Save on Energy Expenses with Strategic Landscaping
Proper landscaping can do more than increase curb appeal. With strategic placement of certain lawn features, homeowners can keep their house cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter and save on water use.
Here are six landscaping features that offer excellent energy savings:
Trees to direct wind: Evergreen trees with needled foliage, such as spruces, certain types of pine trees and cedars, can block the cold winds that come off bodies of water or blow through wide open spaces, helping to save on heating bills, says Steve Griggs, owner of Steve Griggs Design, a landscape design and construction company in New York City.
Solar lighting for outdoor fixtures: No need to flip a switch. For just $4 to $35 each, you can buy outdoor solar lighting fixtures that utilize the sun’s energy rather than electricity and turn on automatically as daylight fades, Griggs says.
Vegetation around hardscaping: Griggs recommends minimizing blacktop when hardscaping because it absorbs a lot of heat and, in turn, warms the space around it—including the home. Also, he says placing grass and plants around patios, pavilions and pergolas will help keep these areas cool via evapotranspiration (the natural release of water from plants).
Rain sensors for irrigation systems: You can buy rain sensors that communicate with your irrigation system for $25 to $35. “When the sensors get wet from rain, the irrigation system knows to shut off,” Griggs says. “But as the sensors dry out, the irrigation system knows to automatically re-set itself, and only waters when it’s dry enough.” This can significantly reduce a homeowner’s water bill.
Native plants and mulch: Griggs says native plants require less maintenance and irrigation since they’re already inclined to thrive in their natural environment. You can also save on water by choosing mulch, such as pine straw or bark chips, instead of covering the area with decorative rocks. While rocks absorb heat and dry out plants, mulch retains water.
Shade trees: Using shade trees—such as maples, poplars, oaks, ashes, sycamores, lindens and elms—is one of the most energy-efficient landscaping strategies. In the past, people were afraid to plant trees near their home, fearing the tree limbs and roots would cause damage to the roof and foundation. But things have changed as planting techniques have evolved, says Terry McMahon, landscape designer for Borst Landscape and Design in Allendale, N.J. When shade trees are incorporated a proper distance away from the roofline, damage is not much of an issue anymore.
If properly selected, planted and cared for, shade trees can also reduce cooling costs within a few years, sometimes up to 40 percent. Plus, once the leaves fall and allow more sunlight to reach the exterior of a home, this helps heat the interior, McMahon says.
Ideal tree placement depends on the pattern of the sun—where it rises and sets in relation to the house—and which parts of the home get the most exposure. McMahon adds that because shade trees reduce energy use and make the air cleaner, they are a great way to earn LEED points.
Not all of these landscaping strategies will work with every house, and some homeowners might be hesitant about the upfront cost. But it’s important to show clients their options so they understand the potential long-term benefits and make an informed decision on what could be not only beautiful, but also a more efficient landscape.