Treating rainwater… in your backyard!

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Project location: 168 Elm Ave., Elmhurst, IL 60126

Firm: de la fleur LLC

Project Landscape Architect: Marcus de la fleur

By Kareeshma Ali

Quite often when it comes to implementation of innovative design, people shy away saying, “not in my backyard!” This “NIMBY” attitude was a big driver in the transformation of Marcus de la fleur’s typical suburban plot in Elmhurst, Ill., into a high-performance, lush haven. As a landscape architect, de la fleur knew the only way to convey the importance of sustainable landscaping would be to apply techniques to his own home, turning it into a green laboratory.

Seven different treatments are incorporated into this pilot project. By examining these techniques as part of a holistic system, de la fleur’s efforts have resulted in great positive change. How did he find the motivation for this change? He says:

“I saw the need to dissipate skepticism and break the ignorance barrier by demonstrating sustainable solutions. My goal is not only to talk the talk but walk the walk. The purpose of the project is to change the mindset, one drop at the time.”

Here is how he “walked the walk”:

1. Green Roof: In the summer of 2004, the first residential green roof in DuPage County was installed on the roof of de la fleur’s front porch. It consists of a three-inch engineered growing medium over one-inch lightweight aggregate drainage layer. The green roof materials weigh about 25 pounds per square foot when saturated, and the green roof stretches over a 250 square-foot area.

“Where does the water that falls on the other roofs go?”

2. Rain Barrels: To capture valuable rain water, six 55-gallon rain barrels were installed on the southwest and the southeast corners of the house. These rain barrels receive the rainwater runoff from the entire south half of the roof. The barrels themselves are recycled car wash detergent barrels.

“What about water that falls on the rest of the yard?”

3. Porous Pavement: In 2003 the old, impervious, cast-in-place concrete pavement and side walk was replaced with porous pavement to provide stormwater retention. Depending on the subsoil infiltration capacity, porous pavement can help to maintain the natural water cycle, recharging local aquifers and supporting groundwater-driven base flow that feeds into streams, ponds and wetlands. All of the concrete pavers were salvaged from various locations before being reused in this project.

“How do you prevent flooding when there is extreme rainfall?”

4. Rain Gardens: Two residential rain gardens were installed to receive rainwater runoff from the south roof once the rain barrels become full. The entire rain garden was seeded with native prairie plants, including prairie grasses and sedges. No standing water has been observed, even during heavy storm events. The native rain gardens provide floral and textural interest throughout the year and attract a variety of wildlife.

“What if I need a driveway to park my car in?”

5. Gravel Grass: In 2005 the conventionally compacted parking stall, typical of many suburban and city homes, was removed. There is no need to pave over natural resources with concrete and asphalt just to have parking space in case it is needed twice a week or monthly. The gravel grass is now a functional spare parking stall that manages the precipitation it receives along with overflow from the rain garden.

“Can any of the water be reused?”

6. Cistern: The cistern was not something that needed to be installed; it was just repaired. The house was built with a 1200-gallon masonry cistern next to it. The cistern now has filters that keep debris out and is collecting and storing rainwater from the northern half of the roof. This water is now available for irrigating the vegetable garden and could potentially be used for toilet flushing and laundry. A simple utility pump is used to draw the water.

“What if the cistern overflows?”

7. Bioswale: A bioswale was installed to infiltrate any overflow from the adjacent cistern once it is full. Because the bioswale is in the shade of the house, it was planted with native species. The bioswale turned the awkward, narrow sliver just north of the house into an area that has beautiful floral texture throughout the year and attracts a variety of wildlife.

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