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Ask the Architect

Getting creative in the yard


Q. I’m wondering whether I can build a terraced yard/patio instead of a deck in my yard this spring. I know I need plans and a permit for a deck, and in my case, a zoning variance, because we already checked into this. So I got to thinking, if I just raise my yard next to the house about 20 inches and create a sloping planting bed at the edges, it doesn’t seem to fit into anything that needs a permit, right? I found out that a patio on the ground doesn’t need a permit, so I would put a patio on the raised ground that has gaps to let the rain seep down. I even got the idea to bury plastic barrels and use the raised ground to cover the barrels so I can collect the rain from my gutters and the new terrace and then use a pump to circulate the collected water to my gardens. So far I have some sketches, and again, I think I don’t need anyone’s permission, right?

A.    Every once in a while, someone presents me with a well-thought-out alternative to the ordinary. Recently, another reader asked me if I thought he could build an entire home out of recycled, discarded tires. While I investigate that question, which seems to have met clear opposition because it isn’t part of the prescriptive code, your idea also has logic and merit.

    Although raising the ground around a home is governed by regulations that require proper catching and containment of water, it appears that you’re addressing the problem head on with rainwater collection, and your solution makes sense. It can be argued that you’re building, but really, what are you building? There are plumbing regulations for collecting gray water — the water that comes after a shower or faucet has been run — but as long as you don’t include any collection of interior building-used water, there’s nothing that prevents you from using the roof- and patio-collected water for irrigation. In fact, your municipality was distributing rain barrels, and many of my professional publications recommend ideas like yours. The benefit over time is that there’s less waste of our increasingly costly water treatment, the environment is less impacted, you get a landscaped outdoor haven and everyone wins.

    I usually recommend alternate ideas to decks, just as a matter of practicality, because patios need much less maintenance and keep the yard more open instead of divided by structures. When a deck is desired because of how high the doors are above the ground, I always look for ways to soften the look with planters and landscaping. Just remember to thoroughly waterproof the adjacent house and foundation and place a grid structure support beneath the paving material and a landscape fabric that prevents weeds from growing through, and your concept is an excellent way to avoid a lot of red-tape regulation.

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.