Landscaping for Energy Savings

Posted on Apr 4 2012 - 1:49pm by Tim Eyre

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to be hot! I’d much rather be chilly and throw a jacket on. However, it’s easy to pay a hefty price for staying cool when the summer heat arrives. With Earth Day coming up on April 22, it’s the perfect time to think about how to reduce your home cooling costs. Landscaping may be the answer you haven’t considered.

If you use plants and trees to keep your home cooler, you may not consume as much energy. So, now is the time to be a tree hugger for real. Plus, trees give birds a nice place to kick back! And, like most things, there’s no better time to get started than now. You’ll need some patience, after all. Landscaping for energy efficiency involves a bit of planning and an initial investment, but the payback, or energy savings, will come knocking on your door soon enough.

Trees Are Cooler

It turns out that trees are way more than just pretty to look at. Sure, their elegant limbs nestle the cutest of bird nests, but trees also reduce surrounding air temperatures by up to 9 degrees! Amazingly, the air temps directly under trees can be up to 25 degrees cooler compared with the air temps above nearby blacktop. No wonder my grandparents always talked about sitting under the shade tree.

All this talk of surrounding air temperature is cool, but how long will you need to wait for shade, you ask? A deciduous tree (a leaf loser) that’s nearly 8 feet tall will start shading your windows in the first year. Roof shading occurs in five to 10 years.

While it may sound boring to wait for trees to grow, remember that their shade will be like money in your pocket. When you reduce the solar heat gain coming through your windows and roof, you also reduce the amount of money you spend on cooling your home or office.

Best Tree Type and Location 

In general, trees that grow quickly don’t live as long as their slower-growing cousins. Plus, slow-growing trees are less likely to break during storms or heavy snow. In other words, a nice oak tree may get off to a slower start, but it will be around longer and give you less hassle compared with a maple that grows quickly.

As for shade, evergreen trees are good for providing continuous shade, but if you want to let some solar heat warm your home in the winter, choose deciduous trees.
When planted to the west of your home, trees with branches lower to the ground will provide nice shade from afternoon sun. Trees with high, spreading branches should be parked to the south of your house. That’s where they’ll provide the best roof shading during summer months. However, if you have a solar-heated home in a cold climate, don’t plant trees on the southern side of your home, or the branches may block needed rays during the winter.

Your local arborist can suggest a tree that will thrive in your climate. And it’s easy to find an arborist: Use Arbor Day Foundation’s online guide for locating a certified arborist in your area.

Shrubs, Groundcover and Vines Too

Shorter helpers like shrubs and groundcover plants shouldn’t be counted out. They can help shade the pavement and ground, reducing heat radiation and making the air cooler before it gets to your windows and walls. Shrubs may also be counted on to quickly shade windows.

Climbing vines are great for shading walls. You can help vines do the cooling work by providing a trellis or other structure they may call home. However, don’t allow a stubborn clinging vine like ivy to attach to your house, as it may damage wooden siding. Birds & Blooms magazine has some excellent ideas on using vines in your yard, so please explore all the different vines available to you. If you’re uncomfortable with climbing vines, try trailing vines that may be placed in plant boxes. They’ll help with cooling too.

In addition to providing shade and looking mighty pretty, shrubs and vines can also act as windbreaks. When placed at least a foot from your home, vines and shrubs create dead air space that helps to insulate your home in both warm and cold weather.

Finally, I’d like to remind you that before you fall too in love with plants you read about online, it’s a very good idea to consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which will tell you if your new love is a good match for your area. I wish you happy plantings, energy savings and a good Earth Day!

Tim Eyre