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Patios, walkways and paths

  • Choose permeable (porous) materials for patios and walkways. Impermeable (non-porous) surfaces such as concrete patios and paths prevent rainwater from naturally permeating into the soil. This causes erosion and burdens our water treatment infrastructure.
  • In order to improve durability and drainage, ensure the sub-surface beneath permeable surfaces is prepared correctly, such as with crushed rock.
  • Use solar-powered landscape lights in order to avoid increased energy use and wiring installation costs. These lights use small, integrated photovoltaic panels to store energy from the daytime for use after dark.


  • Wood decks tend to require a lot of work and maintenance. Consider durability and rot resistance, especially if you’re building close to the ground.
  • If you decide on a wood deck, seek out FCS-certified lumber.
  • According to the EPA, the least toxic alternative available is lumber treated with borate preservatives. Although more environmentally-friendly and safer for humans, borate-treated lumber is not suitable for wood exposed to rain or ground contact.
  • Other good alternatives for deck joists and beams are structural recycled plastic and copper azole-treated (CA-B) lumber.


  • Select native plant species. They are adapted to our region, many are drought-tolerant, and most do not need pesticides or fertilizer after establishment.
  • Create a backyard habitat that will attract a variety of wildlife, and consider certifying your backyard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.
  • If planting non-native species, select water-wise or drought-resistant plants.
  • If your house is in an especially breezy location, plant trees or shrubs to block the prevailing wind. This can help reduce cold air coming into the house during winter.

Irrigation systems

Automatic sprinkler systems waste about 30 percent of the water they deliver. It is possible to design a landscape that minimizes the need for regular supplemental watering once the landscape is established.

  • If your garden hose leaks at the spigot threads, try installing a rubber, round-edged washer instead of a flat-edged washer.
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are good alternatives to permanent in-ground irrigation systems. Soaker hoses are made from recycled plastic and are inexpensive. Drip irrigation systems apply water directly to the soil through tiny emitters so they allow for more precise watering to match the needs of specific plant types.
  • Plumb your irrigation system to use greywater from your home for irrigation. Typical greywater sources are showers and clothes washers. Permits are required for greywater use for irrigation in Seattle and King County. The permits require submittal of a plumbing/irrigation system design with the application.
  • Install a weather-based irrigation controller that automatically adjusts the watering schedule according to the weather.

Rainwater harvest

You can minimize potable water use by storing rainwater from your roof for later use. Whichever system(s) you choose, you will be helping to reuse water that would normally go directly into a storm drain.

  • First, reduce your water consumption by minimizing turf areas, reducing plantscape area, and planting native and native-adapted species that require less water.
  • Then invest in harvesting systems that match your watering needs.
  • Rain barrels are popular, but their small size makes them less efficient than cisterns. Here in the Puget Sound area; the weeks without rain from July through September mean your rain barrel empties quickly, and doesn’t refill. Some jurisdictions offer rainwater barrels at a reduced rate or they can be purchased at a home improvement store.
  • Cisterns are larger tanks that can store hundreds to thousands of gallons of water, enough to significantly reduce or eliminate the need to use municipal water for landscape purposes.
  • Rain gardens can be an attractive addition to your landscape, but must be carefully designed and located to avoid flooding.

Additional resources

Alternatives to Asphalt/Concrete: Pervious Surfaces and Low Impact Development (LID)

Landscape and gardening

Rainwater harvest


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