Keeping your home cool when it's hot outside, and warm in the cold weather can take a lot of energy and run up your power bills. Sure, you can seal your home against drafts and install energy-efficient windows, but your landscaping can make your home significantly more energy-efficient, too. Strategically placed trees, for example, help block the hot sun in summer and slow down cold winds in winter. And hardscape elements such as fences and arbors can create shade and redirect winds. Here's how to make the most of your landscaping to efficiently keep your home's temperature comfortable year-round.
1. Plant Trees for Shade
The Department of Energy recommends tall shade trees as the best way to protect your home from solar heat and from those cold blasts in winter. Evergreen trees are best in the South because they shield your home all year long. Deciduous trees are better in Northern regions because they let the warm sun through their bare branches during the colder months.
Where you plant your trees is just as important as the type you plant.
Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in winter, do their best work on the south side of your home, which gets the most sunlight. While shielding your home from the heat of the summer sun, these trees don't block cooling breezes.
Shorter trees on the west side of your house will help block the hot afternoon sun.
Evergreen trees work well on the north and northwest sides of your home as windbreaks that help slow down heat loss from your home in winter.
When using trees and other plants as windbreaks, it's best to plant them in layers. Taller trees work best further out, with flowering shrubs and low-growing perennials closer to your house. You'll still reap the benefits from cool summer breezes, but block the strong winds and snow during winter storms.
Most electric companies also suggest planting trees to shade your air conditioning condenser to increase the unit's efficiency and cut your cooling costs by another 10%. But keep in mind: The condenser needs a buffer of 2-3 feet for proper airflow, so make sure not to plant too close and keep trees pruned back if they start crowding in.
2. Choose Drought-Tolerant Plants
Groundcovers and other ornamental plants do more than beautify your yard. The Colorado State University's Extension office points out that landscaping near a house can reduce wind velocity, especially around entrances where you are most likely to get cold drafts coming in. And a green roof or rooftop garden can lower the temperature inside your home by as much as 10 degrees.
In arid climates, succulents and other drought-tolerant plants work best because they don't require much water to survive. Native species adapted to your climate are also good choices and often require less maintenance. Just be sure to group plants with similar water needs together.
Werner Straube Photography
3. Create Shade with Hardscaping
Pergolas, fences, canopies, arbors, and trellises do wonders for keeping the heat off your patio in the summer and the snow away in the winter. A good fence can block a north window, and well-placed awnings can keep the summer sun from streaming into your home.
Those arbors, trellises and pergolas will do an even better job blocking the sun and wind if you cover them with climbing vines. Before planting, research the vine you would like to grow to make sure it isn't considered invasive in your area. And if you want to grow the vine on your home, check that its method of climbing won't damage your walls' surface.
A waterfall or fountain in the garden creates a cool spot. Scientists at Climate Adapt estimate it can lower the surrounding temperature by more than 30˚F.
4. Think Solar
Harnessing the sun's rays is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to use landscaping to increase your home's energy efficiency. Rather than powering your outdoor lighting with your home's electricity, for example, you can use solar energy to brighten up your landscape at night. It's easy to line the walkway to your door with solar stake lights, or try hanging solar globes or string lights around your patio, deck, or pool to create unbeatable ambiance. Solar Christmas lights can put the neighborhood in the holiday spirit, while only costing you a few cents to operate.
Strategically using plants, hardscaping, and solar power to help your home be more energy-efficient also makes your yard more comfortable and inviting. That means you can save a little more energy by reducing time spent indoors. Turn off the lights and the TV, then head out to enjoy an evening on your patio or porch instead.