Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on April 9, 1998. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Reduce Your Utility Bill With Landscape Choices
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Temperatures are fairly moderate now as are utility bills, but we all know what is ahead. We can take decisive action today which will pay great dividends in subsequent years.
Proper landscaping is often overlooked when one thinks of energy conservation. Our landscapes can provide us with energy savings while offering an aesthetically pleasing view of our homes. Trees and shrubs help settle out, trap and hold particulate pollutants that can damage humans. They also release oxygen for us to breathe. Besides that, a well-landscaped property is more desirable than one with no landscape.
Trees and other plants reduce the greenhouse effect by shading our homes and office buildings. This benefit alone reduces our air conditioning needs by up to 30 percent, reducing the amount of electricity required to cool our homes.
We can also reduce our heating bills in the winter. This doesn't just happen by planting. To install an energy-saving landscape, one must understand the position of the sun during the seasons as well as the plants' characteristics.
In mid-December the sun rises in the southeast and stays relatively low before setting in the southwest. In June the sun rises in the northeast and stays high during the day before setting in the northwest. These angles greatly influence the amount of the sun that strikes the house.
To plan for shade from the hot summer sun, consider that trees on the east and northeast provide morning shade in the summer. Trees placed on the west and northwest exposures of the house provide shade during summer afternoons.
We can also reduce heat absorption by having shrubs or vines cover east or west walls. Vines may be allowed to grow on masonry brick or concrete. Vines growing on a trellis would be ideal for a wood exterior home.
We can also plan to allow the warm sun to hit our home during the winter. The most important factor to consider is placing deciduous trees on the south side of the house. A deciduous tree loses its leaves, allowing the sun to warm the house. Oaks, hickories, pecans and sweetgums are among our best choices here.
Evergreen like the magnolia, holly, eastern red cedar and Leyland cypress also play a vital role in the winter landscape. Placed on the north or northwest side of the house, these evergreens not only look pretty but block the prevailing winds of the cold blue norther. They will block the wind to a distance twice their height.
The prevailing wind during the summer comes from the Gulf of Mexico. To take advantage of these cooling breezes, we must not plant thick screens on the southwest or south side of the property. By pruning tall deciduous trees to a height equal to the roof drip line we can direct those breezes into the house.
This is the time of the year when your garden center has the best selection of healthy, fresh, container-grown trees and shrubs. Planting now may not directly influence this year's utility bills, but certainly will in the future. It will also add dollars to the value of your home.
Remember that newly planted landscape trees and shrubs will grow and mature to much larger heights and widths. Be sure to place them according to the mature size which you expect.