How to Protect Your Foundation with Energy Efficient Landscape Design
For most people, energy conservation means turning down the heat, turning up the air conditioning, or installing a water-saving shower head, but there are other actions homeowners can take to conserve energy, make their home more comfortable and durable, and spruce up their space at the same time.
Wet basements are a common problem in Vermont. The fix is often an electric sump pump or a dehumidifier. However, an alternative to using energy to dry the space is to prevent moisture in the first place. This is where thoughtful landscaping can save energy and protect your foundation.
Take a look around the outside of your home. If the grade of the ground around the foundation directs water towards your house, it will eventually make its way inside. Crowded foundation plants and shrubs can trap moisture and the roots from trees planted too close can damage foundations. On the other hand, well-placed trees in your yard can shade and cool your home in the summer and if they are deciduous, your home will benefit from the winter sun once the leaves have fallen. Another bonus? More sun in the winter can help you beat the winter blues!
Don't be afraid of landscaping! You don't have to tackle updates all at once and they can be as small or large as you want. You can do them yourself or hire some help. Some of the updates may be free or affordable or you may need to invest in some materials and equipment. Once you decide which updates and improvements are best for your home, set your budget and decide what you’ll do yourself and what you'll get help with. Maybe you can get volunteer help from family and friends or even trade time with a neighbor.
SAVE MONEY AND SAVE THE PLANET?
You can with our VGreen Money Market account. Now that's a win-win.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR STARTING YOUR PROJECT
BEGIN BY ASKING YOURSELF WHAT PROBLEMS YOU ARE LOOKING TO SOLVE.
- Are your current plantings causing foundation problems?
- How does water move (or not) around your house? Do you have ponding issues?
- With heavy rain or snow melt, does the water have a good place to drain? Are you near a river, lake, or pond where you need to consider the environmental impact?
DETERMINE WHAT YOU HAVE TO WORK WITH.
Take inventory of what you have now for plants, shrubs, and trees. Should anything be removed or cut back? You may want to trade perennials with neighbors and friends if you have plants that can be split to reduce their size. Does your foundation have exterior drains? Think about how patios, stairs, walkways, driveways, and parking areas affect your foundation.
Trees: Trees and foundations don't get along. The roots from trees that are too close to your home will likely damage your foundation. Leaves can also fill your gutters or build up a wet layer on the ground that prevents the area from draining properly.
Soil and mulch: You may want to amend your soil with organic matter like wood chips, compost, leaves, or other nutrient-rich sources so your new plantings get a great start. Mulch keeps weeds from taking over and retains moisture so you can limit watering.
Sunlight: Observe how the sunlight hits the front, side, and back of your home, and at what time of day—morning, mid-day, or afternoon. Note how the quality and length of daylight changes from season to season. If you have deciduous trees on your property, pay attention to how sun in the colder months and shade in warmer months can mean energy savings.
CONSIDER THE SEASONS WHEN YOU PLAN.
There's no perfect time for planting, but early fall is a great time to do the work. It's cooler in the fall to do the digging and stone spreading, and watering your new plantings will be more effective as it is cooler. Plus, there are fewer bugs! Plan in the spring and summer. Watch the way ice, snowmelt, and rainwater affect the area around your foundation so you know what areas need work. Note where you see water pooling and draining.
TAKE THE FIRST STEPS.
Once you've cleared away any unwanted plants, grade the soil so that it slopes down from your foundation. If you don't have exterior (also known as footing) drains, consider installing them. This usually means hiring a contractor, but it will be well worth your while. With the freeze-thaw cycles, foundations are not able to stand up to super wet conditions for years without water making its way inside. To prevent washouts, create a 12 inch buffer around your foundation by lining the ground with small stones or gravel. Consider installing gutters to prevent water from falling directly along your foundation. Remember to inspect and repair them and clean leaves and debris a couple times a year or as needed.
DETERMINE WHAT TO PLANT.
Unless you're a seriously ambitious gardener, choose easy care perennials and shrubs designed for Vermont's climate. Many ground-cover and low-growing plants are great for areas under windows. Consider sightlines from windows so mature plants won't block views. Avoid planting trees you’re your foundation, and contact Dig Safe before planting larger shrubs and trees. Think about how snow and ice affect plants under eaves and if you have a metal roof where snow slides quickly, avoid planting fragile shrubs that will be crushed. Also consider trees that lose leaves vs. trees that don't (pine, spruce, etc.) as this affects sun in winter, and shade in summer. If you're thinking about installing a solar array, hold off on planting trees until you have a site visit by a solar professional.
WHAT ABOUT A RAIN GARDEN?
If you have a low spot away from your foundation that seems to consistently fill when it rains, consider installing a rain garden. These gardens naturally absorb storm water, manage the drainage, and support easy-care plants that are well-suited to wet areas that can drain after a rain event. There are lots of options and materials that can be used, and it can be a great way to manage storm water, and keep water channeled away from your foundation. Plus, they attract pollinators (bees and butterflies) and reduce negative impacts on streams and rivers.
OTHER ARTICLES YOU MAY ENJOY:
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.
About Laurie Fielder
Laurie directs VSECU’s statewide VGreen energy savings loan program. Previously, she worked for the weatherization program at the Central Vermont Community Action Council (now Capstone), and for a successful residential solar installer. She enjoys helping Vermonters learn about efficiency and renewable financing options that maximize the savings of these smart investments. She lives in Woodbury with her family and enjoys the outdoors, walking the dog, and tackling home improvement projects.