Landscaping for energy efficiency

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Green Renovations, Garden And Lawncare

A well-landscaped yard can be beautiful.  More importantly, when well-designed it can reduce your heating and cooling costs. On average, landscaping for energy efficiency provides enough energy savings to return an initial investment in less than 8 years.

Here are four elements of an energy-efficient landscape design:

Climate

Each climate zone requires a different landscaping strategy.  In temperate climates like California you want to shade against the summer sun, allow for solar gain in the winter and allow for a cross breeze in the summer to help cool the home.  I hot humid climates like Atlanta and Houston, you want to avoid planting water intensive trees and shrubs too close the house in order to avoid mildew issues.  In hot and dry regions like Arizona, you want to maximize shade on roofs, windows and walls.  In cold areas like Chicago you want to create wind breaks along the north west side of the home, but keep trees on the south side only if they do not block winter sun from entering the windows to help warm the house.

Microclimate

Consider your home’s microclimate along with your regional climate in your landscape design.  The microclimate is the area directly around the home.  If you live on a lake your home may be cooler than the surrounding area.  If you’re on the sunny slope of a hill your home may be warmer than others.  Take this into consideration when installing or thinning trees.

Shading

Use trees and other plants to help shade your home if needed to help reduce cooling costs.  But, be careful not to provide shading that may prevent solar warmth from helping to heat your home in the winter.  Air temperatures just beneath trees can be as much as 25°F cooler than nearby blacktop.  The U.S. Department of Energy says that “using shade effectively requires you to know the size, shape, and location of the moving shadow that your shading device casts.”

“Vines can also shade walls during their first growing season. A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home’s perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.”

Windbreaks

Use windbreaks—tree and/or shrub plantings—around your home if needed to help reduce heating costs.  Simply put, a windbreak will reduce the wind chill around your home.  It’s similar to wearing a windbreaker.  Evergreens make a great wall to protect your home from cold winter winds or to cool off hot summer winds.  Be sure to put evergreens only on the north side of the home and avoid putting them too close.  Evergreens should be avoided on the south side so that they do not shade the house when the sun is beneficial in the winter.

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