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Energy-Efficient Landscaping Quick Guide

A closeup image of a tree roots covered with grass in a forested area

Making a house a home extends beyond the walls of the physical building. Your outdoor spaces can help create countless memories. From playing catch to hosting a barbecue, your lawn is an area ripe with possibility. 

A majority of American homeowners who responded to this National Association of Landscape Professionals survey greatly valued their lawns and green spaces when they shopped for homes. So, how do you maximize your lawn or green space? Landscaping.

Landscaping is essential to getting the most out of the space around your home. When you think of landscaping, you may think about the beautification of your front lawn to make it more inviting. However, landscaping can serve functional purposes as well, including helping you save on your energy bill.

How Can Energy Efficient Landscaping Help Me Lower My Electric Bill?

According to the National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL), the average homeowner can save up to 25% of a household's energy consumption for heating and cooling with well-placed landscaping elements.

There are three significant ways landscaping can help you save electricity:

  1. Energy-efficient landscaping can create windbreaks to reduce the impact of cold winds that hit your home in the winter.
  2. Energy-efficient landscaping can channel breezes toward your home during the summer.
  3. Energy-efficient landscaping can shade your home in the summer to avoid solar heat gain. 

How Does Energy-Efficient Landscaping Create Windbreaks?

Trees planted to the north and northwest of your home can create a windbreak from harsh winter winds. 

A windbreak reduces home heating costs by disrupting cold winds that lower the wind chill surrounding your home. This disruption allows you to stay warmer without relying on your thermostat as you would with the full brunt of the wind. The closer you can keep your thermostat to the outdoor temperature, the less you have to spend on your heating bill.

How Does Energy-Efficient Landscaping Channel Summer Breezes Toward Your Home?

Trees planted to the south or southwest of your house in the summer can gently circulate air toward your home. Well-placed shrubbery can also channel winds toward first-story windows.

How Does Energy-Efficient Landscaping Shade Your Home?

Your home can absorb solar heat through windows and your roof, which increases cooling costs. Well-positioned landscaping can reduce those costs with shading and evapotranspiration, which is the process of a plant moving and releasing water vapor. Both can protect your home and air conditioning unit from overheating. 

Tree placement and species are essential to your overall plan as you will need sunlight to warm your home in the winter if you live in a colder climate. Too much shade will eliminate the sun's warming effect on your home and force you to rely on your heating system to stay warm.

Softscaping and Hardscaping: How They Work Together to Boost Your Home's Efficiency

Now that you've seen a sample of landscaping's benefits, you need to know what elements you should incorporate around your home. Landscaping elements generally fall into the categories of hardscaping or softscaping.

  • Hardscaping is generally thought of as the "hard" natural and artificial elements of your landscaping. A few items included in this category are fencing, trellises, walls, walkways and water features. 
  • Softscaping is the use of "soft" or horticultural elements in a landscaping project. Examples of softscaping include trees, shrubs and flower beds.

While planning, you need to know where to incorporate each element. Softscaping often does the heavy lifting to shade the home and provide windbreaks, but you may need to integrate fencing or trellises to keep plants in place.

Understanding Your Home's Climate and Choosing the Optimal Species of Plants

Understanding Your Home's Regional Climate and Microclimate

As mentioned earlier, every home has a regional climate and microclimate. This U.S. Department of Energy map breaks down the country into four climate zones. While your state will be in one region, you may still experience a wide variety of weather throughout the year. 

Your home's microclimate is the climate that immediately surrounds your home and property. If you live next to a large body of water or on a hill, you will have temperature and humidity variations compared to the average home in your region. These two factors will help you determine what kind of landscaping you need to reduce your energy bill.

Understanding Your Home's Needs and Getting the Right Species of Plants for Your Landscaping

When looking at plants for your landscaping project, you need to assess your home's needs. Each plant offers different benefits to your home's energy efficiency and thrives in distinct environments.

Conifers, like cedars and Douglas-firs, are excellent windbreakers and offer a low crown to shade first-floor and basement windows. Deciduous trees, like oaks and maples, provide shade in the summer and allow more sun to warm your home in the winter, as they lose their leaves every fall.

Vines on a trellis can also offer window shading while allowing a breeze. Bushes near a sidewalk or driveway can lower the temperature of the hardscaping elements through shading and evapotranspiration.

Certain types of grasses are better for your home's regional climate. While you may want to have a picture-perfect lawn, a mixture of grasses suited to your home's environment can help you lower your irrigation and maintenance costs. 

Utilizing native plants in your landscaping plans can deliver excellent results. Native plants should thrive in your environment, offer more benefits to your lawn’s ecosystem and require less maintenance and irrigation.

Plant Lifespans: Why Patience Is Essential to Sustainable Landscaping

While it's exciting to think about all the potential energy-saving benefits new landscaping can offer your home, you have to give plants time to grow and mature. Trees with longer lifespans are sturdier and can withstand more wear and tear from storms and strong winds.

It may take a tree 5-10 years to shade your home's roof. Energy-efficient landscaping is a long-term investment. After a tree reaches maturity, it can live for decades, with some living well over 100 years. 

Energy-Efficient Landscape Design: Consulting an Expert

Talking with an expert at your local nursery or a landscaping professional is an essential step to getting the optimal landscaping to save on your energy bill. They can help make sure the plants you want to add around your home will give you the necessary shading and windbreaking.

The last thing you want is to be outmatched by Mother Nature when creating a landscaping plan. Choosing plants that aren't conducive to your home's climate or your yard's space will create more hassle than energy savings. 

Always call 811 before you dig to make sure there aren't any underground lines, pipes or cables. Also, assess planting sites for trees to make sure they are clear of overhead power lines

Listen to our podcast on tree planting to learn more.

Learn More About Home and Business Energy Efficiency

Landscaping is only one branch of the energy efficiency tree. There are many ways you can use less electricity and save on your bill. Check out our energy efficiency content to learn essential information and tips to take control and save on your home energy usage.

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