Whether you are looking to build a rain garden or you just care about climate change, this FAQ will help you find the information you’re looking for. This webpage will be updated frequently, so check back to find more information and resources. Have a question you don’t see below? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can add!
Let’s first look at what green infrastructure is and why we should care more about these nature-based solutions.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the long-term shift of regional and global weather patterns. Climate change is intensified by human activities including but not limited to the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. Climate change impacts range from rising sea levels that will result in coastal flooding, more frequent and intense storms leading to property damage including but not limited to flooding, heat waves resulting in a variety of health concerns and much more. If you want to dive deeper into climate change, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has a large directory of information.
What is climate change adaptation?
Climate change adaptation refers to actions that people take to reduce the more negative effects of climate change.
What is stormwater run off?
Stormwater runoff is the water from rainfalls or snow melting that either gets absorbed by plants and soil or flows over hard surfaces and into sewers, lakes, and streams. Want to learn more about the stormwater story – check this out!
Why is hard (grey) substrate a problem?
In a forest, rainfall or snow is intercepted by trees and vegetation with very little running off into the waterways. However, in urban areas, there is less vegetation to intercept or absorb the rainfall or snow. The hard surfaces we find in cities like roads, buildings, parking lots have a higher temperature than vegetated cover and often hold pollutants. The stormwater runs over these surfaces picking up harmful pollutants and heating up the water before it is conveyed to our natural waterways. If you’re more of a visual learner, this video is a great resource too!
What are the impacts of urban runoff on our natural systems?
Harmful pollutants such as chemicals, pet waste, litter and fertilizer make their way to our waterways through urban runoff which can make fish and other aquatic species sick or even kill them. It can also cause a bloom or drought of certain types of aquatic organisms which causes an imbalance in the ecosystem. The water that runs over hard surfaces is also much warmer. This temperature increase can be harmful to aquatic life. Larger storms due to climate change also cause higher volumes of water to run through our systems. This can cause erosion which breaks down the stabilization of channels, leading to changes in waterway functionality. This is another great video to learn more about stormwater and our natural systems.
Why should we care about urban runoff?
As outlined, there are many impacts on the natural environment but it also can impact day to day lives. If you love to fish, consider how a polluted water body will affect the size and health of your local fish population from diversity, size and even availability. If you enjoy going to the beach, pollutants in our waterways can close beaches down for human activity. Or if you have a basement, large storm events can cause flooding that will cost you to repair. There are many reasons to take action on these issues and we can help decide where to start!
What is green infrastructure?
Grey stormwater infrastructure refers to the sewers, pipes that move and/or treat water as it moves through our cities. However, there’s a more natural way to manage water before it makes it to our waterways. Green infrastructure (or low impact development) is a method of managing rain where it falls to slow it down, soak it up and keep it clean!
What are the benefits of green infrastructure?
A major benefit of green infrastructure is cost savings. More and more frequent storm events are proving to be difficult for our urban stormwater systems to adequately handle the quantity of water flowing through the system. Slowing and soaking up water on your property not only prevents more water reaching the city’s stormwater facilities but helps to reduce flooding on your property. Starting at your property is the best way to prevent pollution from reaching our waterways. Naturalization keeps water safe and protects communities downstream. Other amazing benefits include increased property value, improved recreation opportunities, reduced urban heat island effect that leads to health issues like heat stroke, increased air quality and of course beautiful yards!
WHAT PROJECT IS RIGHT FOR ME?
Choosing your next green infrastructure project:
You can start the research here with our reference sheet that includes books and webpages with lots of information. Ready to start the design work? Use our site plan sheet to sketch out your property and new projects! Ready to make measurements? Use our calculations sheet to help with project sizing, soil type and more!
We like to classify green infrastructure projects into three broad categories: slow it down, soak it up and keep it clean! Each comes with its own list of benefits and outcomes for your property.
Slow it Down
First step before starting a green infrastructure project is disconnecting the downspouts. You need water to reach your infrastructure, and if it’s currently hooked up to the sewer, that water can’t connect and slow down on your own property.
Install a rain barrel or cistern at your downspouts! You can also route them to other features like rain gardens to allow the excess rain to drain into permeable surfaces. Rain barrels are great for slowing down water and keeping your plants happy!
Growing our urban canopy is important to slowing down water! In a year, a single tree can trap over 9000 litres of stormwater. Plant a tree to add shade to your home and slow down water!
Soak it Up
These gardens may appear like any other garden, but there’s lots going on under the surface to help soak up water. Some key features of a rain garden include a water source (downspout or rain barrel), are filled with native plants with deep roots to facilitate infiltration in a bowl shaped planting area and have an outflow to allow clean water to exit the system.
A rain garden may be right for you if you are fed up with constantly fertilizing, cutting and watering your lawn, want to attract pollinators to your site and looking to better handle water on your property (manage flooding or prevent contaminated water from entering the waterways)
Using either rocks or vegetation, swales create a channel in your yard to convey rain water across your property. This allows you to move water away from your foundation, reducing potential flooding while having water infiltrate into the ground and / or clean water through the natural pollution filter of vegetation before entering the sewer.
You can use a swale to move water into a rain garden, if you have a narrow yard or just prefer the look of these systems.
Infiltration Galleries + Soakaway Pits
What appears as a lawn is actually a lot more advanced under the surface. In simple terms, you dig a hole that is infilled with permeable material (plastic crate or gravel), allowing water to slowly infiltrate into the ground.
This may be the solution for you if you’d like to maintain space in your lawn, soils with high permeability and are able to keep up with regular maintenance of downspouts (prevent pollution and blockages).
Just like a rain garden, permeable paving can look like an ordinary driveway with lots of work happening under the surface. These projects range from beautiful driveways, walkways, or patios that have gaps to allow rainwater to seep through rather than run off. This minimizes ice build-up in winter, decreasing the need for salt.
This might be the right project for you if you’ve got worn or rutted surfaces, the driveway slopes away from the house and/or you’ve got steep slopes.
Green Roofs (and Blue Roofs)
A green roof or a living roof has vegetation and a growing medium. Not only does it slow down water preventing it from rushing through the downspout, the plants filter out pollutants and keep the water cool. Blue roofs add water harvesting to the equation, a bonus for vegetable gardens outside or grey water systems inside (using recycled water for toilets). There are great co-benefits from harvesting water, cooling down a building to opportunities for gathering spaces with living roofs.
Keep it Clean
If the projects above do not work for your property, considering naturalization is a great first step in becoming rain smart. More than just beautiful flowers, you can stabilize your soil, recharge groundwater and clean runoff before it enters the waterways by adding some native vegetation to your property.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
Things to keep in mind when choosing a project!
Before you decide which project you’d like to try out you need to consider several things about your property. Take these steps before deciding what green infrastructure you should add to your property:
Before a shovel hits the ground you MUST find out what’s under the soil. Always call for underground locates!
Call or book online, Ontario One Call
You don’t want to start digging and realize you are in your neighbour’s yard.
The City of Hamilton has an interactive zoning map you can use to locate your property and see where the lines on your property start and end.
Soils are divided into three main classifications: sand, loam and clay. Plants can grow in a variety of soils, but most will identify what is most optimal. Look for these identifiers when purchasing plants. But if you don’t know how to test your soil try the ribbon test!
Soil type will also influence your infiltration rate. That is how long it takes for water to make its way through the ground or infiltrate. There are some tests you can try out. You’ll need to dig a hole, so remember to call before that shovel hits the ground.
Our calculations worksheet will take you through the steps for performing both of these tests!
Learn more about the different soil types using this list.
Check out our NATURhoods calculations sheet to perform a ribbon test and infiltration test.
Extra reading and activities if you want to learn more about soils!
When deciding on a green infrastructure feature it’s important to consider the size of your property to ensure you can place the feature within the recommended distance. These features will infiltrate water so we want to ensure you aren’t too close to your building’s foundation, other hard surfaces etc.
Use this site map with the space considerations to sketch out your project(s).
For your project to infiltrate water it needs a source! This can be from your driveway, roof or any other surface that collects water. Our calculations worksheet will help you find out how much water your feature can infiltrate and the corresponding size of the feature.
Check out our NATURhoods calculations sheet to calculate your catchment area.
Slope of Property
It’s important that the feature slopes AWAY from your property. It will hold lots of water, so we don’t want it sloping towards your foundation. Using our calculations sheet you can find out the percentage of your slope.
Check out our NATURhoods calculations sheet to calculate your slope.
Source Water Protection
It is important to consider our source water aka where our drinking water from the ground is located. If you are considering a project where lots of pollutants will be soaked up ensure you aren’t within a vulnerable area, highly susceptible to contamination
Permits & Zoning By-law Requirements
A Building Permit is required for the construction of detached structures that are greater than 10 square metres (108 square feet) in area. Building Permits are necessary to ensure that fire, construction and structural safety standards are met. Permits also confirm that the project follows City Zoning By-laws. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that a Building Permit is obtained for construction or demolition.
Residential Accessory Buildings in Hamilton require a permit.
Hopefully now you know what project is right for you – let’s learn more about each starting with SLOW IT DOWN projects:
Why should I disconnect my downspout?
You should disconnect your downspouts because this helps reduce the amount of stormwater runoff on your roof. This water can be sent to your lawn or rain barrels to be used in a more productive way.
Are there incentives to disconnect my downspout?
When there is a heavy rainstorm the sewer system is at risk of overflowing which can cause flooding in the basement and even in your garden. If you disconnect your downspout, you can help reduce the amount of water going into the sewer. This creates a less of a risk of flooding. For more information on disconnecting downspouts visit the city of Hamilton’s website.
Why do I need a rain barrel?
Rain barrels can hold hundreds of gallons of water. This can then be reused in various ways, such as irrigation, laundry washing, car washing, etc.
My downspout is directed into my lawn, isn’t that good enough?
Directing your downspout to your lawn is better than having the rain on your roof, however be careful if you have a smaller lot because this can cause the runoff to end up on your neighbors property. The best way to reduce runoff is to connect your downspout to a rain barrel.
Where can I buy a rain barrel or cistern?
You can purchase a rain barrel or cistern at rainbarrel.ca.
How do I install my rain barrel?
For a four step process on how to install your own rain barrel check out RainBarrel.ca’s informative video.
How can I take care of my rain barrel?
There are three steps to make sure your rain barrel will work. First check and make sure you have all of the pieces and hoses for the rain barrel and they are functional. Next clean any leaves or debris from your gutters and downspout, so the water can flow more smoothly. Finally, before and after a rain event make sure there is no leaves or debris on or in your rain barrel. If there is, clean them off.
What are some things I can do for trees?
Here are 10 things you can do for trees (from the City’s Urban Forest Strategy, page 13):
- Preserve existing trees on your property whenever possible
- Respect city tree by-laws
- Plant new trees on your property and participate in community tree planting events
- Advocate for better tree protection in Hamilton
- Water your trees during periods of low rainfall
- Participate in citizen science
- Have mature trees assessed by a qualified arborist
- Spend time with trees – go for a hike in the woods or a walk in your local park
- Protect tree stems and roots from damage during construction and landscaping
- Talk to your neighbours about why trees are important
How do trees help reduce stormwater runoff?
Trees help reduce stormwater runoff by soaking up and using some of the stormwater. Also, trees allow the soil around it to intake more of the stormwater than usual.
Perhaps the soak it up projects are of more interest to you! Let’s learn how you can SOAK IT UP:
What makes a rain garden different from a ‘regular’ garden?
Rain gardens are made in a bowl shape with an inlet and outlet for water. Also, there needs to be specific plants that help with the collection and absorption of water in the rain garden. With these specific functions the rain garden needs to be at least 3 metres away from the foundation of your house. Normal gardens are not in a bowl shape and do not need to have specific plants or be at a certain distance from the foundation.
How long do rain gardens stay wet?
After a rainstorm, rain gardens hold water and stay wet for around 48 hours.
What should I plant in a rain garden?
Rain gardens often mimic a small little ecosystem. Consider the variety of plants you can find in one area. Consider some grasses and sedges that are great for the berm or close to the edge, with flowering plants in the middle. Look for the sun tolerance of your chosen plants, consider their height, and colour when planning. Rule of ‘green’ thumb – place twice, plant once! That way you know exactly what looks good where. Want more fun tips? Check out our plant blog. Also Reep Green Solutions has an excellent rain garden plant list! Need help with design? Check out our Native Plant Rain Garden Recipes.
Who constructs rain gardens?
If you have decided you would like a contractor to design and build your garden we have a couple suggestions to find the right match. First, it’s always a good rule to get three separate quotes, that way you have an idea of what the project will cost, different perspectives, and experience and select from there. Second, you can investigate what type of certification the contractor has. One great indicator is if they are Fusion Landscape Professional (FLP). FLPs know how to build landscapes that bring together plants, pavers and water harvesting. Find a professional near you. Another one to consider is if they are members of Green Infrastructure Ontario (GIO), that way you know they are dedicated to the principles of green infrastructure adaptation in Ontario. Find out who is a member.
How do I care for my new rain garden or rock swale?
What’s the difference between a swale and a rain garden?
Swales do not use as much of the stormwater as rain gardens do. Rain gardens have different parts that have specific functions for infiltrating water. Swales infiltrate as much water as they need and the rest of water flow usually to other green infrastructure practices, like a rain garden.
What is the difference between a bio- and a dry-swale?
Simply put a bio-swale has vegetation such as rain garden plants that have deep roots to stabilize the banks and soak up the water. Whereas a dry-swale has rocks.
How do I care for my new rain garden or rock swale?
Who constructs permeable paving projects?
If you have decided you would like a contractor to design and build your permeable paving project we have a couple suggestions to find the right match. First, it’s always a good rule to get three separate quotes, that way you have an idea of what the project will cost, different perspectives, and experience and select from there. Second, you can investigate what type of certification the contractor has. One great indicator is if they are Fusion Landscape Professional (FLP). FLPs know how to build landscapes that bring together plants, pavers and water harvesting. Find a professional near you. Another one to consider is if they are members of Green Infrastructure Ontario (GIO), that way you know they are dedicated to the principles of green infrastructure adaptation in Ontario. Find out who is a member.
How do permeable surfaces work?
Permeable surfaces allow rainwater to move and infiltrate the surface of the pavement. The water moves into a storage layer below the pavement, where it seeps into the soil below the pavement.
INFILTRATION GALLERIES / SOAKAWAY PITS