Sunday, August 30, 2009


It was becoming an obsession: stormwater run-off and how to deal with it. Not just how to deal with it, but how to deal with it in a responsible, thoughtful way. When we first moved into this house, we had a basement flood -- we thought it was a fluke. Freak rains for days culminated in a massive nor'easter that flooded everyone on the street. Our sump pump was no match for the volume of water. Then it happened a few more times but the sump pump did its thing. And again, with the sump pump failing, and the water rising, and then again after the basement was dried out... I dreaded thunderstorms, and watched the radar when it seemed like rain.

We looked into waterproofing the basement with french drains. While french drains sound kind of naughty and exciting, they are really just trenches and drainage pipes placed around the perimeter of the basement with a sump pump to get the collected water out. Actually, the contractor we spoke to suggested routing the drains into the household drain, which is against code for good reasons.

I decided that we needed to keep the water out, rather than deal with it inside the house. When water started coming in the basement, and I realized just how challenging the grading issues were in the back of the house, I seriously considered repaving it all, and adding an extra inch or three of asphalt. Let the water go somewhere else, wherever that may be. But asphalt is nasty stuff, full of toxins. I am trying to get away from using petroleum products; surrounding my home with them seemed counter-productive.

A couple of landscapers looked at the site and shook their heads. "That's not good." "Huh." "How long are you planning on living here?" I got opinions ranging from complex systems of drains and drywells (with paving on top) to a series of sump pumps, to repaving and making it higher than my neighbors. But I kept coming back to the idea that surface water wants to become ground water, and that our creeks and streams are toxic because we don't let the earth clean the water as it is meant to. This little patch of the world is my responsibility, so I should do the best I can with it, in my own small way. And when I'd describe my dream to the landscapers, they'd cock their heads, and say "hey, I think you could be on to something."

Hence the carefully excavated and graded green driveway. I got bids, and found an enthusiastic contractor in Brian, also known as "our hero." Brian and I worked together to design the driveway. He suggested using GrassPav2, rather than the eco-pavers or other products that you put in like tiles. We added a little patio for outdoor meals and playing. And then he got to work, sawing the asphalt and calling in the excavator.

There were a few set-backs. After Greg (another hero) excavated the driveway, removing at least three layers of driveways, and creating an eighteen-inch deep hole, we had a massive storm. I watched in horror as the giant hole filled with water. I was too depressed to take a picture of it. Brian and an assistant bailed us out twice. The second time they borrowed a sump pump, but even so, it was a lot of work. Due to Brian's hard work, the water never made it inside.

Then the rains stopped, and the sand and gravel was delivered, and all was right with the world. Brian built up the threshold to the garage, where water used to come in, and did the same to the back door. He waterproofed like crazy, and then he put down sod. It's been so much work, but it is truly beautiful. Just last night, we had a torrential rainstorm, and a gloriously dry basement.


FrankeJames said...


Yeah!! CONGRATULATIONS! How exciting to read about the building of your green driveway. I'm thrilled that we played a part in inspiring you!

Our green driveway has helped with our water issues too. We waterproofed around our house, put in a bigger sump pump, "naughty french" drains ;-) and even new drains to the "stack" (a term I didn't know until we needed to put the drain to it). Like yours, it's been quite an adventure!

Thanks so much for sharing your tremendous story. What's next?

Franke James

Chris Dietrich said...

This is awesome. Congrats on more green around your home. Wouldn't it be cool if all parking lots were like this? Chris

Unknown said...

Brava! So inspiring! I keep thinking about how we can use a green driveway...shady, sloped, used by two cars and in need of shoveling in the winter. I will keep looking, since your story proves the old adage, "Where there's a will there's a way!"


Cate said...

Thanks for the congratulations!

I would love to see more green parking lots. I bike around town, noticing alleys, parking lots and driveways with run-off problems, and wonder how I can spread the word.

What's next? Well, if money were no object, I'd be looking into installing a green roof on our flat roof. For now, I'll content myself with mowing my green lawn, attending an upcoming plant, produce and seed exchange, and making plans to plant our front slope with native perennials.

Shannon, a lot depends on your budget, but you might consider using a gravel paving system for that shady, sloped driveway. You can get heating units installed so it doesn't need to be shoveled. Not exactly inexpensive though. I was just out at Winterthur, and they are replacing their impermeable asphalt with a permeable blacktop. It can be shoveled or plowed and can withstand frequent traffic. Maybe a permeable, plowable cement?