Gaines Group Architects

Green Term Defined: Stormwater

Those living in the Chesapeake Bay Water Shed are going to start hearing a LOT about Stormwater over the next few months. Stormwater is water that comes from precipitation (rain, snow, sleet…) and does not soak into the ground. Stormwater runoff is the concern that is now being addressed in a proactive manner in our area. This surface runoff, which can flow directly into a stream or creek or through storm sewers and eventually becomes surface waters.


The two main concerns of stormwater are flooding and water pollution. We have found ways to battle the flooding issues over the years by building higher, channeling streams to avoid flooding in inhabited areas, and by building detention ponds. Now we are addressing the water pollution aspect of stormwater as we see the negative impacts on our fresh water resources. Runoff from impervious surfaces (roads, buildings, driveways, gravel parking lots) does not soak into the ground and collects chemicals such as oil, engine coolant, and degreasers which ends up in our surface water. Heavy rains on our front yards wash off the excess fertilizers and weed killers we use to keep the lawn green into our watershed. Agriculture uses heavy pesticides and fertilizers to amp up crop growth which also seeps into our streams. Erosion along stream edges and livestock being allowed into streams is also a major problem with our watershed issues. Of course industry has also played a part in the problem over the years as many businesses were developed along waterways to take advantage of the supply of fresh water.


Things that can be done in the building industry to protect our watershed include vegetative roofs, raingardens, cisterns, pervious pavement, and LID (low impact development). Charlottesville, Staunton, and Harrisonburg are MS4s. This requires the city to develop and implement and enforce a stormwater management program. This includes 6 minimum control measures:

1. public education and outreach

2. public participation and involvement

3. Illicit discharge detection and elimination

4. construction site stormwater runoff management

5. post construction stormwater management in new development and redevelopment on prior developed land

6. pollution prevention for municipal operations

Green Terms Defined – Low Impact Development

2011-10-21_08-44-09_934Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach to site planning the is holistic looking at a building context and Best Management Practices (BMP) to replicate the natural patterns of the site. LID captures rainwater, recycling it to use on-site or slowly letting it recharge the groundwater system. This process filters pollutants through the use of natural vegetation. Here are some technologies used in the LID design:

  1. DSC02342Vegetated Roof – A ‘green roof’ absorbs heat from the sun, holds rainwater, and filters it.
  2. Rain Garden – A vegetated swale, bioretention pond, or raingarden is a mechanism used to slow stormwater flor and allow it to infiltrate rather than just letting it run off.
  3. Pervious Pavement – Asphalt, concrete, or pavers that allows water to pass through instead of run off the site.
  4. Rainwater Harvesting System – captures rainwater in a tank for use in irrigation, grey water systems, or car washing.

22_logo_raintank4LID also is an approach to how a site is designed including plant selections, slopes, and soils. This approach to design of a site creates a healthy ecosystem as well as protects surrounding watersheds.

10 Ways to Conserve Water and Lower Your Monthly Bills

water efficient toiletCutting your water usage will save money, conserve water resources, and cut your energy usage. Implement these simple ideas to get started:

1. Check faucets and pipes for leaks. A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day.

2. Check the toilet for leaks. Put a little food coloring in the toilet tank. If, without flushing, you see that color in the bowl, you need to repair the leak immediately.

3. conserve waterInstall water-saving shower heads and low-flow faucets. Look for a WaterSense labeled product.

4. Put a plastic bottle full of water in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water per flush.

5. Insulate your hot water pipes to get hot water faster. This will reduce the time you have to wait and waste water.

conserve water

WaterSense Faucet

6. Only run full loads in the dishwasher and clothes washer. Remember to air dry both dishes and clothing to further your energy savings.

7. Be a water Scrooge – take shorter showers, rinse your razor in the sink, and turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth.

8. Plant drought-resistant lawns, shrubs, and plants in your yard. Mulch flower beds, water in the early morning, and don’t water your grass – after all who likes mowing every week.

9. Capture rainwater for use in watering your plants, washing your car, and even filling the pool.

10. conserve waterUse a drip irrigation system for your garden, keep the water close to the roots.


Read more about how you can conserve water and cut your energy bills here.

Rainwater Harvesting – Design Matters

One of the most important things an architect can bring to a project is knowledge of materials and systems. In order to provide this service an architect has to be constantly looking, researching, and learning about what is available and what has been tested. In a recent project that we designed, it was discovered late in the process that the well was a low producer. A low producing well on a project of this building type in effect would prevent construction as it was required to have a sprinkler system. So through our knowledge of systems we offered a rainwater management system that would allow for a quantity of water that would save the project. The other option would be to invest a similar amount of money drilling additional wells hoping for better results.

rain water harvesting

The rainwater storage system we implemented is lightweight and easy to install, has high strength, and is modular. To that end, we were able to catch 95,000 gallons of rainwater off of 50% of the building roof without sacrificing parking lot space. The rainwater tank was installed under the parking lot.

rainwater harvesting


This value added option for the owner saved his investment already used in soft cost. Hiring an architect is more than getting someone to do some drawings, it is more than making a building look good, it is about adding value to a project. An architect should save the building owner money through good planning, they should offer insights that avoid potential problems, and they should add value to the process.