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Energy Efficient and Environmentally Responsible Landscaping – An Introduction. Prepared by Debra Rowe, Ph.D. Prepared for CERET under a grant from the National Science Foundation. Why should we care about energy supplies?.

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energy efficient and environmentally responsible landscaping an introduction

Energy Efficient and Environmentally Responsible Landscaping – An Introduction

Prepared by

Debra Rowe, Ph.D.

Prepared for CERET under a grant from the National Science Foundation

why should we care about energy supplies
Why should we care about energy supplies?

It is a national security issue causing the following threats to our well being:

  • Political Instability
  • Economic Instability
  • Environmental Instability
political instability dependency on foreign oil
Political Instability = Dependency on foreign oil
  • The U.S. imports 54% of its oil consumption.
  • U.S. oil production has declined continuously since 1974.

Thanks to John Richter for this slide

Source: University of Minnesota

political instability dependency on foreign oil4

Political Instability = Dependency on foreign oil

Much of our oil comes from

Middle Eastern countries whose policies we don’t like

economic impacts
Economic Impacts

"Paid predominantly by the US, the costs of protecting our Middle East oil supplies are as high as $15-25 a barrel - that is about a dollar a gallon.”

Peter Hain, UK Europe Minister

USS Stark, 1987

economic instability
Economic Instability
  • Globally, the largest item in the U.S. trade deficit is our importing of foreign oil
  • Nationally, our economy is hampered by energy costs which decrease the bottom line of profits and economic health
  • Locally, people on stressed budgets - many have to choose between heating and eating
environmental impacts disease
Environmental Impacts - Disease

“… power plant particle pollution causes more than 603,000 asthma attacks per year..”

Source: Abt Associates: Death, Disease, and Dirty Power Plants

Thanks to John Richter for some of these slides.

environmental impacts death
Environmental Impacts - Death

“Abt Associates finds over 30,000 deaths each year are attributable to fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants.”

Source: The Clean the Air Task Force


Burning Fossil Fuels Produces

the Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change


environmental effects climate change

Disruptions of food production

More extreme weather events

Unknown disruptive effects on cosystems

Spread of disease to temperate climates

Submersion of land masses –

up to 45 feet of sea level rise

140,000 deaths per year attributed to climate change

Sources: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2000 scientists from around the world; EPA of the U.S. )

Environmental Effects -Climate Change
terrorist threats
Terrorist threats

Centralized power plants are much more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than distributed generation via wind, solar and other renewable energies

why should we care about energy supplies12
Why should we care about energy supplies?

It is a national security issue causing the following threats to our well being:

  • Political Instability
  • Economic Instability
  • Environmental Instability
what can we do about it
What can we do about it?
  • Learn energy/environmental literacy as it relates to landscaping
  • Become environmentally responsible landscape designers, technicians, marketers, etc.
  • Provide upgrade training to existing professionals in architecture, construction, landscaping, HVAC, building inspectors, community planners and more
  • Make better choices as consumers/investors
energy efficient landscaping
Energy Efficient Landscaping

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home cool in summer and reduce your energy bills. In addition to adding aesthetic value and environmental quality to your home, a well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce overall energy bills.

energy efficient landscaping reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and saves energy and money
Energy Efficient Landscaping Reduces Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels and Saves Energy And Money!

Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy used for heating and cooling. Computer models from the U.S. Department of Energy predict that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.

energy efficient landscaping reduces pollution too
Energy Efficient Landscaping Reduces Pollution Too!

Studies conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found summer daytime air temperatures to be 3° to 6°F cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas. That could be a 9 to 20 % savings in cooling costs. The energy-conserving landscape strategies you should use for your home depend on the type of climate in which you live.


Landscaping and Your Regional ClimateThe energy-conserving landscape strategies you use should depend on which region you live in. The United States can be divided into four approximate climatic regions: temperate, hot-arid, hot-humid, and cool. See the map to find your climatic region.

temperate region this includes michigan
Temperate Region – This includes Michigan
  • Maximize warming effects of the sun in the winter.
  • Maximize shade during the summer.
  • Deflect winter winds away from buildings.
  • Funnel summer breezes toward the home.
hot arid region
Hot-Arid Region
  • Provide shade to cool roofs, walls, and windows.
  • Allow summer winds to access naturally cooled homes.
  • Block or deflect winds away from air-conditioned homes.
hot humid region
Hot-Humid Region
  • Channel summer breezes toward the home.
  • Maximize summer shade with trees that still allow penetration of low-angle winter sun.
  • Avoid locating planting beds close to the home if they require frequent watering.
cool region
Cool Region
  • Use dense windbreaks to protect the home from cold winter winds.
  • Allow the winter sun to reach south-facing windows.
  • Shade south and west windows and walls from the direct summer sun, if summer overheating is a problem.

It's also important to consider your home's microclimate in your landscaping strategy. Your home's microclimate may receive more sun, shade, wind, rain, snow, moisture, and/or dryness than average local conditions.

microclimate continued
Microclimate (continued)
  • If on a sunny southern slope, you may have a warm microclimate, even if you live in a cool region.
  • Even though you live in a hot-humid region, your home may be situated in a comfortable microclimate because of abundant shade and dry breezes.
microclimate continued25
Microclimate (continued)
  • Nearby bodies of water may increase your site's humidity or decrease its air temperature.
  • Microclimatic factors also help determine what plants may or may not grow in your landscape.


  • Deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns (i.e., leaves and branches) can be planted to the south of your home to provide maximum summertime roof shading. Trees with crowns lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed from lower afternoon sun angles. Trees should not be planted on the southern sides of solar-heated homes in cold climates because the branches of these deciduous trees will block some winter sun.
  • Although a slow-growing tree may require many years of growth before it shades your roof, it will generally live longer than a fast-growing tree. Also, because slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, they are less prone to breakage by windstorms or heavy snow loads. Slow-growing trees can also be more drought resistant than fast-growing trees.
shading continued
Shading (continued)

3. A 6-foot to 8-foot (1.8-meter to 2.4-meter) deciduous tree planted near your home will begin shading windows the first year. Depending on the species and the home, the tree will shade the roof in 5–10 years. If you have an air conditioner, shading the unit can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%.

4. Trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home's walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk. Build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.

shading continued28
Shading (continued)

5. Vines can also shade walls during their first growing season. A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home's perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.

6. Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years. However, avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home where wetness or continual humidity are problems. Well-landscaped homes in wet areas allow winds to flow around the home, keeping the home and its surrounding soil reasonably dry.

landscape windbreaks
Landscape windbreaks
  • Basically, a windbreak can lower the wind chill near your home. Wind chill occurs when wind speed lowers the outside temperature. For example, if the outside temperature is 10°F (-12°C) and the wind speed is 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour), the wind chill is -24°F (-31°C). A windbreak will reduce wind speed for a distance of as much as 30 times the windbreak's height. But for maximum protection, plant your windbreak at a distance from your home of two to five times the mature height of the trees.
  • The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using trees and shrubs that have low crowns. Dense evergreen trees and shrubs planted to the north and northwest of the home are the most common type of windbreak. Trees, bushes, and shrubs are often planted together to block or impede wind from ground level to the treetops. Evergreen trees combined with a wall, fence, or earth berm (natural or man-made walls or raised areas of soil) can deflect or lift the wind over the home. Be careful not to plant evergreens too close to your home's south side if you are counting on warmth from the winter sun.
landscape windbreaks cont
Landscape windbreaks (cont.)

3. If snow tends to drift in your area, plant low shrubs on the windward side of your windbreak. The shrubs will trap snow before it blows next to your home.

4. In addition to more distant windbreaks, planting shrubs, bushes, and vines next to your house creates dead air spaces that insulate your home in both winter and summer. Plant so there will be at least 1 foot (30 centimeters) of space between full-grown plants and your home's wall.

5. Summer winds, especially at night, can have a cooling effect if used for home ventilation. However, if winds are hot and your home is air conditioned all summer, you may want to keep summer winds from circulating near your home.


Landscaping Water ConservationYou can design a landscape that not only conserves energy but also water. Here is a brief overview of some water-conserving landscaping strategies.XeriscapingXeriscaping is a systematic method of promoting water conservation in landscaped areas. It's based on seven principles:

1. Planning and design

Provides direction and guidance, mapping your water and energy conservation strategies, both of which will be dependent upon your regional climate and microclimate.

2. Selecting and zoning plants appropriately

Bases your plant selections and locations on those that will flourish in your regional climate and microclimate.

3. Limiting turf areas

Reduces the use of bluegrass turf, which usually requires a lot of supplemental watering.

4. Improving the soil

Enables soil to better absorb water and to encourage deeper roots.

5. Irrigating efficiently

Encourages using the irrigation method that waters plants in each area most efficiently.

6. Using mulches

Keeps plant roots cool, minimizes evaporation, prevents soil from crusting, and reduces weed growth.

7. Maintaining the landscape

Keeps plants healthy through weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and controlling pests.

Xeriscaping is mostly used in arid regions, but its principles can be used in any region to help conserve water.


WateringIf you can determine how much water your plants actually need, then you won't overwater them and waste water. It is important to not only understand a plant's particular watering requirements, but also evapotranspiration.Evapotranspiration is the amount of water that is evaporated from the soil and transpired through the plant's leaves. This amount of water needs to be replaced through watering. If you know your area's Et rate, you can plan the amount of water to be replaced through irrigation. Call your local water district or cooperative extension service and ask about your Et rate. However, your particular microclimate will also affect evapotranspiration in different areas of your yard. Also, it's best to water or irrigate your plants in the early morning when evaporation rates are low. This also provides plants with water before mid-day when the evaporation rate is the highest.

additional resources on water conservation
Additional Resources on Water Conservation

Evaluation Tools

1. WaterAideDOE Building Energy Software Tools Directory

2. Xeriscaping: Creative Landscaping - State University Cooperative Extension

3. XeriscapingToolbase Services

4. - California Urban Water Conservation Council

a note about solar energy if designing a building to use solar

A note about solar energy. If designing a building to use solar:

Unobstructed access to the sun is necessary for the optimum performance of active and passive solar energy systems. There is generally no guarantee a solar system will always have unobstructed access to the sun. Every day, decisions about the built environment and landscape effect the future shading of existing or potential sites.

Solar access protection is clearly advantageous for the following systems in the associated locations:

Rooftop- solar water heater and space heating collectors and photovoltaic arrays

South facing walls- passive solar systems such as Trombe walls, attached solar greenhouses, and direct gain systems such as windows and glass

Lot (south-facing)- ground-mounted or detached active collector systems.


Permaculture philosophy is landscaping and agriculture that works with, rather than against nature to create sustainable human environments. It is sometimes described as low maintenance, low energy and oftentimes edible landscaping.

For more information, go to

ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at

in conclusion
In conclusion:
  • Landscape practices can help or hurt ecosystem and human health
  • There are principles of environmentally responsible landscape design that should be incorporated into all landscaping projects
  • There are precedents and resources to assist you
  • What you do makes a difference