Heating and cooling cost for your home sure isn’t decreasing, but did you know that you can alter the environment around your house to cut your heating and cooling costs by as much as 25 percent?
It’s true. The secret is to shade your home in the summer while letting the sun in the winter. You’ll also want to design your landscaping so that your home is safe from harsh, cold winter winds, but so that cooling summer breezes can still get through.
Observe How Climate Affects Heating And Cooling Costs of Your Home
Most Americans in the lower 48 live in one of four climates: hot-arid, hot-humid, temperate, and cool. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a map to help you figure out what environment you live in if it’s not apparent.
Once you’ve figured out what climate you live in, figure out how it affects your home. Here are some questions you’ll need to know the answers to:
- What parts of your home get sun in the winter, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.?
- What parts of your home get sun in the summer?
- From what direction do winter winds strike your home?
- From what direction do summer winds strike your home?
- Is wildfire a concern in your area?
- Do you rely on air conditioning to cool your home, or is it naturally cooled?
Do you have large windows? What direction do they face?
Armed with the answers to these questions, you’re now ready to landscape for energy conservation.
* Manipulate Your Home’s Microclimate:
While your area’s climate affects the whole region, the term microclimate refers to the area immediately surrounding your home. You can’t change the environment of your neighborhood, but you can manipulate the microclimate around your house to make it hotter, colder, or less windy at different times of the year.
Let’s revisit the last two questions on the above list – the ones about air conditioning and windows. If you have AC, you’ll want to design your landscaping so that it funnels summer windows away from your home, but if you cool naturally, you’ll want to funnel those winds toward your house. With windows, the direction they face matters; east- and west-facing windows will let in more sun in the winter and should be in shade. But south-facing windows will let in the winter sun, lowering your heating costs, so you don’t want to block them.
Draw the map of your home and yard to scale, with ¼ inch per square foot. Include the height of your home on the map. Indicate from which direction cold winter winds blow, if that’s a concern in your area, and from which direction summer winds blow. If wildfires are a concern, include defensible spaces in your map.
In wildfire-prone regions, you don’t want to plant trees too close to your home; keep them at least 30 feet away, with at least 10 feet between crowns. Avoid evergreens; deciduous species are more fire-resistant. If wildfires aren’t a concern, however, a thick grove of evergreen trees on the north and northwest sides shrubs of your home can block winter winds, lowering your heating costs.
Tall trees that throw shade on your roof and shade east- and west-facing windows can reduce your summer cooling costs. Plan for sun pockets around south-facing windows (which can let in sunlight and warm your home during the winter) and around solar panels.
If you depend on air conditioning to cool your home in the summer, plant trees or shrubs that block summer winds, but if you cool naturally, plant trees and shrubs so that they direct winds toward your home. In hot-arid and hot-humid regions, plant trees and shrubs where they can shade your walls and roof, but in hot-humid and temperate areas, keep water-hungry plantings away from walls, to save your foundation and siding.
It’s essential, for both lawn care and home maintenance purposes, to choose the right tree, shrub, and ivy species when landscaping for energy efficiency. While you can use vines and ivy on brick walls to shade them and cool the home, use a trellis if your walls are formed of wood. When it comes to trees and shrubs, choose species that are less prone to falling limbs. Be mindful of the size of the mature tree when planting it, and take care to plant it in the place where it won’t cause problems by, for example, growing into your sewer lines.
As previously mentioned, avoid evergreen trees if you live in a wildfire-prone area. The same goes for evergreen shrubs. If you do choose these species, plant them at least 100 feet from your home, and never in tight rows or clusters or near deciduous trees and shrubs. If you want to avoid planting trees around your house, you can achieve many of the same effects with vines or ivy grown on trellises or arbors that shade your windows and walls. However, only the crowns of trees can shade your roof.
The way you landscape around your home can have a massive impact on your energy costs. Windbreaks and shade trees can reduce the amount of fuel you need to keep your home comfortable all year round. Plus, they look beautiful, too.