Planting to Reduce Those Winter Heating Bills

Everyone knows that summer temperatures are cooler in the shade. But in winter, it is easy to forget that trees can help cut winter energy costs, too. With some forethought, you can save money by planting evergreen trees and shrubs on the north and northwest sides of your property.

“Planting evergreen trees and shrubs in certain areas around your house can create an effective windbreak,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP* and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). “Generally, most cold winds come from the north or west. An option for those sides of the building is to plant a dense row of evergreens. This will provide additional insulation for your building. Be sure to plant them far enough from the foundation to allow for growth.”

Creating a windbreak

The ultimate goal of planting a windbreak – or living snow fence – is temperature control. A planting design that takes into account wind speed and direction can offer homeowners benefits ranging from reduced energy costs to more efficient landscape water management.

“Wind barriers can channel winds away from your house and cut down on cold drafts getting in,” Andersen advises. “In addition, shrubs, bushes and vines planted near a house can help keep the house cool in summer.”

How far away should you plant?

Allow enough space in the tree’s root zone for roots to grow. A qualified tree care provider can assist you with tree selection if you aren’t familiar with how much room a mature tree’s roots will need. Install physical root barriers if concerns about the foundation arise.

How dense should the windbreak be?

Whether your goal is to reduce the chilling effects of winter winds or control the accumulation of snow, the density of the plantings is key. A rough estimate of density can be determined by estimating the ratio of the “solid” area (branches, trunks, leaves, etc.) to the total area of the barrier.

For example, a row of deciduous trees might offer a density of roughly 30 percent. This means that the row consists of 30 percent trees and 70 percent open space in winter. By comparison, a row of conifers might have a density of 50 percent or 60 percent in winter.

Higher-density windbreaks are better at slowing wind speed enough to cause snow to drop to the ground. Therefore, snow will accumulate both on the windward and leeward side of the row (or rows). These types of living snow fences are extremely useful for keeping roads, driveways and other high-use areas clear of drifts. This means less plowing, less shoveling and less aggravation.

Every location is different, and there is no perfect design that will be effective in all situations. A professional arborist can evaluate your planting sites and help plan an effective windbreak that will offer homeowners a variety of benefits for years to come.

What can you do?

A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best trees and shrubs to plant and to care for in your existing landscape. Search for a qualified tree care professional in your area.

*Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Treecare Safety Professional

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