sinks. You can take this a step further by directing your greywater directly into your landscape through pipes that connect to your house (this is a great way to water trees). Greywater systems vary in complexity, with laundry-to-landscape systems being the most popular and straightforward.
Not only does a greywater system capture and repurpose water that would otherwise be sent to the storm drains, it also reduces your home’s carbon footprint because the water no longer needs to be treated. Additionally, it returns water to the aquifers and recharges the soils, all the while helping you grow a beautiful garden.
Cost: If you are hiring someone, expect to pay at least $1,000 for a laundry-to-landscape system, $2,000 for a branched drain system and $4,000 for a pumped system. Complex systems can be quite a bit more.