Landscaping to Conserve Energy and Save Money

Create a beautiful and welcoming space around your home while conserving energy.

| May/June 2017

Are you having a difficult time keeping your electric bills from going through the roof? Placement of trees, shrubs, and other plants on your property can maximize the way solar energy — in the form of light, heat, and wind — affects your home, thus contributing to significant home energy savings. It is possible to keep your home’s interior temperature cooler during the summer and warmer in winter with the help of energy efficient landscaping.

Knowing your home’s solar orientation will help you design a landscape that does not contribute to solar heat gain during the hottest time of the year while making maximum use of solar energy when it’s desirable in the wintertime. Depending on where you live, the latitude of the sun will be at different degrees throughout the day and the seasons. Understanding which parts of your home are exposed to sun or shade at different times of the day and year will help you determine the location of trees, shrubs, and other plants for the greatest comfort and economic benefits.

Location, location, location

It is not usually recommended to plant trees — especially dense evergreens — on the south side of the house, as they block too much sun in the winter time; at least for those living in colder climates in the Northern Hemisphere. In warmer climates, this rule may be tossed out. Substitute deciduous climbing vines on an arbor, pergola, or trellis. Alternatively, plant deciduous trees or a dense hedge on the east and west sides of the house that will see a lot of sunlight during the early morning and late afternoon. Tall, perennial grasses may be another option. If you wish to plant evergreens, situate them on the northwest or northeast sides of your home.

Keep in mind the height of your plant selections when they will be at full maturity — be sure not to position trees too close to the house. Similarly, consider the length of the shadows they will cast at any given time during the year, as this will affect where you situate them.

During summer, cooling the air outside around your house in addition to creating shade will help keep the indoor temperature at a comfortable level. Not only do judiciously placed trees and shrubs harness prevailing winds and push them toward the house, but as they grow, plants help cool the air through a process called transpiration. Transpiration occurs when water is transferred from roots to leaves, and the stomata (pores) on the surface of a plant’s leaves open to release the water, evaporating into the surrounding air and creating a cooling effect in the immediate area of the plant. The larger the leaf surface on a plant, the greater the cooling capability it has, which means that big trees are valuable cooling engines.

The cooling effects of transpiration are less noticeable in arid regions, where the moisture content in the soil is low. To help your plants and trees out, use plenty of mulch around the base. It is a good idea to keep the ground temperature as cool as possible during the summer in most areas. You can do this by planting perennial groundcovers, such as ferns, mosses, herbs, flowers, and low shrubs; decreasing the amount of turf in your yard; and locating paved surfaces away from your home.

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