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Landscaping for Energy Efficiency and Conservation

Trees, shrubs, and plants can be great aids in reducing energy consumption. And, like anything else, careful planning is needed to maximize the benefit. Before diving into planting for energy conservation, you need to take into account what works best in your climate. Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia are all in what www.energy.gov classifies as temperate. Some may disagree in the heat and humidity of the summer but let’s take them at their word for these purposes.

In temperate climates, your planting objectives are to:

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• Maximize the effect of the sun in the winter (solar gain) and shade in the summer.
• Deflect winter winds away from the north and northwest sides of your home with wind breaks (just like pioneer days) and shrubs.
• Plant so as to tunnel breezes towards your home in the summer.

Now we can get started. First of all, consider native plants as the cornerstone of any planting endeavor. They are already adapted to your local climate and don’t require special attention once mature. Using them eliminates the dangers of introducing an invasive species. Kudzu, anyone? Your local nursery will have ideas and you can check here for more: http://plantnative.org/

Starting with trees, plant them where they will provide the right amount of shade in the summer based on the orientation of your home relative to the path of the sun. Make sure you put them far enough away from your home so that when they reach their mature height and diameter their roots don’t threaten your foundation and their limbs won’t fall on your roof. Also be sure to plant them so they won’t interfere with either overhead or underground utilities (see the article on this elsewhere in this issue).

Considering a windbreak to block winter winds? Shrubs planted close to your home can contribute to energy savings by blocking portions of your home from the effects of heat and cold. They can provide shade in the summer and act a bit like a snow fence in winter, trapping snow away from your home. Planting trees in this manner can also provide a large measure of privacy to your property. They can also mask sounds and provide habitat for a range of animals and birds. Evergreen trees are popular for breaks and privacy since they retain their foliage all year.

Care in selection and placement here is also required. Be sure the mature plant will remain at least one foot away from your home to eliminate potential issues from mold and moisture becoming trapped. Planting this way can also create a tunnel effect that allows wind to move around your home cooling and drying it.

Ground covers are useful as a means of reducing heat radiation. Rocks and mulch next to your home may be visually appealing but rocks especially can absorb and re-radiate heat at your home. Plan their use with care to avoid this possibility. Living ground covers reduce this re-radiation effect.

Vines can provide a number of benefits in terms of shading but be careful about letting them grow directly on your home itself. As they grow, moisture can become trapped beneath their vegetation create mold, mildew, and the potential for rot.

If you want to use vines, plant them on a trellis. This is a perfect solution around a patio and can be very effective adjacent to your home. The trellis acts as a standoff keeping the vines from damaging the house itself and creates the tunnel effect mentioned before.

Thoughtfully done, landscaping can add both beauty and reduce your energy bill. What a great combination and return on your investment!

More resources:

https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/BSE/BSE-145/BSE-145.html
http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-712/426-712.html
http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/landscaping