Taking LEED into the Landscape

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    Bailey Haines

    It seems from existing discussions that there are some definite limitations to LEED certification. Outside of planting native vegetation and reducing irrigation needs, what other steps can we take to create more energy efficient landscapes?

    some basics:
    • Planting trees for the purpose of providing shade, which reduces cooling costs.
    • Planting or building windbreaks to slow winds near buildings, which prevents heat loss.
    • Wall sheltering, where shrubbery or vines are used to create a windbreak directly against a wall.
    • Earth sheltering and positioning buildings to take advantage of natural landforms as windbreaks.
    • Green roofs that cool buildings with extra thermal mass and evapotranspiration.

    but are there elements of regenerative design that we could incorporate to take energy efficiency to a new level? or any other ideas?

    Ryan A. Waggoner

    Hey Bailey, good question. Are you looking at more residential design or commercial as well. I ask because I’m joining a high-end residential design firm and wondering how to incorporate some LEED ideals myself…

    Bailey Haines

    As I wrote this I was thinking about both public and residential projects. Working with a high-end residential firm will give you a great opportunity to contribute to a movement of incorporating function (energy efficiency) into aesthetics. I think that incorporating natural systems into our plans can sometimes get lost in our desire to make a grand statement for our clients.

    Roland Beinert

    I have a book about exactly this subject, but I’m not at home and can’t remember the title or author. I like it because it breaks the subject down by climate type. I’ll get back to you on the title and author at some point.
    Passively cooling a building often seems to come down to creating air movement as much as shade. You can put a shaded outdoor area on the north side of the building and vents or openable windows on the south side of the building. The air gets heated on the south side and rises to escape through the windows or vents. Then the cool air from the shaded outdoor area on the north side is drawn into the house to replace the hot air. I guess you really have to work closely with the architect to get it to work right. You can find more info about this sort of thing in the book I mentioned or in permaculture books.
    I’ve also heard about evaporation from fountains having a cooling effect. I live in a dessert, so I tend to think more about cooling when it comes to energy efficiency.
    It’s kind of a shame that designers aren’t taught to think this way anymore. Bill Mollison comments in one of his books on how we already know everything we need to know to bring about sustainability, but this is not very apparent to the average person in the modern world.

    Bob Luther

    how about low-voltage or solar lighting, recycled materials (glass in concrete, broken concrete retaining walls, etc.) light colored hardscape/paving, high effecience irrigation (subsurface drip and ET Controllers) are a few thoughts

    David Barbarash

    Don’t forget about using landscape to lessen impacts on public utilities, namely stormwater and sewage systems (if we can get past the greywater stigma). Landscape can reduce the total load of storm runoff caused by development while slowing it’s release into the sewer system, saving municipalities millions of dollars in treatment and maintenance costs.

    Plants can be used to filter allergens and pollutants from the air in both public spaces, and buildings if a designed system is incorporated into building intake/exhaust areas. Combine oxygen production with evapotranspirative and shaded cooling measures and you reduce ozone formation while increasing the quality of breathable air at the ground plane.

    What about animal habitat? Cities can be more than a home for rats, wrens, & pigeons. Especially important with recent collapses of pollinator colonies. Without pollinating species, we’d see les flowers and food.

    Established plant cover can retain, sustain, and create topsoil, reducing the need for fertilizers; either “natural” or chemical. This becomes more and more important as the arability of our commercial cropland is reduced by tilling (where winds blow away loose tilled soil) and pollution.

    LEED should push to avoid monoculture in it’s planted spaces. This goes for lawn, naturalized areas, and streetscapes/parks.

    There’s a quick list off of the top of my head. Needless to say I’m none too impressed with LEED when it comes to landscape. The fact that a project can be certified and not address some of the major landscape issues in the existing LEED code by earning points elsewhere does little to truly aid the environment OR save a client money in the long run…

    EDIT: and as for windbreaks, they’re not always a good thing in cities. Sometimes the only thing that can clear an inversion is a steady breeze. If we were to wall off our cities in the hopes of reducing heat loss, we’d likely end up with stiflingly hot and unbreathable air which would cost much more in both dollars and environmental costs to filter and cool during summer months.

    Bailey Haines

    David, I agree completely – there is so much more that we can be doing to contribute to the large scale health and vitality of the environment. Avoiding monocultures, which are very hip in modern installations, utilizing plant systems to filter pollutants, etc. I am also glad that Roland brought Bill Mollison’s name into the discussion. He obviously has some great insight into creating whole systems in the environment. Now the key is to incorporate his ideas with an appealing aesthetic. Permaculture principles should be considered and implemented in design more often than not…

    Roland Beinert

    Here’s that book I was thinking of:
    Energy-efficient and environmental landscaping : cut your utility bills by up to 30 percent and create a natural, healthy yard
    by Moffat, Anne Simon.
    I’m sure there are other similar books.

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