Our modern homes all have service and utility equipment that takes up space outdoors. That includes housings for electrical power, cable service boxes, air conditioning units, backup generators, pool equipment, and trash and recycling containers.
Most of us are somewhat aware of these utility items when we are outdoors–but we don’t really “see” them because we tune them out. However, when we begin to think about investing in landscape design, that’s when we want to do something about them. Although we need all of these things to be comfortable in our houses we don’t necessarily want to see them or hear the noise they make when we are trying to enjoy being outdoors.
Fortunately, this equipment can be hidden with a creative landscape design that effectively removes it from view, or it can be moved, or both.
Dealing with Utility Equipment in Your Front Yard Landscape
A benefit of building practice in newer housing developments is that electrical service is buried underground rather than on poles. The drawback is that each homesite is marked by one of those light green utility boxes down by the curb. Although the front yard location is convenient for service providers, you may find that it interferes with the aesthetic statement you are trying to achieve with your front yard landscaping.
Whereas equipment that is privately owned can be easily relocated, moving equipment owned by the power company can be prohibitively expensive. And most of the time it would be unnecessary to do so because a creative landscape architect can design attractive features that de-emphasize the effect of the undesirable ones. They do this by screening out the unwanted items, creating focal points that pull attention away from them and highlighting desirable features. Depending on the situation, this can be accomplished with plantings, stonework, fencing or a combination of these. If it works with the style of the home and the neighborhood, constructing a driveway entry gate with masonry pillars and low walls is a dramatic way to completely hide a utility box
Disguising Service Equipment with Front Yard Landscape Design
It is possible to subdue or soften the effect of that chunky green utility box by making it part of the landscaping. Installing groupings of various sized trees or shrubs and groundcovers in front of and around it can transform it into an attractive feature. It is important however that the planting area looks natural where it is and contributes to the overall composition.
Sometimes homeowners will simply plant a hedge in front of a utility box. But that doesn’t work aesthetically because the hedge doesn’t make sense where they’ve placed it. It sticks out in the same way the utility box it’s attempting to hide sticks out. Landscape features used to hide a service box should relate gracefully to other elements in the overall composition. So, if the utility box is on the left of the driveway, you’ve got to add a similar grouping on the right so it balances or fills in as a continuation of a theme that has been established elsewhere in the landscape.
Take care to plant in front of and around equipment but not right up against it as you must preserve access for service techs.
Air Conditioning Units and Back-Up Generators
The purpose of landscaping is to create a serene environment, a space that invites you to enter. This holds true for both front yard and backyard landscapes. So, although the focus of this article is about dealing with utility equipment that interferes with your experience of the front yard landscape, it merits a brief detour into the backyard to complete the discussion.
Imagine you are planning to invest in an outdoor kitchen and dining patio. You might suddenly become aware that an air conditioning unit or a backup generator is in the way. Fortunately, this type of service equipment can be easily moved farther away and hidden behind a fence, retaining wall, or screening plants so you can enjoy your newly created outdoor living space without the noise and incongruous look of the utility equipment sharing the space.
Pool equipment is the most common ambiance wrecker in backyard landscapes. When homeowners contract directly with a pool builder without consulting a landscape architect, they may find themselves sharing the pool deck and being serenaded by the sound of the pool pumping station. That’s because a pool builder generally takes the most straight-forward approach to provide easy access for servicing the equipment and to avoid the cost of running additional lengths of pipe.
A landscape architect is interested in creating ambiance and character in outdoor environments. So their first thought is about how people will be using the pool area and how they want to feel when they are out there. The architect’s intention is always to maximize enjoyment by minimizing distractions.
When possible, it makes sense to consult with a landscape architect in advance to plan the location of service equipment so it doesn’t draw attention to itself or get in the way of future projects. If you are past that point, there are always things that can be done to “disguise” the equipment.
While backyard landscapes are set up for privacy, front yard landscape designs are all about presentation and sharing. This is the essential difference between the front and backyard landscaping. On the street-facing side of the house, the primary goal is to enhance the setting of the home, to showcase its attractiveness as viewed from the street. And there are always ways to use landscape design to maximize the effect.
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