According to the U.S. Department of Energy, proper placement of just three trees can save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs each year. That’s a huge incentive to visit your local nursery this spring and check their stock of shade trees. You'll benefit because shade protects your home from the summer sun, and proper placement of a windbreak can also divert winter winds.
According to the Iowa nonprofit organization, Trees Forever, you’ll gain the most energy efficiency from planting in these areas (in order of savings potential):
- 15-60 feet from west side of home or building
- 15-60 feet from east side of home or building
- 15-25 feet from south side of home or building
- Evergreens on north and west sides of home or building as windbreak
Another tip from Trees Forever: Plant trees to shade sidewalks, driveways, patios, and other “built surfaces” in your landscape to help those areas stay cooler too. These surfaces absorb heat (particularly darker-colored surfaces) and release it back to the environment. Shading these areas keeps the whole property cooler and more comfortable on hot summer days.
Watch out for power lines The tiny tree you pick out this spring will grow taller within a few years, so choose the right tree for the right spot. If you have power lines nearby, follow these zone rules:
- Zone 1 runs from right under the power line to about 20 feet away. In this area, plant trees or shrubs that will not get any taller than 25 feet (ornamental trees).
- Zone 2 runs from 20 feet to 50 feet from power lines; in this zone, choose trees that get no taller than 35 feet (medium trees).
- Zone 3 is farther than 50 feet from power lines; any size tree is appropriate.
View tree planting distance guide from National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (pdf).
Follow the Roadmap for Selecting and Planting Trees and also find lists of five recommended trees in each of these categories: Large, Medium, Small, and Conifer on the Trees Forever website.
For safety and to prevent cutting any utility lines or pipes, Iowa law requires a call to Iowa One Call (811) at least 48 hours before digging a hole. There is no charge for this service.
To find out more about trees, planting, maintenance, and more, link to these sources:
- Find out more about trees... from choosing them to planting, to harvesting wood, at the ISU Natural Resources Stewardship website.
- Find an index of the trees of Iowa, also at the ISU Forestry Department website.
- View "Saving Money with Your Home Landscape" by LandscapeArchitects, a You Tube video about the value of trees in energy efficiency.