Many people know that smart landscaping can help establish a habitat for animals, migrating butterflies and bees, and even help save water. But not everyone knows that a few changes to your landscaping can help reduce your energy bills in summer. Establishing a green lifestyle using your yard can help you save money on air conditioning from the cooling effects of summer landscaping for your home.
In creating an energy-efficient landscape design, the first step is to perform an assessment of your property. This should include the location of nearby structures, the direction your home is facing, and if your home is located on a sloping area.
Here are some landscaping tips you can try to help reduce your summer energy consumption.
- Plant trees
If there are no trees around your home, you are not taking advantage of the cooling and shade they provide. Trees give shade to your home, which reduces the general temperature by as much as 10 degrees.
Planting trees that lose their leaves in winter, called deciduous trees, can help give your home a cooling shade from their branches and leaves during summer, while allowing sunlight to pass through during winter and fall.
In the United States, the Department of Energy states that planting trees strategically around the home can help lower air conditioning costs from 15 to 50 percent. This smart landscaping technique not only adds beauty to your home, it can also actually help you save money.
- Shade your walls and roof
Your roof receives the greatest amount of direct sunlight, making it the main location for summer heat to enter your home. Retrofitting a “live” roof is cost prohibitive for most homeowners, but the shade provided by tall trees can block sunlight effectively during certain times of the day and reduces utility bills significantly.
Consider planting deciduous trees with broad leaves for better shading. If you don’t have tall trees and are not willing to wait for years to enjoy their shade, a good alternative is to make a pergola or trellis, and plant it with vines.
Vines should be trained to grow up a trellis in a location where they can absorb and reflect summer heat. Some of these plants can take a long to time to grow, so annual vines such as moon and mandevilla vines can be used for quicker shading.
- Make islands with plants and trees
There are other ways that trees and other plants help keep your property cool. Evapotranspiration is a natural cooling effect, where plants take water from the ground and later release it into the air, cooling it in the process. In the recent push for artificial turf or rock gardens, this cooling affect is often forgotten, and a “heat island” is created around the home that absorbs heat all day and then releases it at night, pushing temperatures up into the vicinity of open windows and doors.
Try planting clumps of shrubs, trees, and other plants that will make “cooling islands” around the home. It is also a better idea to have some lawn because it is a cooler choice than placing pavement around the house. Keep the artificial turf and rocks for parkways, high traffic areas, and areas farther away from the home’s walls and eaves.
- Protect air conditioning units from direct sunlight
When exposed to direct sunlight, your air conditioning unit will heat up, causing it to use more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home. To assist a ground level compressor unit, plant a shrub or tree nearby to provide shade. Shade trees should be planted 15 to 20 feet away from your house, while smaller trees should be placed 12 to 15 feet away.
However, never allow bedding plants to cover your AC unit, as it needs sufficient airflow to function properly.
- Direct breezes toward your home
Windbreaks are not only used for stopping winter winds; they can also be used to direct airflow during the summer, bringing cooling effects to your home. A wind tunnel can be created using a row of shrubs or trees along one side of the home, and another row on the other, helping to direct breezes toward your home.
If you live in a place where you are exposed to hot summer winds, a traditional windbreak can help keep them away and lower your energy costs in summer.
- Take advantage of water features
Evaporation from a fountain or pond can help cool the temperatures of your yard in the same way transpiration can. In high heat climates like the Middle East and India, before the invention of air conditioning, builders have for thousands of years created indoor sunken pools to draw up cooler ground temperatures and bring indoor temperatures down. This can work with a pond next to your patio as well. Having cooling water features in your yard can provide a cool place to relax on a hot day. If your property is large enough to house a larger pond, it can keep your entire yard cooler.
When placed purposefully, trees can help save money on your energy bill. Shrubs, groundcovers and vines are also helpful in keeping your home’s surroundings cooler. Regardless of the landscaping strategies you choose to help save on energy costs, be sure the features and plants you select are suitable for your soil type and local climate.
Edward Flanagan is the founder of Edward’s Enterprises, a handyman service & licensed general contractor that has been improving homes and providing facilities maintenance in Southern California since 1996. Their landscaping services include yard work, sprinkler repairs and installation and rain gutter cleaning. Edward currently divides his time between Camarillo and Venice Beach, CA, and loves the 405.