By Michelle Talsma Everson
Arizona residents experience more than 300 days of sunshine annually – which gives us plenty of time to enjoy our backyards year-round. Luckily for eco-conscious homeowners, there are many ways to make your backyard as green and sustainably comfortable as possible – and we don’t mean just the grass.
“A sustainably designed home means your home is working smarter, not harder, creating less of an impact on the environment and saving you money while maximizing its livability,” explains Jason Boyer, FAIA, founder of Boyer Vertical, an architect-led real estate development firm that brings sustainably minded, architecturally significant projects to life.
According to the sustainable architectural experts at Jonite, a leading manufacturer of innovative and decorative architectural stone grating products, “Environmentally sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of ecological sustainability. Its core idea is to eliminate wastefulness and minimize environmental impact through architecture design.”
Some of the principles of sustainable design include utilizing the proper materials that are energy efficient, locally sourced if possible, and built to last.
“Many recycled and renewable materials are not only good for the earth, but they also require less maintenance,” Boyer adds. “Wood-look decking has been around for a couple of decades but now the material technology has evolved into exterior wall cladding, deck tiles, planters, and even outdoor furniture. Made from 95% recycled composite material, these products are popular because they require no staining and sealing and are UV-resistant.”
“A newer cladding product that I’m geeking out on is ACRE from Modern Mill. It’s a 100% recyclable product made from upcycled rice hulls and manufactured in the U.S.A. You can find high quality outdoor all-weather furniture made of some of these same materials that are both comfortable and easy to maintain,” he recommends.
He also shares that another personal favorite is Loll Designs, which features sustainable outdoor furniture.
Building a Great Outdoor Space
“Keep it simple,” Boyer advises when it comes to outdoor sustainable architecture. “I like to design outdoor spaces with different zones for dining and lounging, then accent them with focal points like a fire pit, fireplace, or a water feature. Incorporate a clean open space with low-maintenance turf, functional and aesthetically pleasing shade structures, and outdoor grills that let you easily extend your living environment outside.”
“Look past the trends and select timeless materials for your home,” he advises. “Focus on quality over quantity and consider durable materials with recycled and rapidly renewable content where possible. Work with your architect and/or landscape architect to develop a planting plan that complements your lifestyle and softens the space.”
One way to make your backyard and home more sustainable is by utilizing integrated indoor-outdoor connections that allow homeowners to extend their living space to the outdoors.
“By expanding living space outdoors, you provide a greater variety of healthy ‘rooms or spaces’ that can be enjoyed throughout the day and night—without increasing air-conditioned indoor square footage,” Boyer says. “… The secret sauce that makes these spaces work is careful consideration of the space, home, or building’s orientation to the sun.”
Another idea is also to look for opportunities to use home orientation to provide self-shading areas in the backyard. At KARMA, one of Boyer’s projects located in North Central Phoenix, he notes that “the shade from the second story of the home creates a cool backyard area that makes it enjoyable to sit out by the pool and enjoy dinner or an evening cocktail – even during the hot summer months.
He also suggests something novel: incorporating movable walls of glass. “First, it enables you to easily connect the indoor and outdoor areas, extending the living space of your home. Second, air flow is a great way to bring cool air in and allow warm, stagnant air to circulate out. This can be done through cross-ventilation through operable skylights as well as open doors.”
“It’s also important to note that there are cost effective operable exterior glass wall/exterior door products out there; I recommend consulting your architect or builder when considering your options,” he continues. “Finally, make sure you minimize the glass, or glazing, on the east and west sides of the home in a Southwest climate like Arizona. This will minimize the heat gain and reduce energy use, resulting in lower utility bills.”
Overall, Boyer says that good design matters when it comes to sustainable backyards and any part of your home. “It will impact both your quality of life and your resale value,” he advises. “Hire an architect capable of orchestrating all these elements into your best living environment. Hiring an architect for a sustainably built home commands a premium, but it is a solid investment. A properly designed home will not only impact your quality of life but also provide a good return when the time comes to sell your home.”
Find more ways to be sustainably comfortable in our Home section.