Could a Climate-Friendly Yard Actually Be Better for Curb Appeal?
For decades, a white picket fence and a pristine lawn have represented the ideal yard and peak curb appeal for many in the U.S., but as Americans better understand the effects of climate change, homeowners are increasingly willing to ditch grass in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives.
This shift is revealed, in part, in a 2022 study by landscape design service Yardzen that shows that requests to replace lawns have increased 66% year over year. Additionally, over the same period, requests for a more functional front yard increased 150%.
That pristine green lawn requires a lot of upkeep—and a lot of water—to maintain its lushness. With that in mind, nearly any replacement, even if it's not intentionally more sustainable, could help reduce the yard's overall drain on resources. But while interest in these potentially more climate-friendly front yards is increasing, you have to wonder: Can these eco-friendly (or eco-friendlier) replacements offer the same curb appeal as a grassy lawn?
"A potential buyer makes up their mind within the first eight seconds of first seeing the outside of a home on whether to take the next steps, or just keep driving," says Scott Beaudry, broker and owner at Universal Realty in Las Vegas. "Those first eight seconds may be the only time to get them excited to walk through the front door."
Can a yard be both climate-friendly and attractive to passersby (and potential buyers)? We asked a few real estate and landscaping pros to break it down for us.
What a Climate-Friendly Yard Might Look Like
Developing a more climate-friendly yard starts when you ditch your grass. Lawns, says Kevin Lenhart, landscape architect with Yardzen, are something that Europeans preferred, and the tradition crossed the pond.
"It goes back to Thomas Jefferson having a love of the English landscape, and there's a direct line between the English landscape tradition and lawns being across the United States. So the desire for the lawn is very deep in our cultural preferences," Lenhart says. "But lawns are not inherently evil. People should not feel guilty or judged for having a lawn, but it would be good for people to be aware of the impact of lawns."
Alternatives to lawns include ornamental grasses, native plants and trees, various hardscapes such as pathways or gravel, and ground cover, such as clover, that doesn't require frequent mowing and watering.
Even the maintenance of your lawn can affect the environment, Lenhart points out. Gas-guzzling mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers produce exhaust and create noise pollution that affects area wildlife.
Plus, replacing the lawn can mean a better use of your front-yard space.
"We're going to use some of that area for one thing, say expanding ornamental planting, and the other side to that area for maybe a functional use, like a seating area or a kids' play area," Lenhart says.
Think of the Birds
Climate-friendly yards begin with less water waste and fewer powerful chemicals, but the result is a healthier local ecosystem. The typical American lawn doesn't make for a good habitat for most local flora and fauna (hence the need for efforts such as No Mow May), but a yard that incorporates different types of climate-friendly plants can provide shelter for animals and insects while conserving water and releasing fewer pesticides and fertilizers into local waterways.
"When you think about all the area that lawns occupy across the country, it's an immense missed opportunity to support biodiversity and just to have more aesthetic variety and better expressions of regional landscape character," Lenhart says.
Homeowners associations have historically preferred traditional lush grass lawns, but Lenhart says they're becoming more flexible. Emphasize the benefits of your eco-friendly changes—especially if you live in an area where droughts are common—and your HOA could be open to changes that support those goals.
Do Buyers Care?
Surprisingly, perhaps, more and more buyers are interested in climate-friendly yards, either because it means less maintenance than a standard patch of grass or because they're concerned about the environment. Beaudry points out that, in his region in Nevada, climate-friendly yards aren't just aesthetically pleasing: They're also a major perk for buyers who need to be in line with local standards on water use and fire mitigation. A yard that already meets that criteria can be a major selling point.
"So, that buyer's 'love at first sight' curb appeal now depends on what the cost would be to replace that water-hogging grass and install a more modern artificial turf in its place. Remember, it's the first eight seconds to win those buyers over," Beaudry says.
Buyers in his region are increasingly drawn to yards that already practice water conservation through something called Xeriscaping, which is a type of landscaping that reduces the need for irrigation. In Las Vegas, Beaudry points out, there's an average rainfall of about 4.2 inches per year. Buyers who see a home with a front lawn will have to consider what it costs to irrigate or replace it. An eco-friendly yard saves money, but a new homeowner can also get some money back if they decide to make upgrades.
"In the Las Vegas area, it's so imperative to conserve water, the Southern Nevada Water Authority will rebate properties $3 per square foot of grass removed. That can add up to thousands," Beaudry says.
Beaudry points out that replacing a lawn in advance of selling it can save a new buyer money. And if you top it off by planting native trees and shrubs, you can make your property truly integral to the desert community. That's a trend that buyers and legislators are getting on board with, he says.
"A state law passed last year in response to a severe drought requires the removal of patches of grass by commercial sites and conversion to more natural desert landscaping," Beaudry says. "Whether they opt for artificial turf or vie for a rockier terrain, Las Vegas area homeowners are rethinking outdoor living, and it is beautiful both for the environment and for curb appeal."
Consider whether a similar shift in your area—regardless of drought conditions—could pay off, either in lower maintenance needs or other cost-savings, and you may find that your curb appeal falls into place as neighbors and potential buyers alike grow to appreciate the many benefits of a climate-friendly lawn.