Make the Most of the Outdoors

Building professionals can utilize space outdoors for prospective homeowners

By MARLA ESSER CLOOS

Our homes have literally become our centers amid the pandemic. Now summer and fall beckon us to make the most of our outdoors.

Homebuilders, remodelers and other home professionals have the opportunity to help homeowners and home dwellers make the most of their homes, especially outdoors. Several of these suggestions meet one or more green home certification program practices in the ICC-700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS).

Homes’ outdoor spaces offer a place to relax and work the soil. People across the country are jumping on the gardening bandwagon. Gardening offers the mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors, while working with our hands and harvesting the rewards. Gardening starts with a space that may be anything from a windowsill, a small patio, a manicured suburban lawn or acres of land. The ingenuity of homeowners and home dwellers inspires us to help create spaces in our projects to meet the growing need for outdoor spaces.

Homebuilders, remodelers and other home professionals have the opportunity to help homeowners and home dwellers make the most of their homes, especially outdoors.

Bring the outdoors in

Plan a windowsill or shelf for an herb garden for the “nurture of nature” indoors and a great fresh addition to meals. Remember that the windowsill or shelf may be home for containers, jars or whatever is on hand so make sure it is wide enough and well placed for sunshine. Help your indoor gardeners get creative with bringing the outdoors in.

Planting in containers is perfect for patios, decks and balconies. When designing and planning these outdoor spaces, be sure parts of it can accommodate container gardens with enough sun and easy access to water.

For patios, using permeable materials or pavers lets rainwater through and meets an NGBS practice. Add some wow factor to your projects with a container garden of veggies and herbs companion planted with flowers for some soul-warming beauty while keeping away unwanted pests. Self-watering grow boxes are an easy solution and can grow a good amount in a small space. Fabric-planting containers big enough for a small vegetable/ herb garden are also a good choice for patios as long as there is a place where it can stay, since it will be tough to move once filled with soil and plants. Perhaps include a container in your finished project or as a house-warming gift.

Plan gardens in the yards

Even a small yard can include a garden. Provide a spot in the yard for gardening, especially a raised bed garden. If a garden is in your client’s plans, consider including it in the project. For retrofit projects, a raised garden of some type can be filled with quality soil and can go on top of existing grass.

They also offer some protection from animal nibbles (depending on the height) and can be a back saver when tending the garden. Many types of raised bed gardens may be purchased or easily built.

If land is plentiful, help your clients consider what types of gardening may be possible. The less lawn area to maintain, the less water, energy and synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides needed.

A landscape plan from a landscape pro and less lawn both meet NGBS practices. This plan and professional guidance can help your clients decide the specifics of the garden. This can include native plants, a wildlife garden and low water use irrigation and/or rainwater collection, all contributors to NGBS certification. A big garden or even a mini farm could result in enough produce to feed a family with plenty to share. Many local food pantries and organizations may take contributions of fresh garden produce from bountiful home gardens.

Be the Hero – Find help

Scout around on podcasts, blogs and YouTube to find a teacher or two to provide your clients with inspiration and how-to for their specific situation. Many offer free guides and courses. My personal go-to is a podcast called the GREEN Organic Garden podcast hosted by Jackie Marie Beyer. While Beyer admittedly claims to not be the expert, alongside her avid farmer/gardener husband she relates their experiences and she interviews a lot of knowledgeable guests with a wide diversity of topics. There is also a free organic garden course on the podcast website.

To paraphrase the old Chinese proverb, the best time to plant a garden was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Planning a garden into your projects brings happy gardening.

Marla Esser Cloos, the Green Home Coach, helps you get the value of green for you, your family and your community. Cloos is a NAHB master certified green professional and LEED AP.