When the summer heat gets too intense, we instinctively head for the shade.
If your overheated house could scoot underneath a big shade tree to cool off, it would likely join you.
The next best thing: give your home its own shade. Planting the right trees in the right places helps cool your home in the summer but still lets the winter sun through for warmth.
A strategically placed row of conifers keeps the bitter winter wind from slamming into your house. The result? Lower energy bills for you. Shrubs, vines and groundcovers do their part, too.
First, Some Facts About Energy Efficient Landscaping
Don’t just take our word for it. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a few statistics that prove energy efficient landscaping saves you money on your home energy bills:
- In tree-shaded neighborhoods, the summer daytime air temperature can be as much as 6 degrees cooler than in treeless areas.
- A well planned landscape can reduce an unshaded home’s air conditioning costs by 15 to 50 percent.
- A windbreak of trees planted to the north, west and east of a home can cut fuel consumption by an average of 40 percent, reducing heating costs by lowering the wind chill near your home.
- A well designed landscape saves enough energy to pay for itself in less than eight years.
A Closer Look At Smart Landscaping
Let’s take a look at how the concept of smart landscaping can reduce a home’s energy use by providing summer shade, winter warmth, and protective windbreaks.
All About Shade
Shade keeps the sun from beating down on your roof and streaming through your windows, so your air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard to cool things off.
Here in the Northeast, you want to take advantage of the sun’s heat during the winter, so plant deciduous trees on the south and west facing sides of your home. In summer, their leafy canopy will shade your house, helping to keep it cooler. In the winter, the bare branches will let the sun’s warmth through.
Plant a 6- to 8-foot deciduous tree near your home, and it will start shading your windows in the first year. Depending on the species and the home, it will shade the roof in 5 to 10 years.
Plant trees with crowns lower to the ground on the west side of your house if you want to shade your home from the lower afternoon sun.
Cut The Chill
Those deciduous trees that shaded your house all summer will drop their leaves and let the warm sun in during the winter.
A word about evergreens: don’t plant them on the south side of your house. The sun travels lower on the southern horizon in winter. Evergreens will block any winter sunshine.
Instead, plant an evergreen windbreak on the north and northwest of your home to block cold winter winds.
A tip from the Arbor Day Foundation: the best protection from wind occurs when the windbreak is no more than the distance of one or two tree heights from the house.
Bushes, Groundcover And Vines
Trees aren’t the only landscape feature that can lower your energy bills.
Shrubs and groundcover plants shade the ground and pavement around your home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows.
Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years.
Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk.
Control sun through just a window or two by planting annual vines on a trellis to surround or even cover the window. Plant a deciduous vine, such as a sweet autumn clematis or morning glory. The vine’s leaves will create filtered shade during the summer but allow light in during winter.
A Couple Words About Air Conditioning
In addition to shading your home and blocking wind, both deciduous and evergreen trees save energy in summer by directly cooling the air — a sort of natural air conditioning.
This cooling happens as water evaporates from the leaf surfaces, much as our skin is cooled when we perspire.
And in case this question comes up next time you’re a contestant on Jeopardy, this process is called evapotranspiration.
Speaking of air conditioning, your home’s air conditioner should be shaded from mid morning through evening. (Another great reason to have trees around.)
Prune branches to allow at least several feet of clearance around the air conditioning equipment to encourage air flow. Don’t plant shrubs too close to the air conditioner — they can reduce air flow and cooling efficiency.