Sunday, December 6, 2009

Plant Trees, Not Power Power Plants

Everybody is fixated on solar standing for just photovoltaic panels. There's so much more to solar energy than blue squares on your trendy home.

It's the near future in Anytown, USA on a dreadfully hot, windless summer day. You're tooling around on a politically-correct bicycle in search of some relief from the oppressive heat. You live in the new suburbs on the outskirts of town, where houses have recently replaced a lush forest. As you reach the old section of town—where all the streets are named for shade trees such as Maple and Oak—something amazing happens. A cooler, refreshing air baths your sweat-fatigued body. While the arching canopy of the shade trees reduces the heat by just three to nine degrees Fahrenheit, there's a noticeable respite from the summer's smoldering temperature. More remarkably, homeowners tucked safely inside their air-conditioned houses and mobile homes in this same neighborhood are saving 40 to 75%, respectively, on their cooling bills. When it comes to saving money on your utility bills, properly located trees and shrubs are hard to beat. In fact, a well-positioned shade tree is more effective at cooling a house than Venetian blinds, plastic window films or reflective coatings on glass.

Landscaping can be so much more than just something pretty to look at. An energy conserving landscape utilizes hedges, screening, shrubs, vines, and trees to provide cool summer shade, insulation against heat. Get double duty out of your landscaping by blending beauty and function.

Save Energy – the truly green way

The savings from an energy conserving landscape can vary, but are rather impressive. According to the U. S. Department of Energy, or what's left of it after the Reagan/Bush debacle, "strategically placed landscaping materials (plants and structures such as walls, berms and fences) can save the homeowner 30 percent on all their utility bills." In hot, dry Sacramento, CA, shade trees can, according to Sacramento Municipal Utility District, reduce the attic temperature by 20-40 degrees F, equal to the effect of several room-size air conditioners. In a study in southern Florida, the proper placement of shrubs and trees had, after just one year of growth, reduced overall energy use for air conditioning in a double-wide mobile home by an astounding 60-65%.

When moderating summer's heat, don't forget the east and west sides of the house. The Mesa, AZ study mentioned above in the discussion of how much money can be saved indicates the importance of the east and west walls. In this study, when it comes to reducing heat gain, the western wall was six times more important than the south side and the eastern wall was 14.5 times more significant than the southern wall and almost 2.5 times more critical than the west-facing wall. While the figures or effect may vary considerably in other climates, eastern and western windows can really help overheat a house in the summer. (That's me & Dad under the large canopy sheltering the east side of the house from morning sun.)

To get the details, see my first book—Designing & Maintaining Your Edible Landscape – Naturally. (See my web site - There’s a whole chapter on the topic.

Be cool!

Let me know what you think.

Visit my web site to learn about my new book on drip irrigation and other gardening books.

NOTE: The comments section at the bottom of the post has disappeared. Click on the "___ Comments" button or the title under the "Blog Archives". Thanks, Robert