Landscaping trees and plants for energy conservation

Looking for ways to save on energy expenses as home utility prices continue to rise? One way to save can be found in a most unusual place: landscaping. Trees and plants around your home have the potential to provide lush habitat for wildlife, a relaxing outdoor sanctuary for your family, air and water purification and noise reduction services to your community, AND save you money. The U.S Department of Energy computer models show $100 to $250 in energy cost savings annually simply by properly placing trees and shrubs in the landscape around your home.

According to Michigan State University Extension there are four main topics to consider when considering landscaping choices for energy conservation.

•Protect buildings from winter winds;

•Maximize the amount of heat obtained from the sun during winter;

•Maximize the shade during summer;

•Channel summer breezes toward the home.

Maximizing the sun’s power in winter in Michigan can seem futile as the temperatures regularly drop in the single digits, but actually a few strategically placed trees and shrubs in your yard can make quite a difference in capturing and maintaining heat from the sun. One of the main types of heat loss is caused by cold high velocity wind forcing its way through cracks in the walls and seals around doors and windows. This drives an equal amount of the warm inside air out, as well as carrying heat away from the building’s exterior. You can protect from this type of heat loss by placing dense shrubbery or evergreen trees in a windbreak row or cluster on the west, northwest, and north sides of your home. Appropriate species include Cedars and Juniper paired with White Spruce or a mixed variety of Firs. Placing the windbreak at a distance of two to five times the mature height of the trees away from your home will ensure an effective windbreak. Typically it’s best to plant in a dense row or in multiple staggered rows extending 50 ft beyond either side of the structure that you are trying to protect.

In addition to windbreaks, planting shrubs, bushes, and vines right near your house helps create insulation in both winter and summer. Snow tends to drift in West Michigan, so planting low shrubs on the windward side of your home will have the capacity to trap snow before it blows in close to the foundation. However, make sure that your mature shrubs will be at least 1 foot away from your foundation or home’s outer wall. Some Michigan native choices for foundation plantings are Michigan Holly, Witchhazel, Ninebark, or many in the Viburnum family such as Highbush Cranberry, Arrowwood, Nannyberry, and Maple Leafed Viburnum.

Providing adequate shade in the summer is key to keeping your house cool. Shade from deciduous trees is best for reducing the amount of heat absorbed and stored by your home due to their leafy, dense, sprawling canopies. Common Michigan native species such as the Red Oak and Sugar Maple, or less common but distinctive natives such as Hackberry, Shagbark Hickory, Catalpa, or Kentucky Coffeetree are excellent additions to your near-home landscape. All of these trees, planted within 15-20 ft from your home, provide shade in the summer, but still allow sunshine to filter through their bare branches for heat absorption in the winter. Trees such as these work well to shade from mid-morning and mid-afternoon sun when planted on the east, southeast, southwest, and west sides of your home and become quite large with high branches so they don’t impede cooling summer breezes. Leaving a substantial gap on the south side of your home allows for high solar absorption in the winter. Smaller trees such as Serviceberry, American Mountain Ash or Crabapple are perfect for the west side of the home where shade is needed for the late afternoon. Additionally, the microclimate around your home can be perfected by placing arbors or trellises to create shady outdoor living spaces or around your air conditioning unit to increase its efficiency.

In addition to providing shade to your home, trees, shrubs, and ground cover keep extensive pavement and turf from reflecting and absorbing heat, reducing the overall surrounding air temperatures. As you create a plan for landscaping for energy conservation around you home, consider implementing a few other conservation practices that can help you further save on energy, both cost savings and energy expended by your family as you care for the landscape:

•Maintain minimal turf by restoring parts of the lawn to natural habitat areas;

•Practice effective landscaping irrigation by utilizing drip lines and rain barrels;

•Mulch to increase water retention in the soil;

•Improve soil with composted yard waste and kitchen scraps;

•Practice proper lawn watering by doing so in the early morning and being cognizant of the needs of your plants;

•Plant with native Michigan species that are acclimated to the region’s climate and soils and are low maintenance with little or no need for fertilizer, pesticides or additional watering.

When developing a home landscaping plan for energy conservation be sure to take into account some of the current property features such as, pre-existing landscaping, house orientation, window location, and the presence of other structures or bodies of water. Visit www.treesforever.org to learn more about landscaping for energy conservation or to learn about other ways that trees can benefit your community visit the Tree Benefit Calculator at www.arborday.org/calculator/index.cfm.