Out on a Limb for Energy Efficiency

When properly placed, trees can go a long way toward cutting energy bills. (Photo By: Michael W. Kahn)

When properly placed, trees can go a long way toward cutting energy bills. (Photo By: Michael W. Kahn)

By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer (Originally Published: October 15th, 2012)

A new heat pump is nice, but perhaps we could interest you in another energy efficiency tool—one you’d buy at a nursery.

Trees often get overlooked when it comes to saving energy, and Brian Sloboda understands that.

“For years I have mentioned it to people, and I am generally greeted with a roll of the eyes,” said Sloboda, senior program manager at NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network.

“It just doesn’t sound right, because energy efficiency is about buying stuff, and putting stuff in your house that uses less energy,” Sloboda acknowledged. “But here is something that really adds curb appeal to your home, it’s a place for the kids to play, and it provides natural shade so less of the sun hits your house.”

CRN and its strategic partner E Source have been looking at the efficiency benefits of trees. For those looking to buy a home, what’s in the yard can be as important as how old the furnace is.

“You want to stay away from evergreens and fruit trees,” Sloboda said. “What you want are the big, leafy deciduous trees, like a maple tree. They have big leaves, and in the summertime those big leaves block the sun from hitting your roof.”

Saplings can take a decade to grow, so patience is a virtue. But if you’re going to plant trees, do so “between the sun and your house, so that the shadow falls on your house during those summer months when you’re really running your air conditioner a lot,” Sloboda said.

“If you get trees that are large enough, and you put them in the right spot, you can save an estimated 15 to 50 percent off your air conditioner bill,” Sloboda said. “It’s one of the cheapest and prettiest ways to do energy efficiency.”

And with a deciduous tree, once the leaves fall each autumn, your roof will be able to catch the sun’s warming rays all winter.

The only exception to that rule, Sloboda said, is in locations where wind is a concern. In those cases, evergreens are a better choice. A qualified landscaper can help you decide.

But as great as trees are, they’re not a substitute for the basics.

“When you want to start to save energy, the first thing you need to do is seal your house up,” Sloboda said. “Once you’ve sealed your house from the elements, you can do other things.”

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