From the August/September 2010 Issue:

Design a Greener Hardscape

  • Writer: Nena Donovan Levine, Allied Member ASID, CAPS

Beauty and environmental consciousness can go hand-in-hand

Article Photo
enlarge | The owner chose a meadow of native grasses and flowering perennials over large sweeps of lawn in this project by Jeffrey Charlesworth of Quercus Studio LLC. Garden walls are constructed of stones saved during the excavation for the house. Steppingstones are spaced so rainwater seeps between them during storms.
Hardscape. If the word revives memories of blacktop playgrounds and skinned knees, it’s understandable. It even sounds unfriendly. In fact, hardscape refers to permanent features on your property such as patios, swimming pools, fences, walls, and driveways. These outdoor structures — their size, location, and make-up — present opportunities to “green” your property.

First, though, think about water, because hardscape elements influence the travels of all the melted snow, rain, and irrigation water in your yard — for better or worse. Landscape architect Jeff Charlesworth, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects with LEED AP credentials in advanced knowledge of green building practices, views water as a desirable resource, not an unwelcome intruder. The challenge then is how best to control, retain, and use it.

Doing so, says Charlesworth, a principal in Quercus Studio in Ringoes, yields positive results for the property and reduces negative influences on surrounding waterways.
Instead of installing in-ground concrete drywells, for example, he prefers ornamental rain gardens planted with species thirsty for overabundant water. This option:

• Tackles the drainage issue.

• Eliminates drywell engineering and construction expense and the resources to manufacture the concrete.

• Reduces run-off into storm sewers and waterways.

• Filters water as it percolates through the garden soil.

• Replenishes groundwater supplies.

• Creates beauty where there was bog.

Charlesworth has done this on more than one New Jersey property. He promotes not just sustainable but regenerative landscape design.

Avoiding drywell installation is the hardscape equivalent of the road not taken. Positive hardscape additions include permeable pavers and other pervious structures that encourage percolation. (“Pervious” isn’t an everyday word, and “percolate” triggers a hankering for coffee, but once you see pervious as the opposite of impervious, and percolation as the process of liquid infiltrating the soil, you’re good.)

E.P. Henry, a century-old New Jersey company, produces myriad hardscaping products, including three specifically designed to capture water: Eco Pavers,™ Turf Pavers, and Monoslabs. The 2006 BASF Near-Zero Energy Home in Paterson is a good example of using pervious materials, says Carolina Lobo, vice president of marketing for E.P. Henry (read about the innovative Paterson home in “The Evolution of Green,” page 160, August/September 2007, and in the “article archives” at ECO Pavers, which pull water into voids between interlocking concrete pavers, comprise the driveway. Turf Pavers and Monoslabs work where grass or other groundcover is desirable, but where vehicles may occasionally drive or park, such as historic landscapes or adjunct parking areas. Charlesworth has used a different green water-capture system: pavers dry-laid with wide joints, planted with Corsican mint, mazus, or thyme.

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enlarge | The gate is mahogany, which Charlesworth describes as a suitable hardwood when it’s from managed-growth forests.
Connections & Consequences

Reducing water run-off limits the load on municipal storm sewers. Steven Walko, community development director in Haddonfield, says his town is evaluating an ordinance that recognizes pervious hardscaping as a viable alternative to impervious materials such as asphalt. Historic Haddonfield, like many state municipalities, has an aging (non-existent in some areas) storm sewer system. When overtaxed, the system can flood, causing erosion and sending pollutants into rivers and lakes. Deicing salts, chemical fertilizers, heavy metals (from brake linings), and abundant hydrocarbons leached from asphalt and sealers are typical offenders. They damage aquatic life and degrade potability. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ( dep/infofinder/topics/water.htm) administers the state’s stringent storm-water management practices. To limit pollution the state mandates the amount of rainwater an area must absorb in a given time. Pervious surfaces offer one response to these requirements.

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enlarge | Cambridge Pavingstones manufactures pavers and wall systems of concrete and natural aggregates with no outside heating used in the production process. The company also offers kits with everything needed for an open-air kitchen and fireplace (pictured), fire pits, and waterfalls. The L-shaped kitchen kit, for example, comes complete with wallstones, a lighted 38-inch grill, refrigerator, sink, and cabinets/access doors, and a granite countertop with an optional pergola. Cambridge Pavingstones have ArmorTec® technology so they don’t fade and are resistant to slipping, chipping, and damage from deicing salts.
Other Hardscaping Thoughts

Homeowners can add a patio of recycled brick, a garden wall of local stone, and an arbor or shed built of repurposed barn wood. Corporate owners can practice the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) in their business conduct. Dave Scott, a landscape architect who heads up Laurel Oak Landscaping in Medford and Marlton, brings excavated concrete to a facility that crushes it for use in roadbeds, uses recycled concrete in patios, composts soil and green materials, and shreds wood teardowns to yield mulch. He also suggests plantings instead of a fence and an “invisible” fence to contain your dog.

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enlarge | The Trex Transcend decking and railing system — an alternative to wood, composite, and PVC materials — comes in four colors with a guaranteed fade- and stain-resistant finish; will not rot, warp, crack, or splinter; and is made of 95 percent recycled material, including plastic shopping bags, reclaimed wood, and sawdust.
Aesthetic and Economic Benefits

Hardscape elements often look better with the patina of age that repurposed materials impart. Think of lichen-covered stone benches and cedar planks weathered silver. Sometimes, however, a structure such as a deck must be brand new. Green choices are plentiful.

Suitable hardwoods from managed-growth forests include ip�, garapa, and mahogany. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification of the forest-management company.

Composite products such as Trex� require little maintenance. Many are manufactured of post-consumer, recycled materials and can be recycled at the end of their long, useful lives. Building a deck continues to be a relatively good investment in home equity, says a January 2010 article in trade magazine Professional Deck Builder. In the Mid-Atlantic region (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania), homeowners recouped, on average, 57.5 percent of the cost of an upscale composite deck (defined in the magazine as a $39,000 project). A midrange composite deck ($16,000 cost) brought 65.5 percent of its value at sale.

Railing Dynamics Inc. in Egg Harbor Township manufactures several deck-railing products. The company doesnt specifically promote its products as green because they incorporate PVC (vinyl), says Carolyn Groce, marketing and communications manager. But she points out the vinyl-clad posts are completely recyclable, require no painting, are long-lived, and hit a price point that a previous wood-fiber product could not. RDIs Titan Pro Rail" features posts with preinstalled brackets, easing the installers job.

Before & After

Dave Scott reminds anyone who makes landscape or hardscape improvements to take before and after photos. Its the only way to show others how things used to look and what a (green) investment youve made.

�Nena Donovan Levine, Allied Member ASID, CAPS. NDesign Communications Inc.