Where To Plant Trees To Save On Air Conditioning

Stacy Randall
by Stacy Randall
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where to plant trees to save on air conditioning

There’s no denying that energy costs are out of control, getting higher and higher year after year. Utility costs tend to rise right along with the rising outdoor temperatures. Therefore, it’s not surprising that people want to reduce the heat entering their homes so that they can lower their bills. A popular method is planting trees to save on air conditioning. But this only works if you know where to plant them.

Plant trees in areas that place them directly between the sun’s rays and your windows. Make sure trees on the southern-facing sides of the home will be tall enough to grow above the roof. Western-facing sides of a house benefit from smaller trees that help shade windows and walls. Plant trees at least half their mature width from the home.

If you’re ready to get some relief from the sweltering heat of summer (and high energy bills), keep reading.

Do Trees Reduce Air Conditioning Costs?

Trees do a lot of good things, including providing nice shady spots to rest, enjoy a picnic, or read a book. Those shaded areas also have the ability to lower air conditioning costs if they’re in the right places. Therefore, you can add reducing cooling costs to the long list of tree benefits.

To put it in more concrete terms, strategically planted trees could lower your air conditioning bill by as much as 20 percent in the steamy summer months. A study of Los Angeles residential neighborhoods suggests that an increase in vegetation could reduce energy consumption and see an annual savings of $20 million. Doesn’t that sound nice?

If planting trees can help you save $20 to $30 per month off your summer utility bills, wouldn’t you want to know more?

How Can Trees Around A Home Reduce Air Conditioning Bills?

Nowadays, everyone with a Tik Tok account seems to be spewing out money-saving hacks. Listen to the wrong advice, and you can quickly find yourself in more financial mayhem than when you started searching for tips.

But planting trees to ramp up the shade around your home and lower air conditioning costs is not some passing fad. People have long applauded trees for the shade they generously give. And just as you cool off in the shade when you sit below a tree, that same shade can cool your house.

1. Trees Lower The Temperature

Trees’ cooling effects go beyond their pleasant shade. One science fun fact, in particular, plays a large role in lowering temperatures.

This feature is called transpiration. Transpiration is when tree roots absorb water, then release the water through leaf pores via evaporation. The water cools the air, reducing the temperature by several degrees.

2. Trees Block The Sun’s Rays

One of the more obvious ways trees help cool your home is by blocking the sun. When there’s less sunshine coming through windows and beating down on your roof and walls, your home’s interior is cooler. Therefore, your air conditioning won’t need to work as hard, which reduces costs plus helps extend your unit’s lifespan.

3. Planting More Trees Helps Lower The Effect Of Urban Heat Islands

Urban Heat Islands describe a phenomenon when a high concentration of buildings, roads, concrete, and other structures absorb solar radiation. In turn, the increased heat absorption leads to increased temperatures inside and outside of houses. These urban structures redistribute heat much more than natural foliage.

When there are many buildings and excessive infrastructure in one place, the temperatures rise in that spot. It’s hotter there than in the surrounding areas, hence the term heat island.

A heat island can experience temperatures nearly 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outlying areas. Planting more trees around your property can help offset this effect, especially if you live in a more urban environment.

Tips For Planting Trees For Energy Efficiency

Now that you understand how trees can help you reduce air conditioning costs, it’s essential to know the best way to go about it. The primary two considerations are what trees to plant and where to plant the trees.

1. Choose The Right Trees

Picking the right trees depends on a couple of factors. One is the sun’s rays in relation to your home; the next is your yard’s size. Before you decide on your trees, take time to observe how the sun shines on your home during the summertime. Once you can pinpoint where the rays go, you can plant a tree directly between the sun and your windows.

The size of your yard also influences what trees you plant. Expansive yards have ample room for large shade trees, such as maple, oak, sweetgum, birch, and Southern magnolia. These types of trees grow taller than 40 feet. For example, oak trees often grow between 40 and 80 feet tall, with a spread similar to their height (only slightly narrower).

However, if you have a smaller yard, it’s best to stick to mid-sized trees for your shade. These trees are closer to 20 to 30 feet tall, capping off at roughly 40 feet. Smaller trees include certain magnolias and maples, dogwood, crepe myrtles, and various flowering trees.

Another thing to consider is to choose leaf-dropping trees. You’ll have the beautiful shaded canopy during the summer when you need it. But the leaves will drop during the colder winter months, and you’ll have the heat and light you need to warm things up a bit.

2. Know How The Sun Shines

Knowing where the sun’s rays shine toward your house is vital. But how do you translate that knowledge into where to specifically plant your trees to help reduce air conditioning bills?

It’s all about thinking about which way each part of your home faces. During the summertime in the northern hemisphere, the sun’s rays shine from the south. Therefore, you would plant one or more trees on the southern-facing side of your home.

Since the sun sets in the west, planting trees along the western-facing side of the house is also a good option. Although they won’t need to be as tall as trees on the south side, aim for them to block rays from windows and help cool walls.

The rising sun (in the east) doesn’t affect your home’s temperature as much as the afternoon and setting sun. However, a few smaller trees on the eastern side of your home can help keep the sunshine from glaring through windows.

If your home tends to get sun all day long, choose trees that will grow tall enough to be higher than your roof. (As long as they’ll also fit well in your yard.)

3. Don’t Get Too Close To Home

You might think the closer the trees are, the more they’ll cool your home, right? But be careful. Planting trees too close to your house can cause damage to your home’s foundation, roof, and walls. The tree roots can grow into your foundation, bust plumbing pipes underground, and cause sinkage issues.

Branches and limbs lead to potential roof damage, problems with rain gutters, and knocking against windows. You’ll likely end up needing to trim the trees to avoid damage. So, when you plant, make sure you know how big the tree will grow (height and width of the branches) and plan accordingly.

One recommendation is to plant a tree at least half its mature width from the home. For example, a tree will have a 40-foot canopy at full maturity, don’t plant it any closer than 20 feet to the house. The Utah State University Forest Extension recommends trees that grow at least 25 feet tall be at least 10 to 20 feet from the home.

The Best Places To Plant Trees To Save On Air Conditioning

In addition to considering the sun exposure of your home, consider areas around your house with lots of concrete. Concrete readily absorbs and re-emits heat. So planting trees along driveways and walkways is a great option if you can swing it. Plus, it looks amazing, too.

Another great place to plant trees is where they will grow and create a canopy above your outdoor air conditioning unit. The cooler temperature can help your unit’s efficiency. However, make sure to choose trees that will be tall enough not to interfere with your AC.

Other ideal places for trees are near specific outdoor entertaining or seating areas that need extra shade. For example, a patio that gets too much sun during the afternoon could benefit from a perfectly placed tree.

Observe how the sun shines on these specific spots during the times when you plan to use them the most. Then, aim to plant your trees between the sun and these spots.

A Final Look At Planting Trees To Stay Cool

Before you put in the work and investment to plant trees in your yard, take the time to plan the best place. When planted in the right spot, trees can help lower air conditioning costs, so you can save $20 to $30 a month during the summer. Consider your yard size and how the sun’s rays shine on your property to determine the best places to plant your trees.

If you’re still unsure, consult with a professional landscaper that specializes in using vegetation to improve energy efficiency. They can provide insight and recommendations on the best trees to use and where to plant them.

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Stacy Randall
Stacy Randall

Stacy Randall is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from NOLA that has always had a love for DIY projects, home organization, and making spaces beautiful. Together with her husband, she has been spending the last several years lovingly renovating her grandparent's former home, making it their own and learning a lot about life along the way.

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