Landscaping for Climate Control

The extreme heat we’re experiencing lately made us think about ways to reduce cooling costs and boost curb appeal.

You probably know that trees planted around your home can shade it in the summer and warm it when the leaves are gone in the winter.  Landscaping with shrubs and vines can also make a significant difference in utility costs and these smaller plants mature more quickly.

On-line articles suggesting ways to use landscaping to lower utility costs in the summer are plentiful.  One we particularly like is Landscape for Life. Here are a few of their suggestions directly from the website:

Shade a/c units. According to the Department of Energy, this can increase the unit’s efficiency by as much as 10 percent. Just be sure that shrubs or vines planted near the compressor do not obstruct the airflow or impede access for repairs.

Shade all windows that receive direct sunlight. A building gains substantially more heat through windows than insulated walls, making exterior shade a priority in the summer months. And don’t forget the interior shade provided by blinds and curtains.

Shade east- and west-facing walls and the roof. Prevent overheating early in the day by shading east and southeast building surfaces. Reduce peak indoor temperatures and accelerate afternoon and evening cooling by shading west and southwest walls and roof.

Shade heat sinks. Dark paving and roofing materials such as asphalt roads, roofs and driveways absorb and radiate significant amounts of heat into surrounding materials and air masses.  The warm air can influence the inside temperature of a home and the comfort level of people in the landscape. 

On small city or suburban lots, the optimum location for a shade tree may be in the neighbor’s yard, due to the fact that large trees should be planted about 15-feet from the house.  Smaller trees and shrubs with branches lower to the ground can be planted closer to the house than tall shade trees and used for shading east- and west-facing walls and windows from the lower morning and afternoon sun. For the greatest ecological benefit, select native species that offer food and shelter for pollinators and other wildlife. 

Shrubs planted close to the house can fill in rapidly and shade walls and windows relatively quickly. In wet and humid areas, avoid planting them right up against the house so air can circulate freely.

Trees often grow slowly, but homeowners can moderate hot sunshine quickly using vines that clamber up strategically placed trellises. Where wetness and humidity are a problem, keep the trellis at least a foot away from the house to allow for air circulation; in these areas air should be allowed to flow around the home, keeping the structure and surrounding soil dry to prevent mildew and rot. Arbors or pergolas can help shade windows, too.

Annual vines grow quickly and can cover a large area by mid- to late summer. Homeowners can make shading devices twice as functional by growing vines that not only provide shade, but also fruits or vegetables. Ornamental vines are also good candidates, especially if they offer food and shelter for wildlife. Cypress vine and scarlet creeper provide nectar for hummingbirds, for example, while moonflower attracts moths. At the same planting time, homeowners can plant perennial vines, which may take two or more years to cover an arbor or trellis as tall as the home’s walls.