Summer is in full swing in Texas – and the heat is hard to ignore. The temperature has been soaring above 90 degrees most days and to say it’s warm outside would be an understatement. One thing many homeowners will likely do at some point before the summer heat is replaced with a cool, crisp fall breeze is freshen up their outdoor landscaping. Mums, anyone?
A nicely landscaped yard is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it can also lower your heating and cooling costs by reducing heat gain in the summer and heat loss in the winter.
According to the Department of Energy, “A well-planned landscape can reduce an unshaded home’s air conditioning costs by 15-50 percent.”
Eco-friendly landscaping can be one of the simplest and most sustainable ways to save energy. It can also save homeowners money for years once implemented. Think of it as a gift that keeps on giving.
Interested in learning more? Here are a few ways to save energy through your Texas landscaping.
Texas Arbor Day may not be until November, but fall is just weeks away. This means it’s an ideal time to plant trees in Texas.
Planting trees is one of the simplest ways to jazz up your landscaping, and it can also save up to 25 percent of a household’s energy, according to the DOE. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day.
A well-positioned tree will not only shade your home in the summer, but it can also serve as a windbreaker in the winter months.
When plotting a landscaping plan for your outdoor oasis, consider planting a combination of small and large trees to shade the east and west sides of your home. Smaller trees will help shade the heat of the early morning sun when it’s low on the horizon, and larger trees will help block out the rest of the sunlight.
One of the best trees to plant if you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the Hybrid Poplar, which can grow taller than 40 feet. Other good options for Texans are the Red Maple or Red Oak, although there are many great varieties to choose from.
If you’re not sure which type is best suited for your landscape, check out the Plant Encyclopedia published by Better Homes and Gardens. It’s an easy-to-read resource full of detailed info on USDA Hardiness Zones, sun and shade tolerance, moisture requirements, and growing characteristics on different tree species.
When you figure out the species of trees you want to plant, consider the most energy efficient places to plant them – like around the windows.
“Solar heat absorbed through windows and roofs can increase cooling costs, and incorporating shade from landscaping elements can help reduce this solar gain,” the DOE says. The process of evapotranspiration – when a plant releases water vapor – can reduce surrounding air temperature by as much as six degrees.
“Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperature directly under trees can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than air temperatures above nearby blacktop,” the DOE added.
If you’re looking for a quick shading fix, a six- to eight-foot deciduous tree planted near your home should shade your windows immediately. The same species of tree can offer a bonus by also shading your home’s roof in about 5 to 10 years.
If you decide to plant a deciduous tree, the DOE suggests that you plant it on the south side of a home. If this simple step is followed, the species can shut out 70 to 90 percent of the summer sun, while still allowing breezes to come through.
Central air conditioning units are an essential element for most Texas homeowners in the summer, but they can also be viewed an eye sore on your home’s property. One way to make your air conditioner’s outdoor compressor more aesthetically pleasing is to landscape around it. You can also save energy and help your appliance run more efficiently by making it look pretty.
Shading an HVAC unit can reduce solar heat gain in your house and lower your home’s air conditioning costs, according to the DOE. Hedges or a lattice with easy-to-grow greenery vines are great options if you’re looking to conceal the compressor – just don’t forget to trim them.
Falling debris and leaves around the unit is a big no go. Always keep a minimum of two to three feet between any landscaping and the unit. The compressor needs ample airflow to run efficiently. You should always refer to your unit’s owner manual to confirm the recommended distance.
A trellis covered in fast-growing vines or ivy is a great option to shade your home – especially if you’ve opted to plant a sapling which will take much longer to grow than a mature tree.
Pergolas and columns are other great options to help shade your home’s landscape while you’re waiting for those newly planted trees to grow. Any of these simple, outdoor structures will also make your time outdoors a little bit cooler so you can enjoy the Texas sunshine when it’s out.
Jackie Whetzel is a freelance writer who has been featured in newspapers and publications across the country. She has written on the topics of energy, education, government, and business. You can find her on Instagram.