Dear Urbaneer: How Can I Make My Outdoor Space More Eco-Friendly?

COVID-19 & Toronto Real Estate, Dear Urbaneer, Design, Healthy Home

Welcome to January 2022’s addition to the Dear Urbaneer where I answer real estate questions from my inquisitive readers. This time, I am helping some homeowners who are keen are making their outdoor space more eco-friendly.



Dear Urbaneer:

First, we want you to know you inspired us with your recent post called The Movement To Hipsteading During The Covid-19 Pandemic & Toronto Real Estate. It’s what’s prompted us to contact you for guidance. You offered some fantastic insights and ideas. Thank you!

So here’s our story. After living in a residential high-rise tower for several years, now that we’ve recently moved into a house in the central core we’re keen to make our outdoor spaces more eco-friendly and sustainable, both in a commitment to creating habitats for different species of flora and fauna, as well as our own desire to reconnect with nature on a daily basis.

Can you offer us any other ideas and suggestions?


Seeking Sustainability



Dear Sustainability:

More and more homeowners are seeking ways to become more eco-friendly at home. I’ve written about a number of topics regarding sustainability and home in my Healthy Home series.  Check out posts like:

–> Hello Toronto, Ontario, Canada! Make Your Home A ‘Net Zero’ Hero,

–> Dear Urbaneer: What Is Biophilia And How Can I Use It In Home Design?,

–> How Would Your Home Compare To A Sustainable Property?

–> On Building Sustainable Housing In Canada.


As you read in my Hipsteading post, one of the housing trends I’ve seen accelerated during the pandemic is the desire to live more sustainable and ‘green’ – particularly in the quest to secure property that can be transformed into one’s own version of shelter utopia. Through the lens by which I see this, as a realtor and housing conceptualist, the pandemic is reshaping our shelters and household structures both literally and figuratively in terms of where one lives as well as who is part of our ‘bubble’. In this era of lockdowns and isolation, people are assessing whether they reconfigure their existing residence to accommodate living and working 24/7/365 in the same space or, alternatively, whether they relocate to a new place to optimize this circumstance. Like, for example, one of our clients who decided to Go East: A Toronto Real Estate Exodus To Atlantic Canada.

As we enter our third year of the pandemic, COVID-19 has unwittingly invited everyone look around the space they occupy and ask themselves if it’s enough, or if it’s time to switch up the security blanket we call Home, both as an asset for property owners, and universally in the way shelter aligns with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (for Buyers & for Sellers). Hipsteading represents a shift in how we reframe our idea and definition of retreat, not only because lockdowns forced us to into isolation, but also more like ‘oldey times’ when everyone lived and worked on the homestead safely and securely for a collective ‘better life’. Although today, the idea of homestead more easily translates into the concept of having your own ‘private compound’. 

As I wrote almost a year ago in Dear Urbaneer: Why Are There Bidding Wars For Toronto Real Estate During The COVID-19 Pandemic?: “COVID-19 has prompted a rapid shift in how we use our homes, including both the necessity and desire for more space – both inside and out – to work/play/learn/live, in most cases, full-time, 24-7.  This isn’t limited to interior living space either, with demand exploding for family compounds that feature swimming pools, workshops, and recreational outbuildings, play zones, and victory gardens (and not limited to houses, either as I wrote about in The Increased Desire For Outdoor Space In Toronto Condos During The Covid-19 Pandemic). The quest for more (or more intelligent) space became coveted and pursued across the board collectively shortly after the pandemic lockdown was implemented, regardless of the size and type of existing dwelling you were occupying. Singles living in a studio condo needed space for a home office, a couple living in a 2-bed condo needed more space for two home offices, a nuclear family living in a 3bed semi needed quiet zones to four heads to focus, and so on, which prompted anyone who could afford to climb the property ladder to explore it, fueling the Toronto (and Canadian) housing market.

While the Work-From-Home movement has untethered many, causing the exodus to outlying and rural areas, for those staying in the city there’s been a huge focus on upgrading to whatever version of the “Forever Home” each Buyer envisions according to their budget and ‘New Space Race’ boxes. And for those seeking the ultimate Forever Homes – you know, the large detached 2 and 3 storey merchant class dwellings in the original City of Toronto which have long been in relatively short supply compared to the exponentially expanding affluent educated professional Buyer pool, has ensured this housing type is being fervently pursued with bully offers and bidding wars. I wrote about this early on in the pandemic in my piece called Demand For ‘Forever Homes’ In Toronto’s Downtown Family Neighbourhoods Persists Despite COVID-19 that shares all the considerations – and there are many – that parents reconcile in securing a family home to occupy for the next 2 or 3 decades”.

Although hipsteading embraces that concept of “living off the land” so to speak, I want to be clear this isn’t limited to rural homeowners, or even people who have large parcels of land. In fact, hipsteading in urban locales is growing in popularity because it can be done on a small and inventive scale.

So – regarding your question on how you can focus your love of sustainability on your outdoor space? Here is some guidance and a few helpful tips! 



The Bees Knees

Urban beekeeping is a trend on the rise and it is one that reaps great benefits. For one thing, you have a built-in pollination system for your plants and flowers – and, if you have honey bees, your own honey supply. You can also get wax from your bees, so there are a lot of products you can produce right at home. How win-win is that? Check out this Canadian site by Priscella and her passion for honeybee advocacy, along with the products they sell at Made By Bees!

Getting a bee hive going is fairly inexpensive and is pretty easy to do. To start, you will need a couple of hives, extraction equipment (if you are taking out honey) as well as tools and protective equipment. In most cases, a couple of hives can get set up and operational for under $1000.

It’s a good idea to take a beekeeping course and join your local beekeeper association for guidance and support. When starting out, start small, and then grow from there as you learn through your experience.

In Ontario, you are required to register your hive with the province. Although you’re apparently supposed to keep hives 30 metres from your residence with signage indicating to others that there are bee hives present, I personally know of instances where bee hives are located on the roofs of dwellings and outbuildings right downtown.

Here is an excellent FAQ for new beekeepers from the Ontario BeeKeepers’ Association. Click here to read Honey, hives and highrises: Why urban beekeeping is trending in Canada

As a side note, Toronto is a very pro-bee city. Did you know that Pearson Airport has an entire program devoted to honeybees, dating back to 2015?   It’s called YYbeeZ. I love this!



*These galvanized steel planter boxes first appeared at our SOLD listing at 34A Somerset Avenue, which inspired our blog, ‘The Movement To Hipsteading During The Covid-19 Pandemic & Toronto Real Estate


Creative Gardening

Fruit and veggie gardens have always been popular, but they became even more so during the pandemic. People found great therapeutic value in growing their own food, and also found comfort in having a food source right at home – especially during stay-at-home lockdowns during the pandemic. I wrote about this phenomenon in my Hipsteading post that you referenced in your question.

If you are really serious about getting the most eco-friendly bang for your buck, get creative with where and the how you will create your urban garden. There are a number of options that you may not have considered, but make for viable gardening opportunities. Think beyond the backyard, so to speak.

Container gardening is a good option, especially for those who have limited outdoor space (say in a condo). You can place and grow in containers anywhere really, on your balcony, window sills etc. You can even place them on steps or hang planters from a balcony ceiling. 

Is your backyard unsuitable for a veggie / flower garden? How about your front or side yard, no matter how small? If you have a sloped yard, consider constructing a raised or tiered garden along with broad deep stairs so maintenance and harvesting will be easier, and you have a place to personally perch when you want to take a break and just be present in nature.

Do you have a garage, a shed or a sunroom extension on your house? Whatever purpose you’re using the interior space for (storage, hobbies, or a Work From Home Office, for example), we’re seeing more city residents adding rooftop planters on top of their extensions or outbuildings. If you consider this option, make sure the structure can support the added weight load.



Green Living Roofs, Or A Cool Roof? What?

A living roof (also known as a green roof) is a roof that has vegetation on part of its structure. Although it costs more to create, a living roof lasts longer than a conventional asphalt-shingle roof. It also provides a natural insulation ‘skin’ on top of your dwelling, helps with stormwater runoff because it absorbs a lot of the moisture traditional roof materials expel, and they also help filter and improve air quality? 

Fun fact! Did you know that Toronto was the first city in North America to pass a bylaw requiring a green roof occupy a portion of new commercial, industrial and residential developments back in 2009?

There are three types of green roofs: extensive, intensive and semi-intensive. All include a high-quality waterproofing structure with a root barrier and drainage system. Extensive roofs are shallower, lighter and require less maintenance; intensive roofs have a deeper structure to grow a larger number of plant species, while a semi-intensive green roof falls in-between.

Not ready to install a green living roof? Consider a cool roof (or a white roof) that reflects the sun’s rays to reduce the thermal energy heat build-up. Sometimes it’s a simple as changing the colour of your material choices!

Homeowners will be pleased to know that there is Eco-Roof Incentive Program in Toronto for those interested in installing a green or cool roof.



Buy Local, Choose Sustainable

When I started paying attention to my everyday decisions – and assessing whether they were truly sustainable or not – this simple act of awareness snowballed into a sustainable transformation. It’s all about starting with little decisions and letting them inform your bigger decisions. 

Start by focusing on buying what nature produces locally when creating your garden, like organic mulch (think grass clippings, wood bark, wood chips, straw or leaves) and selecting native trees, plants and flowers because they require less human intervention and they’re more likely to thrive. Also, it’s eco-wise to make a composting area so you can reduce your household waste.

But so many people – including myself at times in my desire to achieve a particular aesthetic appearance – lack being consistently mindful about the products we’ll be relaxing on when we’re lounging or dining in our outdoor space. When choosing your patio furnishings, be sure to select furniture made from sustainable materials, like bamboo, cotton or sustainable woods. And always think about the overall “cost” regarding “inviting nature in”! If you order a plastic outdoor tiered super cool planter system and buy into proprietary products to maintain it (fertilizers, manufactured soils, cleaning and maintaining system) – and it all comes from China – is this really “sustainable”? Or is the ”true total environmental cost” outweighed by the “value” of your private biophilic moment?

As my friend Dan Nuttall from Dan Does Design asked me: “What spreadsheet does a homeowner use to evaluate the “true costs” of any biophilic endeavour?”. It’s a great reminder, Dan! Thanks! Here’s some of my posts sharing Dan’s approach to designing my outdoor spaces including my brick-walled courtyard in Toronto’s Button Factor – and – The Perfect Patio At My Movie House Loft – and – A Black Garden At The Black House In PEI By Dan Does Design.




Natural Pools

Having a backyard pool has become more popular than ever as people seek to create vacation-like amenities right at home- a by-product of all the stay-at-home-time during the pandemic. However, while there is nothing quite like splashing around in a backyard pool, a conventional swimming pool comes with a lot of energy consumption and chemicals. 

A natural pool uses a water pump and plants to naturally clean the water. A natural pool actually consists of two separate pools; one is lined with plastic, or concrete and is as big as you’d like (this is the area where you’ll do most of your swimming). Adjoining is a more shallow pool, which you’ll fill with plants and rocks that will clean the water naturally (i.e. lilies, cattails etc.) and the water pump will cycle the water to and from the bigger pool.

A UV filtration system is also an eco-friendly way to rid your water of algae. It works by converting UV light to kill algae growth, naturally. Not only is this eco-friendly, you’ll save a great deal on maintenance and operational costs. That, and it makes for a beautiful, natural addition to your landscaping in your yard.

For inspiration, check out this Natural Swimming Pool By Genus-Loci Ecological Landscapes Inc. , of whom one of the partners is a past Urbaneer client! 



Love Trees Like I Do?

What’s not to love about trees? Not only they create undeniable curb appeal, they serve multiple functions to support our physical and mental health- along with helping the planet as well.

I touched on the benefits of planting trees in For the Love of Trees. Trees help with heating and cooling your home naturally, saving energy (and money on your energy bills). They clean the air. They create calm and a sense of peace. They muffle street noise. They offer homes to wildlife. Trees are probably the best way to infuse an awareness of nature into an urban landscape, where steel, glass and concrete create much of the visual context. Trees also help to re-enforce soil and to control erosion.

Planting trees is a must for every eco-friendly home.




Cry Me A Rain Garden & No Mow Areas On Your Property

Having a rain garden at home is not only beautiful, it can really help the environment. A rain garden is part of your landscaping that collects stormwater (i.e., rain and snow). It’s typically comprised of a shallow, deep depression of loose soil that absorbs the stormwater. As stormwater runs over lawns and streets, it can gather pollutants, which can drain into local streams, ponds and lakes.

Design can be quite flexible in order to accommodate your yard, and is a great way to take advantage of an un-used pocket of your yard.

The benefits of this are many, including keeping the natural cycle of water flowing, and keeping stormwater which may gather pollutants on its journey from running off into sewers and water infrastructure. You can help protect your local ecosystems and attract wildlife at home like butterflies, birds and beneficial insects.

To get started, you simply decide on the location and the size of your rain garden. You direct your downspout from your roof (or from your rain barrel) into the garden area. You can do this by using an infiltration trench. You can have more than one rain garden as well, with different directions for downspouts (i.e one to the front of your home, one to the back etc.).

You can choose a host of different plants, flowers and gardens. Be creative. Click here for good resources A Complete Guide to Building and Maintaining a Rain Garden and Rain Gardens Are Sprouting Up.



Outdoor Lighting

Lighting is a key feature of any outdoor space design. After all, creating a visually arresting nightscape is a great way to blur the lines of indoor/outdoor living, and it can be really pretty during all four seasons. Today there are a number of fashionable and eco-friendly choices available. Light fixtures with LED bulbs are essential, or if you want to be completely sustainable opt for solar-powered lighting although they often don’t cast the same intensity of light as LED bulbs. I encourage you to mix up your fixtures, such as hanging lanterns along paths, or add strategically placed floodlights around your decking to highlight large tress or sculpture on your property.

Also, outdoor lighting is a great way to create ‘defensible space’. The defensible space theory of architect and city planner Oscar Newman (he published his book Defensible Space in 1972) encompasses ideas about crime prevention and neighborhood safety, including using outdoor lighting to dissuade individuals from congregating for the purposes of unsavoury acts. Basically, the more well-lit an area is at night, the greater the sense of safety one feels. 



Eco Friendly Lawn Care

When it comes to maintenance, choose electric mowers and leaf blowers over gas powered. Better still, if you don’t have a huge space to maintain, a push mower is a good, eco-friendly choice and a great workout.

Even better, if your local bylaws allow consider opting for “no mow” areas on your property or replace your lawn with “steppables“ that are plants that tolerate foot traffic like meadow or prairie native species. Reduced maintenance, less combustion, sequestering carbon, providing habitat for flora and fauna, and eliminating the use of fertilizer is a key advancement! 



For Condo Owners

Making eco-friendly choices for your outdoor spaces aren’t just limited to those with yards. Condo dwellers can make sustainable choices for their terrace, balcony or patio.

For flooring or decking, go with sustainable woods or recycled plastic. Cork tiles are also a good choice. It’s a great way to make a décor statement as well.

It’s well known that gardening has benefits for the gardener and for the planet, but space is admittedly at a premium on a balcony or terrace. That’s why having a vertical garden is a great way to make use of the space that you do have. You can either have plants that grow vertically, or install hangers or a fixture to house plants in a vertical pattern. A bonus? This is also a decorative and sustainable way to create privacy whilst outside at your condo.

For lighting outdoors, look for things like LED or solar-powered strip lights or hanging lights. A selection of LED-run candles and tea lights are also a lovely way to create a comfortable, subtle glow at night!

My favourite thing about sustainability is how fun it can be figuring out new ways to save energy and save the planet – and you feel good about those changes too! Enjoy!


Making your home eco-friendlier will not only help the planet, it will enhance your enjoyment at home and support your social conscience as well. With a depth of knowledge on all things housing and home – and a passion for integrating sustainable options at home. We are here to help!



Whether it’s making simple changes like installing LED lightbulbs, energy-efficient appliances, or a Nest Thermostat, or undertaking a comprehensive renovation with the commitment to reduce construction waste, reuse building materials, and select sustainable materials, every action to live green is an improvement.

Here are some posts which offer more insights:

Dear Urbaneer: What Is Involved With Installing An Electric Vehicle Charger In Toronto?

Hello Toronto, Ontario, Canada! Make Your Home A ‘Net Zero’ Hero

A Black Garden At The Black House In PEI By Dan Does Design

The Irony Of STILL Navigating COVID-19 On The 51st Anniversary Of Earth Day

On Building Sustainable Housing In Canada

For The Love Of Trees

How Would Your Home Compare To A Sustainable Property?

Breathe Deep With A Green Wall

What Is Biophilia And How Can I Use It In Home Design?

The Value Of Public Transit In Toronto

On Cycling In The City: Then And Now

Toronto Trends Toward Sustainable Moving.

Rain Gardens Are Sprouting Up



May we assist you or someone you love?



With decades of experience navigating the ever-changing Toronto real estate market, a commitment to promote the sale of properties like yours with interesting and relevant information, and the ability to guide Buyers with credible insights and well-informed guidance, we are here to help without pressure or hassle.

Please consider our services!


Thanks for reading!

-The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000

– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –

Celebrating Thirty Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor


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