Landscaping With Windbreaks Can Save Energy AND Money

This is how your trees and shrubs outside can keep your house warmer inside.

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Landscaping doesn’t just beautify the outside of your home — it can also cut heating costs. The U.S. Department of Energy says that just three properly placed trees can save $100 to $250 in energy costs per year. And Trees Forever points out that those benefits keep growing, right along with your trees!

Slow Down Winter Winds With Windbreaks

Winter winds don’t just make us cold outside. They contribute to air infiltration, which pushes the air you’re paying to heat out of cracks and openings in your home.

Weatherstripping around doors and windows can help, and slowing winds with a windbreak will add to the cost savings. The Arbor Day Foundation estimates a windbreak can lower your heating bills by 10 to 20 percent. Research conducted on the Great Plains region puts the savings as high as 25 percent.

Which Plants Are Best for Windbreaks?

Evergreens with dense foliage make the best windbreaks, according to TreesAreGood.org. You can also use evergreen shrubs or other large shrubs with dense branches such as forsythia or viburnum. The foliage should reach all the way to the ground. If your trees have a gap below the lower branches, Cornell Cooperative Extension suggests planting an understory of evergreen shrubs to fill the space.

How to Plant a Windbreak

With a windbreak, your goal is to slow and deflect the wind, not block it completely. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, windbreaks of living plants which allow some air to pass through are better than solid windbreaks, such as a brick wall. Ideally, plant several staggered rows (up to five, if possible), planning for six feet between the mature size of your plants in each row. Curved rows may be more effective and attractive than straight lines.

Where Should I Plant My Windbreak?

Your windbreak should be planted on the north or northwest side of your home to block the prevailing winter winds. Colorado State University Extension recommends planting them about one to three times their eventual height from your home. Extend the plantings about 50 feet beyond the edges of your home if possible.

Limit Your Fire Risk

At one time, it was once recommended to plant dense evergreen shrubs around your foundation to create an insulating layer of still air. Unfortunately, this can make your house vulnerable to wildfires, particularly with evergreens that have a high oil or resin content. If wildfires are a risk in your area, keep shrubs 15 feet away from your house.

Balance Your Need for Sun and Shade

Deciduous trees can lower energy bills in summer and winter. Experts at Davey Trees recommend oak, cypress and maples for the best shade coverage — and savings on cooling costs — in summer. In winter, the sun will be able to pass through the bare branches and warm your house.

Where you plant these trees depends on your climate. If you live in a warm area with mild winters, plant trees to the south, east and west to add shade to your yard. If you need every ounce of sunlight in winter, plant your shade trees to the east and west. Fall is the perfect time to plant shade trees that will eventually provide year-round energy cost savings.

Safety note: Don’t forget to call 811 before you dig, and keep ladders and trees away from power lines.

Helen Newling Lawson
Helen Newling Lawson is a published garden writer and freelance content marketing professional. She is a lifelong gardener, originally from central New Jersey but now digging in Georgia clay. She has been a University of Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer since 2002 and earned the Georgia Certified Plant Professional certification in 2017. A regional director of GardenComm, the Association of Garden Communicators, Helen is a contributor to magazines including Country Gardens, Birds and Blooms, Georgia Magazine, Nursery Management, State-by-State Gardening, and Atlanta Parent. She has also developed content for clients in a range of industries, from tech to the green industry. She enjoys photography, often supplying her own images for editorial use, and hikes and does yoga in her spare time.