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Q: I am planning to redesign my yard. Are there landscaping features I can incorporate to help my home be more comfortable indoors?
A: Late winter and early spring are great times to think about landscape improvements. While the goal of most lawn-and-garden projects is to bring beauty to your outdoor space, a well-designed project can also improve your energy bill and increase the value of your home.
The two best strategies for improving the energy efficiency of your home with landscaping are to incorporate shading in the summer and wind blocking in the winter.
Shading your home is the most cost-effective way to reduce heat gain from the sun and air-conditioning costs in the summer, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Having more plants and trees in your yard can reduce indoor air temperature by up to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Planting deciduous trees on the south, southwest and west sides of your home can reduce heating during summer months, while allowing sunlight through during fall and winter, when the trees have lost their leaves. When planting trees, consider the expected shape and height of the mature trees and where they will shade your home. A tree with a high mature height planted on the south side of a home, for example, will provide all-day roof shading in the summer, while a lower tree on the west side can protect your home from the lower afternoon sun.
Plant trees an appropriate distance away from your home, so roots and limbs won’t disrupt your foundation or your roof as the tree grows.
While it will be five to 10 years before a newly planted tree begins providing shade to your roof, it can start shading windows immediately. Shrubs, bushes and vines can, in the near term, quickly shade windows and walls.
Also, consider how you can shade paved areas around your home during the summer. Driveways and patios can reflect absorbed heat onto your home, causing your air conditioner to work harder. Use trees, hedges and landscaping structures, like arbors, to shade paved areas.
If your home is in an open area without many structures around it, cold winter winds may be increasing your heating bills. A windbreak on your property can help deflect these winds. For the best windbreak effect, plant a combination of evergreen trees and shrubs to block wind on the north and northwest sides of your home at a distance of between two and five times the height of the mature trees. A wall or fence can further assist with the windbreak.
Another insulating technique is to plant shrubs and bushes closer to your home, but at least one foot away. The space between these plants and your home is “dead air space,” which helps insulate your home during winter and summer months.
The particular landscaping strategies you should focus on depend on your climate zone. If you live in a hot, arid climate, focus on maximizing shading to your roof and windows for much of the year. A home in a hot, humid climate will want to maximize summer shade.
One final word of advice: Talk with your electric co-op before planting trees or shrubs near the path of power lines. Keeping utility rights-of-way clear of vegetation helps ensure the safety of line crews and reliable service for the entire neighborhood.
Send questions to Energy Q&A, South Carolina Living, 808 Knox Abbott Drive, Cayce, SC 29033, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fax (803) 739-3041.