Side Note: Hardships of Renting

I think I mentioned before that we are renting the house next door to the lot we’re building on.  Our neighborhood is heavily wooded and the rental property has over 60 trees on 1/2 acre….plus lots of shrubs (and weeds).  We’re also about 1/4 mile from a creek.  We have a fair amount of wildlife in the area even though we’re right by Love Field inside the Northwest Highway loop of Dallas. 

Long story short:  Our rental is really falling apart, and as you can see from the photos, we’ve had raccoons and a opossum in our attic.  And in true environmentally-friendly fashion, we had them caught and released by a reputable wildlife handler.  Our landlord wanted us to place poison in the attic to kill them, then expected us to dispose of the carcasses….that wasn’t going to happen. 

Our landlord’s handyman came by this past weekend to close up the hole in the attic so no more critters can visit that closely.

Sustainable Sites (LEED SS Category)

As I mentioned before, our lot is what sold the original house – we love it.  It’s about .4 acres and very deep (about 250 feet deep).  LEED awards points for taking care of the land and preparing it to be water-wise and safe.  Here’s how the points worked for us:

We’re required to do basic erosion control during construction.  We investigated using burlap and shredded wood, but were told that the City of Dallas inspectors didn’t like that method, so we went with traditional plastic with wooden stakes.  We weren’t thrilled, but given the fits the inspectors had already given us during the foundation phase of the project we decided not to tempt fate further.

There are several points for basic landscaping design and techniques.  We have a landscape architect, Jim Martinez, engaged in the project who has a ton of experience with drought-friendly yards.   He was able to design the yard using native and adapted plants.  The LEED calculation lead us to expect a 66% reduction in irrigation demand, and that gave us a whopping 6 points.  That’s a lot in LEED-speak!  We left one point on the table – a point that would have required us to remove a large privet hedge.  I know some folks would pay money to get rid of their privets, but these had been on this property for more than 50 years.  They house the breeding site for our lightening bugs, provide cover for birds and other wildlife, and provide a year-round noise cushion between us, the neighbor’s pool, and Love Field traffic.  We just couldn’t bring ourselves to rip them out. 

French Drain installation

Other points can be earned by managing surface water.  Here are some of the design features we used to avoid as much stormwater runoff as possible:

  • Rainwater falling on 100% of our roof will be directed into two 2500 gallon cisterns to be used for irrigation and clothes washing.  I’ll talk more about this feature in a later post…we’re very excited about it!
  • Swales (or berms) in the back and front yard to create rainwater gardens that will capture and hold rainwater while it soaks into the ground.
  • French drains (being installed in the photo above) to direct water from the uphill side of the property around the structures and into the swales.  
  • Driveway runners versus a full concrete driveway – we’re creating concrete ribbons for our front yard drive with grass growing in between.  These look a bit old-fashioned, but they create a space for more rainwater percolation versus the rainwater running into the street.
  • Permiable driveway in the back of the house – it will be gravel so rainwater will soak directly into the ground versus running off of a concrete drive.
  • Patios made of poured concrete pads with space between them (versus solid slabs) to allow rainwater to run between them and soak into the ground
  • A lot of trees and bushes being added into the landscape to hold the dirt and reduce natural erosion

Other points we’re getting are for using non-toxic pest controls – things like making sure you don’t plant new plants within 24″ of the structures (we actually have a 24-36″ band of gravel around the structures, so no plants will be planted close to the house or garage) and sealing all openings with calk or wire mesh. 

We didn’t earn points for “Compact Development”.  The denser the population the less impact on Mother Nature, so LEED provides credit for denser developments.  Because we live in an area with lot sizes from .25 to 1.25 acres we were just out of luck.  To be eligible for points, you’re required to have a maximum lot size equivalent of 1/7 of an acre (and the smaller the better)….oh well!

Expected Sustainable Sites points:  16 out of a possible 22.

Location & Linkages (LEED LL Category)

Location & Linkages addresses the home’s access to things like already-existing utility services, public transporation, and neighborhood services (like grocery stores, dry-cleaners, churches, etc).  The less you’re having to bring in brand new water or electric lines to the area, the less energy and materials your house construction will use – and the smaller the negative impact to the environment.  The closer you are to neighborhood services and public transporation, the less likely you’ll be using your car to drive long distances to reach them.  So therefore, it’s easier to build green in existing neighborhoods than in brand new ones (although there are points for developers who are building new neighborhoods that are LEED compliant).

Honestly, we lucked into our LL category points because we chose the house and location long before we ever heard of LEED.   We in all likelihood wouldn’t have sold this house and moved elsewhere just to gain a few more LEED points.  We love our neighborhood – although we could use a few less McMansions (so two words to sellers and real estate brokers and developers:  Stop it!).

Because our neighborhood, Shorecrest Estates (which is bordered by Lovers Lane, Lemmon Avenue, NW Hiway, and Midway Road – – we’re on the cheaper, west side of Midway!), was established in the 1950’s, we obviously are building on a previously developed site, and we already have all utility services available.   And while the Retail developments at both Midway & NW Hiway and Lemmon & NW Hiway are over 1/4 of a mile from us, we do have multiple DART bus stops up and down Lemmon and Midway that allow us to get the maximum 3 points for “Outstanding Community Resources/Transit”. 

One question we never got resolved – but doesn’t matter to us because we qualified for the maximum points in this category already – was whether you’re supposed to measure distance as you would walk it, or as the crow flies.  Our bus stops qualified measuring as you would walk the distance, but our community resources didn’t.  It seems that these distances should be measured as you would walk since the idea is that the services need to be close enough to make you want to walk versus drive.

Proximity to established green spaces counts, and we’re very lucky to be located about 1/4 mile away from both the Bachman Creek Greenbelt and Field-Frazier Park.  These are both very basic but very nice green spaces.

Expected Location & Linkages points:  10 out of a possible 10.