BY PAT KEEGAN AND AMY WHEELESS
Late winter and early spring are great times to think about changes you want to make to your home’s landscape. While the goal of most lawn and garden projects is to bring beauty to your outdoor space, a well-designed project can also improve your energy bill, increase the overall value of your home and provide additional benefits, such as reduced noise pollution, optimized water use and cleaner air around your home.
The two best strategies for improving the energy efficiency of your home with landscaping are to incorporate shading in the summer and wind blocking in the winter.
Plan for summer shading
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shading your home is the most cost-effective way to reduce heat gain from the sun and reduce your air-conditioning costs in the summer. Having more plants and trees in your yard can reduce the air temperature by up to 6 degrees.
Planting deciduous trees on the south, southwest and west sides of your home can cut heating during hot summer months, while allowing sunlight through during the fall and winter, after the trees have lost their leaves. When planting trees, consider the expected shape and height of the mature trees and where they will shade your home. A tree with a high mature height planted on the south side of your home, for example, will provide all-day roof shading during the summer, while lower trees on the west side of your home can protect your home from the lower afternoon sun.
Plant trees an appropriate distance away from your home, so they don’t disrupt your foundation, side walls or your roof as they grow. While it will probably be 5 to 10 years before a newly planted tree will begin providing a significant amount of shade to your roof, it can start shading windows immediately.
Also consider paved areas around your home and how you can shade them during the summer. Think about walking across your driveway barefoot on a hot July day: The paving acts as a large heat sink that reflects onto your home, causing your air conditioner to work even harder. You can use trees, hedges and other landscaping structures such as arbors to shade these paved areas.
Stop cold winter winds
If your home is in an open area without many structures around it, cold winter winds may be increasing your heating bills. A windbreak on your property can help deflect these winds over your home. The most common type of windbreak uses a combination of evergreen trees and shrubs to block wind from the ground to the top of your home. For the best windbreak effect, plant these features on the north and northwest sides of your home at a distance of between two and five times the height of the mature trees. Incorporating a wall or fence can further assist with the windbreak.
Another insulating technique is to plant shrubs and bushes closer to your home, but at least one foot away. The space between these plants and your home is dead air space, which can help insulate your home during both summer and winter months.
If you live near power lines, talk with your electric co-op about how far new trees should be planted from these lines and other co-op equipment before making final design decisions for your yard. Be sure to consider the mature height and spread of any trees you’re considering; nothing’s worse than having to cut them down or severely trim them because they grew too large and are causing problems.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless of Collaborative Efficiency.