Many Floridians see an increase in their home energy bills during the summer. The increase in temperatures—due to climate change—has driven up the cost to keep homes cool. While homeowners may not be able to do very much about Florida’s climate, there is one substantial thing we can all do to keep homes cooler and reduce energy bills: plant trees.
The right tree in the most advantageous place provides cooling to the home while adding curb appeal and wildlife habitat.
Trees cool our homes by intercepting the sunlight’s heat and producing shade. The wider the canopy and bigger the leaves, the more sunlight is intercepted.
Planting trees where the sun hits the home during the hottest part of the day gives the greatest benefit. Typically, this means planting trees on the west and southwest sides of your home. Using a tree that is bare in the winter allows the sun to hit the home for solar heating.
The other way trees help to cool homes is by transpirational cooling. The water that roots absorb is transported to the leaves to help with photosynthesis. However, most of the water that trees absorb is released into the atmosphere through holes in the leaves called stomata. As the water evaporates, it cools the air. This is called transpiration, and the cooling effect is called transpirational cooling.
The I-Tree Design tool at design.itreetools.org helps determine the best location to plant a tree that will provide the best energy savings.
This software was created by the U.S. Forest Service to help estimate individual tree benefits in terms of carbon dioxide, air pollution, stormwater impacts and energy savings.
By using the I-Tree Design tool, plotting an address on a map, selecting a species from a database, entering the trunk diameter and sketching the outline of the structure, one can see how trees impact building energy use. The tool can estimate tree benefits for up to 99 years in the future. Total benefits based on estimated tree age are also provided.
There are a few more things to consider that can help avoid problems as the tree grows.
Research the mature height and width of your tree and plant the tree far enough away from the house to avoid any future conflicts. Consider power lines that may be impacted by the tree as it grows. Tall trees interfere with the wires and require frequent pruning by the utility. If you live in areas where fires may be likely, consider the hazard of wildfires and a tree close to the home may not be a good idea.
To avoid damaging underground utilities, call Sunshine 811 at least two business days before you plan to plant a tree to have any underground utilities marked and located.
For assistance in choosing a tree to plant, you can use the Florida Friendly Plant Guide at ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/plants.