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Causing Problems Downstream

With three cats, we’re always fighting the problem of every upholstered surface getting covered in fur. It doesn’t help that we have one black and two orange-and-white cats. When we saw the commercial for the Pledge Fabric Sweeper, we were excited. It looked like it worked great, and we would no longer blow through an entire lint roller getting the house ready for company.

The product does work great, but we were disappointed to discover that it’s a one-use, disposal product. Seriously, why? In the course of trying to find a similar product that you could reuse, I came across two creative option. First, you can modify a Pledge Fabric Sweeper so it can be emptied and reused. If that’s too hard, the commenters in that post had an idea that’s even more stupid-simple: stick the crevice tool of a vacuum between the rollers and suck the fur out. Awesome!

What does this have to do with landscape design? Our goal as designers is to not make the same mistakes that the Pledge product designers did. They solved one problem and made another one. Now, I understand that there are a number of factors that get considered when designing a product like this. In addition to “does it work?” there are considerations of what prices the market will bear, ease of packaging and shipping the item, and of course aesthetics. There’s also the issue of creating something at a moderate price that will actually need to be replaced pretty quickly.Which is fine from a short-term profit model (which is why I am so glad to be out of the corporate sphere), but these things are nice and bulky for the landfill.

When we’re looking at a landscape project, we face that balancing point of budget vs. longevity. I’m working with some folks right now who are debating materials for their driveway. Gravel’s the least expensive option, but it’s not particularly sexy and it gets in the lawn and the plant beds. Asphalt’s a step up but also not terribly attractive, and it presents its own maintenance issues. We’ve talked about stamped asphalt but can’t find a contractor servicing their part of West Virginia. The best option for a driveway is to do pavers closest to the house, but it’s also the priciest choice. It will also be their lowest maintenance choice, but my homeowners are regular people. They don’t know if they can comfortably spend the $30K this paver driveway might cost. That’s a decision that I can’t make for them; as their designer, all I can do is give them the options and the pros and cons of each approach.

As far as impacting the folks downstream from you, drainage is a huge consideration. The standard approach to stormwater management has been to get the water away from the house and off the property. I remember doing landscapes in San Diego, and the very first thing we did was trench 4″ lines from the downspouts and yard drains to the street. Problem solved! Except that this water flowed into the storm sewers, overwhelmed the treatment plants, and after any major storm the beaches in San Diego were closed because of raw sewage in the water. Just like the folks at Pledge, we were solving the problem right where we stood, but making a bigger problem for everyone else.

This is just one more reason why I advocate finding a good local designer, someone who understands your local soils, water issues, building materials and methods, and costs. Even the simplest design has a lot of moving parts, and it’s important to know how they affect one another- and your neighbors.

One Comment

    March 26, 2011 REPLY

    Good article , thanks and want more! Added to FeedBurner as well please.

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