While most houses are not passive solar homes (designed and oriented so as to capture the sun’s warmth in winter and keep the house cool and comfortable in summer), there are some easy things we can do with our landscaping to compensate for this that will lower our utility bills.
The upcoming fall season is actually a great time for planting. When strategically placed around your property, trees and shrubs will reduce your heating and cooling bills year after year. Be sure to use native plants whenever possible, since they are naturally adapted to your region and provide a multitude of benefits. Plant selections will depend upon your plant hardiness zone, region and site conditions.
Some general guidelines include:
- Shade your house in the summer. Planting deciduous shade trees around the hottest side (typically the south and west sides) of your home will help block the sun in the summer, but still allow the sun’s rays to warm the building in the winter after the trees’ leaves have fallen. Some larger shade trees include: Oak, Maple, Birch, Hickory, Beech, Poplar, Sweet Gum, Black Gum, Basswood, Tulip Tree and Magnolia.
- Keep the ground cool around the hottest side of your home by planting ground covers. This will prevent ground reflection and re-radiation of the sun’s heat. See my post here about the many varied choices ground covers are available in.
- Shade hot outdoor patio areas with a pergola planted with vines, such as Passionflower, Boston Ivy (not the invasive English Ivy), Clematis texensis or virginiana, and Dutchman’s Pipe, to name a few. While we all should limit the paved areas on our property, it is especially important around the south and west sides of your home if you live in a hot or temperate climate.
- Stay cool by placing a recycling water feature where summer breezes will pick up moisture before reaching seating areas. Plants will also cool down an area as water evaporates from moist leaves.
- Create breezes with the right landscaping to help cool off your home and outdoor living spaces. If you live in temperate, hot-humid or hot-arid regions, place trees and shrubs to channel the prevailing summer winds (see page 2 & 3 at RenovateYourWorld.com).
- Block cold winds in winter. Planting a mix of evergreen & deciduous trees and shrubs perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds (typically on the north and northwest side of a building in much of the United States) will help block the wind and save you up to 25% on heating bills. Plant the windbreak at a distance from your home of two to five times the mature height of the trees. Some good choices include: Junipers, Arborvitae, Spruce, Fir, Hollies, Boxwoods and Viburnums.
- Locate your central air conditioning unit on the shady side of your home. Be sure to allow for plenty of air circulation around the condenser when landscaping around it.