Late summer brings hot, humid temperatures, and many Floridians are retreating from the heat into their air-conditioned homes. Unfortunately, those comforts of home also come with a price tag. When people think about energy efficiency, practices like turning off lights, purchasing energy-efficient appliances, good insulation and windows, and managing A/C temperature settings are the first things that come to mind. These are very important steps to take, not only to save money but also to conserve energy. The US Department of Energy has an excellent publication that can take you step-by-step through a home evaluation, and many energy companies offer a similar walk-through energy audit for free.
However, there are many best management practices that can be done outdoors to offset expensive home power bills. Planting trees is one example. Department of Energy studies have shown that when compared to a home in full sun, a shaded home may experience up to a 25% decrease in energy for cooling.
Trees planted to shade eastern and western facing walls of your home can be the most effective, as these areas receive direct sun in the morning and afternoon. By preventing heat from entering your home, you prevent straining an air conditioning system that would otherwise have to counteract that heat. It is also helpful to provide shade over an air conditioning unit. Deciduous trees are ideal, as they have leaves to provide shade in the summer but drop them by winter, when you might want sunlight to passively heat your home.
In addition to shade, transpiration—the process of plants emitting moisture as they release water from leaf pores—creates cool spaces around vegetation. Grasses and shrubs along the edges of a home, or vines on nearby trellises, can cool walls and windows in this manner.
Finally, consider sprinkler systems. A home irrigation system can use a significant amount of energy to pump water throughout your yard. Calibrating your system and even reducing run time or frequency can also conserve water and reduce water bills.
For more information on energy-efficient landscaping, please visit www.myfloridahomeenergy.com or contact your local Extension office.