Learn from the Experts: Petro Design Blog


Kathleen Litchfield President of Petro Design/Build, Inc. Kathleen Litchfield
President of Petro Design/Build Group, is one of the Washington area's leading landscape and garden design experts. Her insightful advice on landscape design, construction, and practice has been published and quoted innumerous regional and national magazines. She has developed and taught accredited courses in horticulture and has lectured for garden clubs, the National Association of Remodeling Industry, the Landscape Contractors Association, the Smithsonian Educational Series, the George Washington University landscape design program, and the Washington Design Center.

Kent Richard Abraham, Principle Architect with Abraham/Petro Kent Richard Abraham,
Principal Architect with Abraham/Petro a division of Petro Design/Build He is a member of the US Green Building Council 2006. His education includes Bachelor of Architecture, 1970, University of Nebraska, With Honors (Cum Laude),Awarded the Faculty Award, Outstanding Senior Student; Master of Architecture, 1971, University of Pennsylvania, Studio of Louis Kahn. He has served as Chair, Thesis committee school of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America Washington, DC since 1978.


Author Archive

Inside Looking Out…

What is your seasonal window view…?

…Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…

The view to the outside changes dramatically through the seasons.  Are your views taking advantage of what Mother Nature offers every year…?

Extend your residence from the interior to the exterior by properly taking advantage of your viewsheds.  A landscape does not always need to be experienced by exposing oneself to the elements but can be enjoyed through lovely framed “views” from your cozy interior.   Add a focal point , perhaps some lighting, and your views can give you something to look forward to during the short winter days.

Take a glance out your window…walk through your home…sit it in your favorite chair… Are the views to the exterior maximizing their potential…?  Let Petro Design/Build help plan for all seasons!  Contact us  info@petrodesignbuild.com  or  301.249.9000

Before

After

House guest get welcoming ‘Hug’

Porticoes historically have been used in architecture to define an entry, create an area of welcoming and gathering, and of course protection from the elements: SNOW, rain, and sun!

At Petro we specialize in helping to create these inviting elegant arrivals with spectacular curb appeal, while adding value to your home.  Let a custom portico express functional architectural language to your residence while welcoming your guests…

Before

After

Email us now to set up a consultation.

Lessons from Hurricane Lee

A ‘1000-year’ storm event is certainly the true test of the capability of a home drainage system.    Yeah, yeah “it was a freak event” yet we have had 4 ‘freak’ events in the last 6 years and it only takes 1 to add thousands of dollars in repairs or, at least, raise your insurance premiums.

Even a trickle of water in a finished basement space can ruin flooring, drywall and furnishings and feed deadly molds.

Not surprisingly, most of the damage I’ve seen, in regards to drainage, was caused by the neglect of common sense principals.

Drainage is one of the most important elements of a sound foundation and so, truly, the most cost effective preventative you can implement.

Preferably, the builder was diligent when your home was constructed.  If your home was built in the 80’s you can cross that diligence off the list.  Faulty foundation drainage may not be evident until after the home warranty has expired or until a storm ‘event’…more on this in a future blog.

It is curious to me how homeowner’s will trust their maintenance crew for resolving drainage issues.  Asking a mowing and mulching crew landscape design questions can be detrimental but relying on them for drainage correction has cost thousands in repairs.  The most cost effective job a maintenance crew should implement is gutter cleaning.  That said; I was on a project earlier this year where the client had had her maintenance company clean her gutters regularly.  Unfortunately, they cleaned only the gutters and so the bases of the downspouts were filled 4’ deep with decomposing compacted debris.  All this water had been overflowing the corrugated underground piping connections and directly into the foundation walls of the house.  Since the homeowner traveled often, she was unaware of the increasing mold growth until the basement flooded completely forcing her to remove furnishings and storage boxes from the basement thereby exposing the years of infiltration and deadly effects.  The cost was in the thousands in remediation, repairs and hotel expenses, as the odor and mold spores prevented her remaining in her home.

Piping any downspouts underground for more than 10’ should exclude the use of any interior corrugated pipe.  Corrugated piping is the black ridged piping you can easily pick up at any hardware store for about 45 cents a foot.  The ridges trap debris leading to water back-up which can freeze and settle the pipe causing even more back-ups.  There is a smooth interior walled black corrugated pipe (N12) or a number of PVC and SDR smooth walled pipes available depending on whether they will be directed under sidewalks, driveways or just soils.

Before looking down, though, it’s best to start at the top when addressing drainage issues.   Things to look ‘up’ for are:

  • Undersized gutters and downspouts for the size and slope of the roof space
  • Not enough downspouts for the distance of the gutter
  • Gutter slope not enough to move the water
  • Rivet pops from winter ice-jambs allowing water behind the gutter
  • Damaged/bent gutters from winter ice jambs or falling tree limb

Confirmation of the above would be visible signs of spillage on the ground level and possible infiltration of water into the house.  Chances are if your gutters have been overflowing for some time, your foundation has settled causing even direct rain water to collect and filter into your foundation.

The next time it rains, go outside with an umbrella and look up.

Clogged corrugated interior piping

 

downspout compacted with rotted leaves and soil

To be continued…

Fall is the Time for Planting

fall is the time for plantingIf you thought Spring, the time of natural renewal, was the best time for planting, you might be surprised!   FALL…. is actually the best time to let roots take hold and give your new garden time to develop and grow.  The parts above the ground may have to deal with the cold onset, BUT the roots will continue to grow and prosper till the soil below starts to freeze, well into winter.  This gives the plant months to “take root” versus trying to immediately acclimate and produce leaves/flowers/etc.  in the hot Spring and Summer months.

Currently, Petro has several great planting jobs in progress, including a job along the water in the Mount Vernon, Virginia area.  This planting features native buffer plantings, framing beautiful veiwsheds to the water.  Species included native grasses such as Panicums and Carex, tolerant perennials such as Salvia and Rudbeckia, and, beautiful roses.   A second plant installation nearing completion is located in woodlands outside of historic Ellicott City.  Specified in this project are unique natives like Winterthur Viburnum and Mahonia, better known as the Oregon Grape Holly.

If you are thinking about new plantings, now is the best time.  Contact Kathleen to schedule an appointment.  Or if you are looking for planting ideas, visit a botanical garden.  Petro recommends Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Northern Virginia by Wolf Trap or Brookeside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

Lechuza Self Watering Planters

PETRO RECOMMENDED PRODUCT OF THE MONTH: LECHUZA self watering planters

lattice wall with flowers

 

Form meets function in this innovative growing system by LECHUZA. LECHUZA self-watering planters feature a sub-irrigation system that allows appropriate self-watering for up to 12 weeks depending on the plant type, planter size and location. In addition, LECHUZA planters include removable drainage plugs and an interchangeable plant liner to be used indoors or outdoors.

This delightful product includes simple elements such as a water level indicator, a supply shaft to make watering and adding fertilizer quick and easy, and a separator, which forms and separates a water reservoir within the planter. This system makes at home plant care simple and carefree for frequent travelers or those who simply can’t find extra time in the day to exercise their green thumbs.

The secret to LECHUZA planters doesn’t lie solely in the mechanical pieces, but in the plant substrate used in place of soil. The plant substrate, called LECHUZA-PON provides optimum watering and supports root aeration. Nutrients are stored and released only as the plant needs them and unlike soil, LECHUZA-PON does not compress by itself. The mixture is reusable and adjusts ph-value as well.

 

Petro has successfully installed self-watering LECHUNZA planters for multiple residential projects. These planters are high quality, durable products that are UV and frost resistant and will maintain their appearance for years. Below are photos of design projects where we’ve used self-watering planters to provide aesthetically pleasing outdoor accents to private homes. 

For more information regarding LECHUZA self-watering planters and related products, please visit the LECHUZA website at http://www.lechuza.com.

Petro has on staff LEED AP!

Landscape Architect, Colleen Bathon is LEED AP certified! LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is an internationally recognized certification system highlighting the importance of green building and sustaining our environment.

The program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and provides building owners with a framework for implementing and measuring practical green building design, construction, maintenance, and operations. Using the LEED process will help promote sustainable design, buildings and development.  This certification can be applied to both residential and commercial building types. LEED aims to achieve high performance in several areas of human and environmental health including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and environmental quality.

If you are interested in how your home/building could apply for LEED status, OR interested in learning more about sustainable applications for your site contact us.  info@petrodesignbuild.com

For more information on LEED, visit www.usgbc.org.

Petro designers and production teams like to think LOCAL!

Petro designers and production teams like to think LOCAL! 

patio

We promote the use of Low impact materials.  These are materials that require less energy for production, transport, and operation than NEW products OR those that come from outside of the local or regional economy.  They have lower impacts throughout the product life cycle, including production, use, and disposal.

It also helps to choose products that will not be damaging to your health and to the environment!

Let us guide you in choosing products that can be recycled or deconstructed and can be reused on-site or at nearby sites rather than disposed of in a landfill.  Using shade constructed surfaces with structures or vegetation to reduce heat islands and effects on microclimate and wildlife habitat are also helpful.  Additionally, choosing paints, sealants and other related products that contain reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which contribute to air pollution, are better for you and the environment.

Petro uses low impact materials in several of our projects currently in the works. Shown in the photos below, recycled stone was used for several wall structures at a residence in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Low Impact Material Baker Fountain Stone

Benefits of replacing Asphalt with Pervious Pavement

Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection defines pervious pavement as having more air spaces than regular pavement, allowing water to drain through the surface into the underlying soil. Most paved surfaces are currently impervious, but Environmental Site Design (ESD) efforts including installation of pervious pavement are being required for new development as well as redevelopment of properties in Montgomery County.

Applying ESD techniques such as pervious pavement in place of asphalt will help to reduce runoff and issues with flooding, as well as improve water quality. Replacing asphalt surfaces with pervious pavement can provide other ecological, social, and economic benefits.  Pervious pavement functions to slow water and allow infiltration while filtering stormwater on-site. Adding trees and vegetation in previously paved areas can provide comfortable spaces by reducing urban heat island effects and improving air quality as well as overall human health. Pervious pavements and vegetated areas help to reduce energy costs and add aesthetic appeal to any environment (www.montgomerycountymd.gov).

Petro has worked on several projects utilizing ESD techniques, including pervious pavement. Petro used pervious concrete and vegetation to help alleviate issues with pooling and flooding at a residence in Columbia, Maryland. The photo below shows the pervious concrete next to older standard concrete.

Pervious Concrete

Pervious and Cobblestone

Final

Petro is Growing a Vegetable Garden

Petro’s yearly vegetable garden is growing, Growing, GROWING… This year, with the expert guidance of Kathleen, we have cultivated habanero chili peppers, tomatoes, figs, and several herbs, including basil, dill, and rosemary.  Our staff lunches have been supplemented by this lovely harvest from our “Edible Garden”.

Contact us if you are interested in edible landscaping.

Peppers in a Vege Garden Pepperbowl in a vege garden
Basil in the Garden Our Harvest for the week

Good Neighbors

Oftentimes the best neighbors are the ones that you get to see when you want to see them and who get to see you when you want them to see you.

Not that we all want to be recluse but, after a long day at work, it would be nice to relax on your deck or patio uninterrupted by a nosey or even gracious neighbor.  Likewise, your neighbors may not want to see you in your back yard either and so, may also be uncomfortable seeing you relaxing in your yard.

Leyland cypress trees were the big victims in this past winter’s snow.  Sure, they grow fast but they grow so fast that they don’t have the time to develop the substantial root system necessary to carry their weight.  This makes them short lived and ineffective as reliable/long-term screening trees. There are better options for evergreen screens or, depending on the height requirements and/or restrictions, consider framed panel screening.

Particularly if you are on an elevated deck, the best screening is something built.  Considering this past heat; maintaining air circulation becomes critical; likewise with fencing.  An open screen not only allows air to flow but becomes a buffer, rather than an obtrusive wall, and therefore considered a ‘good-neighbor’ foil.  In other words, there is no ‘bad’ side to this option.

There are a variety of attractive exterior shade cloths and awnings that will provide screening and shade, while allowing air circulation.  Remote controlled shade cloths can be installed on the tops or sides of trellising depending on the desired protection.

Lattice panels on top of railings can double as trellising for attractive vines in addition to screening. Consider using self-watering planters secured to railings for seasonal color or a place to easily access your herbs!

Good Neighbors remain just that by providing both properties with attractive privacy.