Energy efficient landscape can help ease utility bills
Many Oklahoma gardeners simply want their landscapes to be attractive. However, with the rising cost of home energy, a well-planned landscape can help reduce utility bills.
The United States Department of Energy reports that strategically planted trees and smart landscaping can save homeowners up to 25 percent on annual utility bills.
"When designing your landscape, your goal should be to maximize the warming potential of the sun in winter and minimize heat absorption in the summer," said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulture specialist.
The Oklahoma heat can cause air conditioning systems to seemingly run non-stop during the summer months. To help ensure efficient operation of the system, make sure it is installed in a place that stays shady most of the day. If that is not possible, consider planting trees or shrubs nearby to provide shade. Make sure you do not restrict the unit's airflow in any way.
Trees act as nature's air conditioning by releasing water vapor into the air through a process called evapotranspiration. This process can reduce ambient air temperature by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Plant trees around your home and neighborhood in an effort to cool down the air," he said. "In addition, plant trees in spots that shade your roof and windows. When the sun beats down on your roof and windows it can dramatically heat up the inside of your home. However, make sure light can get through in the winter so you can take advantage of winter sunlight."
To maximize summer shading and winter light penetration, plant three deciduous trees that grow 30 feet to 35 feet, all around the southwest corner of your home. Trees should be about 20 feet from the home and about 30 feet apart.
Evergreen shrubs can help provide an extra layer of insulation when planted around the foundation of the home. The air space between the shrubs and the home will remain warmer than the ambient temperature in winter. In summer, the same dead air space helps insulate your home from hot outside air, thus reducing the need for air conditioning.
To protect your home from wind, as well as reduce winter energy consumption, plant a dense hedge on the windiest side of the home. Doing so will help reduce the wind chill and will act as a windbreak.
Hillock also suggests large unshaded areas of rock or pavement should not be placed on the south and west sides of your home. These materials soak up solar energy during the day and release it at night, heating up the air around the home and causing the air conditioning system to work overtime.
"Take the time to plan your energy-efficient landscape and you'll be amazed at the difference in your energy bills," he said.
For more information see Fact Sheet HLA-6417, Landscaping for Energy Conservation, at http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2215/HLA-6417web.pdf.