Most homeowners carefully plan their landscaping for beauty, property value, comfort, and maybe water savings or neighborhood bragging rights. But smart landscaping also helps save on energy bills. On summer days, it feels cooler sitting under a tree or standing in the grass. Also, farmers have used lines of trees as windbreaks for centuries. There are easy ways for homeowners to use the same principles to save energy.
The US Department of Energy estimates trees in the right spots around a home can save energy consumption by up to 25 percent, easily providing a return on most landscaping projects within eight years.
Here are some basic ways to save energy with landscaping. You can cut summer cooling costs, winter heating bills or possibly affect both at the same time. For all of the following landscaping work, work around existing plants. For the most part, larger trees and shrubs are more effective at saving energy. Let them grow. Likewise, think about long-term energy savings and plant slow-growing species that will live longer and withstand harsher conditions.
Saving on Cooling Bills
The biggest factor in summer energy savings is blocking the sun's heat blasting through windows and raising inside temperatures, boosting air conditioning demand. You can save energy by strategically landscaping your yard.
Hire a landscape designer to help plant trees at the ideal angle to block direct summer sunlight but still allow natural light into the home. Consider large, wide deciduous trees near windows on the south side of the house, and near an air conditioning unit. The trees will block plenty of summer sun, but lose their leaves in the winter and allow passive solar heat. Recommended trees for saving energy include maples, birch, and many oaks.
The west and northwest sides of the house should also be blocked at low angles to block late afternoon sun. Plant fuller trees with lower branches in these areas to save energy. Until the trees properly mature, consider vines on or near the house. They can help keep the summer sun from baking walls and heating the house. Deciduous vines will get out of the sun's way in winter, but windy areas might call for evergreen vines to block chilly winter blasts.
A landscaper might also be able to help design a channel of plants that will funnel cooling summer breezes into the house to help you save energy.
Finally, at the most basic level, any landscaping helps cool the air in the immediate vicinity and will reduce the amount of surface and ground heat seeping into the home. Soil covered with plants and shaded by trees will remain cooler than asphalt and other heat-absorbing surfaces.
Saving on Heating Bills
The key in winter is blocking cold wind while allowing the sun to provide passive solar energy. Harnessing passive solar energy helps you to save fossil fuel energy. The latter is simple. Just get the trees out of the way of south-facing windows (possibly by using deciduous trees, as mentioned above).
Rows of dense, low evergreen trees and shrubs can help block wind. Ideal shrubs will grow to between six and 10 feet, such as camellia, hollies, oleander, and Viburnum.
Heating and cooling bills can be significantly reduced with well-designed landscaping, including trees that cool the air and block summer sun, and shrubs that control winter wind.