Plant Trees, Save Energy

Most of us are aware that planting trees can help boost the value of our homes, but did you know that strategically placed trees can alleviate energy costs year round? Not only does the presence of trees naturally cool the air through the process of evapotranspiration, but trees can serve as both sources of shade and wind barriers to reduce the energy demands on your home.

Although here we offer general suggestions as to the placement and types of trees you may plant to reduce the energy costs in your home, it is important to understand that many other factors not addressed here must be considered in the decision regarding where trees should be planted. For example, trees must be planted appropriate distances from buildings, concrete, power lines, air conditioning units, underground cables as well as one another, and planting decisions should be made based on the type and mature size of the tree. It is advised to consult with or hire a certified arborist prior to implementing any of these suggestions.

The idea behind planting trees for the energy benefits is to shade your home in the summer and create a barrier to block the bulk of cold winter winds. The most effective approach to strategic tree positioning is affected by the environment in which you live. In the warm climate of south Texas, for instance, shading a home in the summer would take priority over blocking wind in the mild winters. Likewise, a homeowner in Canada would place more emphasis on protecting against winter winds than shading the home. Some tips for planting trees to reduce energy costs are:

-Shade the sides of your home receiving the most direct sunlight. The east and west and, to a lesser extent, south sides of your home receive the most sunlight. While some experts argue against planting shade trees on the southern end of a home, most agree that shading the east and west sides of the home can result in true energy savings. Deciduous trees are preferred for this type of shading because they shade well during the summer and lose their leaves during the winter, allowing sunlight to pass through when it is desirable.

-Shade windows. Windows receiving direct sunlight allow a lot of heat into a home, reducing energy efficiency during the warm months. Special care should be taken to shade windows, especially those facing east and west, without planting too close or sacrificing desirable views.

-Shade concrete or asphalt. Because such surfaces absorb light and heat the surrounding area, paved areas, especially dark colored ones, should be shaded for maximum cooling around the home.

-Shade the air conditioning unit. Trees may also be planted to strategically shade outdoor air conditioning units. This gives the air conditioning unit cooler air from which to pull, saving energy. It is important to ensure that the air intake has room for ventilation and does not become blocked.

-Block winter winds. In addition to shading a home during the summer, trees can serve as a barrier against cold winter winds and help reduce heating costs in a home. Evergreen trees such as spruces and firs are best for creating such barriers, which are called windbreaks. Windbreaks should be positioned upwind of a home, often on the northern side, in a straight or curved row. Be sure to verify the direction from which winter winds hit your home, because features such as mountain ranges can have an effect on wind direction.

Trees should be planted appropriate distances from a home in order to effectively shade the home, and the correct distance is determined by the trees’ mature heights and crown sizes. It is advised to consult with an experienced arborist who is familiar with your local climate prior to planting trees at your home.

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