Energy-Efficient…Trees?

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OK, I’ve been too danged busy. But my neighbors are out—between the crazy frequent rain storms this spring—working on their yards. Landscaping, planting flowers, planting trees. Energy geek that I am, I’m paying particular attention to the trees. Not because they’re sexy (they are!) or because I’m a treehugger (I’m not—too scratchy—I prefer to hug my wife), but because they can have a real impact on the comfort and energy use of a home.

The trees to the South and West around this Vermont home provide shade from the summer sun, but drop their leaves and let winter sun bathe the house.

The right tree (or bush or vine—you homebrewers, grow your own hops and save energy!) can provide shade (good in the summer), serve as a windbreak (good to protect you from those cold North winds), and chip away at your energy bills in other way.

What you should focus on with your shrubbery (said in my best Monty Pythonesque voice) depends on the climate—and the microclimate where you live. The Department of Energy dives into the weeds with some good guidance on landscaping to save energy. Here are the basics.

  • Maximize shade on the walls and windows, especially on the South and West, and the roof in the summer. A mature shade tree can dramatically reduce cooling costs. With enough trees, transpiration, can actually reduce air temperatures by up to five degrees.
  • Even ground cover, including grass, small plants, and bushes helps, staying cooler than bare ground. But use native plants that thrive with little water and minimal babysitting.
  • But…allow winter sun to hit south facing windows, especially in colder climates. And thus, think deciduous trees that drop their leaves in the fall. The heat from the sun helps warm your house.
  • Protect your home from cold winter winds…and hot summer winds if you use air-conditioning.

So planting the right tree in the right place is green times two. Or three.

Cheers,
Mike

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