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'Grass driveway' could lessen home's footprint

I thought I was seeing things when the press release and accompanying photo appeared in my in-box but, having written about Craig Marshall's "green" initiatives in the past, I took a closer look. Craig Marshall is president of Marshall Homes, an Ontario company that, in my view, is a leader in sustainable-building endeavours.

The builder's latest initiative, the one that had me doing a double take, is a grass driveway. Mr. Marshall had seen a plastic underlay on a golf course a few years ago and started searching the Internet for more information on the concept.

His search eventually uncovered grassed parking lots in Britain, and ultimately led to this residential driveway in Oshawa. It's one of the first - if not the first - of its kind in Canada.

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Installed at a house built by Marshall Homes and certified under LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria, "The grass driveway is very much a trial project," Mr. Marshall explains. It has to go at least through the winter to determine whether it's feasible and sustainable in Canada's climate, he says.

"Everyone who sees it says, 'What about the winter?' We're going to find out before we start offering it, and we'll be posting a diary and photos on our website.

"What we're trying to do with this LEED home and the grass driveway, first and foremost, is ... educate the public about what can be done to not only reduce energy consumption but ... to reduce the impact our homes have on the environment," Mr. Marshall adds.

The grass driveway is a LEED case study that aims to maximize the absorption of rainwater runoff on site, instead of allowing it to flow into lakes and rivers where the contaminants it carries can have a devastating effect.

This is why the LEED program awards points to builders who implement methods to reduce rainwater runoff from roofs and driveways.

This erosion-control system is called Golpla and is designed and manufactured in Germany. In Ontario, it is sold by Zander Sod Co. Ltd. ( The grass used is drought-resistant and locally produced, which, Mr. Marshall points out, also are important LEED principles. For this project, Marshall Homes sourced the grass from Wintermere Farms in North Ajax, Ont.

Golpla consists of a series of interlocking, injection-moulded hexagonal plastic cells, 12,000 of which were laid on the Oshawa driveway, which is about 400 feet square. That translates to about 30 cells a square foot.

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I'm not suggesting each of the 12,000 cells was installed individually. They come in easy-to-lay mats. Besides this convenience, the beauty of their design is twofold. First, runoff water is funnelled through the base of the cells into the ground while the grass grows through topsoil laid on top of the cells. Second, the construction of the cells protects the roots of the grass from being crushed by the weight of vehicles.

In fact, one website I found suggested using it on helicopter landing pads. Good to know for readers considering helicopter commuting.

Golpla was an important component of the city of Vancouver's plans for the construction of the first "environmentally sustainable street." In a paper dated March, 2005, city planners described it as "basically plastic matting with honeycomb-shaped voids on the surface ... laid down on a structural base and filled with topsoil."

I didn't find confirmation of Vancouver having gone ahead with the plan, but if it did, the results wouldn't necessarily be useful to the Marshall experiment since the city's climate is much more temperate than Ontario's.

Marshall Homes will be seeking advice from their landscape architect and the University of Guelph on maintaining the grass during this winter's trial run.

Take the opportunity to see and ask questions about this LEED home and its green driveway at an open house on Aug. 14 from 3 to 7 p.m. The home is located in Marshall's Copperfield subdivision, 1025 Copperfield Rd. in Oshawa. A second open house is scheduled for Aug. 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For those who can't make either date, a third open house will be held some time in September. Register to be notified of the date at

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The grass used in the Marshall Homes installation grows at the same rate as the lawn grass and is mowed at the same time, to the same height.

A Google search using the word "Golpla" produced numerous hits about this product and its uses, including one for "Crown Street" where I found the city of Vancouver study paper.

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