As water becomes more of a scarcity in parts of the U.S., people are learning to better conserve their use of this priceless resource. One thing that can greatly help with conservation is changing a property’s landscaping from that beautiful lush green grass to a yard that uses more drought resistant plants, or even no plants at all. Lately, more people are going drought resistant with their lawns, and with some beautiful results. Part of the inspiration for this, of course, is that as water bills go up, we look for ways to save. So here are some notes on the issue and some ways you can make a difference for the environment and your wallet.
Now, I’m going to quote statistics and numbers from Southern California areas, but your area may be different. However, these numbers will at least give you some items to consider.
First, the average single family home uses about 130,000 gallons of water per year, with half of that going to exterior landscaping if you have a grass lawn. Grass uses about 30-45 gallons of water per year, per square foot of grass , so if you have a 1,000 square feet of grassy area, it uses more than 30,000 gallons of water each year to stay green and nice.
While water costs vary, in Southern California, they may be around $.01 to $.02 per gallon, which means that 1,000-square-foot grassy area costs $300 to $600 per year in water usage. And it’s not just that, it’s mowing it too! That might add another $50-$100 per month to your bill, causing the costs of maintaining that lawn to add up over time. More importantly, as water becomes scarcer and the population grows, water rates are eventually going to go through the roof. So let’s think through how we can use less water with respect to our outdoor areas.
One negative issue to note is that it costs money to make your lawn drought resistant, and this can cost you thousands of dollars, depending on what you do. And if you run the numbers, you’ll probably realize it’s actually less expensive to just leave the grass in place and pay the monthly costs associated with not making any changes. However, as the cost of water increases, and simply on a “let's work to save the environment” basis, you'll hopefully make the decision to move towards a lower water usage environment.
One option is to replace your grass with fake green grass . The newer types of faux grass really do look awesome, and it uses no water and never needs to be mowed. It does, however, cost quite a bit to install. With professional installation, it can run up to $15.00 per square foot, so that 1,000 lawn area might cost up to $15,000 to redo.But to reduce that cost, you might just replace some of the grass and leave the outside areas as bare dirt or put in some drought resistant plants to fill in the gaps.
Wood chips are also another good option. You could scrape the grass, put down weed blocker paper mesh, and cover the entire area with wood chips. You can do this yourself if you want to save some money, but just be ready to spend a few weekends on the job. As a plus, the metal mesh clamps that hold it in place and the wood chips are going to cost a lot less then the fake grass. You’ll need to drop a few new bags of wood chips on the area each year as the existing ones fade, but they are only about $5 per bag at home improvement retailers.
Another option is to do the same preparation as the wood chips above, but have some nice stone dropped on the area instead of wood chips. They are usually purchased by the cubic yard and dropped by a dump truck at your house. Check the Internet for a local stone retailer. They are a little expensive, but still much less so than the fake grass, and in general, need no maintenance.
Lastly, you could employ any or all of the above and leave some areas as dirt with some natural plants that don’t use much water and grow slowly. Jade plants, ice plants, birds of paradise, lantana ground cover plants, etc. are all lower-water-use plants that can look incredible in the right configuration. You might even want to have a landscape architect design it for you.
But even if you don't want to go and replace your entire lawn, you can still help conserve water and lower your bills by doing a sprinkler check up. You want your sprinklers to hit the grass, work at night when the sun won’t burn off the water, and water the grass just enough to keep it looking nice instead of excessively. Sprinklers are a pain and sometimes the controller units are pretty confusing, but give it a good shot to work towards getting them to use only the amount of water needed for the task. That alone will save lots of water and some money.
Either way, stopping excessive water use is the goal to help the environment and your pocket book too!