If you live in California, you’re probably well-versed in the concept of water conservation, especially in the Valley. Everyone knows a big swath of lawn to water and mow isn’t a great reflection of a sustainable ethos. In fact, drought resistant and water-efficient landscaping is even mandatory in some jurisdictions like Menlo Park.
What you may not know, is that passive homes take a commitment to environmental conservation up a big notch. Passive and extremely high-performance homebuilding considers the entire impact of the home on the landscape, including the reverse – the effect of the landscape on the home. A passive house works with the surrounding nature. What we like to call high-performance landscaping is an integral part of our custom home project scope.
The good news is, many of the sustainable landscaping techniques we recommend accompany our modern custom homes are right on par with the top trends in outdoor living and landscape design.
Recent research from the National Association of Home Builders and Better Homes & Gardens discovered that homeowners’ desire for outdoor amenities continues to hold steady while becoming even more specific. Nationally, people want to do things like entertaining, crafting, reading and relaxing outside. Over three-fourths of millennials wish to have outdoor space, with things like vegetable gardens, fences and private decks topping their list. Fortunately for those of us living in Silicon Valley, outdoor living is available year-round.
A modern custom home builds transitional and outdoor living spaces right into the home design, both public and private. When choosing what types of outdoor living you want with your custom home, you should start with the idea of function, then add fantasy to make it personal. For instance, types of functional outdoor space include cooking, entertaining, children’s play areas, safe garden space for pets, etc. When you overlay that with fantasy – ideas that evoke emotion – you may discover you’d also like meditation or yoga space, a place to grow food, a place to swim, etc. This intersection of practicality and desire is the key to creating outdoor space customized to you and your family’s lifestyle.
“Whatever you do in your landscape, from ornamentation to entertainment areas, there should be a defined purpose to draw your eye or physical presence,” advises Russ Swalberg of Exterior Spaces Design, LLC. “For instance, if you have a firepit in the yard, but it doesn’t have seating, or it’s inconvenient to get to, you’ll end up not using it. No one wants to drag chairs out and back to a firepit. It’s a matter of making the space functional and as easy as possible to facilitate the use of it.” Swalberg, who works on new and existing construction recommends engaging a professional landscape designer who can help you identify your lifestyle priorities and desired amenities. They can create spaces within your budget from which you’ll get the most enjoyment – and make sure they are in line with the sustainability goals of a high-performance home.
As part of a move to low water landscaping, Californians are already riding the trend of utilizing local plant species and creating more natural, climate-sensitive yards. Drought-tolerant and native Californian plants have the additional benefit of supporting area wildlife through natural habitat creation. “Most of this dwindling habitat became of our expanding cities and sprawling suburbs—spaces that have been designed for convenience and aesthetics, with little thought to the needs of local wildlife. Yet there is no reason we can’t create convenient, beautiful landscapes that also meet the needs of many, if not most, of our animal neighbors,” writes Doug Tallamy, professor, and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.
Award-winning California landscape designer, Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates likes to see landscapes take this edict even further. “Provide habitat (water, food, shelter) for as many components of the native biome as possible. Knock out a couple of fence boards between neighbors to provide a wildlife corridor; leave a few logs to rot to support bugs, lizards, and salamanders,” she advises in a recent interview with the Santa Barbara Independent.
Supporting local species, even bugs, all contributes to living in harmony with the native biome. In fact, less than two percent of outdoor insects are pests and are often controllable through non-toxic methods rooted in sustainable garden practices.
There are many resources for researching native and drought-resistant plants appropriate for sustainable landscaping, as the California Water Service. The California Native Plant Society also hosts an annual native garden tour for inspiration.
Passive home builders have long known that the built environment should work in harmony with the surrounding terrain. Pre-planning for home placement, landscaping and water management are essential for passive heating and cooling and stormwater collection in addition to the integration of beautiful outdoor and indoor spaces. From the home’s position on the property to the selection and placement of appropriate trees and other outdoor elements, a high-performance home is designed to reduce environmental impact and prioritize energy conservation.
This whole house approach to homebuilding can also take advantage of salvaged building materials and the integration of existing natural features into the design of the home, as well as the garden.
Clarum works in collaboration with top landscape designers to make the best use of local resources to realize your dream home, inside and out.
Want to learn how Clarum can bring a new level of sustainable beauty to your custom home building project with high-performance landscaping? Give us a call at 650.322.7069.