By: Katia Huszka, Communications Assistant

Installing a rain garden outside of your home is not only rain smart for its environmental benefits, but it will make your yard the talk of the town! Installing a rain garden can increase the amount of wildlife found in your yard, and will enhance its natural beauty. If you have ever considered installing a rain garden, here are some advantages and considerations for doing so that should help you with your decision.

What is a rain garden?

When it rains, storm water runs off of roofs and paved surfaces into storm drains and, ultimately, into streams and lakes. This contributes pollution to these areas, and causes flooding from the excessive amount of runoff. Rain gardens offer a relatively inexpensive solution to homeowners to help reduce these environmental impacts. The solution is simple!

First, a location must be chosen. Rain gardens should be located at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation. Choose a spot that slopes away from your house so that water that isn’t captured by your rain garden will flow away from your home. More considerations on areas to avoid are discussed below.

After this, a source of water is required. Water can be conveyed into a rain garden by an extension of a downspout, through an infiltration trench or through an overflow hose from your rain barrel. Next, the garden must be installed by digging a shallow depression and adding a mixture of compost, sand and soil that creates an environment that naturally filters the runoff. Finally, native plants allow the water to be taken up by their deep roots and have the added benefit of attracting wildlife, such as butterflies, into the garden.

Versatility of Rain Gardens

One of the biggest advantages to creating a rain garden is that they can come in a variety of styles and sizes. If you enjoy the look of your current style of flower bed, not a problem. It may be able to be incorporated into a rain garden! So long as it is at a lower point, not too close to buildings and there is a source of water to feed the garden, any casual or formal landscape can be converted into a rain garden.

Numerous ecological benefits

Rain gardens filter out many pollutants that would otherwise make their way into local water bodies. Local groundwater can be recharged through the water that will infiltrate slowly into the water table, versus where it would have gone – the stormwater drains.

Flood risk downstream is reduced from the decreased amount of water that is running off the property, since the water is instead seeping into the ground and recharging the local groundwater.

Rain gardens provide other environmental benefits such as an increase in habitat for wildlife, such as pollinators, like bees. Birds and butterflies also enjoy the native flowers that can be planted in rain gardens, which increase biodiversity, an important factor, especially for urban areas, where habitat for wildlife is limited.

Additional benefits

If the environmental advantages to rain gardens do not fully convince you to consider one, here are several other benefits that you will receive from the garden. Rain gardens require less regular garden maintenance than a typical lawn landscape. One reason for this is that the soil brought in will not require fertilizer since the soil purchased for the native plants will contain compost, which is full of nutrients for plants. Weeding is required once or twice a year, but since rain gardens generally contain good soil structure, weeds are easily pulled out. Finally, after two or three years, the native plants’ roots will be established and the rainwater that feeds the garden will be enough to support their growth and development, eliminating the need to irrigate.

By bringing, the water captured from around the home into the rain garden there will be a reduced risk for home flooding. This is a great benefit for those who have problems with water standing around the foundation of their home.

Reducing the standing water in your yard will leave less breeding grounds for mosquitoes, making your backyard a more comfortable and safe area to relax and enjoy. The native flowers that are planted also attract beneficial insects to the garden, which eliminate pest insects, allowing you to further enjoy the outdoors!

Considerations for a successful rain garden

  • A rain garden is best to locate in an area with a gentle slope (away from any buildings). If you have a steep hill, you may want to consider creating a stepped rain garden.
  • Rain gardens need to maintain loose soil in order to absorb rain water. Avoid putting a rain garden in a high traffic area where people or pets will walk on it and compact the soil.
  • If you have mature trees in your yard, you might want to avoid putting a rain garden too close to them as the root systems can be damaged when you dig it out.
  • If you have an area in your yard where you typically have standing water, it may indicate low permeability. The whole point of a rain garden is to let the water infiltrate into the ground, so you want an area with good drainage.

Make it fun!

Building a rain garden can be an opportunity for you and your family to showcase your creativity to the entire neighbourhood. From selecting native flowers to plant, to maintaining the garden, this is a fun project with an end result that increases curb appeal and garden enjoyment. Rain gardens can be a conversation starter with neighbours, and it will give you something to take pride in.

To find out more information about rain gardens, or to compare information about different rain smart solutions, attend one of our workshops, presentations or demonstrations.

By Fiona Wirz-Endrys, Communications Assistant

Climate change can be an overwhelming topic to discuss, and can be an even harder topic to find how you can make a difference. One great place to start with is your home because as shared in ClimateActionWR’s progress report, 18% of our local green house gases are being emitted from our homes.

Here are some steps you can take that will not only decrease your carbon footprint, but can cut a significant amount off from your monthly energy bill.

  • Neighbourhood talk – We all have those neighbours who love to chat as soon as you open the door to take out the trash. Why not take the opportunity to ask them about their input on the topic of affordable, energy-saving appliances. Who knows what new trend you could find out about, and how much your neighbour could save you on your next energy bill. Or share with your neighbours what you are doing and why!
  • Not too hot, not too cold – “Turn off the air conditioning, we’re all cold in here!” How often have you thought this in a shopping mall, coffee shop, or even in someone else’s home on a summer afternoon? Don’t be that person who overdoes their AC just because they want to fight the heat wave outside with everything they’ve got. Try keeping the cooling limit of your home at 24o C in the summer, and your heating no higher than 21o C in the winter. Not only will this prevent your body from getting bigger shocks when you enter/ exit your home, causing higher risks of catching a cold—it will also decrease your carbon footprint, and your monthly expenses.
  • Get a home energy evaluation – This may seem like a lot of work, but in reality you just have to make a call and a Registered Energy Advisor will be sent to your home and perform an Energuide Home Energy Evaluation. There is a small cost, but you can get a full rebate if you complete renovation work in two of the eligible categories from the Home Reno Rebate Program. Not to mention ongoing savings in energy costs.
  • Find savings – Let’s talk about utilities. Did you know that if you still have an old deep freezer, it may be costing you more than it would to buy a new one? Programs such as Energy Star will be able to give more information on appliances that could increase the efficiency of your home. Try calling, or getting an evaluation done. You may be pleasantly surprised how much it could benefit your home.
  • Insulate – How much are your current energy efforts worth, if your walls are leaking a large portion of the heat or cold? The majority of homes lose most efficiency through poor foundation and wall insulation. Is your home one of them? If so, there are many options around—whether you want a conventional insulation option, something innovative such as straw insulation—the choices are endless! Insulation is one of the best ways to lower your home’s carbon footprint and so there are many rebates for it as part of the Home Reno Rebate program.
  • Downsizing – Finally, we come to the latest trend: downsizing. The housing market is booming for smaller homes lately, so if you have been considering getting yourself a new, smaller home, you i= will fit right in. While some people are investing in smaller homes because of the growing demand, and others do it for convenience, you will also find that it will shrink a large portion of your carbon footprint.

See our grants, credits and rebates page for a complete list of incentives to help you reduce your energy usage.

 

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.

By Sarah Lukaszczyk, Communications Assistant

Given the warmer weather, we students take every opportunity to be outdoors. Fortunately for me, this meant venturing to the Lakeside neighbourhood to the RAIN Smart Home of Madeline and Josh Hunsberger at 184 Gatewood Drive. to learn about how rain gardens are constructed. Reep Green Solutions partnered with the City of Kitchener to create a project in the neighbourhood that would showcase the beauty of rain gardens and their ability to improve the quality of water going into our lakes and streams.

Having arrived early to the workshop, I was drawn to the display boards depicting plants of different colours, blooming in different seasons, and planted at varying depths. The workshop facilitator, Reep Green Solution’s RAIN Coach Becca Robinson, explained how the seasonal chart was put together to ensure that there was always something blooming in the gardens that the homeowner and people in the community could enjoy. Becca, in her role as RAIN Coach, is working with people in Lakeside to help other neighbourhood residents plan their own rain gardens.

Although the bulk of the work happens underground, the parts of the rain garden you can see more than justify a second, third and fourth glance. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the garden was also a hot bed for discussion. Madeline shared her desire to incorporate the plants she had saved from her grandmother’s garden. The ability to personalize their yard ties in well with the motivation to create beautiful spaces that also provide an environmental benefit. Community members gathered long after the workshop ended to discuss various plants they had in their garden and the best places to get them.

In sum, it was a unique opportunity and escape I was fortunate experience. From seeing the original garden blueprints to its final manifestation, I not only got some insight into what it takes to be a landscape designer but also to be part of a vibrant and climate conscious community.

If you live in one of the Kitchener neighbouroods Lakeside or Mount Hope you can book a free consultation with the RAIN Coach as part of the RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods Project. Please contact us at [email protected] or call 519-744-6583 x 227.

by Corey Pembleton, communications volunteer

Since 1974, the residents of the Region of Waterloo have been dedicated to conserving water and increasing water efficiency; making water conservation truly ingrained in our way of life. Every drop saved is one to be celebrated, and over the past 40 years we’ve saved a lot of drops! We’d like to congratulate everyone in the region for the strong effort that’s been put in over the years making us a leader in water conservation in the country.

Year upon year we continue to surpass conservation goals, and the Water Efficiency Master Plan (WEMP) has been highly successful: during its’ first phase (1998 – 2005) the plan exceeded its’ goal and resulted in saving 8, 508m3 of water daily, or more than three Olympic – sized swimming pools of water. More impressively, this daily water saving achieved in 2011 exceeded the 2015 target of 8,146m3– showing how the continued support of Waterloo Region residents’ is truly the driving factor behind the water conservation programs’ success.

Why is water conservation so important in Waterloo Region?

Unlike other municipalities in the province, water used by residents and businesses in the region comes from underground aquifers and the Grand River, replenished by rainwater, and underground / aboveground waterways, such as the Grand River. As the region continues to thrive with increasing numbers of people and businesses being started, it puts increasing stress on these limited water resources – making water conservation crucial to maintaining our water supplies.

Water saving-success after water-saving success

Although it can be hard to directly attribute exactly where the huge successes in water saving are coming from, one thing is clear – it is all thanks to the concerted effort of residents, businesses and institutions in the region. We have had several landmarks reached thanks to these efforts.

In the early 2000’s it was suggested to cope with increasing demand, a pipeline would need to be built to one of the great lakes to bring water into the region. Thanks to our remarkable water-conserving efforts this has been deemed unnecessary (at least until the next review in 2025); an impressive feat considering how quickly the region has grown in the meantime.

Not only does water-saving come from home-use, such as people taking shorter showers, limiting outdoor water use and installing more efficient faucets and appliances, but it comes from programs led by the Region which have been whole-heartedly embraced by residents. Between 1994 and 2005 the city had replaced over 40,000 toilets with more efficient models, rain barrel distribution programs every year, education for children and adults alike and many other research, by-law and developmental updates. Amongst these, the Water Efficiency Technology program has been highly successful in helping businesses and institutions reduce their water usage in a big way, paving the path to more sustainable future.

Although water have made it a difficult year for conserving water, citizens in the region continue to pull through strong and steady with our water efficiency goals, and we all should take the time to congratulate ourselves – why not with a canoe trip down the Grand?

Take the WET Challenge!

Determine how much water people living in your home use. Take the Region of Waterloo’s WET Challenge!

If you use more than 200 litres per day for each person, you qualify for a free home visit by one of our staff.

 

by Ericha Moores, volunteer communications assistant

Rain is just as much a part of the natural cycle of life as sunshine. So, why does an environmental charity like Reep Green Solutions have a RAIN program and what exactly is it?

RAIN is a program that was developed by Green Communities Canada with the objective to address the problems associated with stormwater runoff. Specifically focusing on ways in which individuals and communities can be active agents of positive change while encouraging green infrastructure in their communities.

While rain may be part of a natural life cycle, what happens to it once it reaches the ground is often not natural. In fact, there are problems that are associated with our current stormwater management that ultimately affects the quality of the water that we drink and the water that is found in our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

The negative environmental impact of storm water

So, what exactly are the negative environmental impacts of storm water runoff?

Well, in order to understand the environmental impacts, we must first understand the current stormwater management that our communities have. The way in which our cities were built has resulted in a disruption in the natural water cycle. There are several different stages involved with the water cycle, however, when our urbans areas were built, they sealed surfaces and covered land with impermeable surfaces (such as roads, roofs, driveways, and parking lots) – meaning water could no longer be absorbed into the ground. The main objective of our current stormwater system is to get the water off of our roads and properties in a timely fashion. It directs water to our storm sewer systems and, ultimately, our rivers and our lakes.

Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that due to current stormwater management, our water systems have become increasingly polluted. As water runs through our urban environment, it picks up toxic chemicals, such as oil and pesticides. Because storm water is not treated before it enters rivers and lakes, these chemicals subsequently end up in our waterways. This affects the quality of water, as well as the surrounding ecosystems (beach closures?)

There are also issues related to flooding and erosion – both of which represent threats to our environment, our properties and, again, the quality of water. Due to the reduction in permeable surfaces and less vegetated areas to absorb water, when it rains or when snow melts, the volume and the speed at which stormwater runs off is substantially increased. This can result in flooding which can have very costly impacts on our private properties and infrastructure. Additionally, this large amount of runoff can lead to erosion along stream banks which further exacerbates the issue of flooding as sediment clogs channels and pipes, while also negatively affecting the ecosystems for the aquatic life.

Solutions that benefit the environment

However, there are solutions to these aforementioned issues! You and your community can improve the current stormwater management system through the implementation of RAIN.

There are three main ideas that RAIN encourages:

  1. Slow it down
  • Capturing and storing rain water with rain cisterns, releasing it gradually and using that to water your garden.
  1. Soak it up
  • Planting native trees and bushes in order to make our gardens soak up more water.
  • Building a rain garden.
  • Increasing the permeability of hard surfaces, such as your driveway so that water can be soaked through.
  1. Keep it clean
  • Trying to minimize the chemicals that you use in your household, for example, using natural fertilizers in your garden.

In using these simple principles and applying them to your own property, you are actively participating in improving your community’s water quality and decreasing the negative environmental impacts!

Learn more about RAIN.

Check out the recent reports of The Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation to learn more about the importance of managing storm water.

Recently moved into a “new to you” home? Here’s the fifth in a week long series on things you can do to improve your home’s sustainability.

by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

  1. Walk or ride a bike to get around
    Driving your car causes pollution, needs money for gas and maintenance, plus the costs of parking. Walking or riding a bike is also good exercise and far better for the environment. Or you can get an indoor bike too from this list of drench’s exercise bikes. Avoid losing your keys while doing an outdoor sport and having to hire B-Quick, your local Long Island Locksmith, it’s better if you exercise using an indoor bike.
  2. Buy in bulk or from your local farmers’ market
    farmers marketProducts from stores come with more packaging, and have usually traveled quite the distance to get there. Local products have used less energy to reach the market, and will help strengthen the local economy.
  3. Use reusable items instead of single-use or recyclable
    Plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and take-out containers are some of the easiest things to avoid using. By using glass bottles, reusable bags, and bringing your own container to stores and restaurants, you can greatly reduce the amount of waste you create.
  4. Grow some of your own food
    backyard gardenIt used to be that families grew the majority of food that they ate. Mass food production and grocery stores have taken that need away. Growing your own food can have its own benefits: lower cost, environmental awareness, educating children on food production, and the knowledge of what goes into your food (ie. pesticides).
  5. Use all-natural, non-toxic cleaning supplies
    It might be surprising to find out that the majority of the cleaning products we use are actually bad for the environment. Most don’t think of what happens to that dish soap or floor cleaner that went down the drain, but the sad fact is it will most likely find its way into Mother Nature, where it will cause problems. There are plenty of cleaners out there that are environmentally friendly, do just as good a job, but won’t harm the environment when they find their way there. Or better yet make your own cleaning products!

Recently moved into a “new to you” home? Here’s the fourth in a week long series on things you can do to improve your home’s sustainability.

by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

  1. Grab an umbrella and go outside during a heavy rain to see how and where the water flows from the eaves, downspouts and paved surfaces.
  2. The slope of the ground around your home should be away from your foundation
    Make sure the ground around the foundation slopes away. Re-grade all areas (paved or landscaped) to ensure water flows away from your home.
  3. Keep your eavestroughs clean
    Clean eavestroughs in the fall after the leaves have fallen and again in June after the seeds and flowers have dropped.
  4. water in the basementDon’t finish a high-risk basement
    If you are at high risk of infiltration, do not finish your basement for living. Remove absorbent items (furniture, carpet, boxes) to a dry location upstairs. High risk factors for your home or building include:

    • Paved areas that slope towards the foundation that can not immediately be fixed
    • The lowest building on the street
    • Built on a floodplain or an area with a high water table
    • A masonry or fieldstone foundation
  5. water damage in basementChoose non-absorbent flooring and wall finishes when renovating your basement
    When renovating basement areas, choose flooring and wall finish options that are not absorbent, like ceramic tiles (avoid carpet, drywall and paperboard), and use area rugs that can be removed for drying and cleaning.

Learn more about having a RAIN Smart Home.

Recently moved into a “new to you” home? Here’s the third in a week long series on things you can do to improve your home’s sustainability.

by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

  1. Programmable thermostat at REEP HouseUse a programmable thermostat
    By tailoring your air conditioning (or heating) to your schedule, programmable thermostats can save both energy and money. Install your thermostat away from heating or cooling vents or registers, heat-generating appliances or electronics, open doorways and direct sunlight.
  2. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater down to 120°F (55° C)
    This is the optimum temperature for your hot water heater. Most people don’t use water hotter than 120° — indeed, water hotter than that can scald you or a child — and thus the energy needed to keep the water above 120° isn’t used effectively. Lower the temperature, save money on your energy bill, and you’ll never skip a beat.
  3. Use a water heater blanket on your water heater
    While most modern hot water heaters are well-insulated, some are insulated better than others, and many older heaters aren’t insulated well at all. A small investment in a blanket will slowly and gradually save you money on your heating bill over time by keeping the heat in the water instead of letting it disperse slowly into your basement or utility closet. Also, be “careful not to cover the water heater’s top, bottom, thermostat, or burner compartment.” And of course, on-demand (or “tankless”) water heaters don’t require this treatment.
  4. Use a clothes line
    They may seem old-fashioned, but a clothes line uses far less energy than a dryer, and will also help to get you outside into the fresh air.
  5. Change your light bulbs from incandescent and CFL to LED
    Although LED (light emitting diode) light bulbs do cost more than incandescent and CFL (compact fluorescent lights), they use a fraction of the power and most have a life span of over 20 years.
  6. Limit the sources of phantom electrical power in your home
    Even when you turn most modern devices off (cable box, stereo system), they are still partially on – you can tell by the clock. Standby power can account for 10% of your annual hydro usage. Plug these devices into a power bar, and turn the power bar off, thus totally killing the power to all connected devices. For more information about electronics visit electrical repair cincinnati oh.

Recently moved into a “new to you” home? Here’s the second in a week long series on things you can do to improve your home’s sustainability.

by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

  1. leaky pipeCheck all toilets and under-sink plumbing for leaks or constant running
    The toilet tank flapper is the first and most common item on a toilet to fail. A slow leak can waste up to 100L per day, while a loud, large leak can waste almost 300L per day. Leaking plumbing will also waste money, but can also cause water damage to everything around it.
  2. Change the schedule of your water softener’s regenerating to only when it is needed
    Most water softeners are set to a default schedule of once/day when they’re installed, and people don’t change that. At 300-600L per regeneration, it is wise to reschedule it to when it is actually needed (usually every 3-4 days), depending on usage.
  3. water savingsInstall water-saving fixtures
    You might be surprised at the number of water-saving bathroom accessories that are available now. A toilet that’s labeled as a high-efficiency can save a family of four as much as 64,000 litres of water per year. Even small, inexpensive changes, such as the switching out the faucet aerators in your sinks, can have a significant impact.
  4. Don’t wash your car at home – use a car wash
    Washing your car at home uses a lot of water, and the cleaner used is most likely not good for the environment (it will eventually end up in the storm sewer). Most car washes filter and reuse their water, and prevent chemicals from going down the drain.
  5. Plant drought-resistant native plants and mulch flower beds
    field of flowersOutdoors in the summer months can be a huge strain on water usage, but it doesn’t have to be. Plan your landscaping accordingly by planting shrubs, flowers and trees that don’t require as much water. In addition, place mulch around them. The mulch won’t only make your landscaping look nice, but it will also help the plants retain more moisture.

WET Home Visits

If you have tried these tips and would like to further reduce your water use, see if you qualify for a WET  Challenge home consultations.

 


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