Solar heat absorbed through windows and roofs can increase cooling costs. Incorporating shade from landscaping elements can help reduce this solar heat gain. Shading and evapotranspiration (the process by which a plant actively moves and releases water vapor) from trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures as much as 6° F. Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25°F cooler than air temperatures above nearby blacktop.
Check out the Energy Saver 101 landscaping infographic to learn how your landscape can help you save energy and improve your home's comfort.
Using shade effectively requires you to know the size, shape, and location of the moving shadow that your landscaping casts. Also, homes in cool regions may never overheat and may not require shading. Therefore, it is important to understand what landscape shade options will work best in your regional climate and your microclimate.
Trees are available in a variety of appropriate sizes, densities, and shapes for almost any shade need. To block solar heat in the summer but let much of it in during the winter, use deciduous trees. To provide continuous shade or to block heavy winds, use dense evergreen trees or shrubs. In hot climates use native species or drought tolerant trees or shrubs that are adapted to local climate conditions.
Deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns (i.e., leaves and branches) can be planted to the south of your home to provide maximum summertime roof shading. But be careful not to plant such trees on the southern sides of solar-heated homes. Shading rooftop solar systems, even partially, will directly impact their effectiveness. Trees with crowns lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed from lower late afternoon sun angles, or to the south on solar-heated homes. Be careful not to plant evergreens too close to your home's south side if you want to collect passive solar heat from the winter sun.
Although a slow-growing tree may require many years of growth before it shades your roof, it will generally live longer than a fast-growing tree. Also, because slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, they are less prone to breakage by windstorms or heavy snow loads. Slow-growing trees can also be more drought resistant than fast-growing trees.
Plant trees far enough away from the home so that when they mature, their root systems do not damage the foundation and branches do not damage the roof.
A 6-foot to 8-foot (1.8-meter to 2.4-meter) deciduous tree planted near your home will begin shading windows the first year, depending on where it is located. Depending on the species and the home, the tree will shade the roof in 5 to 10 years. Once again, if you have a rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system, consider the size and placement of the tree at maturity to avoid shading the solar panels.
Trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home's walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk. Build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.
Vines can also shade walls during their first growing season. A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home's perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.
Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years. However, avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home where wetness and continual humidity could cause problems. Well-landscaped homes in wet areas allow winds to flow around the home, keeping the home and its surrounding soil reasonably dry.
To ensure lasting performance of energy-saving landscaping, use plant species that are adapted to the local climate, including drought tolerant landscaping in arid regions. Native species are best, as they require little maintenance once established and avoid the dangers of invasive species. To find the best choices for your area, visit the PlantNative website.
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