Landscaping for Energy Efficiency

landscapeShrubs may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the phrase “energy efficiency” but today is the day you find out why you might not be so far off if it did. Everyone wants a more energy-efficient house. For some, it is part of a grander desire to be a part of positive change for the world, to reduce one’s carbon footprint and minimize the amount of energy they use in order to achieve a greener and more earth-conscious lifestyle. For others, it’s less about saving the world and more about saving money on energy bills. Both reasons are completely valid and worthwhile and many care about both when they’re looking into ways to make their homes more energy-efficient.

One way to do this that’s worth considering is through landscaping. There exist techniques out there that are specifically designed with increasing energy efficiency in mind. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’ll look at some of the top methods for changing your property’s landscaping in order to boost your home’s energy efficiency and make cooling and heating in Austin easier. Read on to learn all about it.

Region Climate

The first step in determining which landscaping techniques and priorities will best increase your home’s energy efficiency and reduce heating and cooling costs is to determine what the climate is generally like in the region of the country that your city is in. Different regions have different climates and different climates will benefit more from certain landscaping goals and outcomes.

For us in Austin, heating and cooling costs can be reduced the most by taking advantage of breezes and shade in the summer while still channeling the suns warmth during the winter. We live in a hot and humid climate so there’s no need to avoid any wind that comes our way and our focus will be mostly on how to avoid excess heat during the hotter months.

But the greater climate of your region isn’t the only important factor. You can get more local as well. The climate immediately surrounding your home is called its microclimate. When landscaping for energy efficiency, it's important to consider your microclimate as well as your regional climate.

Your home's microclimate may receive more sun, shade, wind, rain, snow, moisture, or dryness than average local conditions. If your home is located on a sunny southern slope, for example, it may have a warmer microclimate, especially during sunnier seasons. Or your home may be situated in a comfortable microclimate because of abundant shade and dry breezes despite living in the hot and humid overall climate of central Texas. Nearby bodies of water may increase your site's humidity or decrease its air temperature. Microclimatic factors also help determine what plants may or may not grow in your landscape. Getting deep into these specific factors will probably require the help of a professional but that doesn’t mean you can’t think about it now.

Bring on the Shade

One of the most effective ways that we in Austin can landscape in order to increase our home’s energy efficiency is to increase the amount of shade that our house gets. This will decrease the amount of direct sunlight that hits your home in the spring and summer which means the house won’t get as hot, meaning your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to cool it.

Proper shading can reduce cooling costs in warm summer regions to a significant degree. To plant for shade effectively, you need to know the size, shape and location of the shadow at different seasons and different times of the day. In most cases, if you plant a six to eight-foot deciduous tree near your home, it will start shading your windows in the first year, and your roof in five to ten years. Keep in mind that vines, shrubs and bushes can effectively shade walls and windows and may help boost your shade in addition to the work that trees do in this regard.

As far as specific locations for trees, focus mostly on shading west pointing windows with trees due west of them. They should be about twenty feet out as space permits and should grow to at least twice the height of the windows. The next priority should be the same thing on the east side, trees planted twenty feet due east of east-facing windows.

Contrary to intuition, the least energy-efficient place for a tree is to the south of a house. In summer when the sun is high at midday, the shadow of a tree falls directly under the tree and entirely misses home to its north. In winter, however, the shadow of the same tree will fall on the house throughout most of the day. To avoid shading south windows during the winter, any trees south of the home should be located at least twice their mature height away from the house.

Trees and shrubbery can also be used to protect particular absorbent parts of your property from getting too hot in the summer and hindering your air conditioner’s work. Paved areas like driveways and patios absorb and radiate heat far faster than planted areas. Plant trees and bushes near paved areas around the house or grow vines on a trellis over or near patios to create cooler areas around your house. For good airflow and access, plants should be more than three feet away from the air conditioner.

Reflective Materials

Speaking of paved areas, you can also replace parts of your property that are normally made of energy inefficient absorbent material like asphalt and concrete with reflective material like a groundcover. Materials like groundcover and turf have a cooling effect from evapotranspiration (the loss of water from the soil by evaporation and by the transpiration of the plants growing therein).

The temperature above a groundcover will be 10 to 15 degrees cooler than above a heat-absorbent material such as asphalt or reflective material such as light-colored gravel or rock. A heat-absorbent material like asphalt will also continue to radiate heat after the sun has set. It is best to either minimize the use of heat absorbent materials near a house in addition to shading what absorbent material is there from any direct sun.

Vines Help Cool

Trees may be the most commonly recommended way of strategically landscape one’s home to decrease heating and cooling costs but they are far from the only way. Trees often grow slowly, but homeowners can moderate hot sunshine quickly using vines that clamber up strategically placed trellises. Permanent structures such as trellises are most appropriate in hot climates like ours in Austin. Heating isn’t as much of a struggle here as cooling is in the summer so blocking solar heat gain in winter is not counterproductive. 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. Some vines such as English Ivy will cling to any wall surface. This can harm wood surfaces. This is another reason why a trellis is a good idea.

Using vines which lose foliage in the winter can be used for summer shading as long as vine stems do not significantly block winter sun. Evergreen vines will shade walls in the summer and reduce the effects of cold winds in the winter.

Annual vines grow quickly and can cover a large area by mid-to-late summer. You can also accomplish more than just shade your home with the right choice in vines. Homeowners can make shading devices twice as functional by growing vines that not only provide shade but also fruits or vegetables. Edible vines such as scarlet runner beans, winter squashes, and luffa squashes are both vigorous and fast-growing. 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 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.

Dead Spaces are Natural Insulation

One technique for landscaping for energy efficiency that is beneficial in both the summer and the winter is the creation of dead spaces. Don’t let the slightly macabre name fool you, this is easy to implement and helpful technique for boosting your home’s energy efficiency. Dead space refers to an area where the natural wind is almost entirely blocked. While your windbreaks can direct gales your home and funnel seasonal breezes inside, dead spaces are a landscaping element which completely blocks off sections of your yard from external airflow. You can create dead spaces using dense shrubs or short evergreen trees.

Planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer. Plant so there will be at least one foot of space between full-grown plants and your home's wall. Dead space several feet wide around your home supplements the insulation in your walls. And, just like your interior insulation, dead spaces protect your home from the harshest temperatures in every season by regulating the temperature immediately around your home, upping your home’s energy efficiency.

Another great thing about using shrubs and bushes to create dead space is that you don’t have to wait years for them to grow to reap the full benefits like with trees. Use this landscaping technique to boost the natural insulation from harsh weather around your home and you’ll get the benefits of more efficient home and more attractive property.

Energy Efficient Landscaping and Heating Repair in Austin

There are many ways one can reduce one’s energy usage. Making your house more energy efficient has the double effect of both reducing your bills and reducing the wear and tear on your cooling and heating systems. Landscaping for energy efficiency is a prudent and effective way to do this.

Regardless of how energy efficient your house is, however, your heater will eventually need a tune-up, especially if you want to avoid even more costly repairs. That’s where AC Express comes in. We are an Austin heater repair company that brings the best heater maintenance and Austin heating service to all in the Austin area, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Lago Vista and Leander. If you ever need heater repair in Austin, call AC Express!