What are the "low hanging fruits" in terms of essential green building materials? What materials are the cheapest and greenest?


What are the "low hanging fruits" in terms of essential green building materials? What materials are the cheapest and greenest?

Asked by catie carter

This is for sustainable low-income housing in Austin, TX.

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Cassy Aoyagi's picture

Sustainable landscaping saves time and quickly produces both cost savings and health benefits for existing buildings as well as new construction. Of all the tricks of the trade, replacing a thirsty, traditional lawn - or not planting one in the first place - has the most profound total cost benefits.


First, the benefits. Simply swapping a traditional lawn for a native grass can eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can adversely effect the health of children and pets.

  • It will use 50-70 percent less water, depending upon the materials used, and it saves approximately 68 hours a year in maintenance.
  • Native landscapes also improve indoor air quality!
  • If, in addition to replacing the lawn, evergreen and deciduous trees are strategically placed, they can help your buildings consume less energy.

Save as much as $3500/year

Now, let's look at the total cost of ownership for a 1000 square foot lawn replacement project . The long term cost savings of lawn replacement are profound.

  • A lawn alternative, like a native grass, saves as much as $3500 per year in maintenance labor and dump fees alone.
  • Additional likely cost savings include: water fees, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and petrol for mowers.
  • If strategically placed trees are in the mix, indoor energy savings will also produce palpable savings.

Breakeven in less than 3 years

Upfront installation costs are comparatively low. In Los Angeles, the cost of ripping out a traditional lawn, revamping the irrigation system, and planting a native grass alternative will run between $8,000-12,000.

Particularly in municipalities with a need to conserve water, rebates and grants can offset as much as 50 percent of these costs.

By conservative estimates, assuming no grants, rebates, incentives, or cost savings beyond maintenance and dump fees, the cost of lawn replacement is recouped in just over two years.

  • At five years, a lawn replacement will have saved $5500 to $9500 per 1000 square feet.
  • At ten years, it will have saved $23,000 to $27,000.

Tempting isn't it?

For more information:

  • See the City of Santa Monica's Garden-Garden demonstration fact sheet here.
  • Also, read my own IdealMow analysis and guidance
  • And GreenHomeGuide's piece on lawn replacements here.

Be sure to check your municipality and county for those rebates and incentives too!