Shade for savings

Strategic plantings can prune your electric bill
By Thomas Kirk
Shade for savings

If positioned with care, plantings help block winter winds and shade your house during the summer.

Want to save money on your energy bill without undergoing retrofits and renovations? Get a shovel. Strategically planting trees, shrubs and groundcover around your home is a tried and true way to save.

Energy savings gained from shade trees depends on the location and orientation of both the trees and the house. Your climate also comes into play. But smart landscaping can generally save about 25 percent of energy normally used for cooling and heating.

In summer months a tree's shade cools the surrounding air temperatures by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. This means that a homeowner can reduce an unshaded home's summer air-conditioning costs by 15 to 50 percent.

In the winter, tree and shrubs block heavy winds. Homeowners are encouraged to plant deciduous trees if possible. Unlike evergreens, these trees lose leaves in the winter and allow more sunlight into the home for natural warmth.

Shading the coils of an air-conditioning unit has the potential to modestly reduce energy demand. But if done improperly, there could be a net increase in energy use. Researchers from the Florida Solar Energy Center found that effective shading of an AC unit could yield energy savings of 6 percent, but improper setup could result in a drop in efficiency of up to 15 percent. This drop in efficiency happens when the vegetation blocks proper airflow to the unit or traps too much heat near the unit.

Trees and shrubs near a heating and cooling system require constant monitoring. During the growing season, plants can creep closer to the system and interfere with proper air circulation.

While trees and shrubs are often employed to thwart the efforts of nosy neighbors, they have other practical functions. Through the careful planned positioning of vegetation, homeowners can realize significant savings on their home energy bills. Research the best plants to use and consider how and where they will grow before letting your investments take root.

About the Author

Thomas Kirk is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency and renewable energy for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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