Wednesday, December 1, 2010
You Don't Have to Paint Your Pebbles to Be Green
I spent several years of my youth in Tucson, AZ. Tucson averages about 10 inches of rain a year (compare that to 40 for Charlotte), and it is not uncommon to go weeks without rain, especially in the hottest summer months.
Plants adapt to this environment by having large root systems and few leaves, or in the case of cacti they store water in their fleshy pads. Animals adapt by basically staying out of the heat. The desert is alive with animals at night and in the early morning, but come high noon all of the critters have gone underground, literally.
Humans have adapted to this dry, hot climate by getting their rocks colored. Yes, you read that right. They color their rocks.
Now, many people who move to the desert try to bring their hometown with them. They plant lots of grass, irrigate it endlessly, and plant non-native trees that remind them of their home back East. This is why people who move to the desert to escape the allergies find their allergies worse than ever before.
But, there's another group of people who don't try to beat the heat, but rather join it. They plant native species like cacti and mesquite trees, and instead of grass their front yards are landscaped with pebbles. But, to trick you into thinking they have a verdant grass yard, every spring they get the pebbles painted green. It's really hard to tell the difference between a painted pebble and grass until you get within a half-mile.
In North Carolina we don't have the harsh conditions of the desert. Nonetheless, water is a precious resource, and one that must be conserved and managed just like we do with electricity. Not too many years ago we experienced the driest year in recorded history, with water restrictions, brown lawns, and dirty cars. We continue to create more people, but the water supply is relatively fixed. That is not a sustainable equation.
We use some simple yet effective approaches to conserving water on our LEED homes. Landscaping is comprised entirely of native plants that by definition don't require supplemental irrigation. Turf is limited to no more than 40% of the softscape, and we use a drought tolerant turf. To the extent we use irrigation systems, they are designed to be efficient and to only come on when needed (and not to come on in the middle of a downpour). Lots are tilled prior to planting so that rain will soak into the soil instead of running off of compacted clay.
Inside, we use low flow faucets, toilets and shower heads which conserve water but provide the same level of performance as standard fixtures. The design of the plumbing system is important too, with points earned if all of the fixtures are located within a certain distance of the hot water source.
There are more exotic things that can be done to save water, like diverting "gray" water from showers and sinks to be used to flush toilets, or collecting rainwater in a cistern to be used for irrigation. These approaches are not for everyone's budget or taste.
Our approach helps conserve water, which is one of our most precious resources. In turn the homeowner saves on their water bills. Equally important, a LEED home is also a nicely landscaped home. Check back in a month or so and I'll post some photos of the landscaping on the home we're presently building on James Alexander Way in downtown Davidson. I think you'll be impressed.