Tree roots

Plant trees strategically to help with heating and cooling costs

House & Home

Texas A&M UniversityWhen I was studying at Texas A&M University in the mid-1970s for my Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry, I took a course in Urban Forestry. My team project was to evaluate trees in Houston, Texas, to determine their value to residential properties. We determined that they could add up to 25% to the value of real estate. We also determined that dead, dying, or poorly placed trees could decrease the value by up to 11%. What we didn’t evaluate but which is widely known now, 40+ years later, is that by planting trees strategically, one can:

  • House atticreduce heating and cooling costs by up to twenty percent
  • reduce attic temperatures by 20-40 degrees
  • create wind barriers to help prevent wind damage to the home
  • trap and absorb pollutants such as dush, ash, pollen, and smoke
  • remove carbon from the atmosphere to help control greenhouse gases and global warming
  • release oxygen into the atmosphere so we can breathe
  • trap and hold water from storms
  • reduce soil erosion

SweetgumHere in San Diego, a desert Mediterranean environment, trees can provide much needed shade and, with its color, flowers, and fruit, can simply make us feel good on a hot summer day or a cold winter day.

To make the best use of trees on your residential property, certain tree types should be planted in certain areas to take into account how the sun shines on your property during the year.

Plant deciduous trees on the south, southeast, and southwest sides of your home. Deciduous trees lose their leaves each fall, so during the summer they provide shade to help cool your home, and in the winter they let sun shine through their bare branches to help heat your home.

Cooling compressorIf you have an air conditioning compressor (sometimes called a “condenser” or simply an “air conditioner”) outside, planting trees to provide shade for them will help them run more efficiently. However, be sure to keep the compressor clear of foliage and debris, and do not block airflow into the compressor.

Concrete and asphalt walkways, driveways, and streets cause a urban heat island effect. By planting trees to shade your walkways and driveway, you can help counteract that tendency not only around your home but in your neighborhood and city.

To get the most benefit from trees around your home, plant small trees within 15 feet, medium trees within 35 feet, and large trees within 50 feet. Be sure to space trees well away from your home’s foundation and other hardscape to prevent root damage, and to keep them away from utility lines, both above ground wires and below ground water and sewer.

Tree rootsBefore you plant any tree, though, find out how tall and high wide the tree will be at maturity. That cute little Ficus you got at the grocery store for Christmas or Valentine’s Day can grow to be 50′ high and 135′ wide with destructive above-ground roots, so you don’t want to be planting it at the front door or near the swimming pool when it gets too big for the house.

Staring up at a eucalyptusTrees such as the eucalyptus, with their shallow roots and brittle branches, should not be planted anywhere on your property unless you have several acres and can plant them at the far end of your property, away from structures and utilities. Rain and wind will break the branches and sometimes topple the tree, so if your home or car is anywhere near, you could be looking at lots of damage.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

This post approved byThis post approved by Zoey the Cool Cat

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos


10 thoughts on “Plant trees strategically to help with heating and cooling costs

  1. btg5885

    Great post from many vantage points. Having cleaned debris from A/C compressor units, I can attest to your comments about shady, but not too close. If we each did more of the planting, we might make a difference. Take care, BTG


  2. Pit

    Hi Russel,
    That comes in quite handy for us with the property [] we’d like to buy in Fredericksburg. Well, the property already has a lot of trees. Unfortunately some with oak wilt. That’s really terrible in Texas nowadays. But we’ll see what we can do.
    Best regards from southern Texas,
    P.S.: The inspection went well – no major problems. Our inspector was Jim Jarreau [#402, if I remember correctly] from Merit Inspections.



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