Energy tip #27: Landscape for energy efficiency

landscaping.jpgEnergy efficiency improvements for your home don’t stop at your walls. Appropriate landscaping can not only beautify your house, it can have a large impact on your heating and cooling bills.

Determining the appropriate way to landscape your house requires knowledge not just of your regional climate, but also your microclimate. If you live on a sunny southern slope, for example, your house may be warm even in a cool climate. If you’re near a lake, your home will probably be both cooler and more humid than those farther from shore.

Microclimate matters because there’s a great deal of subtlety in proper landscaping. The two big issues to consider are sunlight and wind.

In hot climates, shade trees can significantly reduce your need for air conditioning. Not only does shade directly block sunlight from heating walls and entering windows, but plants also increase water evaporation, which leads to further cooling. The area underneath trees can be a full 25° cooler than nearby asphalt.

Tree type matters as well. Trees with high, spreading canopies are good for the south side of your house, where they can shade the roof. Lower trees are better on the west side, where they can block the setting sun. Deciduous trees are useful in areas that have cold winters, because they lose their leaves at just the time that you most want to let the sun’s heat in.

Wind breaks are another important efficiency measure. Dense, low trees and shrubs such as evergreens can significantly lower the wind chill and cut the heating costs in your home. If you live in a snowy area, plants on the windward side of your house can be used to keep drifts from forming along your walls.

Needless to say, a landscaping project is a serious undertaking. But the Department of Energy estimates that a carefully considered landscaping project can pay itself back in eight years. Check out the American Society of Landscape Architects to find a provider in your area.

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adam

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  1. Mark - January 24, 2007

    What about more trees and less lawn? I don’t know much about it, but aren’t lawnmowers exceedinly ineffecient? Plus don’t trees convert more CO2 to O2 than grass does over a given area?

  2. Tracy - January 24, 2007

    Yes, gas-powered lawnmowers are inefficient and I believe produce more emissions than cars when used for the same amount of time. I have a manual lawnmower and it works great – really takes no more time to mow my small patch of (non-chemically treated) lawn than the old gasoline model did. Less time, actually, since I usually spent at least 10 minutes just getting the gasoline mower started.
    A point the author neglects to make is the use of native plants in your landscaping, whether perennial flowers or shrubs and trees. Since they’re already climate- and soil-adapted, they generally require less water and fertilizer than non-native plants, plus you’ll get the added benefit of attracting native wildlife. There’s plenty of online resources to help determine native plants for your region – here’s one for the midwest: http://www.epa.gov/greenacres

  3. Diane - January 24, 2007

    Lawns, as monocultures, are far from ideal for many reasons, but are, for some people, a non-negotiable issue (they just love them!). Gas lawn mowers are terrible – their engines are inefficient and highly polluting, thanks to the efforts of legislators who believe that fewer people will buy them if they cost the extra money for a good, clean engine. Riding mowers increase the likelihood of large swaths of uninterrupted lawn.

    Push mowers, on the other hand, provide excellent exercise, require less maintenance and good incentive to landscape with less lawn and more native perennials. Many of which grow better under trees than grass does and use less water, fertilizer, poisons, etc..

    Tracy posted while I was previewing – we are clearly on the same page.

    And I have the view of (I’m pretty sure) Hampton Court from the original post on my living room wall.

  4. Adam Stein - January 24, 2007

    Hi folks,
    I wrote about the lawn and lawnmower issue on this blog some time back. Check it out. In a nutshell, push mowers are great.
    And yes, landscaping with native species, particularly in arid climates, is a huge benefit to the environment. I was trying to stay focused on energy issues, but I probably should have mentioned this.
    – Adam

  5. dangerouspenguin - January 24, 2007

    Push mowers are great for smaller lawns when well-maintained. For larger lawns they are a bit too much exercise for some folks, and I am always encouraging my parents and their friends to go with electric mowers. Moving the cord around is not that much of a hassle.
    Goats are the best option by far!

  6. Chris - January 24, 2007

    Landscaping for energy effeciency may be a good idea, but also keep in mind that in certain areas wildland fire danger will have a large impact on this issue. In fact and again depending on your particular part of the world, homeowners are encouraged if not required by local law to maintain a fire defensible space around their homes.

  7. Gogeiger - March 21, 2008

    Geiger-Air conditioning includes both thecooling and heating of air.
    It also cleans the air and controls themoisture level.
    Air Conditioning Contractors Directory for Cincinnati,
    Prescreened Home Improvement Professionals for Cincinnati.
    gogeiger

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