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LEEDing Edge Landscaping -
Going Green without Grass

By Judy Penz Sheluk







Frequent watering restrictions and new city bylaws limiting the use of pesticides have many homeowners looking for alternative solutions to traditional grass lawns. That's good news to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), the developer and administrator of LEED(r) (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) in Canada. In fact, CaGBC is striving to introduce LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighbourhoods to Canada by late 2008. As with existing LEED programs for condominiums and commercial properties, some of the points awarded to achieve certification will relate directly to water efficiency.
"To obtain a point for Water Efficiency, builders are required to limit or eliminate the use of potable water for landscape irrigation by 50 per cent," says Ian Theaker, LEED Program Manager at the Vancouver office. "To achieve this, we suggest the use of storm water and/or grey water irrigation. We also recommend that appropriate landscape types are determined by a soil/climate analysis, and that the landscape is designed with indigenous and/or draught-tolerant plants to reduce or eliminate irrigation requirements. At first blush, these requirements may seem daunting, but LEED is intended to ensure that those home builders who do good also do well."
So, how does a builder find out which plants to use in their area? A good place to start is Evergreen, a national non-profit environmental organization. Its Web site includes a Native Plant database, filled with information about native tree, shrub, wildflower, grass, aquatic and vine species for all of Canada.
Hiring a member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) is also a worthwhile investment. "Understanding the characteristics of a site is a key component in creating a successful design," explains James Vafiades, a member of CSLA and a past president of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. "The topography of a site, the existing vegetation, and climate analysis including wind, sun, shade and precipitation, are all interconnected and must be evaluated before recommendations on plant species can be made. By combining this information with a soil study, we're able to work with a builder or homeowner to determine the best plants for each site. This data also provides beneficial information that will assist in determining where the house will be sited and where outdoor living areas will be created."
Sometimes a builder's greatest challenge is the home buyer who is quite happy with the status quo: an emerald green lawn, a few roses, and a maple tree at the curb. "Like any other change, it's the homeowner's romance with their lawn that limits a builder from trying to do different things with groundcover and grading," says John Godden, owner of Clearsphere, an R2000 design build/consulting firm. "For those who are willing to accept non-traditional landscaping, there are a number of viable alternatives a builder can introduce."
Enter Sean Mason of Mason Homes, a third-generation production home builder in Ontario and winner of Builder of the Year, EnerGuide for New Houses, 2005. "I approached Andrew Bowerbank, the Executive Director of CaGBC, Greater Toronto Chapter, about a year ago, after I had read about the U.S. LEED for Homes pilot program," Mason says. "We remained in contact, with a view of helping CaGBC establish LEED for Homes in Canada."
Their efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2006, Mason and Bowerbank were jointly honoured with the ENERGY STAR Industry Leader of the Year Award, presented by EnerQuality Corporation, for their commitment to energy efficient community development. As for the U.S. LEED for Homes pilot program that first inspired Mason, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) reports participation by more than 200 builders, representing 1,600 homes across the U.S. Twenty-six homes have already been LEED certified.
"There's no question that the wave of LEED-certified green buildings started in the US, but now, in Canada, we're starting to wave back," says Bowerbank. "Ontario is also starting to work with British Columbia, Canada's LEED pioneer, in helping to develop LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighbourhoods. Working with John Godden, Sean Mason will build his own North Toronto residence as the first low-rise case study of LEED in Canada, adapting the US program to fit with Canadian standards and climate conditions. Lessons learned through Sean's leadership will help to inform the LEED for Homes development process and set the stage for Canada's first Pilot projects in the near future."
As for Mason's use of indigenous and draught-tolerant plants in place of grass, it's a concept he has always embraced. "When I was growing up, my parents had a one-acre property in Scarborough and it was my job to mow the lawn," said Mason. "Every year, I'd cut 5 to 10 feet less grass, and gradually the property flourished into a mini ecosystem, filled with birds, butterflies, trees, flowers and natural groundcover, such as moss and clover. At the time, my mother worried about what the neighbours would say. Today, that property is the envy of the neighbourhood."
In addition to draught-tolerant groundcover, Mason plans to incorporate permeable paving and pebble walkways to deal with storm water runoff, as well a vegetable garden in the front yard. After all, where is it written that the only place for a vegetable garden is at the back of a house? That's what LEEDing edge landscaping is all about: changing the status quo for a greener tomorrow. HB

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