Landscaping can make a property look more aesthetically pleasing and increase a home’s resale value, but it does more than that. “We already know that trees contribute to the environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife,” says Steven Voss, owner of Voss Land & Tree in Columbia, MO.
But landscaping also can positively affect energy costs. “One opportunity people often overlook when thinking about improving the energy efficiency of their home is the role of trees,” Voss says. “Strategically planting a tree can be a simple and more affordable solution while upgrading your home’s curb appeal, which in turn increases its value.”
In fact, he says that cooling costs are reduced in homes that are shaded by trees, “Also heating costs are lowered because trees serve as a windbreak,” he explains. “According to the USDA Forest Service, trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and save 20-50% in energy used for heating.”
How trees can help reduce bills
Susan Brandt of Blooming Secrets, an e-commerce gardening website, agrees that trees are a very important part of landscaping efforts to conserve energy. “Trees are the least expensive plants you can add to your landscape when you consider the impact created due to their size,” she says. “In the summer these trees can screen 70 – 90% of the hot summer sun, but they also allow breezes through.” And in the winter, the trees are bare and Brandt says this allows the winter sun to filter through and warm your home.
So what type of trees should be planted? Brandt recommends planting deciduous trees such as oak, maple, and elm trees on the south side of your home. All three varieties grow in Texas. “According to the Department of Energy, carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of the energy a typical household uses for cooling,” she says. “Just planting three trees could help you save from $100 to $250 annually on heating and cooling costs.
And according to the DOE, the daytime temperature can be up to 6 degrees cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods.
Other landscaping considerations
- Create natural walkways:“Do not use cement pavements in your yard; instead, choose natural paths that support energy efficiency,” Brandt says. She recommends using woodchips, barks, or other natural materials that help keep your yard cooler and also encourage proper drainage.
- Shade the air conditioner unit: Shade plantings can protect a home’s air conditioner. “These plantings will throw shade over your outdoor air conditioning unit, which prevents it from heating up and therefore takes less energy to operate,” Brandt says.
- Wind protection: “In the winter, planting trees in the right location can obstruct the harsh, cold winds that can increase your home heating.” Brandt says this can often occur on the north and northwest sides of a house. “A windbreak can reduce your heating bills by 10 to 30 percent; a wind barrier will also block sounds and smells.”
- Insulate the home with plantings: If you plant bushes, shrubs, or vines next to your house, Brandt says it will create dead air spaces that help insulate your home in summer and winter. “Make sure to understand how large your full-grown plant will be so your plantings will be at least one foot away from the home’s wall.”
Also, as a result of how shadows fall at different times of the day, trees planted within 40 feet of the south side or within 60 feet of the west side of the house will generate approximately the same amount of energy savings, according to the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. However, on the east side of the house, the tree cover does not affect electricity use.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.