Boost Your Home's Energy Efficiency With Landscaping

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated January 31, 2022
View of residential home with large green front lawn
Photo: DreamPictures / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Your landscape depends on which region of the U.S. you reside in.

  • Strategically placed trees can save you as much as 25% on your home’s energy usage.

  • Shrubs keep the ground cooler and increase humidity in dryer climates.

  • Climbing plants can protect the sides of your home from extreme temperatures.

  • Hire a qualified pro to help you plan and install your energy-efficient landscape.

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Your property’s landscaping isn’t just a pretty sight as you drive up from an outing; you can also use landscaping to cut your heating and cooling costs. Strategically placed trees and plants offer your home shade, wind protection, and better air circulation, to name a few positives. Let’s dive into how you can make an energy-saving landscape that saves you money and lessens your impact on the environment.

What Is Energy-Efficient Landscaping?

Energy-efficient landscaping is landscaping that uses the layout and climate of your land to promote energy conservation practices in the home. 

A few examples of landscaping that can increase your home’s energy efficiency include:

  • Shading

  • Insulation

  • Wind management

  • Solar energy

  • Ground coverage

  • Water management

Energy-Efficient Landscape Tips by Region

How you design your landscape will largely depend on your climate. The U.S. Department of Energy divides homes into four different climates: the temperate region, hot-arid region, hot-humid region, and cool region. 

Here are some basic tips for efficiency based on each region:

Temperate Region

The temperate region of the U.S. includes a large portion of the Southeast and some parts of California, Oregon, and Washington. These areas experience moderate rainfall year-round, mild summers that can get a little on the warm side, and cool to mildly cold winters. 

As such, here are some tips to an energy-conserving home in a temperate climate zone:

  • Make the most out of the sun in the winter.

  • Use plenty of shade in the summer.

  • Maximize windbreaks by using trees and shrubs on the north- and northwest-facing parts of your home’s exterior during the winter.

  • Channel that summer wind towards your home.

Hot-Arid Region

A hot-arid climate, also called a desert climate, is one where there is more evaporation than precipitation. Regions of the country that fall into the hot-arid climate zone consist of parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma. 

Here are some tips on how you can conserve energy in a hot-arid region:

  • Maximize shade coverage on your roof, walls, and windows.

  • Make use of summer breezes and good ventilation strategies to cool the house in the summer.

  • Keep the wind out of your home if you use an air-conditioner unit.

  • Plant native, drought-tolerant vegetation to minimize water usage.

Hot-Humid Region

Hot-humid regions include portions of the South, Southeast, and Hawaii. This climate zone has long summers with plenty of rainfall and humidity. 

Conserve energy in a home in the hot-humid region by doing the following:

  • Use trees, buildings, and other tall structures to steer summer breezes towards your house.

  • Plant plenty of shady, deciduous trees.

  • Keep thirsty plants away from the perimeters of your home to prevent mold and excess humidity.

Cool Region

Much of the country falls in the cool region category. The Midwest, the North, and Northeast are all relatively cool in the summer and chilly in the winter. 

Here’s how you can conserve energy if your home is in the cool region: 

  • Maximize windbreaks to keep winds from chilling your home.

  • Make room for the sun to enter through south-facing windows and walls.

  • For homes that experience more mild summers, be sure to shade south-facing windows and walls from the sun.

Microclimates

Your home will also have unique elements to it that make your climate different from your neighbor’s. This microclimate can play a major role in how you design your energy-efficient landscaping. 

For instance, your home could receive more sunlight, shade, or moisture than other local areas depending on the amount of tree coverage, nearby bodies of water, and topography. Homes that reside on a south-facing hill might experience warmer temperatures than those at the bottom of a north-facing hill.

Landscaping by Energy Efficiency Type

There are countless ways you can customize your landscaping to achieve a more energy-efficient home. From shade to water conservation to windbreaks, here’s a breakdown of a few types of measures you can take to boost your energy efficiency. 

Sun Protection

Warding off the sun is key to cutting down on cooling costs for homes in hotter regions, and there are many landscaping ideas that you can use to get the job done. 

  • Trees Get your shades on with deciduous trees. These trees offer the most shade coverage, cooling indoor temperatures by up to eight to 10 degrees F, according to Aggie Horticulture. This equates to up to 25% in energy savings in your home. Deciduous trees provide shade on hot summer days, and most of these tree species also lose their leaves in the autumn, allowing the sun to warm your home in the winter.

  • Espaliers Vines and other creeping plants can grow up the walls of your home to provide insulation that protects the house from scorching hot and icy cold weather.

  • Groundcovers Dial the outdoor temperatures down by 12 to 15 degrees F by swapping out your asphalt or concrete hardscaping with native vegetation. You can place plants around any pavement to reduce the heat. 

Water Conservation

Homes in hot-arid regions of the country will want to pay special attention to water usage and conservation. Likewise, if you live in a humid area prone to flooding in the summers, make landscaping decisions that work with the land. 

A few water-efficient ideas include:

  • Use water collectors to catch rainfall and water plants with it during dry spells

  • Install permeable pavers with shrubs and gravel to slow water runoff

  • Plant drought-resistant vegetation in arid locations to keep plants from dying

  • Consider xeriscape gardens in arid locations for the most efficient plant coverage

Wind Protection

In winter, trees and plants in the right places can block harsh, cold winds that increase your home's heating load. In general, these plants should be on the north and northwest sides of the home. Evergreens paired with fencing or an earth berm can also create a windbreak that cuts the wind speed.

6 Tips for Energy-Efficient Landscaping

A man spreading mulch around hosta plants in garden
Photo: Jon Rehg / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

In addition to all the broad types of landscaping ideas by type, there are also a few miscellaneous landscaping tips for an energy-efficient yard to remember. 

  1. Follow the guidelines for your region: What works for your uncle out in Alaska is unlikely to be effective if you live in New Mexico. Be sure to stick with the guidelines for your climate zone as you make energy-conserving landscape decisions.

  2. Opt for natural walkways: Instead of pouring cement paths throughout your yard like a game of Pacman, opt for natural methods that encourage energy efficiency. Woodchips, bark, permeable pavers, mulch, decomposed granite, or other porous hardscape materials keep the yard cooler and promote proper drainage.

  3. Shade the A/C with plantings: Casting shade over the outdoor condenser unit prevents it from overheating, which means less energy to operate.

  4. Use trellises and vines carefully: While a plant climbing up a trellis enhances your home’s beauty, it can also block air circulation that’s vital to the cooling process. Make sure trellises are far enough from the house to promote circulation, and select vines that won't eventually damage your home’s exterior surface.

  5. Enhance evaporation: Strategically located trees, bushes, and shrubs encourage the wind to access the area directly around the home, enhancing the natural evaporation process of the plants. Trees and plants release water vapor that cools the surrounding areas, so savvy, green homeowners will experience cooler temperatures inside the home, too.

  6. Keep it breezy: While full trees that cast a large shadow over your home—particularly on the south and west sides—prevent heat gain, you also need to trim low branches that block breezes and discourage air circulation around the home. Maximum air movement is essential to keeping your home cool, contributing to energy efficiency.

How to Find an Energy-Efficient Landscaping Pro

If you’ve never designed or planted an energy-efficient landscape, chances are you’ll want to hire a landscaper near you to do the job. 

But before you call up the first company that pops up in a Google search and seal the deal on your landscaping project, make sure your pro has experience with energy-conserving practices. 

Questions to Ask the Landscaper

Consider these questions to ask your landscaper to determine their experience with designing an energy-conserving landscape: 

  • What qualifications do you have?

  • Can you show me before and after pictures of previous projects?

  • Have you ever done an energy-efficient landscaping job?

  • What sustainable practices do you use?

Find a landscaper who is familiar with energy-efficient landscaping by looking for permaculture credentials. A permaculture design course certificate is a worldwide course that teaches how to work with the layout of the land to design a landscape that best works with the climate, habitat, and natural elements.

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