The sky is a nice ceiling: It's time-tested, colorful, attractive, durable, and made from local materials; it goes well with nearly any architectural style; and it's free. Still, sometimes the sky isn't quite what you want in an overhead structure. It doesn't keep out the sun or rain, and it doesn't modify the microclimate. And it also doesn't give you that cozy, snuggly feeling of being sheltered by a room-height ceiling. That's when you turn to the alternatives.
Attractive sustainable overhead structures can be made of salvaged wood, driftwood, tree branches, canvas, or metal (the latter is especially good in high fire hazard areas). Unlike trees, constructed ceilings require some skill to design and build, and usually they're subject to building codes to make them safe.
One type of constructed ceiling is sometimes called a pergola (see Figure 12-2). A pergola may be just what you need to provide shade while at the same time letting in air and light.
Check local zoning ordinances to be sure you don't put an overhead structure in a location on your property where it isn't permitted, and ask whether you need a building permit for your structure.
Living ceilings: Trees
What's more sustainable, durable, or beautiful than a tree? Name another overhead that creates oxygen, sequesters carbon, cools by evaporation, operates by solar power, costs practically nothing, provides habitat for birds and other organisms, lasts for centuries, is fun to climb, and makes flowers and fruit.
Plant trees around your patio or other hardscape elements to provide shade, or construct your deck or patio underneath existing trees for immediate results.
Avoid messy or weak-wooded trees, ones that might blow over, and certainly ones with root systems that lift pavement. As with all plantings, be sure that the tree you choose is adapted to your climate, soil, and other conditions, and place it carefully so that it casts shade where you want it. Take size into account.
Deciduous trees (ones that lose their leaves in winter) automatically provide shade during summer and allow sunlight to penetrate in winter — one of the most considerate things about trees. Evergreen trees can make a good overhead, too, as long as you can use the shade all year.
One of the coolest sustainable landscape elements is the living ecoroof, also known as the green roof (see Figure 12-3). Made of drought-tolerant plants growing in a shallow layer of lightweight soil held in place by a waterproof membrane and supporting structure, or planted in individual recycled plastic bins, the ecoroof turns your roof into a beautiful living ecosystem. Ecoroofs are showing up all over the place, from tiny sheds covered in succulents to the world's largest (more than 10 acres) covering a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan. Tax credits are available for ecoroofs in some places.
An example of an ecoroof.
An example of an ecoroof.
Courtesy of Bryan Gaier mng/
Courtesy of Bryan Gaier
Ecoroofs are pricey and challenging, but they offer great benefits to you and the environment. Besides, what's more fun than having the neighbors decide that you're definitely insane? To decide whether an ecoroof is for you, and to find qualified ecoroof professionals in your area, visit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (www.greenroofs.org) and Greenroofs .com (www. greenroofs.com).
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How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.