We Aren’t “GOING” Green

We aren’t “Going” green like many other contractors; if we were to say that, it would imply that we have not been “Green” all along.  I guess we have been “Green” before it was ever used as a world-wide term to refer to someone or something that is efficient.  Outdoor Life was founded and is operated by a former Civil Engineer that specialized in Environmental & Hydraulic Engineering.  Taking an individual that has been trained and developed into someone that can design new things and hones efficiencies on existing products and placing them in the construction industry where they are given free creative rein to design and build outdoor projects, you tend to get projects that are not only unique to the industry, but also are built using efficient methods and materials.

Most clients focus on minimizing the install costs of a project, they never consider small upgrades that can save them a lot of money in operating costs over time.   Many times a few hundred dollars of upgrades can save a homeowner thousands of dollars in the first few years.  Here are a few examples:


We were one of the first contractors to use LED lighting in Charlotte NC when it became available to us back in 2007.  The first LED fixtures developed had separate “drivers” that converted the standard low voltage current to a current the LED diodes can function on, then feed it to the diodes that were built into the fixtures.  Over time with technological developments by the manufacturers, the LED lights were re-designed operate without the need for a separate device to convert the voltage, they figured how to shrink the drivers down to fit into the bulb. The new LED lamps (bulbs) can now fit in a standard Halogen light fixture.  Now we can use LED lamps in the standard landscape light fixtures to upgrade existing landscape lighting systems for customers.

LED bulbs have several advantages over Halogen bulbs:

  • LED lamps only utilize about 10% of the energy that a Halogen lamp (bulb) uses.  For example, A standard 50 watt Halogen lamp uses 50 watts of energy; a LED lamp with the same light lumen output as the Halogen lamp will only use 4 – 5 watts of energy.
  • LED lamps operate on a much wider parameter of voltages than a Halogen lamp does.  For instance, a standard landscape lighting Halogen lamp must operate within a voltage parameter of 10.5 volts to 12 volts in order to maximize its maximum light output and life expectancy.  An LED lamp can operate within a voltage parameter of 9 to 14 volts in order to maximize its maximum light output and life expectancy.  What this means to the homeowner is, that if a halogen lamp burns out on a circuit and the voltage spikes, the remaining lamps will quickly burn out like dominos falling and the homeowner will have to replace several more bulbs unless the bulbs have the capacity to handle the excess voltage.  It also means that when you have several lights on a circuit, you can allow more of a voltage drop between them and they will still all function at their maximum capacity.  This allows the lights to be installed in series (in a straight line) without having to worry about the first light receiving too much voltage and the last light not receiving enough to where they burn out prematurely and then cause the other lights to quickly follow.
  • LED bulbs are rated to last 5 times longer than Halogen bulbs.  A standard Halogen bulb is rated to last for an average of 5,000 hours.  A standard LED bulb is rated to last for an average of 50,000 hours.
  • Even though LED bulbs cost more than Halogen bulbs, they use much less power and last considerably longer.  By the time you calculate the power savings, plus the replacement costs, they more than pay for themselves.


    We have always installed water conserving devices on our irrigation systems since we began installing them over a decade ago.  Most contractor’s omit them because they are overly concerned about their costs to perform the job so they can offer the cheapest price to the homeowner.  The thing that the homeowners don’t understand is that typically on the cheap irrigation systems, the contractors take numerous short-cuts and omit as many of the materials as they can in order to keep the jobs costs low.  They are focused on getting the work, not on saving the homeowner money.  They prey on the homeowner’s lack of knowledge about the products to con them into believing that they are getting an inexpensive irrigation system.  When you consider the cost of a system, you not only should consider the up-front costs, but also it’s operating costs and maintenance costs to see the big picture.  Here are some water conserving tactics and devices that may cost you a little more up front, but will by far save you money in the long run:

  • Drip irrigation:

    It is hands down, and un-contested, the most efficient irrigation that there is currently.  Drip irrigation is rated by the manufactures and the industry associations to be 90% efficient; whereas, spray irrigation is only 40%-60% efficient.  Drip irrigation should emit water directly and precisely at the base of the plant that needs the water, it should also emit the water at the rate in which the plant can receive the water it needs during the duration of the watering event.  There are two general types of drip irrigation; factory installed emitters and contractor installed emitters.  We always prefer the contractor installed emitter systems since we can ensure that the emitters are placed precisely on the plant root system and that they are all sized to the plants watering requirements.  The factory installed emitter systems have a pre-determined emitter rate and emitter spacing.  It is impossible to have a landscape job in which all the plants are installed at the same spacing as the drip irrigation tubing emitters and with the same watering requirement as the emitter rates provide.

    The contractor installed emitter drip irrigation systems require the most labor to layout the drip irrigation precisely, review the plant and determine its watering requirements, and then manually install the appropriate emitters on each plant; however, it is the most efficient use of water, the best water delivery system to the plants to keep them healthy and performing well, and lastly the best way to deter weed growth in your landscape beds by not watering bare ground.

  • Moisture & Rain Sensors:

    Moisture sensors are devices installed in the ground that detect the moisture level.  When the ground is dry, the device will allow the irrigation to run, when the ground is very moist and is not in need of more watering, it will prevent the irrigation from running.

    Rain Sensors are devices installed on the side of a building or out in the landscape that are in a micro climate that matches that of the landscaping and is not obscured from receiving natural rainfall and is also not placed such that it can receive watering from the irrigation.  They receive water from natural rain events and when they detect a pre-determined amount of rainfall, they will shut off the irrigation system until the ground should be dry enough to need watering again.

  • Smart Controllers:

    are irrigation controllers that were developed by the industry to take water conservation to the next level.  They developed irrigation controllers that have a miniature weather station (about the size of a softball) on site or that can receive transmissions from local weather stations.  These irrigation controllers have the circuitry and programming capabilities to take the current weather data and calculate how much water your landscaping needs.  For instance, your grass and plants need more water during periods of hot, dry weather than on days of cooler, wet weather.  The controllers attempt to calculate the amount of water being lost by the ground by evaporation and the amount of water being lost by the plants by transpiration (how much water the plant is losing from the hot weather, kind of like how humans loose water by sweating in hot weather).  These controllers are said to save the average client about 40%- 60% on their water usage by constantly monitoring the weather and adjusting the irrigation run times and frequency as needed.

  • Water Smart irrigation heads and nozzles:

    These heads and nozzles are yet one more way to minimize wasted water. They have been developed to have a more efficient DU (distribution uniformity, or even application rate as some may say) by having a pressure regulating device incorporated into them. They also have built-in rubber check valve flaps built into them which deter water from leaching out the lower elevation heads on the zone caused by gravity after the zone is turned off.


    Water detention systems have been utilized by developers for decades to retain the amount of water run-off from a property during a rain event and slowly release the water into the nearby streams so as to deter flash floods in the city.  Since constant development around Charlotte has driven up the demand for water from the already endangered Catawba River Basin, and we have encountered severe droughts in the last few years; these detention systems are now being utilized for water detention for watering plants and re-filling water features.  Typically detention basin systems can cost around $1.00 to $2.00 per gallon for the equipment plus the cost to install the system.  Detention systems are very expensive and can be limiting not only from a cost perspective, but also a size perspective.  We typically recommend they  only be used for watering shrubs and trees or refilling a water feature since neither will require more than 500 gallons per week.  Detention systems for turf irrigation are usually not practical since an average irrigation system for watering turf could easily utilize 500 gallons per day.  We installed a 1,000 gallon detention basin on our 50,000 gallon water feature display at our shop.  There is a pump system inside the detention basin that will re-fill the pond as needed.  We directed all the rain water from our house into the water feature and then it over-flows into the 1,000 detention basin, it then over-flows the detention basin and into a storm drain pipe system that captures the remaining run-off from the land and pipes it into a ¾ acre pond that we utilize for a fountain display with Swans.  We then draw some of the water out of that pond for irrigating over 5 acres of grass and plants on the property.


    To be completely honest, we are not the strongest advocates of using native plants on our landscaping plans.  In our opinion, most of the native plant species, though durable and adapted to our climate, are not exactly the most beautiful plants we have to choose from, and since landscaping is performed primarily for asthetics, we feel that the plants used in our designs should focus more on that.  We definitely believe in choosing plants that suit their environment and will be easy to maintain.  In our experience, as long as the correct plant is chosen for the micro climate in which we install it, it should perform rather well regardless of it being a native plant.

    There is one area of plant selection in which we do highly recommend using native plants for water conservation and durability.  That area would be turf grass.  In our experience if you want a turf grass that is durable and highly resistant to drought conditions, Bermuda grass is bar-none the best grass to have with Zoysia as being a great second option (particularily if there may be a little shade on the property).

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