If you’ve ever inquired about installing a beach on your lakefront property in New Hampshire, you realize it’s an uphill battle. Although not impossible, getting permission to convert a section of your shoreline to a sandy beach is very difficult to do.
You need a permit. It seems obvious to us, but many people don’t know this. Even on private property, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has tight restrictions on any construction activity happening near the water’s edge. DES laws prohibit dredging of lakes and filling shoreline areas with sand. Only a percentage of natural vegetation may be removed. Any beach installation that is permitted by the NHDES must comply with the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act (RSA 483-B).
Shoreline restrictions on adding private beaches seem harsh, but there are a number of good reasons for them:
It won’t stay anyway. If a shoreline does not have a natural beach, it is likely that conditions will not support it. The sand that gets dumped there will either drift away with shoreline currents or slowly settle through the soft, mucky bottom sediment. Although it seems like the sand disappears, it does not leave the lake.
Plant growth. Eroding sand along shorelines can change the depth of the lake. When a lake becomes shallow, algae blooms more heavily and plants root in easily. Over time, desirable deep water shoreline areas can become marshy and unattractive.
Water quality. Introducing off-site sand can also introduce contaminants like iron or phosphorus that upsets the pH balance of the lake, promoting unsightly rust-colored bacteria or making the water cloudy.
There is a way to have a private beach on your property without disturbing the shoreline area or affecting the water quality of the lake. Perched beaches are becoming very popular with conscientious New Hampshire lakefront property owners who want to enjoy the recreational benefits of the lake without impacting the environment.
What is a perched beach? A perched beach is a beach area that is elevated at least 12 inches above the high watermark. Similar to a garden terrace, there is a retaining wall set along the water’s edge with steps allowing easy access to the water; often there is a retaining wall on the uphill side as well to provide a level beach area.
While there are restrictions to installing a perched beach, the New Hampshire DES approves of perched beach construction as a solution for home beaches. In fact, the permitting process is fairly trouble-free. The DES provides a “minimum impact expedited permit” to homeowners looking to install a perched beach. Town setback laws will also apply to the boundaries that run perpendicular to the lake.
Plan ahead. Perched beach construction must be done when the lake is in draw-down – that is, at its lowest water level – which is in late fall. So don’t wait till last minute! At Terrain Planning and Design, we can help you with the permitting process, as well as designing a perched beach for you that complies with The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services shoreland protection laws.
At Terrain Planning and Design, we employ the best practices when it comes to Earth stewardship and sustainability. After we are done designing and installing a patio, homeowners must then decide how they will furnish it. We like to encourage our clients to consider recycled patio furniture. In case you don’t know what I am talking about, here are some examples of patio furniture choices that are earth-friendly:
As the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This is definitely the case with salvaged patio furniture. It’s not for everyone, but if you are creative and have the time, you can often find tables, planters, benches, arbors and other architectural salvage items that you can use as garden décor. In addition to the obvious ecological benefits of recycling unwanted items, this approach also helps to support local businesses like flea markets, antique stores and consignment shops.
As an outdoor furniture material, teak is well-known for its durability. The wood’s naturally high oil content helps to keep insects away, resists rot, and its dense grain makes teak exceptionally strong. Some teak furniture manufacturers are committed to sustainable forestry and environmentally friendly manufacturing practices like the use of wood cut-offs, plantation-grown wood and Forestry Stewardship Council-certified timber.
Native to Australia, Tasmania and nearby islands, eucalyptus has a straight grain, smooth finish, high natural oil content and strong wood that make it extremely durable. In addition, eucalyptus is a fast-growing renewable source of wood. Trees that are harvested flush out again and are ready for harvest in as little as five years.
Aluminum furniture has a well-deserved reputation for being lightweight, resistant to rust and stylish. What most people do not realize is that aluminum is also eco-friendly. As the U.S. Department of Energy notes, aluminum is what’s known as an “energy bank,” which means its original energy is constantly being recovered during the recycling process. Right now, around half of the aluminum produced in the United States is recycled.
A lot of the recycled patio furniture on the market today is made from recycled high-density polyethylene containers. Also known as “HDPE”, these are usually the containers used for milk, cooking oil, shampoo and other products. Once the recycled plastic is processed it is molded into plastic “lumber.” The end product looks amazingly like the real thing! In addition to its nice appearance, recycled plastic patio furniture is exceptionally durable. One popular brand is Polywood ®. Polywood recycled plastic furniture comes with a 20-year warranty. In addition to being moisture and stain resistant, patio furniture that is made from HDPE plastic will not splinter or rot, and it is virtually toxin-free. It is also fade resistant, and the color and material will not peel away over time. While Polywood and other brands of recycled plastic furniture may initially cost a bit more, its amazing longevity and aesthetic appeal make it a very wise and attractive investment.
Whenever possible, the landscape designers here at Terrain Planning and Design like to design landscapes using native plant material. In addition to providing food and habitats for the beneficial insects and other wildlife that call New Hampshire home, native plants are often heartier and more disease and pest resistant.
Another reason that we like to incorporate native plants into our designs is to reduce the impact of invasive plants in our local landscape. As its name implies, an invasive plant is not native to our ecosystem, and its aggressive growth can take over gardens and landscapes. Many of our customers are surprised to learn just how many commonly-found plants in our homes and businesses are not native to New Hampshire; while some of them are not terribly harmful, others choke out the delicate local ecosystems.
Invasive plants have become such a problem, the list of prohibited plants has grown; the list of invasive species in New Hampshire is currently at twenty-seven. Some of these plants are already quite common in our state, including burning bush, bittersweet and buckthorn. By being on the “prohibited” list, it means that people may not collect, transport, import, export, move, buy or distribute any living part of these plants. It is illegal in New Hampshire to propagate prohibited plants – or even or transplant them! Our state also has 24 plant species on its “restricted” list; they share many of the undesirable traits of invasive plants. Examples of restricted plants include black locust and reed canary grass.
As more plants are placed on the restricted or prohibited list and classified as invasive species, we have seen a renewed interest in designing with native plants. In some cases, this involves removing the invasive variety and replacing it with something that looks similar but will not have such a negative impact on the environment. For example, homeowners who like plants like burning bush and barberry because of their brilliant red foliage will be pleased to know that highbush blueberry not only offers the nice fall colors, but also produces plenty of tasty blueberries.
Native plants can also be used to control shoreline erosion. In addition, the shoreline permit laws allow people to cut only a certain percentage of the plants that are within 50 feet of the water. When the vegetation needs to be replaced, it must be with native plant material. The experienced and knowledgeable team at Terrain Planning and Design make every effort to help our clients understand the nuances of shoreland permit requirements, as well as how to incorporate and/or replace existing plants with native species.
As anybody who has spent time in the outdoors knows quite well, being around nature has a way of making us feel better both emotionally and physically.
Not a new concept. The idea of incorporating as much “green space” as possible into our urban world actually began with Leonardo da Vinci’s design of the “Ideal City.” After the black plague wiped out nearly a third of the population in Milan, the famous Italian architect incorporated elements of design that went beyond mere function. He recognized the health benefits of having adequate outdoor space and how the aesthetics of vegetation could be very healing.
Since then, many people have embraced da Vinci’s approach and have done whatever they could to bring as much green into their world as possible. In addition to being an inviting gathering place for family and friends, these spaces can also foster a sense of community and increase our connection with nature—even when we are surrounded by vast amounts of glass and concrete.
While just about any garden can be therapeutic, some are expressly designed with healing in mind. Appropriately named “healing gardens,” these spaces provide a real physical and emotional benefit to the people who spend time in them. Some people use healing gardens to build up their strength after a stroke or long illness, either by walking through the garden or working in the area tending to the plants. In addition to being good for the body, a healing garden is also good for the mind and soul, providing a sense of tranquility and peace, as well as providing a quiet spot for meditation. A healing garden can provide hard-working people with a welcome change of scenery and a destination point during stressful days.
Because of their restorative properties, healing gardens are often found at hospitals or other healthcare facilities. To be sure the garden provides needed refuge and healing, they must be carefully designed. The architects at Terrain Planting and Design can assist with planning interior or exterior spaces that promote healing and wellness. We collaborate with architects, engineers, designers and psychologists to create the most therapeutic and beautiful healing gardens possible, and we are also happy to help with presentations to board members and others who may need to approve funding for the space.
For homeowners who are looking to become as eco-friendly as possible, a rain garden is an excellent solution. In its most basic form, a rain garden is a shallow depression that captures the water that runs off of your roof; it is then planted with trees, bushes, flowers and other plants that thrive on this water. Rain gardens works like a natural filter, protecting the water quality by reducing the amount of storm water runoff that pours down from your roof. In a similar way, bio-swales channel surface runoff from parking lots and roadways, filtering it with a variety of plant media. This type of water has been found to be a key source of water pollution.
Although rain gardens have actually been around for some time, they are not as common as other types of landscaping. This is probably due in part to the fact that rain gardens require a extensive knowledge of engineering-related topics like water table levels, land sloping, the types of soil the homeowner has, and how to calculate the approximate amount of water volume. This increased level of knowledge means that rain gardens are not typically a do-it-yourself project that is tackled by weekend warriors.
At Terrain Planting and Design, our team of landscape architects can help you to plan and install a rain garden. Roof tops here in New Hampshire can be a terrific source of water for landscaping; it is estimated that one inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof produces around 600 gallons of water. Instead of just running down into storm drains, rain from roof tops can be captured and directed into a rain garden, where it is used to irrigate plants. In addition to using rainwater to help the plants grow, rain gardens and bio-retention swales also provide habitats and food sources for wildlife like birds and butterflies.
The landscape architects from Terrain Planting and Design can also create this type of eco-friendly water filter at commercial locations. When New Hampton School was concerned with poor water drainage around their buildings, we partnered with engineers to create a stormwater management plan that re-directs the water into bio-swales before it can get into the local water system. We created attractive rain gardens that are strategically placed throughout the school’s property, so the water that runs off the new dorm’s roof now helps to water bushes, flowers and other plants.
If you are concerned about the amount of storm water runoff at your home or business, please give us a call. In addition to our knowledge of rain gardens, we also have extensive experience in shoreline permits, wetlands management and native plant species. We will be happy to work with you to transform your existing landscape into something that is beautiful and “green” in every sense of the word.
Our office received some really exciting news this week! One of the largest residential projects we have ever worked on (which has been dormant for the past three years) is finally scheduled to start.
This 8000 sq ft Custom Timber-frame home on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee will begin construction this summer. This project will be going for LEED Gold Certification. Site features will include a gunite swimming pool with lap lane & spa, a custom water feature as well as a 4,500 square ft permeable paver driveway.
Our office is working hand-in-hand with the architects designing the house. Terrain’s role is lead consultant for site & landscape design development, construction documentation, assistance with LEED certification and construction management. It should be an interesting summer!
Green Roofs are totally green and totally cool! It has become pretty commonplace to see vegetation growing on the rooftops of commercial buildings throughout the Southwestern United States. Advances in technology have discovered ways to use the medium of soil and vegetation as a buffer between the hot sun and cool building as a means of reducing energy consumption for large commercial spaces. Green roofs can reduce energy consumption in these hotter regions by as much as 80%!* Obviously, the benefit is great in keeping buildings cool in hot climates.
But what about green roofs in cold climates? According to the same study, Liu and Baskran found a properly designed green roof can save as much as 20% in energy consumption by insulating the building against heat loss. Similar studies performed in Ontario by the National Research Council of Canada have found savings anywhere between 10% and 24% throughout the winter months. On an annual basis, this could reduce energy costs for commercial buildings as much as .09 cents per square meter.
Emphasis on “design.” One interesting nuance of this study showed that the green roofs that relied upon perennial vegetation (heat resistant grasses, perennial flowers, deciduous ground covers) did not perform as well, as compared to green roofs planted with evergreen plant material. The reason being that after the perennial dies back to the ground, the only insulating factor throughout the winter is the soil medium.
Is a green roof worth it? Any commercial building owner must look at the cost/benefit analysis of installing a green roof in New England. Are there tax advantages? What is the long-term payoff? It must fit into the company’s overall business strategy – financially and otherwise. Perhaps there are public relation benefits to being an industry leader in providing green solutions by making improvements to their building envelope – such as installing a green roof – that inspires others to do the same.
If you are a commercial property owner in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, or Vermont, who has considered sustainable solutions to your building envelope, call Terrain Planning and Design today for a free initial consultation.
*Thermal Performance of Extensive Green Roofs in Cold Climates,
Liu, Karen K.Y.
September 01, 2005
Do You Need a Lighting Designer To Install Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting?
The short answer to the question “do I need a lighting designer to install low-voltage landscape lighting” is “no.” You don’t even need an electrician to wire the low-voltage side of a landscape lighting system. You can find cheap landscape lighting kits for under $300 in the garden center of any big-box store. So why should you hire someone to design a landscape lighting system for your yard?
Lighting that lasts. Any electrical system is only as good as its weakest connection.Low-voltage landscape lighting that you will find in the home improvement store uses inferior connection points that are not sealed properly to resist the outdoor elements. Once connection points are lost, it can be difficult to find and repair them. The fixtures themselves are often powder-coated cast aluminum, which is brittle and can snap off when clipped by lawn maintenance equipment or the occasional run away soccer ball.
Professional landscape lighting is a heavier grade of metal – usually solid brass or copper – the fixture and the connection points are weatherproofed against the elements. Do-it-yourself lighting kits might last five years before they begin to fall apart. With professional grade landscape lighting – and a properly designed system – your outdoor lighting will last 20 years – even in the harshest New Hampshire weather!
Low-voltage lighting is safe, right? Not necessarily. Low-voltage Landscape lighting components that are not circuit protected can get very hot and cause a fire. Low-voltage systems do not run on batteries – they are tied to the electricity that runs through your house. A transformer steps the voltage down from 120 V to anything in the range of 12 V to 30 V.
As landscape lighting designers, we design a system that is circuit-protected on the primary and secondary side; we spec out the proper gauge wire that distributes the voltage evenly to the fixture; we fuse-protect our systems at the hub connection points out in the yard. Our landscape lighting plans are also very useful to the homeowner for future reference, because they detail the exact location of the wires underground and specify what type of lamp corresponds with each individual fixture.
Painting the night with light! All this talk about voltage, wire size and circuit protection is boring. We agree. Like you, we enjoy the results of a properly laid out landscape lighting design. At Terrain Planning and Design, our philosophy in architectural lighting design is all about seeing the light, but not necessarily the fixture. Breaking tradition with the “runway light” arrangement along the walkway – we use directional lighting, up lighting in trees, soft wash lighting on walls and other architectural elements of the landscape. Combining the three different levels of ambient light, we are able to artistically provide safety as well as a magical display of your landscape at night.
Imagine looking out your window at night. Instead of looking in a black mirror, you are seeing architectural elements in your yard that you may not have noticed before. Night lighting gives your yard such a different look than you are used to in the daytime – it’s like having two yards in one!
Things to Consider in Your Pool Patio Design
So you have finally made that decision to put in a backyard swimming pool! Installing a swimming pool is a considerable investment, and it involves much more than just a pool contractor to install it. The landscape architects at Terrain Planning and Design can help create that perfect outdoor room that surrounds the glittering jewel of your backyard. Before you sign a contract with a pool company, here are some critical areas of pool construction that the pool installer may not cover in his proposal:
Positioning. Or, as they say in real estate: “location, location, location.” It goes without saying that an in-ground swimming pool is permanent. Whether your swimming pool is rectangle or rounded, you still have to consider where the best place in your yard is to locate that hole in the ground filled with 20,000 gallons of water should be. A pool contractor may recommend a spot that requires a retaining wall, but how close to the pool should it go? Solar orientation is a key factor in locating a swimming pool. Your pool will be used from July to September. Although rare, swimming pools have been mistakenly placed based on the sun’s location at the time of the estimate in early spring or late fall.
Circulation and flow. These are terms that architects use to describe the movement of people and the functionality of a given space. The landscape design around a pool considers many factors: proximity to food preparation; access to a utility shed where pool supplies and toys our stored; how guests will arrive; and sunbathing areas outside of the splash zone. When you know how your pool area will be used, a scaled drawing prevents awkward interruptions in circulation and flow.
Pool deck. More commonly known as the “pool patio,” this is the flat area around the pool. You don’t have to use the pool contractor to install your pool deck! There are many material options available that match your style and color preferences. Aside from aesthetics, the pool deck can be a problematic area of construction. Hasty backfilling without proper compaction can cause settling which will result in cracking of poured concrete or aggregate pool decks or sinking concrete pavers that become a tripping hazard. Terrain planning will draw construction specifications regarding the installation of whatever pool deck material you choose, so that your pool deck will last for many years to come.
Terrain Planning can be your advocate in getting exactly what you want in a backyard swimming pool design. From material selection and 3-D renderings that help you visualize the finished result, to scaled blueprints that allow you to get apples to apples quotes from contractors, the first step to a beautiful backyard pool is to call Terrain Planning and Design!
Seasonal residents returning to their lakefront homes in New Hampshire this time of year are excited about the possibilities of fixing up their properties.
It’s important for these folks to be aware that engaging in a construction project within 250’ of a New Hampshire lake that is greater than 10 acres falls under the jurisdiction of The Shoreline Water Quality Protection Act (SWQPA), commonly referred to as the “Shoreline Protection Act.” This New Hampshire law, revised in 2005, has strict guidelines with regards to the development or rebuilding of properties along New Hampshire’s major lakes, streams and tidal waters. Engaging in a construction project without the correct shoreline permits can cost as much as $20,000 in fines per violation. The purpose of the law is not so much to preserve the aesthetic beauty of shoreline areas – although that is certainly a benefit – the real intent was to maintain natural filtration along the water’s edge to prevent pollutants and erosion from altering the water quality of the lake. Indeed, anyone lives along the shoreline protection has a vested interest in protecting it.
At Terrain Planning, we hear many questions like “can I cut trees along the shoreline” or “how big of a house can I build on my property at the lake” and “how close to the water can I build?” Changes or additions to existing structures, boat houses and docks, retaining walls and driveways – even a simple screen house close to the water are all regulated under the Shoreline Protection Act. These regulations dictate what you can or cannot do based upon proximity to the water’s edge, pitch of the land, and pervious impervious surfaces – to name a few. In addition to that, there may be town ordinances to comply with, association laws, or other departmental permits required by the state relating to project you are planning to do.
Another question we frequently hear is, “can I apply for a New Hampshire shoreline permit myself?” The answer is yes. Any property owner can submit applications through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES.) Given the complexity of the law and site assessment data required at the time of application, however – many shoreline property owners have found great value in hiring the landscape architects at Terrain Planning and Design to perform this critical process for them. We will work with clients in any capacity they require – from land survey work to project management – and obtain the necessary state and local permits, so that our clients can enjoy improving the quality of their lakefront property.