Energy costs have hit everyone hard! Certainly, there are many tips for conserving energy costs from programmable thermostats to lighting tips. One big influence on home energy costs is the home landscape.

External air temperature, solar radiation, wind movement, and humidity influence your home. Proper use and placement of plants and structures can help modify these factors and thus reduce fuel costs, conserve energy, and maintain human comfort. Although many factors work into the energy formula, let's consider the effect of trees for now.

Duane Friend, Natural Resources Educator at the Springfield Extension Center, says, "if you are looking for cost-effective ways to lower energy bills, trees may fit the bill." According to the United States Department of Energy, three properly placed trees save an average household between $100 and $250 annually. Also, visually pleasing landscaping will increase the value of your home.

Friend says a well-designed landscape should admit low angle winter sunlight, block summer sun, and minimize winter winds. To accomplish this, place deciduous trees on the south side of a house and evergreens on the north to northwest.

Select deciduous trees that will have high, spreading crowns. Deciduous trees or shrubs can shade areas that retain heat, such as driveways, patios, and brick walls. Shade trees can reduce energy usage of a previously unshaded home by 15 to 50 percent, and might be even higher for small mobile homes. If the tree shades an air conditioner unit exposed to the sun, the unit can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%.

Plant evergreens at a distance of two to five times the mature height of the trees to receive the most protection from winter winds. Effective windbreaks can reduce heating bills by up to a third. A three-row design is best for a windbreak, although one row will make a significant difference in wind speed. Space trees 12 to 16 feet apart.

Friend says it's important to plan before you plant. Imagine the landscape when trees and shrubs are at their mature height, taking into consideration such things as shape, drainage, and growth patterns. When planning, it may be beneficial to make a drawing of the house and surroundings, including new plantings to see how the areas will look.

Consider designing an energy-efficient home landscape to help you conserve energy costs into the future.

Source: Duane Friend, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship, friend@illinois.edu