Landscape Plantings

Green Landscapes: Native Plants and Soil

Green Landscapes Take Less and Give Back More

Tab 0

Green building begins in the ground

A landscape is more than a bunch of plants arranged to look good. A well-designed landscape can lower heating and cooling costs, reduce stormwater runoff and recharge local aquifers. And it can be good for birds, bees, and neighboring trees.

A well-planned landscape doesn't need a lot of water, it builds healthy soil, and it doesn't overrun woods and forests with invasive species. Green landscapes are fed with compost rather than chemical fertilizers, so there's no poisonous runoff.

Tab 1

Earth, plants, and trees

Soil. Plants grow well in good soil and die in bad soil. One way to build healthy soil is by composting (see below). Throughout the construction process, be very careful not to compact critical areas of soil.

Deciduous plants. Because they drop their leaves in the fall, deciduous trees and shrubs allow some warming sunlight into the home during the cold days of winter, yet block most of the summer sun’s extreme heat. These plants are most effective when planted on the south and west sides of the house, where the sun shines most intensely.

Evergreens. Trees and shrubs that hold on to their leaves in winter are good choices for the north side of a house because they block cold winter winds. Although evergreens also block sunlight, there isn’t much solar gain from north-facing windows to begin with.

Tab 2

Xeriscaping is the green alternative to the lawn

Xeriscaping, the use of low-growing, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance grasses and plants, is a great alternative to a traditional high-maintenance lawn. we’re used to, including low-growing grasses and other plantings that are better adapted to dry conditions — an approach called xeriscaping. Xeriscapes are also more diverse than lawns, and so are less vulnerable to threats such as insects and disease. They also can require practically no maintenance.

Tab 3

Fence off trees during construction

Trees can be easily damaged during construction. Trees on or near a building site that are to be left standing should be well-marked. Subcontractors, especially those working with heavy equipment, should be given a tour of the site and clear instructions to stay away from marked trees and other sensitive areas.

Trees often fail after construction because of soil compaction caused by machinery. Keep trees safe by temporarily fencing off their root zones with snow fence or other inexpensive fencing material. Place the fence just byond the tree’s drip-line, or farther. To reduce soil compaction and stress on the tree, be sure the tree gets adequate water (during periods of drought, saturate the soil 8 to 12 inches deep every few weeks) and cover root zones with 3- to 4-inch layers of wood chips.

Tab 4

Many governments trying to eradicate invasive species

The IRCInternational Residential Code. The one- and two-family dwelling model building code copyrighted by the International Code Council. The IRC is meant to be a stand-alone code compatible with the three national building codes—the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) National code, the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) code and the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) code. makes no mention of appropriate plants, trees and shrubs, but federal and state governments have regulations aimed at eradicating non-native invasive species. Many plants now classified as invasive were originally introduced by well-intentioned gardeners looking to improve or diversify their landscapes. A comprehensive list of invasive species can be found at the US Forest Service's Invasive Species Program Website.


OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Is irrigation with potable water justifiable?
In some areas of the country — for example, northern New England — lawns can stay green all summer without manual watering. In other regions, however, lawns are routinely irrigated with potable water, a practice that is becoming increasingly difficult to justify—and more expensive—as competition for water intensifies. Where permitted for use by code, gray-water irrigation systems can reduce the burden on municipal water supplies. Collecting and using rainwater is an even easier option.

Las Vegas pays to replace grass
Water conservation is an especially high priority in arid regions. In Las Vegas, the Water Smart Landscapes Program pays homeowners to replace their lawns with plants that don’t need as much water. In just eight years, the program has been responsible for the removal of about six square miles of the green stuff. The city estimates that every square foot of grass replaced with a less water-needy tree or shrub saves 55 gallons of water a year.

To control pests, make chemicals a last resort
Pesticides used to control insects and other pests can pose serious health risks. Instead of making these chemicals the first option, an approach called "integrated pest management" looks at preventive measures first, then resorts to the least hazardous chemicals available should that fail.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, not every every weed or bug need be eradicated. IPM sets "action thresholds" below which nothing is done, and seeks to identify pests carefully so appropriate decisions can be made about control. A single ant, for instance, isn't a call to drag out the heavy artillery. Prevention, such as rotating crops and choosing pest-resistant varieties, may head off a problem before it requires the use of chemical pesticides. If chemicals are required, those with the lowest practical toxicity are used. Indiscriminate spraying of non-specific pesticides is, the EPA says, "a last resort."

DRAWING LIBRARY CONSTRUCTION DETAILS

Site & Landscape Details

THE TRUTH ABOUT BIG GREEN LAWNS

According to government estimates, lawnmowers in the United States collectively use 580 million gallons of gasoline a year.

Homeowners apply 67 million pounds of pesticides annually to lawns and in the process poison as many as 70 million birds.

All together, Americans spend about $25 billion on lawn care every year. Homeowners, on average, devote 40 hours a year to cutting the grass.

RULES OF THUMB

Avoid invasive species. Some 85% of the invasive woody plants in the U.S. were originally introduced for landscape or ornamental use. Invasive plants can crowd out native species.
Buy locally. Specifying locally grown plants reduces energy and transportation costs and ensures that plants will thrive in local conditions.
Don’t let plants sit out too long. New plants shouldn’t languish on-site waiting to be planted. If they must be stored, make sure they stay well watered. Heel-in rootballs and provide nutrients as required.
Don't place plants against the house. Remember that plants too close to the building may encourage insect infestation and can trap moisture, leading to mold or even decay. A good practice is to keep plants at least 18 inches from the foundation wall, not so much when they are originally planted but when they mature. Irrigation spray heads should be directed away from the building.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative

MAKE IT GREENER

Landscapes are more sustainable if the soil is improved to optimize water use (thus minimizing irrigation needs). [Good Soil Is a Sieve and a Sponge, FG110RE, (illustration by M. Lucas - FG staff)]

GREEN POINTS

LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. Anything you do outdoors will generally give you greater bang for "green buck" than anything you do in the structure. The easiest to earn are often those related to landscape. These include SS2 (Sustainable Sites) — up to 7 points, SS3 — 1 point, SS4 — up to 7 points, and WE2 (Water Efficiency) — up to 4 points. Up to 4 Innovation points can be earned for exemplary performance with regard to these credits.
NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. /ICC-700 A variety of credits also are available for landscaping in the National Green Building Standard.

ABOUT GREEN LANDSCAPES

A home is approached through its landscape
The surrounding area sets the stage for a home — it's part of the entire façade — so give the same careful attention to the landscape's design as you do the home's. This doesn't mean a big, labor- and resource-intensive lawn and a couple of maple saplings. A better design would reduce the heating and cooling load of the house, require very little water, avoid wooded areas near the house, and replenish the soil.

Healthy soil provides a long list of benefits, from absorbing rain and snowmelt and channeling water into the ground to encouraging plant growth.

Native plants are relatively maintenance-free, needing little water beyond what's naturally available. Rain water can be collected from the roof for other gardens. But landscapes begin with soil — what's there and what you can can make.

A well-orchestrated mix of trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants is not only beautiful, it also has the potential to augment energy and resource conservation measures that have so carefully been incorporated into the house.

Plants can be more than ornamental landscaping features. Where site conditions allow it, planting vegetables and other edibles pays benefits on many levels. Food is usually fresher and better for you than what's available in the grocery store, and planting a garden is a satisfying and healthy lifestyle choice.

For mulch, consider newspaper and chipped vegetation from the site. Trees that must be removed during construction can be chipped and used for landscaping mulch. Newspaper, either chopped, shredded or in sheet form, makes an excellent mulch in gardens. It controls weeds and helps to keep soil moist.

MORE ABOUT GREEN LANDSCAPES

Just like any other aspect of building, the best results come from early planning. A professional landscape architect or designer gets you off on the right foot. Start with a thorough site evaluation, checking for:

Native plants
Good landscape design takes advantage of plants that have learned to adapt to local conditions. Native species need the least amount of outside intervention to survive, thus conserving water and reducing or eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Trees have particular significance because newly planted specimens can take years to mature. Draw a map and identify plant species that seem to be prospering.

Soil
Soil types are rarely uniform on a building site. Pockets of clay, sand, or loam can exist in one locale. Soil alkalinity and acidity also can vary, dictating which types of plantings will thrive in different areas. Noting native plantings provides clues about soil types. Cooperative extension offices, land grant universities, or commercial labs offer soil test services at a reasonable cost. The results can help you avoid soil and plant type mismatches, and years of frustration.

Topography
The lay of the land plays a large role in establishing an appropriate design. A large outcropping or low-lying swale will influence the site’s hydrology and should influence planting choices. Recognizing these areas early on will help identify problems and opportunities. Natural drainage features such as a swale can collect rain and snowmelt, while an ominous outcropping can become a key landscape feature accented by native plants.

Microclimate
Wind, temperature, rain, solar exposure, snowfall, and elevation all contribute to a site’s specific microclimate. The more you know about the site’s weather conditions the better. Historical weather data is available through the National Climatic Data Center, or just ask a neighbor who’s been around for a while.

ABOUT NATIVE PLANTS

Temperature

A major limiting factor in a plant’s ability to survive. You can rule out plants that are obviously inappropriate, given the high and low temperature extremes for your area.

Zones and microclimates
Books, magazines, and plant labels often reference zone ranges, telling the reader where a particular plant will grow and thrive. But keep in mind that zones are just a starting point. They're very broad and don't account for local conditions. On any site within any zone, there may be pockets of warm, cool, sunny, shady, dry, or wet areas that, despite an apparent zonal match, would kill a plant that should prosper. Such microclimates may also allow a plant to thrive outside of its listed zone.

Other variables limiting plant selections include: rainfall, soil type and pH, and the amount of direct sunlight the plant would receive.

MORE ABOUT NATIVE PLANTS

Lawns require a staggering amount of upkeep
Lawns are usually a big part of the typical yard. But to get the perfect turf we've come to expect, it takes a lot of lawnmower fuel, fertilizer, and time. Lawns also need watering.

Depending on how far you want to take it, there are ways to reduce a lawn's demands, or replace the lawn all together.

Trees: minutes to remove, years to replace

Trees and shrubs can make a house more comfortable in summer and winter.

It may be easier to build on a clear-cut site, but it's hard to find something that multitasks better than trees. They can block cold winter winds and the hot summer sun, all while making the oxygen we need to breathe. Whether you're deciding what trees to save or where to plant new ones, there are several things to consider.

It’s easier to build on a cleared job site than a wooded one. But before you cue up the chainsaw or backhoe, consider the long-term benefits of standing trees. They take a long time to reach maturity, when they become large enough to grace a site by blocking wind and providing shade. They’re also expensive to replace. Take time to think about how trees (or the absence of trees) will affect the house when preparing a site for construction, and make decisions accordingly.

On a hot day, it is far more comfortable to rest under the shade of a tree than in the glare of the sun. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that plantings can reduce cooling costs by 25 percent.

Trees and shrubs make effective windbreaks when they’re planted (or left standing) some distance from the house, lifting wind up and over buildings. The result can be lower energy consumption and greater comfort. Windbreaks can also control drifting snow and create habitat for birds and animals.

About soil

Healthy soil provides a long list of benefits, from absorbing rain and snowmelt, replenishing groundwater sources, and encouraging plant growth. Soil also provides a home for microbes that break down pollutants.

Some soil will inevitably be disturbed during construction; that’s an unfortunate given. The intent should be to do as little permanent damage as possible.

Disturbed and compacted soil can lead to erosion
as well as the failure of existing plants, making it more difficult to restore vegetation later. Encouraging and preserving the symbiotic relationship between soil and plants maintains the health of the soil and decreases loss due to erosion.

Bringing topsoil to the building site from another source creates two potential problems: The site where it is harvested may suffer ill effects; and the imported soil may hold contaminants or undesirable plant species.

It's often necessary to adjust the grade of a lot to improve drainage and to site the house gracefully among its surroundings. The more extensive and abrupt the grade changes, however, the greater the disturbance to the soil. It's up to the designer to find the right balance between grade changes that improve the site's aesthetics and environmental concerns.

About compost

Compost organic waste to create natural fertilizer

One step into the fertilizer department at a retail store can send anyone’s head spinning and wallet wincing. There’s no doubt the numerous and pricey options can be quite overwhelming. One option, however, will naturally feed your lawn and garden for free — compost. Made from organic materials such as lawn clippings, garden debris (weeds, leaves, plant cuttings), and nonmeat kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable waste, eggshells), compost is a powerful natural fertilizer that has less potential for harmful runoff than the chemical options on the market.

Compost is a great source of nutrients, helps retain soil moisture, aerates and improves soil structure, and encourages vital microbe and insect activity in the soil. Because compost can’t be created overnight (it can take weeks or months for organic material to break down), plan ahead. Have multiple compost piles at various stages in the breakdown process so that one pile develops as another is harvested.

According to the EPA (http://www.epa.gov/compost), yard trimmings and food waste make up nearly one-quarter of the municipal solid-waste stream. Turning them into a useful soil additive is recycling at its very best.

Here are the basics of composting:

•Mix browns and greens. Good compost is a mix of carbon-rich brown material, such as dried leaves and straw, and green, nitrogen-rich materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps. The list of materials that can safely be added to a compost pile, however, is lengthy and includes items like hair, cotton rags, tea bags, shredded newspaper, and even dryer lint (if a family wears only cotton, wool, and linen clothes). Water is a vital part of the recipe too; a pile needs to remain moist to work its magic.

•Avoid adding fats, grease, pet wastes, and meat. These materials break down, but they may contain dangerous pathogens or attract unwanted critters and insects.

•Pick the right spot. Start a compost piles on a dry, level spot that’s not too far from the kitchen if you intend to add kitchen scraps. In dry climates, a nearby source of water is helpful.

•Pile on the organic matter. There are many ways to go about composting. Some people carefully layer and then mix the brown and green materials. Others are less systematic and just add and mix materials into the pile as they become available.

•Turn, turn, turn. If you're patient, an unturned compost pile will take care of itself. But if you want compost fast, turn the pile with a pitchfork every week or two. If you notice that the pile smells bad, it’s probably not getting enough air, so turn it more often. Compost can be turned regularly until the pile doesn’t seem to generate much heat after it has been tended.

•Use it up. Compost should be ready for use in one to four months. It is great as mulch or when turned into planting beds as a nutrient-rich soil amendment.

If you don’t have space for a compost pile, consider using outdoor tumbling bins or small indoor composting containers. There are many options available for purchase, or you can construct your own.

MORE RESOURCES

Cooperative Extension Service Part of the United States Department of Agriculture, CES is an outgrowth of the country’s original land-grant colleges. Through such efforts as its Master Gardener program, the CES offers practical information about local or regional plants and growing conditions.

  • PLANTS Database. The Department of Agriculture also keeps an exhaustive list of native plants in a searchable database at http://plants.usda.gov.

  • Reputable local nurseries. Big-box stores with gardening departments may have local experts on staff who can offer good advice, as well as a wide selection of plants. Well-established local nurseries, however, are a more reliable source for information on local plants and growing conditions. Look for plants that actually come from the area (rather than distant nurseries) or have been grown from local seed.

  • Regional organizations and programs. There are a number of regional groups and programs that can help you find appropriate plants. These outlets can be found on the Web or by asking around at your local nursery or CES office. Groups like the New England Wild Flower Society (www.newfs.org) are happy to share valuable regional plant information, while programs like Bay-Friendly Gardening (www.stopwaste.org) are becoming more common and are equally valuable resources.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative

National Climatic Data Center (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html).


Image Credits:

  1. Jenifer Benner
  2. Brian Pontolilo/Fine Homebuilding 165
  3. Steve Aitken/Fine Gardening #103
  4. Daniel Morrison / GreenBuildingAdvisor.com
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Building Lots and Siting a House

UPDATED 10/30/2012

Green Building Begins with the House Lot and How You Use It

Tab 0

Account for how sun, water, and landscape will work with, or against, the house

No matter how careful you are, building a house is going to have a huge effect on the site. Look for ways to tread more lightly, but look for a lot that's already been trod upon.

Tab 1

Look for a lot that will leave a small environmental footprint

Ever wonder why there are so many Canada geese on golf courses and in city parks? Because so many wetlands have been filled in recent decades, these inhabitants have to go somewhere else.

But wetlands do more than just keep the geese off golf courses. They absorb excess floodwater. The vanished wetlands around New Orleans caused a severe storm surge that would have been absorbed 50 years ago. These wetlands were drained in order to build houses, pipelines, and other infrastructural "improvements," but the consequences were clear when Hurricane Katrina hit. Wetlands restoration is now at the top of the Army Corps of Engineers' priority list (along with fixing the levees).

On mountain sites, pier foundations make a lot of sense.
Even when you do build off the beaten path, up in the mountains or down by the bay, you can tread lightly by using pier foundations to reduce the footprint. Piers remove less soil, and their construction uses fewer resources.

Tab 2

Building on farmland cuts food production and uses more fuel

Every year, 1.25 million acres of farmland are lost to development, according to the American Farmland Trust. In a time when food crops are competing with fuel crops, converting farmland to residential use should be considered carefully. Houses built on newly developed farmland do more than just cut food and fuel production; they also boost fuel consumption because of the long commutes necessary to city centers.

Greener building sites are all over the place:

  • Infill lots are adjacent to previously developed lots. Existing city lots offer many benefits, such as infrastructure, that can make a house more affordable to build and maintain.

  • Brownfields are sites that have been polluted in the past, but may be suitable for housing.

  • Grayfields are economically obsolete or failing properties. Many inner-city neighborhoods are ripe for revitalization.

Using less-desirable real estate for building keeps more prime farmland and forest undeveloped and available for food and fuel production as well as wildlife habitat.

Farmland Information center: http://www.farmland.org/resources/fic/default.asp

Build near existing utilities
When houses are built near existing water and sewer lines, construction costs are lower and there's less pressure to build new lines. This saves money for the builder, home owner, the city, and the environment.

Tab 3

Sidewalks and neighborhoods help forge a sense of community

When houses are built near libraries, banks, daycare centers, and supermarkets, homeowners won't have to gas up their vehicles as often and communities will need fewer new roads.

Pedestrian-friendly amenities such as sidewalks and boulevards also promote healthy exercise and encourage people to interact as they meet face-to-face in the neighborhood.

Making it easy to walk to the corner store encourages and supports small business.


OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Existing plants are the best buy — they're already planted, mature, and accustomed to their surroundings. New plants need a lot of water to get used to their new environment. Big trees cost big bucks, so keeping them intact is a value proposition.

Design with this landscape in mind. Existing trees and shrubs can help you site a house for passive heating, cooling and energy-gathering potential. This should be worked out at the design stage (first) rather than at the landscaping stage (last).

When trees must be removed, put them to good use. Grinding up stumps and chipping trees and other vegetation that must be removed for construction produces valuable mulch that can be stockpiled and used for landscaping and gardening later. Alternately, downed trees can be set aside and sold as pulp or, in the case of high-quality logs, sawn into lumber on site with a portable bandsaw mill. (For more information on this option, see Cutting Down Trees and Milling Lumber.)

All of those options are more attractive than hauling waste wood to a landfill.

 

DRAWING LIBRARY CONSTRUCTION DETAILS

Site & Landscape Details
Foundations Details

TRADE-OFFS

Trees can help keep a house cool, but they also shade solar panels. You can use deciduous trees to keep heat out in summer while letting some in during winter, but all that shade during the sunniest part of the year works against photovoltaics (PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow.) and solar water heating. One answer is to use deciduous trees that don't grow very tall, and locate the panels where the summer sun can reach them, or place the panels off the roof.

Water needs to be kept away from the foundation-but not too far away. Designing a house to direct water away from the foundation is second nature to many builders and architects, but the water shouldn't run off into the street and down storm drains. That just overtaxes city sewer systems and pollutes lakes and rivers. Rather, look for ways to keep water in the ground and the foundation dry.

GREEN POINTS

LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. Up to 10 points available in Location & Linkages (LL-about where build), up to 22 in Sustainable Sites (SS-about what you do with the site once you have it).

NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. Many opportunities for points under Ch. 5--Lot Design.

ABOUT GREEN BUILDING LOTS

Be mindful of the landscape as well as the building. We spend a lot of time thinking about the components of a new house: windows and doors, insulation, the heating and cooling system. But, in terms of green success, some of the most important planning goes into the surrounding site.

In the short term, limiting construction damage to the landscape is high on the list. In the long term, however, success depends on how well the house is integrated into its surroundings. Even a thoughtful building design won't reach its potential if the site is an afterthought.

Not all site damage is clear-cut. Site-work vehicles intentionally alter the building site; building a new home on a new lot disturbs the landscape. Topsoil and vegetation are removed; less stable sub-soil is exposed. Steeper sites are more prone to erosion. Carelessness here can lead to long-term damage.

Construction vehicles can damage the surrounding landscape in obvious ways: A tree takes a direct hit from a piece of heavy equipment, or the grade within a tree’s drip line is raised or lowered. Raising the grade with extra fill can suffocate roots; lowering the grade destroys them. Other, perhaps unintentional damage such as vehicular traffic is not so obvious. This compacts the soil, which is bad for plants. Roots don’t get as much oxygen and the soil doesn’t absorb as much water, suffocating and starving roots and contributing to erosion.

Planning ahead reduces long-term damage to soil, plants, and trees. To do the least harm to the environment around your building site, be prepared. Get the information you need. For bigger picture solutions consult LEED for HomesLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. or the NGBSNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. . They offer guidance on slope and site disturbance, erosion control, storm-water management, and a landscape plan that considers native and invasive plants.

Some of the following common-sense suggestions were taken from LEED for Homes and NGBS. They can make a big difference in the long-term health of the landscape around your building site:

  • Install a fence beyond the tree’s drip line – the area beneath the outermost branches – to protect it from soil compaction.
  • Create terraces or large-diameter wells to maintain existing grades around trees.
  • Create clearly-marked no-vehicle zones.
  • Limit vehicles to permanent roads or designated parking areas.
  • If vehicles must drive over the trees’ roots, cover them with 3 in. to 4 in. of wood chips, wooden planks, or sheets of plywood.

Significant trees or landscapes need extra protection. The best way to ensure their protection on a building site is to award incentives or assess penalties that make it worthwhile for contractors to be careful. Consider rewarding excavators and other project contractors when they are extra careful. Alternately, you can incorporate a penalty clause into contracts so that if designated trees are injured in the construction process, the contractor is liable.

Properly protecting trees can be expensive. But, mature trees can increase property values, shade trees reduce cooling loads, and last, but not least, they provide important wildlife habitats.

Finally, trees unlikely to survive should be removed and replaced by native species that will adapt to altered site conditions. Mature trees lovingly “saved” with inadequate protection die within the first year of occupancy.

How to Pick a Green Building Lot

Five tips to help you pick

Build on infill lots such as vacant adjacent lots, brownfields, grayfields, and lots in depressed neighborhoods. The services are already in place, and the price might be great.

Don't build in sensitive areas. Floodplains as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, habitats for endangered species, and other environmentally sensitive zones are not appropriate for building.

Existing utilities are greener and cheaper than bringing in new ones.

Keep close to community. When services such as schools, shopping, and public transportation are near great housing, people travel less and the whole community is greener. Community gardens are another way to green up a neighborhood while bringing members closer together.

Find out what the property was used for in the past.
Previous uses for the property might have introduced chemical contaminants, such as lead, pesticides or petroleum products. Farming, including orchards, and industrial and commercial operations all have the potential for leaving contamination behind.

MORE ABOUT BUILDING LOTS

Good siting gives the most bang per buck

How well a house sits on its site can affect heating and cooling costs. The surrounding landscape plays a big role, if you let it, and how you manage water (drainage, to be specific) can directly affect the long-term durability of the house. You should also swap impermeable surfaces, like asphalt or concrete driveways, patios, and walkways, for permeable ones—hardscaping matters, especially in densely settled areas.

Sun No single site characteristic affects a home's energy performance and comfort more powerfully than the sun. In cooler areas, there is tremendous potential for using the sun to provide heat even without elaborate mechanical systems. In warmer zones, managing sunlight ensures a more comfortable house without using a lot of energy. Making the most of a site's daylight potential is important no matter where the house is built.

Drainage In all but the most arid climates, sub-surface water and runoff from rain and snow are facts of life. Good water management means keeping it out of the house and in the ground. Water that runs off into the street can overload storm drains and dump pollution into rivers and lakes. These consequences are best thought out in the initial phases of construction.

Landscape A goal of good design is creating a house that looks like it belongs in its setting. Consider two issues: the natural features on the site before construction; and how the site should look like when the house is done.

Hardscape Driveways, decks, patios, and sidewalks are necessary to get people and vehicles to and around a house. These hardscape elements also have big implications for water management and overall aesthetics.


Image Credits:

  1. Bethany Gracia/Fine Gardening #117
  2. Daniel Morrison
  3. Gary Williamson/Fine Homebuilding #147
  4. John Ross/Fine Homebuilding
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