March / 2010
CUTTING COSTS

Landscaping savings
by: James Dulley

We just built a house and it needs a lot of landscaping. I want to plan and plant it all myself. I've heard proper landscaping can impact my utility bills. What are some basic efficient landscaping tips?--Janice S.

People appreciate landscaping for its aesthetic value, but proper landscaping also affects your home's energy efficiency. From an overall environmental standpoint, good landscape design also minimizes the need for mowing and other lawn care. This saves time, and you may be able to get by with a push mower or a battery-operated mower to eliminate gasoline costs.

Wise landscaping can reduce the need for watering. In the past, this was an issue primarily for the Southwest. Today, water shortages are an issue across the nation. It also takes large amounts of energy at municipal waterworks to process and pump domestic water.

Proper landscaping includes the use of ground cover, dwarf and full-size shrubs, climbing vines, and trees. Ground cover is typically some type of plant, grass, or gravel. The selection you make depends on your climate and specific house.

In general, use low-growing ground cover plants or loose aggregate instead of grass, which requires maintenance. Grass is the best choice for areas where children play or pets roam, but try to keep it to a minimum.

Seasonal strategies
In all but the most humid climates, placing low-growing ground cover plants near your house helps keep it cool during the summer. The leaves block the sun's heat from being absorbed into the ground, and they give off moisture, which cools air near the home.

In hot, humid climates, loose aggregate that is shaded from the sun can be more effective than ground cover plants. Using loose aggregate also eliminates the need for watering, but it may increase the air temperature around your house, because loose aggregate stores the sun's heat. Though not helpful during summer, during the winter loose aggregate provides an advantage.

Dwarf shrubs are ideal for energy-efficient landscaping because they remain small at maturity (2 to 3 feet high). Plant some near the foundation and some farther away for windbreak ramps. They require little care and watering.

Planting climbing vines on a trellis can create effective shading to reduce the heat buildup on a wall during summer. Climbing vines are often more effective than trees for shade because you can target specific areas where heat produces the greatest problem.





EFFICIENCY IDEA

Tree tips
Trees have perhaps the greatest effect on utility bills. Evergreen trees are effective for the northwest across to the northeast side of a house to block winter winds. During the winter, the sun doesn't shine from those sides. Deciduous trees planted on the other sides provide summer shade, but allow the winter sun through.