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Alternative Energy
Rain Barrels
Pervious Pavement/Permeable Pavers
Rain Garden
Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Green Roofs


  • What is LEED? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is the industry- recognized, voluntary standard that promotes a whole-building approach to sustainable building design. LEED promotes green design in six major categories.
    • Sustainable Site Development: When choosing a building site, the protection and restoration of natural areas should be considered.
    • Water Conservation: Buildings and grounds should incorporate features that minimize water consumption.
    • Energy Efficiency: To minimize the impact on the atmosphere, buildings should run as efficiently as possible.
    • Materials Selections: Eco-friendly materials and resources should be used and sourced within 500 miles of project site; surplus should be salvaged or recycled whenever possible.
    • Indoor Environmental Quality: Buildings should offer a healthy environment through increased ventilation and using low-emission building materials.
    • Innovation & Design Process: Green building design should demonstrate a commitment to innovation and sustainability.
  • Does LEED have guidelines for residential homes? While LEED standards are currently focused on commercial applications, there is a movement to bring LEED to residential building. There is one architectural firm,, designing LEED certified single family homes. You are also likely to see LEED certification on larger residential projects, like condominiums and apartment communities. The National Home Builders Association is in the process of developing their own guidelines for green building. Besides LEED certification, there are many things homeowners can do to make their home more “green,” including composting, rainwater harvesting, installing Energy-Star Appliances, using energy efficient light bulbs, improving insulation, remodeling with sustainable woods for floors and cabinets, using low VOC paints, and installing solar panels. You can learn more about how to make your home more green from the U.S. Green Builder’s Council’s website at
  • What is the Sustainable Sites Initiative? The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. Where LEED is primarily concerned with the building itself, SSI was created to provide performance benchmarks for sustainable landscape design, property line to property line. The rating system is currently being tested in pilot projects and is expected to be incorporated into LEED standards by 2012.

Alternative Energy

  • How much space do solar panels take and how much energy can they produce? Most residential systems are installed on a south facing rooftop that is unobstructed by trees or other buildings. The average 3,000 watt residential system takes up about 300 square feet. Each 1000 watts or 1kW of solar will produce approximately 100 kWH per month on average. The size of the system you get will depend on the space you have available, the amount of energy you want to produce and your budget.
  • Where can I get solar panels?
  • Are there grants available to help pay for solar panels? There are federal and state incentives available for qualifying households that can offset the costs by as much as 60%. You may also be able to sell energy credits back to the energy company! The company that installs your solar panels will be able to walk you through the qualification process.
  • Can I get a wind turbine at my house? Because Cincinnati isn’t a very windy place (despite Hurricane Ike), wind turbines aren’t yet an economically feasible option. The cost of installing and maintaining

Rain Barrels

  • How much do they hold? Most rain barrels have around a 50 gallon capacity, but you can find them from 35 gallons up to 300 gallons. You can also link barrels in tandem for more capacity. Once they are full, a hose can be attached to a spigot at the base of the rain barrel to water your plants with clean, fresh rain water!
  • How do I hook it up to my downspout? There are two ways to get water from your down spout into a rain barrel. The first way is to cut the down spout just above the top of the rain barrel and attach a flexible downspout elbow to direct water towards the mesh screen on top. The screen will filter out debris that may come out of your gutters. The rain barrel should have an overflow about 4 inches from the top of the barrel for when it gets full. The other option is a downspout diverter, which attaches to the downspout and sends water into the rain barrel with a hose. When the rain barrel is full, the remaining rainfall will continue down the downspout as normal. Diverters can be found online and typically run around $25.
  • Where can I buy them? There are many online sources for rain barrels in all sizes and colors as well as some local garden centers and even big box stores. Definitely call around to find out availability if you plan to purchase locally. Some municipalities and non-profits have participated in rain barrel programs as well. Most rain barrels are either round or rectangular and average prices range from $100 to $200. You can also make your own rain barrel for as little as $15. The EPA has instructions available online at make-rainbarrel.pdf.
  • What about mosquitoes? With a proper screen on your rain barrel, mosquitoes won’t have any way to get in and lay eggs. If you do not have a screen on your rain barrel, the water should be emptied at least every 10 days, the length of time it takes mosquitoes to breed.
  • Can I drink the water? No. The water from your rain barrel is safe for use in the garden, but should not be used for drinking or cooking. It is also not recommended for filling inflatable children’s pools.
  • What if I have to disconnect my downspout from the sewer? If your downspouts feed directly into the storm water sewers, there may be local regulations regarding the redirection of stormwater on your property. Check with your local authorities before disconnecting any downspout from the sewer system.


  • Why should I compost? Yard waste and food waste comprise approximately one-fourth of what we send to our landfills. These items can be composted and used to enrich and improve your gardens soil. With budget cuts forcing cities to abandon yardwaste collection, it’s more important than ever to reduce, reuse and recycle your yardwaste at home.
  • How does it work? Mother Nature has been composting since the beginning of time, but if you want to accelerate the process, there are three component to consider; food, water and oxygen. Lots of tiny workers, like bacteria, fungi, worms, mites, millipedes, and beetles are busy decomposing the organic matter in your compost pile. These creatures are getting food in the form of carbon and nitrogen. Carbon is usually the brown material, like wood chips or dead leaves, and nitrogen is found in the green material, such as fresh grass clippings. It is not uncommon for compost piles to accumulate more carbon than nitrogen which can slow the decomposition process. If this is the case, an application of organic nitrogen fertilizer can be helpful. Like most living organisms, the decomposers need water to live. Keeping the pile moist helps speed the process, but you don’t want it to remain wet. Make sure there is sufficient drainage if you keep your compost in a bin. Finally, the decomposers need air, so occasionally turn your pile over using a pitchfork to hasten the decomposition process.
  • What can I put in it? Leaves, grass clippings, yard trimmings, fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, and wood chips are common source materials for home compost piles. Animal manure can also be composted, but pet feces cannot because it may contain pathogens that are harmful to humans. Other items you do not want to compost are foods with fats, grease or oils, dairy products, meat or fish, or any garden waste that is diseased, insect ridden, or treated with chemicals.
  • Will my compost pile attract animals? Keep fatty or greasy foods, meat, fish, or dairy products out of your compost pile and bury any other food scraps as you add them. This should keep unwanted intruders from becoming attracted to your compost.
  • Do I need to buy a bin? You don’t have to. You can compost in a loose heap, as long as it’s at least 3’ tall and 3’ wide. That’s the minimum size necessary to create the right environment in the pile. You can also make your own bin using wire mesh, snow fencing, or wooden pallets tied together. Any material that allows oxygen to get in and water to get out is preferable. There are also several kinds of bins that you can buy, from simple structures that simply enclose the pile to rotating drums.
  • Should my compost pile be in sun or shade? A shady spot is preferable because compost piles in the sun tend to dry out too quickly. But, you can compost anywhere.
  • When will I have usable compost from my pile? If you follow all the guidelines, you can have compost ready to use in as little as one or two months. Piles that aren’t managed will produce compost in anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on conditions.
  • Where can I get more information? The EPA offers guidelines for composting on their website. Visit conserve/rrr/composting/index.htm to learn more.
  • What is mushroom compost? Mushroom compost is the spent growing medium that commercially-grown mushrooms grow in. The mixture is made of wheat straw, hay, corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, gypsum, and chicken manure, and sphagnum peat moss. It is steam treated to remove any pathogens prior to sale.
  • What is vermiculture? Also called vermicomposting, vermiculture is the process of using worms to compost organic wastes, such as kitchen scraps. It is becoming a popular way to compost indoors. Worm bins can be located in a corner of the kitchen, basement, laundry room, or garage; anywhere it never gets too hot or too cold. Worm bins should be between 8” and 16” deep (worms are surface feeders) and allow about 2 square feet of surface per person that’s contributing food waste. It should also have a lid to discourage flies. Shredded, moistened newspaper and a little garden soil are all the bedding that worms will need. Red wigglers, are the best choice for worm composting, and can easily be purchased online. Worms love things like stale bread, apple cores, orange peels, coffee grounds, and lettuce trimmings; just about any non-greasy kitchen scrap. In three to six months, you’ll be able to harvest a rich, brown compost (called worm castings) that you can use in your garden or on houseplants as a mulch or soil amendment. For more information, there is an excellent book called Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. There is also a website, acatalog/index.html.
  • What is compost tea? Compost tea is made by steeping compost in water. Nutrients and microorganisms are leached into the water which you can then use to water plants or spray on foliage. Proponents say that it helps deliver nutrients better and suppress diseases. However, scientific evidence is still weak in supporting this claim. Try making compost tea at home and see if you think it makes a difference in your plants!

Pervious Pavement/Permeable Pavers

  • What are they and how do they work? Pervious pavements, such as pervious concrete or porous asphalt, are similar to traditional pavements in use, but have significantly more pore space between aggregates allowing water to infiltrate rather than run off. Permeable pavers are not made of a pervious material. Rather, they have voids spaces within and between paver stones that are filled with gravel, allowing water to infiltrate the ground below.
  • Where can I get them? Permeable pavers: Reading Rock, (513)874-2345, Pervious pavements: McD Concrete, (859)441-8588,
  • Could I install them myself? For either type of surface, the most labor intensive part for a DIYer would be excavation. Because we have heavy clay soils in Cincinnati, a relatively deep area needs to be dug out and replaced with different sizes of gravel or limestone to give the water someplace to go. It’s not impossible to accomplish this yourself, but it would be extremely difficult and labor intensive without large, earth-moving equipment.

Rain Garden

  • What is a rain garden? A rain garden is a planted depression designed to capture excess storm water from impervious surfaces (like your roof, your driveway, or the road in front of your house) in order to divert it from already over-burdened sewers and allow it to infiltrate slowly back into the groundwater supply. They look just like any other landscaped area, except they are sunken, rather than raised.
  • What about mosquitoes? Rain gardens are typically designed to drain completely in about 24 to 48 hours. Mosquito eggs take at least one week to hatch, so there won’t be standing water in your rain garden long enough to foster mosquito eggs.
  • Can I have one at my house? Absolutely! While projects like the zoo’s Vine Street Village divert a large amount of water from the city’s sewers, every homeowner can make a difference by installing a rain garden on their property. There are several considerations when designing your rain garden. Location, location, location: Try to choose a location down slope from where rain water runs naturally, such as from driveways or down spouts. You can use the soil you dig from the center to create a berm on a slope to force the water to pond. Make sure you are at least 10’ from your foundation, to avoid seepage. Avoid locations where you already have standing water. It’s a rain garden, not a bog. Finally, don’t put your rain garden within the drip zone of large trees. If you look up and see branches, you’re too close to the tree. Size Matters: The size of the garden should be based on the size of the area that is draining into it. If the drainage area is hardscape (like a rooftop or driveway), the garden should be at least 15% to 20% of that size. If the drainage area is greenscape (like turf), the rain garden only needs to be 10% of the size. For example, if your driveway is 30’ by 100’, that’s 3,000 square feet. To build a rain garden that is between 15% and 20% of 3,000 would require at least 450 to 600 square feet. Clay soils don’t drain: Cincinnati soils tend to have a high percentage of clay, so you may need to amend your existing soil to create better drainage in your rain garden. Start by performing a percolation test. Dig a hole in the desired location that is 8” deep and 8” wide. Fill it with water and let it drain for an hour (this will mimic saturated soil conditions). Next, fill the hole with water again and place a ruler in the hole. After 4 hours, check the water level. Ideally, the hole would have drained at least one inch of water per hour. If the number is smaller than 1” per hour, the soil should be amended with organic material like pine fines and compost to improve drainage capacity. Depth: Plan for the garden to allow water to pond at a maximum depth of 10”. If you need to amend your soil, you’ll want to amend to a depth of 12”. Plants: Your rain garden should be shaped like a flat-bottomed bowl. Plants that can tolerate standing water for short periods of time should go in the bottom. Plants that are more drought- tolerant should go on the sides and at the top of the bowl. In larger rain gardens, you can use trees and shrubs as well as perennials and grasses. There are many beautiful plants that can be used successfully in a rain garden. For an extensive list, you can refer to the OSU Extension handbook Rain Garden Guidelines for Southwest Ohio. You can also search for rain garden plants at
  • How much do rain gardens cost? Most rain gardens cost between $7 and $12 per square foot to install.
  • What if I have to disconnect my downspout from the sewer? If your downspouts feed directly into the storm water sewers, there may be local regulations regarding the redirection of stormwater on your property. Check with your local authorities before disconnecting any downspout from the sewer system.
  • Where can I get more information on how to do this myself? The OSU Extension handbook Rain Garden Guidelines for Southwest Ohio is an excellent resource written by local professionals. You can find it online at HandbookFinalVersion3-AcrobatConverstion-forWEB1.pdf.
  • Who can I hire to install one for me? Because rain gardens have grown in popularity in recent years, most companies that offer landscape design services can help you create a rain garden that will work for your yard.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling

  • What is it? Geothermal systems take advantage of the earth’s constant temperature (around 55°) to heat and cool the air in your home. The cost savings with a geothermal system can be as much as 70% of your heating cost and 50% of your cooling cost.
  • How does it work? The geothermal heat pump works by running water (or a water/antifreeze solution) through a closed loop of pipe that can be dug vertically to a depth of 250’ or through a horizontal loop in 6’ deep trenches. The water that comes out of the pipe in the earth will be at a low-heat temperature. This low-heat solution then goes through a process of evaporation, compression, condensation and expansion that raises its temperature to 180° and allows the heat to be harnessed for heating your home. The process is reversed for cooling. The system uses a small amount of electricity in order to circulate the energy, but substantially less than traditional heating and cooling. You can find more detailed information from the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium at or the U.S. Department of Energy at
  • Can I have one at my house? Bill Spade Electric, Heating, & Cooling, (513)941-0075, Arronco Comfort Air, (859)525-6407,
  • What about the cost? Geothermal systems cost about 30% more than traditional heating and cooling systems. However, there are rebates and tax incentives to help pay for it, in addition to the promise of a smaller utility bill.

Green Roofs

  • What is a green roof? A green roof is a rooftop covered in soil and vegetation. It helps mitigate stormwater runoff, reduce the urban heat island effect, clean the air, produce oxygen and provide habitat for wildlife. They can also reduce your heating and cooling bill and extend the lifetime of your roof.
  • Could I have one at my house? There are two kinds of green roofs. Intensive green roofs are usually built for aesthetic value and can support larger plants such as trees and shrubs in rooftop gardens. Extensive green roofs are planted with hardy, low- growing groundcovers and grasses. They are typically built for their environmental and economic benefits and are not meant to be accessible gardens.
  • How much do they cost? Because extensive green roofs weigh between 15 and 50 pounds per square foot, they require professional design, careful structural analysis and multiple layers and systems. As a result, green roofs start at $8 per square foot, while traditional roofs cost around $1.25 per square foot. However, over the lifetime of the roof, the green roof’s benefits will outweigh the initial cost. There is currently a bill (S.320) in front of the congressional Finance Committee that could offer homeowners a 30% tax credit for the installation of green roofs in the future.
  • Who can install one? As green roofs become more common, more builders will begin offering this service. You can use the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide to locate local companies who work on green roofs at Who installed the zoo’s green roof on Giraffe Ridge? Zero Roofing, (513)541-1848,


  • What is xeriscaping? Xeriscaping is creating water efficient landscapes based on basic water conservation principles. These principles include thoughtful plant selection, installing efficient irrigation systems, and mulching. In drier parts of the country, such as in the west, up to 70% of fresh water can be used to irrigate landscapes. In these areas where water shortages are common, many government agencies are pushing homeowners to use xeriscaping techniques to reduce their water usage. In Ohio, we get enough rainfall each year to meet our demands, but finding ways to conserve water is always a good idea.
  • How can I make my landscape more drought resistant? First, choose plants carefully. Some plants require less supplemental irrigation than others. Also, group plants in your landscape based on their water needs. This will make the irrigation you do more efficient. Second, limit the amount of turf grass in your yard. Turf requires not only more water, but more fertilizers and herbicides than traditional landscaping. When you do have to water your lawn, water deeply(one inch of water will soak in 6” to 8”), but less often (about once per week). Also, cut the grass as high as possible in order to shade the roots and keep the soil cool, reducing evaporation. Third, mulch your landscape beds. Mulch is not only a great way to suppress weeds, it also helps regulate soil temperatures and retain moisture. A 2’ to 2.5” layer of mulch will help reduce the need for supplemental watering. Finally, keep your beds weeded. Weeds compete with desirable plants for water, as well as nutrients and light. Weeds can also harbor pests and diseases, causing extra stress for your landscape plants.


  • What can I recycle? Every community is independent in how they manage their recycling policies. The Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District’s website lists each community, what recyclables they accept, and how to get a bin. SWMD/Residents/Recycling/recyyourcomm.html.
  • What about yardwaste? If you are interested in composting your yard waste at home, see Composting above. Because of budget constraints, many communities that have provided yardwaste recycling for their residents in the past may not be continuing their programs. Check with your community to ensure that the yardwaste you put at the curb isn’t going to a landfill. For yardwaste drop-off locations in Hamilton County, you can visit the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services website at http://
  • How do I get a bin if I don’t have one? Every community is independent in how they handle their recycling policies. The Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District’s website lists each community, what recyclables they accept, and how to get a bin. http:/ /
  • What if my community doesn’t have a curbside recycling program? There are over 50 drop-off sites in Hamilton County where you can bring your recyclables. For a comprehensive listing, visit Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District’s website at
  • How do I dispose of hazardous waste, like left over pesticides or fertilizers? Hamilton County residents can call the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services at (513)946-7700 or visit their website at and click on the Household Hazardous Waste link on the left. There are also businesses that collect hazardous material year round. A list of these businesses and what they collect can be found at HHW_drop-off.asp.
  • What if I don’t live in Hamilton County? Each county has its own recycling and yardwaste programs for residents. Below are a few listings for surrounding counties: Butler County (513) 887-3653, Warren County (513) 695-1209, solidwaste/index.htm Kenton County (859) 392- 1915, county_departments/public_works/solid_waste_&_recycling/ index.html Boone County (859) 334-3151, BCSWM/Default.aspx Clermont County (513) 732-7745, Campbell County (859) 547-1802, http:// Dearborn County (812) 926-9963, http://
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