By Sarah Lukaszczyk

On a late spring Saturday morning, I made the walk from my home in Waterloo to the Mount Hope Neighborhood; I was planning to volunteer at a rain barrel fundraiser for a local charity. As I walked I began to notice subtle changes in the landscape. From diverse, grass-free lawns blooming with wildflowers to pollinator-friendly plants, it was easy to see the different ways residents in this neighborhood  were safeguarding the environment and bettering the overall community aesthetic. Peoples’ desire to improve their yards was not limited to their lawns – standard grass boulevards were commonly replaced with an eye-catching arrangement of colourful flowers and other succulents. 

I noticed these neighbourhood improvements following my opportunity earlier that week to interview Mount Hope resident Stephen Barath, who recently installed a rain garden. In our interview, Stephen made me acutely aware of the neighborhood’s heightened conservation ethic. However, it was not until I saw the gradual transition from grass lawns to little forests during my walk that I felt like I was entering a little utopia.

As part of Reep’s RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project, and under the watchful eye of his wife and two young daughters,  Stephen installed a rain garden on one of his rental properties. Digging holes and choosing native plants was rewarding, Stephen explained, a sense that was increasingly evident to me over the course of our interview.  As a daughter of a professional landscaper myself, it was invigorating to see the enjoyment and pride Stephen had towards his garden. It warmed my heart further to hear that his two-year-old daughter even got her hands dirty to help her Dad dig holes. That evoked memories of time spent with my own Dad as a child. Stephen’s understanding of the importance (and fun, as he reminded me repeatedly) of these projects to safeguarding our water and beautifying the community left a lasting impression, as he has already decided to build another rain garden on a different property.

Not entirely convinced it was all fun and games, I challenged Stephen to tell me something unexpected he had experienced while building the rain garden. He explained that in jest neighbours would stop and say things like ‘Did the water main break?’ while only one neighbour was able to correctly identify what Stephen was actually up to. A little girl who was walking home with her grandmother after school even exclaimed, “Look Grandma that man is still digging holes.” After describing them, Stephen went on to say that these exchanges with his neighbours were always welcome so he had a reason to take a break from digging and chat about the wider benefits of rain gardens for the community.

For his tenants the rain garden removes almost all the grass on the property. There is no longer a need to mow and Stephen imagines this could be seen as an added benefit for the renter and the landlord. Although, based on my brief time in the community, initiatives such as these are not merely done for the sake of convenience but also for their environmental benefit.

Being that Father’s Day had recently past, Stephen’s father came for a visit and while in town the two made time to see the new rain garden. Stephen admitted to me that while the garden didn’t look like much at present, his father observed that, “Like the acorns they used to plant together when Stephen was young, the garden will begin to bloom in due time.” And just as Stephen’s father continued to point out the different trees the two had planted in his youth, I imagine Stephen would likewise do the same with his own daughters in the years to come. Thanks to the help of Reep’s RAIN Coach, the family had resources that helped them to identify which native species were best suited for the area and whether they should be placed in the shade or sun.

Overall, my greatest take away from meeting Stephen and his family is that while fun, you don’t start these projects – especially the do-it-yourself ones – simply for yourself. These spaces are created to be shared, whether that be with the little girl and her grandma who live in the neighborhood, the Environmental studies student casually strolling by one Saturday morning or the busy bees and butterflies attracted by your hard work. It’s all worth it for the joy your rain garden brings to all who see it.

Visit Reep Green Solutions’ RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods web page to learn mo re information build your own rain garden and incentives available residents of Mount Hope on a first come, first served basis.

Here’s a look at how the Hunsberger’s transformed their front yard to be both rain smart and beautiful. They live in Kitchener’s Lakeside neighbourhood that is part of our RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project.

Alexis and the RAIN Smart House: Chapter 6

This post is the sixth in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

For Alexis Motuz, what began with a knock on the door on a sweltering summer afternoon, became a project to better her home, her neighbourhood, and the environment. Now, as it nears completion, she can feel the pride of owning a RAIN Smart home. She has turned rainwater, that used to run off her property, into an asset that can be used to beautify her own yard.

How does Alexis feel about the overall project? Was it worth it? What recommendations would she give to someone who is thinking about making their own home RAIN Smart?

Alexis Motuz at RAIN Smart Home

Alexis:

Overall, I am very happy with the project and with the way things turned out. I definitely had some apprehension at the beginning – both about the changes to the yard and about finding the right people to do the work. But as the project progressed, and I worked with the RAIN Coach and others from Reep Green Solutions to trouble-shoot, plan, and re-plan, I was happy with the final product.

What a difference already! The apple tree was in full bloom this year for the first time since it was planted, and people in the neighbourhood have been stopping by to see the work that has been done. I was able to give away hundreds of strawberry plants to different neighbours so they can start their own patches and I have heard from each of them that they have bloomed.

I was also nominated for a Kitchener in Bloom award, which was very exciting!

The project has allowed me to meet neighbours I did not already know, I’ve had lots of opportunities to tell them about the RAIN Smart Neighbourhood project and how they can implement the three principles of stormwater management – Slow it down, Soak it up, Keep it clean.

The project took eight months from start to finish. A lot of that time was spent planning and organizing. Once we broke ground, it only took about four weeks to get to this point. It wasn’t difficult, but it was definitely an investment of time to plan it out and to make sure it all went smoothly. In the end, the yard will be a lot less maintenance than it had been, and the kids love their new play spaces–both intentional spaces created for them and a mulch patch which they quickly claimed as their new sandbox!

I’m especially excited to spend less time watering the garden thanks to the large cistern and gravity fed drip irrigation system installed. They free up a couple hours on summer evenings that I spent watering my gardens. Finally, the yard is much more beautiful than it was and my driveway is grateful for not having to handle the run off from the downspouts. It is also nice to know that the rainwater is not carrying pollution into the storm sewer; it is either being used to water the garden or it is being filtered by the ground and going right back into the water table.

For my Mount Hope neighbours and people living in Kitchener’s Lakeside neighbourhood who are planning storm water reduction measures in their yard, I would recommend using Reep Green Solutions’ RAIN Coach and to take advantage of the financial incentives available.

And, when you’re in the middle of the project, to remember that it will be worth it in the end!

Gravity Fed Drip Irrigation

Rain barrels and cisterns can be used as sources for gravity fed drip irrigation of plants, trees, and gardens. Drip irrigation is not suitable for lawns, but is great for plants that don’t like to get their foliage wet.

Drip irrigation consists of a main water line, usually about a half-inch hose, with smaller quarter-inch drip lines running off perpendicular to the main line. The drip lines have small holes punctured in them which will slowly release the water onto the vegetation. Normal drip irrigation lines are designed to have a constant water pressure of between 15-30 psi. Unfortunately, with gravity-fed drip lines, the pressure is often much less.

There is a gain of .433 psi for every foot of elevation your water source is above the drip lines. This means that to achieve the recommended pressure you would need to have your water source approximately 35 feet above the vegetation you want to irrigate.

While this height is likely not achievable or reasonable, it is still possible to use a gravity fed irrigation system, as long as one is willing to accept a slower and less consistent rate of irrigation.

Regardless of the watering system you decide upon, elevating your rain barrel on a stand, such as the one Alexis built, will help provide additional water pressure. It also makes it easier to fit a watering can under the barrel’s outflow if you choose to use the water that way.

Chapter 5: Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home

This post is the fifth in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

Winning a $10,000 dollar grand prize is exciting enough, but knowing that the prize is going to have an impact on the future of your family, your community, and the environment makes it even more enjoyable. Alexis Motuz has been feeling that joy ever since she won the Rain Smart Front Yard Makeover contest grand prize last year.

Since winning the prize, she has met with our RAIN Coach, brainstormed landscape ideas and determined a RAIN smart design for her home.

Now it is time to get some help actually doing the work. Let’s look at what Alexis learned as she began the next step of the project – finding a contractor.

Alexis on finding a contractor

When I began the process of making my property RAIN Smart, I wasn’t sure exactly how it was going to go. When I learned that I needed to find my own contractors to do the work, I found it a little bit intimidating. Reep suggested that I find three different contractors to give quotes on the work. That process would help me decide how much of the planned work I could hire others to do and how much I would need to do myself.

I began my search for a contractor by checking out the list of contractors on the Reep Green Solutions website. I knew someone in the neighbourhood who happened to be on the list, so I began by contacting him. Once we looked at the project, he recommended another company that could handle large jobs (and have the machinery required) for a job like the one I would be undertaking.

What I found most challenging was carving out the time to meet with contractors, do the site visit, discuss options, figure out the costs and work within the budget.  There was a fair bit of back and forth as landscaping materials and labour add up quickly. To offset some of the costs, I will have the contractor lay out the yard, install edging, dig and install the storm crates, but leave laying some of the landscaping fabric and mulch to me.

Having found a contractor to do the work, I was excited for the work to start.

Choosing a contractor

The RAIN Smart techniques you plan to implement at your home will determine if you need to hire a contractor. For example, installing a rain barrel may be something that you are able to do yourself, whereas creating an inground cistern will likely require you to hire a professional.

Choosing a contractor is an important step in the process. Your contractor becomes your partner in the project. Finding a good contractor can make your RAIN Smart project that much more enjoyable.

While there are no exact rules for choosing a contractor, here are some basic principles which can help you.

Ask for recommendations

One of the best ways to find a reliable contractor is by speaking with someone who has had a similar project completed on their property. If they are willing to recommend  the contractor they used that is usually a good sign. Asking your designer for suggestions may be one place to start.

Get estimates from at least three different contractors

Getting three different estimates will allow you to get an idea of the general price range of the project. It will also give you a better  opportunity to find a contractor who is a good fit for you and your project.

Make sure they have up-to-date insurance

In Ontario, contractors should have WSIB coverage, liability insurance and personal injury insurance. They may also need to have a fall protection awareness course and WHMIS.

Don’t always take the lowest estimate

You want to find a contractor that you are going to be able to work with well. This isn’t necessarily the one with the lowest estimate. In fact, if one contractor’s estimate is well below all the others, perhaps this is a warning sign. Do they fully understand the project? Are they going to cut corners? Instead, look for someone who has the experience and resources to do the job, who has a good business reputation, and who shows signs of good communication.

Get everything put down in writing

When it comes to hiring a contractor, don’t let a handshake suffice. A project can change over time and unless every step of the project is in writing, the cost of the project can quickly increase. Having things in writing is another way to have clear communication with your contractor throughout the project.

You may also be interested in the advice of our home energy coach on how to choose and work with contractors.

 

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

This post is the second in a series about how Alexis is working towards a RAIN Smart Home.

Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home: Chapter 2

In chapter one, we met Alexis who is going to go through a five step process to reach her goal of having a RAIN Smart Home. These are the same steps that each of us can go through to make positive changes in stormwater management.

5 steps to a RAIN Smart Home

Step 1 – Thinking of Water

Some collaboration is needed to implement stormwater management best practices. That is where Reep Green Solutions can help.

There are small things you can do, like installing rain barrels, and larger projects, such as building rain gardens. Reep Green Solutions can provide RAIN Coach visits for a nominal fee. These visits can give you the extra information you might need to put your plans into action.

Step 2 – Coming up with a vision

Once you have a better understanding of how water flows on your property, you will want to think about your priorities for your outdoor space. Working with a landscaper or designer can be beneficial or, if you are a do-it-yourselfer, get out that sketch book and begin to plan. This is where you can be creative. Build your space to enhance your family’s enjoyment.

Step 3- Taking Action

Some things you might be able to implement yourself, such as installing a rain barrel. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to try building a rain garden. Know your limits and when it is best to bring in a professional.

Finding a contractor who can help you with the work doesn’t need to be daunting. We have a list of a number of businesses that provide storm water management services. This is probably a good place to start. Be sure to get at least three quotes for bigger projects. This will help you find the contractor that works for you.

Step 4 – Involving the Neighbours

Organizing a work party can help bring a neighbourhood closer together. Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbours, even the ones you might not know well, for help. Most people are more than happy to lend a hand, especially if there are snacks and refreshments involved. This will give your neighbours the opportunity to learn about being rain smart too, and who knows, maybe it won’t be long before you are helping at their work party.

Step 5  – REEPing the Rewards

Now that your project is finished, you get to sit back and enjoy it. You will be looking forward to the next time it rains, just so that you can see the fruits of your labour. You will be happy knowing that you did your part for the environment, that you have improved the value of your property and maybe even that you made some new friends in the neighbourhood. Oh, and each time that your water bill comes in the mail and you see that stormwater credit (don’t forget to apply for the rebate) you will be sure to smile. Here’s where to get started in Kitchener or Waterloo.

These are the steps that Alexis will be taking over the next few weeks. We encourage you to come along! Follow her through this journey, as she works towards a RAIN Smart Home.

Challenge: Lori had been having problems with water making its way into her basement. After speaking with her landscaper it became apparent that the culprit was the downspout, opposite the driveway, that let out at the corner of her house next to her foundation. She also wanted to update the look of her front yard, so she decided it was time to replace the shrubs with a garden that would better complement her home and attract butterflies and pollinators.
Lori's shrubs before the rain garden.

Solution: After removing the boxwood shrubs at the front of her yard, that area was excavated down into a bowl. The bowl is filled with a porous mixture of sand, compost and soil and mulch. This mixture helps to soak up water that fills up the bowl and allows it to slowly percolate into the ground. Lori has extended her downspout 8 feet away from the foundation so that water from her rooftop is directed down a slope and into the rain garden. For this, Lori received the maximum 45% stormwater credit from the City Kitchener. She receives lots of compliments from her neighbours on the new look, and is already planning similar projects in her backyard.

Construction and enjoyment

2015 Residential Stormwater Award Winner (Waterloo)

Here’s the story of one of the 2015 Celebrating Community Action award recipients. Learn about all nine recipients.

Catherine Fife, Ken and Elizabeth McLaughlin worked together to de-pave their adjoining driveways and replace them with permeable paving strips. The downspouts of both homes have been directed underground to stone below the driveway that stores and soaks water into the ground. With this project, they hope to reduce the volume and improve the quality of stormwater that flows from their property, ensure some groundwater recharge, and improve their homes’ curb appeal. During the Grand Porch Party last summer, Catherine noticed that her driveway was of interest to a lot of people. “It was a conversation starter,” she says. “It was a way to bring together people that had similar values.”

The project cost Catherine and her neighbours $3200 to install the driveway. As demand for green infrastructure increases, prices should come down and people won’t need to compromise on their sustainability values when hiring a contractor. As a bonus, it stimulates the local economy. “It’s important that more people act on environmental beliefs. We can create green jobs in this way,” says Catherine.

Catherine has a long history of modelling her values. She and her husband knew that their 117 year old house was energy inefficient, so they had REEP complete an EnerGuide for Homes Evaluation. Afterwards they installed LED lighting, high efficiency heating, and were more conscious of their energy use. Their heating and electricity costs were reduced and they enjoyed a noticeable improvement in comfort. “Putting a plan in place, prioritizing projects – it’s the hardest thing to do,” says Catherine. “REEP has the expertise needed to help homeowners make the first step, and homeowners need this expertise.”

Natalia’s basement was very humid (up to 85% at times) with one particularly damp corner. She found that she had to run her dehumidifier constantly, especially during and after it rained. To address any leaks, Natalia had the roof redone and eavestroughs replaced. The downspout at the problem corner was directed into a rain barrel with overflow away from the foundation. Natalia keeps several more rain barrels at her other downspouts, raised up from the ground on stands to improve water pressure and for ease of access. Natalia uses the rain she collects to water her trees, berry bushes, lawn, and garden plants. Since the work has been completed the humidity of the basement has dropped significantly and is now within a more comfortable range all of the time.

Natalia fills her watering cans up with water collected from her roof.

Ron was tired of his lawn turning brown over the long hot summer. He solved his problem by harvesting rainwater in his 1700 gallon (6500 L) underground cistern. Rain travels through his downspouts into the cistern which pumps water into a irrigation system with the help of well pumps leesburg va. Not only does this afford him the freedom to water his lawn without worrying about municipal repstrictions, he also saves money. His water bill has lowered significantly since the system came online.

Ron has not needed to replace a single component of his system in seven years, and the savings combined with the maximum 45% stormwater credit he receives means that his system is paying for itself.
Irrigation system fed by an underground cistern.

2015 Residential Stormwater Award Winner (Cambridge)

Here’s the story of one of the 2015 Celebrating Community Action award recipients. Learn about all nine recipients.

Mary-Louise and Alain had some serious stormwater problems at their home. During heavy rains and spring thaws water flowed from a high point in their back yard, over tight clay soils and into their basement. They worked with Kerr and Kerr Landscaping to develop a comprehensive solution to keep their basement dry. They removed over 100 cubic yards of soil to flatten the property, installed french drains, an infiltration gallery, several rain gardens and a permeable paving pathway and patio.

“The work has solved our water problems and turned our backyard into an oasis,” explains Mary-Louise.
Before and After the landscaping


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