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.

Alexis and the RAIN Smart House: Chapter 4

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

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

As the winner of the RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover contest Alexis Motuz receives $10,000 to spend on a Front Yard Makeover that will both enhance her property and reduce the amount of stormwater running off her property and directly into the storm sewer.

The prize included a consultation by our RAIN Coach to assess her home and provide some ideas of how best to manage water on her property. The Coach then turned those ideas into an appealing design for Alexis’ outdoor space.

Rebecca Robinson – RAIN Coach

Alexis and her family already use their yard heavily and she had some great ideas for how it could be improved. Having two young kids, she wanted to maintain some open space for play. She also wanted to have raised beds for growing vegetables.

Alexis and I sat down and in a very short time, we were able to take these priorities and build them into something that will increase the environmental sustainability of the space and enhance its functionality for her and her family.

Alexis

landscape design featuresWorking with a designer was a lot of fun. I had already sketched out some ideas, but the designer was able to take those ideas and really make the most of the space that I have. I wanted to keep an open space for my kids to play, but I also wanted to keep the vegetable garden and direct water into it.

Rebecca helped me come up with a design for the yard that maximizes play space while allowing me to keep my vegetable garden and reduce the amount of time I spend watering.

I really look forward to seeing how my family uses the space differently when it is finished, and I am excited that the design is both environmentally sustainable and has elements that can leverage the skills of artists and businesses in the neighbourhood.

In the end, Rebecca and I decided on a kid-friendly strawberry patch and allium garden at the front of the yard—something Dr. Seuss-ish. This will be planted overtop of storm water crates (B) that will redirect a significant amount of water from the roof that is currently running onto the driveway and street into the storm sewer.

In the back of the yard, we decided to use a cistern to collect water from the roof (D). We will then hook it up to weeping hoses and use this for irrigating the vegetable garden boxes. Although it may seem like a small gain to some, I am so excited not to have to water every evening and to move away from using municipal water.

We also decided to move the apple tree into the side yard because it is not flourishing out front, and we are going to install a second large rain barrel on the other side of the house (C) so that I can collect water to use for the front garden and raspberry boxes.

There were some design challenges that required me to keep an open mind. When the design first suggested moving the garden boxes in front of the deck so that we could do the passive irrigation (4), I thought this would look strange. I took some time to think about it more, though, and as I walked my yard, the idea grew on me. It is a something I would never have thought of myself, but I’m excited to see how it turns out.

Before meeting with Rebecca, I had thought about redoing the driveway in permeable pavers. While these are very effective at soaking up rainwater and they look fantastic, they are pricey and I wouldn’t have been able to develop my yard into the garden/play space that will be of much more benefit in the long term.

Finally, I had originally thought a rain garden might work on my property but between keeping an open play space, moving the apple tree, and the proximity to my foundations, it seemed the stormwater crates would be a better solution. So there was a lot to learn through this process and I had to keep an open mind. It’s been a wonderfully collaborative process with lots of back and forth, and I am happy to be adopting new design ideas and rain management systems in my yard.

RAIN Smart design solutions used

Here’s a closer look at some of the features included in this RAIN Smart Home.

design diagram of RAIN smart featuresA – Replace rain barrel

B – Infiltration gallery/basin

Alexis is also going to use an underground infiltration gallery to allow more water to soak down into the soil. Traditionally, infiltration galleries are made by digging a hole and filling it with rock or sand. Or as used at Alexis’ home, specially designed crates are placed into a hole and covered. It is recommended that infiltration galleries be professionally installed.

C – Added rain barrel

D – Cistern

Alexis has decided to use a cistern to capture the rain from her roof and use it as a resource for her vegetable garden. A cistern is essentially a larger version of a rain barrel. It is usually made of a heavy-duty plastic or concrete. Cisterns are sometimes buried underground, but in Alexis case, the cistern is kept above ground and raised slightly, which allows her to use gravity to passively water the plants in her garden. Cisterns can vary widely in size from between approximately 350-5200 litres of water.

Native plants

Although Alexis had hoped to plant a rain garden, she ultimately went with the infiltration gallery to maximize usable play space for her kids.  As an alternative, she intends to use native plants above the infiltration gallery and in the garden beds surrounding her yard. Native plants are being used because they are well suited to the local soil and sunlight conditions.

To learn about other RAIN Smart techniques, you are invited to visit the Reep  House for Sustainable Living at 20 Mill Street, Kitchener to see these techniques in action. We also invite you to sign up for our newsletter and learn more at one of our upcoming events.

Chapter 3: Alexis and the RAIN Smart House

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

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

With $10,000 at her disposal, Alexis Motuz is going to transform her property into a showcase of the latest and greatest in stormwater management best practices thanks to winning our RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover contest in Mount Hope.

In this chapter, we look at how Alexis got her project underway with a RAIN Coach Consultation.

The RAIN Coach Consultation

After the excitement of winning the grand prize had passed, Alexis’ first step was to meet with the RAIN Coach. This consultation would give her guidelines that would help with deciding what direction to go with the project.

Here is a look at the consultation from the perspective of the coach and homeowner.

Name: Rebecca Robinson

Occupation: RAIN Coach

“On a bright October afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit Alexis’ property. It is always interesting visiting different properties because each has its own issues and opportunities. In the case of Alexis’ property, one of the things she was facing was that the runoff from her roof, although directed into a rain barrel, was not easily accessible for other uses. It was good to see that the landscaping around the house was effective at keeping water away from the basement. That would be one less thing for her to worry about.

After looking around and taking some measurements I was able to suggest a few courses of action that Alexis could take. Although she was interested in a rain garden as one way to use rainwater, she also wanted to plant an apple tree in the same area. Because there is a recommended minimum distance between these two, we opted for a solution to divert the water underground into an infiltration gallery that allows water to collect and slowly go into the ground. The rest of the water would be stored in a large cistern on her side yard deck. I proposed a design to move her garden boxes in front of the deck so that she could use the water from the cistern for passive irrigation for her raised beds.”

Alexis:

“The RAIN Coach consultation helped me to see that water management didn’t just have to be about how to prevent runoff from reaching the stormwater drains, but that it could also be about how to take that water and use it more efficiently as a resource. Because of the position of my drain spouts, my rain barrel is on the opposite side of the house from my garden. Rebecca helped me to see that there were things I could do to take advantage of that water and use it to my family’s benefit.  In the past, I spent a lot of time filling my watering can and watering by hand to empty my rain barrel; this year I am planning to raise the barrel and use passive irrigation for my front garden. This is what Rebecca suggested for my side garden boxes and I love the idea. In the past, I spent a lot of time (and municipal water!) watering my garden. I see this passive irrigation as a huge time and resource saver, and I’m excited to see how the veggies benefit from it.”

The benefits of a consultation

The RAIN Coach consultation offers an opportunity to consult with an expert on how to improve your outdoor space. The goal of the visit is to help the homeowner realize their goals for their outdoor space in a RAIN Smart way. This means taking into consideration three different things

The home

Homeowners dread a leaky or damp basement. It can be the cause of mold, rot, and other damage. Before implementing any landscaping solutions, you want to ensure that you are not causing problems for your home. The RAIN Coach can give you suggestions on how to avoid water from flowing towards your foundation.

Neighbours

Passing your water problem onto your neighbours property is not a solution or a way to make friends. The RAIN Coach helps you to see how your landscaping decisions can impact your neighbour. At the same time, steps that you take to slow the water down, let it soak into the ground, and keep it clean, can have a positive impact on your neighbour’s property. This is something you can do to be a good neighbour.

The environment

The impact on the environment when everyone does their part can be significant. The RAIN Coach can help you to help the environment. She will show you how you can make a difference that matters.

If you live in our RAIN Smart neighbourhoods of Lakeside or Mount Hope, contact us to arrange your own RAIN Coach Consultation.

 

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.

by Daniel Jordan, RAIN Program Volunteer

This post is the first in a series about how Alexis worked towards a RAIN Smart Home.

Last summer a group of intrepid workers and volunteers visited each home in the Mount Hope and Lakeside neighbourhoods. What message were they spreading? A message about building neighbourhood resiliency and, to everyone’s delight, a message about contests and savings.

The RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project, in partnership with the City of Kitchener, Partners for Action and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, offered one homeowner the exciting opportunity to walk away with a $10,000 front-yard makeover.

Other prizes included $1,500 towards a RAIN Smart improvement project and free home consultations by a “RAIN Coach

Why RAIN Smart?

In nature, when it rains, the rain falls on trees and plants and slowly makes its way to the ground, soaking into the soil and replenishing the groundwater. Unfortunately, in our world of concrete and asphalt, when it storms, the water hits these hard surfaces and runs off into the storm pipes, picking up dirt, oil and debris as it goes.

Often this water goes untreated and makes its way into our rivers and lakes, polluting, eroding and warming the surface temperature of these water bodies, which can lead to algae outbreaks and other nastiness. Health problems related to water pollution are estimated to cost Canadians $300 million dollars per year.

The RAIN Smart Neighbourhoods project encourages people to make a small but meaningful contribution to the solution by using three simple principles: 1) Slow it down; 2) Soak it up; and 3) Keep it clean.

The winner of the RAIN Smart Front Yard Makeover has the opportunity to put these three principles into practice with the help of Reep Green Solutions. So let’s see who won!

Alexis and the RAIN Smart Home

Chapter 1 – Alexis wins a front yard makeover

Alexis MotuzAlexis Motuz

Occupation: Recruitment Consultant and mother of two

Neighbourhood: Mount Hope

Enjoys: gardening, teaching, and collaborating on artistic and community development projects

Alexis’ story in her own words:

Last July, a kind young man with a slight German accent knocked on my door. He was wearing a shirt that said Reep Green Solutions. I had heard about them through their involvement in the home energy evaluation program, but the RAIN program was new to me. He began to tell me about the RAIN Smart Neighbourhood initiative and the contest that they were holding for our area.  

I knew a little about the pollution caused by stormwater run off and I already had a rain barrel that I used to divert some of this water and use it for gardening. I was eager to learn more, specifically about the more creative solutions that have been devised to divert (and use) this water.

When I learned I had been selected in a random draw to move to the next stage of the contest, I was very excited – as I told my son, with whom I was reading Charlie and The Chocolate Factory at this time, that this was like my own “golden ticket!”

In August, I was contacted and told that I was one of the finalists. On August 2 at the Guelph Street Community Garden, they announced the winners and, though I could hardly believe it, I had been chosen to be grand prize recipient for my neighbourhood.

I feel very grateful to be a part in this program. I look forward to having my outdoor space transformed and serve as an inspiration for others in the neighbourhood who will be able to take advantage of incentives. I‘m eagerly anticipating the work parties in our neighbourhood, to getting my kids involved and educating them on gardening and rain water solutions, and to seeing the overall transformation of front yards in what is already a creative, vibrant, and eco-friendly community.

I’m excited to see the final product for my yard and to having it be a showcase for what others can do. I also look forward to sharing my experience, and promoting the local workers/artists involved in the project, as I go through it.

In future posts, we’ll share the process used and progress that Alexis is making towards a RAIN Smart Home.


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