7 Tips for Greening Your Outdoor Living Spaces

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Welcome to the third installment of our Homeowner’s Guide to Greener Living.  Today we are focusing on making sure your outdoor living spaces and the tools you use to maintain them are in line with your goals for greener living.

Over the years people have gone from spending most of their time outdoors to spending most of it indoors. This trend has caused us to focus more on the efficiency of our indoor environments in terms of our comfortindoor air quality, heating and cooling and adequate daylighting.

But the trend may be changing. There is a renewed interest for homeowners to utilize their outdoor living spaces and spend more quality, family time outdoors.  Decks, patios and enclosed porches can be wonderful havens in the warmer weather. Maintained lawns and gardens provide great places for your family to play, relax and just spend time together.

Here are a few tips for sustainable management of your outdoor spaces:

  1. Battery Power vs Gas Power Tools – Choose battery powered or electric tools for your gardening and yard needs. Gas powered tools, while perhaps more convenient to use, produce fumes when operating and can be a potential hazard in your garage when stored. Also, ethanol modified gas takes its toll on the aluminum parts causing the tool to have a shorter service life. Battery pack tools are increasingly efficient, safe and last longer than ever. For example, I have had several leaf blowers in the last five years because they would fail after a season or two. I finally switched to an electric version. Unfortunately, the chord does present length limitations so I have a battery powered one as well. There have been debates among landscapers about what works best so I am providing two sources if you want to take a deeper dive into this. The first comes from Popular Mechanics and the second is from Lawn and Landscape.  Like most things, the goals that you have for the ‘greening’ of your home environment will help you make these types of decisions. It has to fit in your plan.
  2. Durable Outdoor Living Spaces – Choose vinyl or composite deck, railing and fence products to create gathering areas, add privacy and protect the safety of those in your backyard. Manufacturers are creating beautiful products that look even better than the original materials they replaced and best of all these products are virtually maintenance free. Wood products need to be treated for weathering and pest invasion. This is a cost of ownership you will not incur with newer versions.
  3. Backyard and Gardens – Creating flower and vegetable gardens can add character to your yard as well as fresh produce for your family. There are great resources for planning and maintaining organic gardens with tips for safe pesticides. Good Housekeeping offers great advice on organic gardening as does Rodale Press. Now that I live in the suburbs. I am starting to dabble in vegetable gardening so I want to use the safest methods available for my family and pets. I like to visit the Amish communities in the Lancaster, PA area. They create the most beautiful gardens but the genius of what they create is that every plant in the garden has a purpose. They are not just for decoration.If you have a super ‘green thumb’ and have more produce than you can use, consider donating it to a local food bank to share your bounty with others less fortunate.  Our Company has a garden club and that is exactly what they are doing with the fruits of their labor.
  4. Water Resources – One thing that we often forget about is what water sources you use outside. Your public water has been filtered for drinking and is generally tied to your sewer bill so it is better to not use that for watering your lawns and gardens. Rainwater harvesting systems are a great way to collect and reuse what nature is providing. If you are handy, I found directions to build your own rainwater harvesting system. If not, there are plenty of systems and solutions available for purchase.
  5. Dealing with Unwanted Guests – Humorist Ogden Nash wrote “God in his wisdom made the fly, And then forgot to tell us why…” That pretty much sums up how most of us think about bugs in general. While all living things do have a purpose, most of us desire to control the ratio of pests to people. I found this site from a group in New York City called Inhabitat that provides suggestions for ways to control garden pests with herbs and other insects rather than insecticides.
  6. Controlling the Tick Population – For those of us with pets and children, concern is mounting about ticks. It is hard to find organic pesticides especially for treating specific issues like ticks.  But I did find a local source, Patriot Pest Solutions who treats yards for ticks. You have to treat the yard monthly but when they are done your yard will smell like cedar for a few days. The biggest surprise was that the insecticide is so safe that the technician didn’t even need to wear the typical safety gear.
  7. Next Generation Outdoor Lighting – Because of advances in photovoltaics, solar lighting gets better all the time. Invest in LED solar lighting that can enhance your yard and garden as well as can provide safe and sustainable flood lighting for your driveway and entrance. You can also incorporate solar caps on your deck or fence to improve night time lighting but without wires or extension cords. These are not only great for safety they also add nice ambiance to your outdoor space. Another option to cut down on the cost of electric lights is to use PV/battery powered security and safely lighting. Again, these are much more powerful than they used to be. If you decide to move to wireless options make sure to remove any outdoor wiring that was buried and is no longer in use. You don’t want children and animals to discover it the hard way!

The beauty about the way we build today is that homes and properties are adaptable to changes in our families and lifestyles.  The most important thing is try not to do things that can’t be undone because change is inevitable.

If you have tips or resources that you have found, please send them my way so that we can share them through the blog.  I’m sure some of you have some ‘green’ stories to share.

Ready to get started? We dug up 6 Free Tools to Help You Plan Your Outdoor Reno.

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Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

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