Sustainable Landscapes Offer Sites Long-Term Value
Creating positive curb appeal is essential to attract eligible candidates to your tax credit site and combat negative perceptions of low-income housing among the local community. You may think that an expansive, rolling green lawn contributes to your site's overall attractiveness, but maintaining it probably puts a huge dent in your operating budget.
You can halve your maintenance costs by replacing turf with low-maintenance shrubs and plants, says Steven Gustafson, green industry consultant and co-author of the IFMA Foundation's Sustainable Landscaping how-to guide. On average, the cost of turf maintenance is 40 cents per square foot compared with 20 cents per square foot for shrubs and ornamentals.
Conversion Brings Quick ROI
Many new developments are turning to sustainable landscapes for the numerous benefits they offer. In addition to lowering costs by minimizing water usage, as well as chemical pesticides and fertilizers, sustainable landscapes require less maintenance, reduce groundwater and air pollution, and improve the physical appearance of the site.
One of the biggest misconceptions that site owners have about sustainable landscaping is that it's an all-or-nothing proposition that requires a substantial upfront investment, Gustafson says. But “once a plan is devised to convert to sustainable landscaping, the plan can be phased in according to a financially feasible pace,” he says.
What type of return on investment can site owners expect from converting to a sustainable landscape? Depending on your geographic location, the estimates range from 35 percent to more than 100 percent, according to Gustafson. “Case studies have shown savings in water costs can range from 40 percent to 75 percent per year,” he says. “In arid climates, the ROI for decreased water costs alone can result in recovery of investment in very short periods (one to 10 years). When other savings, such as decreased costs of fertilizer and pesticides, are factored in, the complete ROI can be amazingly quick (three years).”
Consider Overall Site Objectives
Keep in mind that there are other types of return on investment for affordable housing sites. “There are the tangible dollars and cents, and then there are environmental and human factors—livability issues,” Gustafson says. “That's what sustainable sites are all about.”
When thinking about landscaping options for your site, he advises owners and managers first to consider the objectives that you want the landscape to achieve. Those should include:
- High level of curb appeal to encourage pride and ownership in the community.
- Safe, attractive spaces for children to play in.
- Good lighting to ensure safety and security.
- Large, well-cared-for trees (their presence is correlated with decreases in crime, higher property values, and healthier residents).
Next, put together a sustainable project team (landscape architect, contractor, installer, maintenance staff, etc.) to develop a plan for converting areas of the site to healthier, more economic landscaping.
EDITOR'S NOTE: “The Sustainability How-To Guide Series: Sustainable Landscaping” can be downloaded from www.ifmafoundation.org.
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Tips for Cutting Water Costs for Lawn and Landscapes
Lawn and landscape irrigation wastes up to 1.5 billion gallons of water every day and accounts for 40 percent to 60 percent of urban water use, according to ET Water Systems, a producer of irrigation control systems. The firm offers the following tips for cutting your site's irrigation water use:
Install an irrigation system that uses smart irrigation technology. Smart irrigation technology, which includes “smart controllers” that apply water to landscapes based on current local weather conditions and specific landscape factors, including plant type, soil type, slope, sun/shade, sprinkler type, and distribution uniformity, can reduce irrigation water use by 20 percent to 50 percent.
Put plants in the right places. Water-loving plants require frequent irrigation while many trees, shrubs, perennials, etc., need less frequent irrigation. Be sure to group plants together depending on their watering needs and plant low-water users farther away from buildings or where irrigation may not be readily available.
Irrigate efficiently. To reduce evaporation, operate your irrigation system during the cooler hours of the early morning rather than during the heat of the day or windy weather. Make sure that misdirected water is not running off onto driveways, sidewalks, or streets. And water only as needed depending on the time of year and average rainfall.
Appropriate maintenance. Apply as little fertilizer to your lawn as possible. Applying excess fertilizer increases water consumption and creates more mowing for your maintenance staff. Make sure staff use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and have them set lawn mower blades one notch higher. Longer grass means less evaporation.
Prepare the soil. The texture of the soil has a direct influence on water retention, drainage, and aeration. Before planting, ensure that existing weeds are removed; they compete with desired plants for soil moisture, sunlight, and nutrients.
Limit turf areas. A lawn is almost always the largest user of water. Use lawn turf only where it serves a purpose, such as in a play or entertainment area.
Select low water use plants that are appropriate for your climate. Consider using native species from your climate zone. Once established, they'll need dramatically less water.
Apply mulch. A thick layer of mulch acts as insulation for your soil and significantly reduces evaporation of soil moisture. Mulch can also reduce weed growth, reducing competition for soil moisture.
Water thoroughly. Deep watering is better than frequent, shallow watering because it encourages deep roots.
Check with your municipality for watering restrictions. Outdoor watering restrictions exist on both state and local levels; failure to comply can result in monetary fines.