Part 3: Water efficient landscaping

By John Pyjar, Principal, LEED AP

Sustainable design and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have been getting a lot of press lately.  This is the third in a series of articles intended to give building owners an overview of the sustainable design features which are the most practical and effective in the long-term reduction of building operating expenses and energy consumption as well as features that contribute to the long-term “livability” of buildings.

For anyone living in Southern California, or anywhere in the Southwest, water conservation needs to become part of our way of life.  As our population increases and our water resources stay the same or decrease, conservation is the best course of action.

From a design standpoint, high efficiency toilets, low flow faucets, and waterless urinals are all important means to save water. However, the most dramatic area to save water is in landscape irrigation.

According to the California Department of Water Resources, about half of urban water use is for irrigation.  In San Diego, that number climbs to 60 percent. Think of it.  We use over half of our non-agricultural water supply to turn our corner of the desert into a tropical paradise with dense foliage and lush green lawns.

Here are a few ways to make irrigation more efficient:

  • “smart” irrigation timers that turn the system off when it rains
  • efficient rotor nozzles in lieu of spray heads
  • drip irrigation
  • use of gray water and recycled water

The biggest impact we can have is to re-think our design aesthetic.  The use of native, drought tolerant plant materials can be beautiful and sculptural.  Once established, xeriscape areas require little or no irrigation. There is a diverse plant palette of colors and textures that in the hands of a skilled and artistic landscape architect can be used to create a living composition, complimentary to the built environment.

domusstudio architecture has collaborated with a few award-winning landscape architecture firms, including  Deneen Powell Atelier, Schmidt Design Group, and Spurlock Poirier.