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Green Homes

Green Landscape Manages Stormwater and Creates Curb Appeal

**Defining garden spaces.** Aside from the silica-treated lumber in the new raised beds, most of the materials used to create the new garden spaces were free. Large stones found on site create the backbone of two prominent terraces next to the home. New lawn and garden beds use plants and soil saved from the original landscape.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin
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Image Credit: Mike Guertin **In need of some grading.** At first glance, there doesn't appear to be any big issues with this yard, but the combination of steep hills and basement garage doors leads to regular flooding. All it will take is some thoughtful water diversion strategies to solve most of the problem.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin
**Drain to daylight.** A hilly site allows this catch basin to drain to daylight. The basin will soon be hidden by a new, pitched concrete apron. Combined, they should provide plenty of protection from stormwater traveling down the steep driveway.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin
**Different paving surfaces for different purposes.** Mike felt that he needed the solid surface of an asphalt driveway for the steep-sloped, high traffic areas, but covered the surrounding parking area with a grid of permeable concrete pavers.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin
**Gently reshaping the landscape.** The front yard doesn't look very different from before. A slight change in grade was all it took to direct water down the hill and away from the home. Mike limited excavation to areas that were previously landscaped, leaving the woodland edges intact.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin
**Wooded sites can have fuzzy edges.** Though Mike chose to keep some manicured sections of lawn, he let existing grasses and plants take over in areas where he was less likely to use the open space. He does mow these "meadows" occasionally, but overall they require very little care. Plus they provide a buffer zone for wildlife.
Image Credit: Mike Guertin

Reused stone, soil, and plants make a functional outdoor renovation affordable

When selecting a home, first impressions are the most important factor, after price and location. With this in mind, owner/contractor Mike Guertin took extra care to landscape his spec remodel attractively. To add visual interest and manage runoff, he built terraced walls around the lot from stone he found on site. He reclaimed some of the plantings from the original overgrown landscape and incorporated native species.

Design approach: Take your time and meet basic needs

The steep grades, house orientation, drive-under garage, overgrown landscape, and excessive runoff from the neighbor’s yard and the street were just some of the challenges Mike had to solve when reconfiguring the landscaping of the small ranch house. Mike had only a bare-bones budget to improve the home’s curb appeal, provide more off-street parking, and create level areas for play and vegetable gardening. Any new features need to be low-maintenance.

In several areas, the property sloped toward the walkout basement, leading to occasional flooding. Mike needed to establish drainage away from the house before he could move forward with his plan for a finished basement.

The design developed organically. Mike took on the projects over the course of months, which gave him plenty of time to consider various ideas for each section as work progressed in another area.

Reshaping the landscape

After determining how much work the site itself would require, Mike relocated salvageable plants to another area and stripped the topsoil for later reuse. His cut-and-fill approach to terracing the slope created flat space for play areas and a garden. The work also slowed runoff, giving rain an opportunity to percolate into the earth. Since overdevelopment in the neighborhood has reduced recharge of the natural water table, and since the home is served by a 14-ft. well which runs dry during extended droughts, the extra percolation provided by Mike’s landscaping improvements is particularly valuable.

The rocky site had plenty of stones that were of the same size as stone walls in the area; they were perfect for a planned retaining wall. Larger boulders that couldn’t be moved were broken by hand into smaller pieces. The edges along the stone walls and on the flat terrace steps were covered with landscape fabric and bark mulch to inhibit weed growth and promote water percolation. Mike used soil cut from the terraces to raise the grade above the stone retaining walls and level off areas for lawn and plantings.

Paving for drainage and durability

Before, street runoff had gully-washed the down-sloping gravel driveway and pushed sediment into the garage. Mike incorporated a small swaled concrete apron in front of the garage doors. Catch basins embedded in the apron drain to daylight away from the house. A narrow asphalt drive was added in the high-traffic and turn-around areas. Pervious paving (open matrix concrete pavers) were placed along the sides of the asphalt for parking, to stop erosion where water runs off the asphalt, to increase water percolation, and to keep hard surface paving to a minimum.

Mike used nontoxic silica-treated lumber to frame raised beds for a vegetable garden. Lawn areas were left to grow on their own; self-seeding native grasses took over the areas after several months. The lawn needs no watering and infrequent mowing.

Reuse keeps material costs low

Recycling the site’s stone, soil, and plants kept material costs low. Only mulch, filter fabric, and drainage pipe were purchased. The only specialists needed were the asphalt paving crew. Mike did most of the work in the evening and on the occasional weekend over the course of several months. Mike plans to replace an old concrete sidewalk and stairs as soon as a cache of inexpensive or free reclaimed paving bricks or flat stones become available.

Lessons Learned

Initially, Mike planned to complete all the work in a few weeks. However, he underestimated how long the project would take. Without a complete landscape design drafted before work began, it was hard to calculate the labor needed to complete the project.

Further Resources##

For more information about installing the Turfstone permeable paving in this project visit FineHomebuilding.com.

General Specs and Team

Location: East Greenwich, RI
Additional Notes: ##Site Features##
  • Terraces replace sloping grade and minimize rainwater runoff
  • Parking areas have pervious paving, eliminating erosion
  • Overgrown landscape plants were pruned and reused
  • Site topsoil was reused
  • Grade was changed to slope away from the building to keep water out of the basement
  • Swales and catch basins direct water away from building
  • Native grass lawn and raised beds require little watering
  • Gutter drains lead to daylight; the design allows for a future connection to rainwater storage
  • ##Outdoor Areas Provided##
  • 3 small- to medium-sized lawn sections were created for sitting, pet exercise, and play
  • Terraced areas were created for flower and plant gardening
  • Raised beds were constructed for vegetable gardening
  • New parking areas were created
  • Owner; designer; earth, rock, and plant mover: Mike Guertin

    4 Comments

    1. Ginni | | #1

      Curb Appeal, not
      The brown deck railing and white under deck posts are a poor choice in color choices. It is busy. It looks cheap and unfinished.

      The handrail could be white, but that may create too many lines, and again be busy. Another option would be to paint the deck posts dark charcoal so that they recede and do not stand out as much.

    2. Agnes | | #2

      Landscape redesign
      Great landscape redesign! Hope the drainage solution has worked.
      Agnes
      Landmark Lansing Landscapers

    3. Jim | | #3

      Code and life safety
      If the close up of the rail in the left forefront is indicative of the handrails overall, the system on the deck is grossly unsafe. Balusters with maximum spacing of 4" are required for obvious safety reasons. Unless there are clear panels up there that are not obvious in the photo, what happens to the child running or riding their tricycle when they go over the edge?

    4. Mike Guertin | | #4

      Railing Infill code compliant
      In response to Jim / Code and Life Safety:
      The railing infill is a 1 3/4 in. dark colored net matrix with 600 lb strand strength and 1350 lb load rating for one square foot area. It was selected because the owners wanted a less obrusive alternative to wood balusters.

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