Besides raising your property value and generally making your home a nicer place, proper landscaping can also help you keep your energy bills lower all year round. Most people can see the obvious benefits of a few carefully placed shade trees through the heat of summer. Besides keeping you and your home out of the direct sun the living plants in your yard actually keep you cool through evaporative cooling as moisture is lost from their leaves to the atmosphere. It’s like having your own giant air conditioning system. But seeing that it is winter right now I’m going to call attention to how your landscaping can actually keep you warmer for less.
Years ago in agricultural college, I learned the benefits of shelterbelts to crop production on the prairies. These oversized hedges planted around the edges of fields actually help to increase heat units and crop yields by reducing the wind speed. It is this same principle that can help keep your home warmer.
It is accepted that a windbreak of some sort will save you 10 to 25 per cent on heating costs by reducing the air infiltration (leakage) rate on your home. On cold and windy days, heat losses due to leakage may represent up to 50 per cent of your total heating costs. Blocking cold winter winds also reduces heat loss due to conduction through your home, as well. By placing a hedge near your home you can reduce the wind velocity on the surface of your house and therefore reduce the air infiltration rate.
For example, here in Erickson our old house gets a regular crosswind from the northeast. That part of the house was fully exposed to the wind with the exception of an area to the north corner partially protected by some large rhododendrons. The sliding glass door, picture windows and walls all lose heat through air infiltration and conductive heat loss. By planting a hedge of yew trees about six feet out from the house walls, I have reduced the wind speed from 12 miles per hour to about four miles per hour. This serves to create a dead air space beside the house walls as well as deflecting some of the wind around the house. While this evergreen hedge has taken some time to establish, it is low maintenance, drought tolerant and deer proof.
There are a number of other evergreen shrubs that could be chosen, including some varieties of holly, mugho pines, junipers and cedar trees. Semi-evergreen and densely twiggy deciduous shrubs can also work well to reduce wind speeds and if you are short on space you could even opt for a vine of some sort growing on a trellis.
Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.