Trees Are Nature’s Air Conditioners

If you have ever escaped from blazing-hot sun in a shady spot under a tree, you know how nature’s air conditioners can make you feel more comfortable. A mature shade tree can block up to 90 percent of solar radiation, which could translate to a significant reduction in your home cooling cost. A Pennsylvania study found that air-conditioning needs could be reduced by up to 75 percent by shading a house with trees!

Computer models devised by the U.S. Department of Energy predicted that the proper placement of as few as three shade trees would save an average household $100 to $250 in energy costs each year – and that was reported in 1995, before energy costs soared!

Reduce energy use

On hot days, some large trees can pull hundreds of gallons of water through their leaves. This water evaporates, keeping the tree and its immediate surroundings cool. With the less-than-efficient use of fossil fuels for heating and cooling our buildings, it only makes good sense to take advantage of the following principles.

“Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a building,” advises Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP* staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. “Those are the sides where the sun’s rays are most intense. Since deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, they offer shade during summer but permit the winter sun to provide warmth,” adds Andersen. “Where there isn’t room for trees, shrubs and vines can provide similar benefits.”

Best trees and locations for shade

Plant deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns to the south of your home to provide maximum summertime deciduous trees with high crowns provide the best shadeshading. Trees with branches lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed for afternoon sun. These locations are best for trees to act as nature’s air conditioners. Trees should not be planted on the southern sides of homes in cold climates. This is because the branches of these trees will block some winter sun.

“Although a slow-growing tree may require many years of growth before it shades your roof, it will generally live longer,” notes Andersen. Also, because slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, they are less prone to fail during extreme weather. Slow-growing trees can also be more drought resistant than fast-growing trees.

Trees, shrubs and ground-cover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk. Build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.

Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years. However, avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home. This can cause wetness or continual humidity, which can be a problem.

Enhance property values

Beyond energy savings and beauty, homeowners who take care of their trees find the value of their properties increase. A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property. Read more about the benefits of trees.

What can you do?

Many arborists have training in ecosystem services, including energy efficient landscapes, which is a growing branch of tree appraisal. A professional arborist can provide information regarding the value potential of your trees. They can work with you to determine the best trees and shrubs to plant for your existing landscape. Use the Find A Tree Care Company tool to connect with a qualified arborist in your area.

To calculate the energy value of the trees on your own property, try out the i-Tree Design feature of the i-Tree suite.


* Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Treecare Safety Professional

61 thoughts on “Trees Are Nature’s Air Conditioners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to listen highlighted text!