Habitat for Humanity of D.C. and [the Audubon Naturalist Society](https://www.audubonnaturalist.org/RunScript.asp?p=ASPPg0.asp) collaborated this November to construct rain gardens at a new eco-friendly townhouse development in northeast D.C., according to Dolores Milmoe, a member of the ANS. Rain gardens manage storm water by using plants to absorb water that would otherwise be diverted to sewers, helping to prevent pollution and soil erosion.
Habitat for Humanity is working to build more eco-friendly and sustainable homes, according to Heather Phibbs, the branch’s communications and community relations director. The organization already meets Energy Star standards and uses recycled materials, fluorescent bulbs and water-saving fixtures. Habitat recently began implementing new practices such as enhancing indoor air quality and improving framing techniques to improve energy efficiency.
During major storms, rain gardens prevent excess water from overflowing into local waterways. In a rainstorm, excess water can carry pollutants into waterways surpassing filtration by the sewage system. Rain gardens absorb this excess water, preventing contamination.
Rain gardens are composed of 60 percent sand and 40 percent leaf compost and soil, as well as native plants and a system of pipes to divert storm water, according to Yungling Mei, architect for the project and member of Habitat for Humanity. The garden is designed to absorb about 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain.
“A rain garden is something that can be easily done in anyone’s garden,” Mei said.
There are other methods that can be used to prevent storm water runoff and pollution, Milmoe said. Native plants that require little maintenance will better withstand rainstorms and help to absorb water. Milmoe also recommended the use of rain barrels to collect water from downspouts; the water can then be used to water garden plants.
The District Department of the Environment funded the project, Mei said.
Georgetown University Habitat for Humanity participated in constructing the first rain garden, according to former GU Habitat President Matt Hoyt (COL ’12).
Hoyt said that the organization is moving beyond providing affordable housing to building eco-friendly, sustainable homes.
“[Habitat for Humanity is] not just providing a house,” Hoyt said. “They are creating homes that are going to last.”