Saving money with your landscape

Contractors will often suggest that the improvements made to your landscape represent an investment in your home, and this is true- according to an ANLA study, you should be able to recoup at least 100-200% of your investment when you sell your property, assuming the landscaping is well done. Real estate appraisers concur, and note that in addition to the improvement in home value- a good landscape makes a home much easier to sell.

Did you know however, that a well-designed landscape can also save you money?

A well-known example of this is the use of deciduous trees to shade and cool one’s home in the summertime (and in the winter, when the leaves fall, your home is warmed by the sun). This passive-solar technique can be very effective, and can reduce the temperature of your home’s roof and walls by up to 20-45 degrees, reducing the load on your heating and cooling systems significantly. Large shade trees are used to provide shade when the sun is higher in the sky, while understory trees help when the sun is low. We recommend planting shade trees to the Southeast and Southwest of one’s home for maximum benefit- not directly South, as one might guess. In the middle of the day when the sun’s angle is highest (and due South) your tree would need to be planted very close to a home’s foundation for it to have much effect.

Shade tree not an option? Another technique is to build decorative arbors over your south facing windows, and grow deciduous vines over them. The effect is similar- warming winter light is allowed to penetrate, but the leaf canopy of the vines in the summertime helps to keep your windows cool.

Foundation plantings will help keep the walls of your home cool in the summertime, and also help to shade the ground- this is important because shading the ground increases the moisture levels in your soil, and this has two added benefits- the moisture helps to cool any breezes which pass over these areas, and also reduces your overall watering expense. These plantings also release moisture into the atmosphere through transpiration, which helps to cool the breeze as well. So make sure you have lush plantings around your home (and a satisfactory mulch layer) and you will be sure to notice a difference!

Your landscape can also serve to shelter your home from energy-sapping winter winds, and at the same time serve to channel cooling summer breezes. In a windy area, well-designed windbreak can reduce wind velocity by up to 50%, with a reduction in heating costs of up to 20-40%. Channeling wind to create summer breezes can be a little trickier, as a property might not allow for plantings that funnel summer winds towards a home, and the aesthetics of creating a funnel-shaped hedge might not be what one wants from a design perspective in any case. In this situation one can turn the funnel on it’s side, and use the space between a tree canopy and the ground to channel air flow to say, an outdoor sitting area. If your home is on a slope, you can also take advantage of thermal air currents (where air rises during the daytime, and descends in the evenings). Water also, can be used for a cooling effect- if you are lucky enough to be located near a body of water you well know how the water can cool the air flowing over it. One can get this effect also with a strategically placed pond or water feature– While the effect will not be as significant, it is still something to consider if the situation allows.

We’ve all seen how developers frequently remove trees on wide swaths of land, and then proceed to install large ‘McMansions’ surrounded by minimal landscaping, and large energy-intensive lawn areas- leaving homeowners to wonder why their energy bills are so high, even though they have the latest-and-greatest high-efficiency A/C system installed. In this scenario, all of the above suggestions can be considered, and one might also think about getting rid of some of that big lawn area. As mentioned before, lush plantings can have a cooling effect in the summertime, and by contrast a lawn will sap away a significant amount of moisture from your landscape. Lawns are energy-intensive and comparatively expensive to maintain, and are generally considered to have a negative impact on our watersheds. Your designer can help you select plants which are well-adapted to your local environment and your property’s microclimates, thereby reducing the need and expense of additional irrigation. If you do require supplemental watering (and most landscapes do), consider a rainwater harvesting system to reduce your water expense.

These items merely scratch the surface of the ways in which a landscape can serve to save you money- and combined with the ability to recoup one’s investment (and increase your home’s value), there seems to be little excuse for not paying attention to the old backyard…

And don’t forget all those intangible benefits a well-designed landscape can offer in terms of aesthetics and overall quality of life… If you live in the D.C. area, and are ready to take the next step, contact us to see what we can do for you.

If you are interested in learning more about energy-efficient approaches to the landscape, we recommend Sue Reed’s book: Energy-Wise Landscape Design- She’s a Massachusetts-based designer with considerable knowledge on the subject.

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