Looking for cost-effective and eye-pleasing ways to lower your energy bills? According to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN), one of the best long-term investments for reducing heating and cooling costs may be landscaping. In this climate it can be difficult to save energy because people want to have the southern sun in the winter, but not in the summer. One way to solve this problem is to plant trees with leaves (for example oak, maple, gum, ash or dogwood) near the house. The leaves will protect the house from sun, and in that way keep the house cooler during the summer; and in the winter when the leaves have disappeared, the sun is no longer blocked from warming the house and streaming through the windows. Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25 percent of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling, according to the Federal Consumers Information Center.
Soren Jensen, president of Danish Builders Inc., Rockville, Md., has had a lot of projects in Virginia. His clients have never asked him about landscaping to save energy. "I think it is just aesthetic, especially here," he said. "In Scandinavia [he was born and educated there], it is colder, so people have to think about it more. In Scandinavia we think more about insulating and where the windows are placed," he added. He explains that he has seen a lot of houses here that have a lot of glass. "For energy saving, that is horrible," he said. "In most cases people don't even care about that." One other reason that people think more about saving energy in Europe, according to Jensen, may be that energy is more expensive there. If it was more expensive in America, Jensen thinks people would care about it more.
According to the EREN, a well-designed landscape will do the following:
* Cut your summer and winter energy costs dramatically;
* Protect your home from winter wind and summer sun;
* Reduce consumption of water, pesticides, and fuel for landscaping and lawn maintenance;
* Help control noise and air pollution.
IT IS ALSO POSSIBLE to save energy with a well-planned house. "It is more expensive for you to heat than to cool," said Craig Durosko, president of Remodeling Specialists Inc. in Burke. Durosko says that the type of glass is very important. The type he uses is called “lowE2.” This window has two layers of glass with a special gas in between that reflects some of the heat back in the summer and holds the heat in the winter. The gas also cuts down noise. Durosko said it also reduces ultraviolet light.
"No one has asked me to save energy," said Mark White, president for GardenWise Inc. He agrees with Durosko. "Most people are looking more for aesthetic change." White knows other ways for people to save energy. "They can save using a low-voltage system, if they want to save money," he said.
BETH YOUNG MARGULIES, manager for public relations at ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), agrees that planting shade trees is the best way to save energy with help from landscaping. "Trees can also be used as windbreakers," she said. "Having a tree that shades the roof of the house [produces] a colder temperature."
Something that goes very well with this is a white or light-colored roof. It will help reflect the sun's heat away from the house. When trees are located next to the reflecting surface, they will absorb the reflected sunlight for photosynthesis. According to the Federal Consumers Information Center, this process will cool the air around the house, since water evaporates from the trees.
Evergreens are effective for blocking wind if you plant them in a staggered or double line to the northwest of the house. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that a line of evergreens can reduce the heat loss and winter fuel bills by up to 20 percent. Another thing you can do is to plant smaller foundation plants. These can minimize the loss of cool air away from the house in the summer, and in winter provide additional wind protection.
If proper landscaping can be such an energy saver and money saver according to builders and architects, why don't people focus on that when they are planning their houses? Jensen has an explanation.
"There is usually not much money left to spend on landscaping," he said. "But if you place one tree in the wrong place, it may destroy everything," he added. "The landscaping is as important as the project itself."
Of course there are some negative things with landscaping, too. "Planting takes a long time," said Margulies. "So it will take a long time before it works."