A skyrocketing electric bill is the last thing most people need during an iffy economy. When air conditioning works double time to meet soaring summer temperatures, however, it’s a real possibility.
Perhaps the cheapest and most aesthetic way to cool your home short of living in the buff is using trees. They’re great equalizers. They can shade your street while absorbing dust and pollution. And their root systems help prevent erosion by holding the soil around them in place.
Trees are great natural coolants, especially in climates with hot, dry summers. The hottest side of the house is typically the south or west end, though the east can also be warmer than you’d like.
Planting deciduous varieties on the warmest side of your home will help keep your cooling bill from soaring.
Your best choices are cultivars that are wide as well as tall enough to cast shade over a two-story home. However, you can use several trees to shade just your patio or deck effectively.
Smaller varieties can be used to shade windows help keep the sun from quickly heating up the house. The beauty of planting deciduous varieties is that they shed their leave each year in time to let the sun shine through them in the winter.
If you use trees as windbreaks, be sure to plant them close together and at right angles to the prevailing wind
Best choices for shade trees
It grows 30 to 40 feet tall and has white flowers in the spring. It’s hardy to -20 degrees F.
It has divided leaves and can grow to more than 50 feet tall. Many have vibrant autumn color. They’re fast-growing and hardy to at least -30 degrees F. This only issue with this species is the introduction of the Chinese Emerald Ash Borer which is currently devastating whole groves throughout the Midwest.
This spreading tree turns yellow, orange or red in the autumn. It is drought tolerant, is hardy to -10 degrees F and reaches 30 to 35 feet high.
European white birch
This species features papery white bark and multiple trunks. Its leaves turn yellow in the Fall. It’s hardy to -40 degrees F, but before buying it, call your extension office or a local nursery to confirm that beach borers aren’t prevalent in your area.
It also doesn’t thrive in areas with very hot, dry summers.
This one has a number of varieties, each with varying bright autumn foliage. It grows from 40 to 50 feet or sometimes even higher and has unusual but messy seed pods. It’s hardy to -20 degrees F.
It may be everybody’s favorite based on fabulous autumn leaf colors alone. While most are hardy to at least -20 degrees F, sugar maples and Norway maples thrive to -40 degrees F. Many maples grow to 50 feet tall, though there are smaller varieties such as the spreading Japanese maple. Most varieties are poor performers if you live in areas with mild winters or hot, dry summers.
It’s part of a huge family of varied evergreen as well as deciduous trees. While some of the largest of these trees work well only in open areas, some varieties that are native have noteworthy color in the Fall. The red oak, native to the eastern United States, is usually a good pick for shading a home.
Red horse chestnut
With a height of up to 50 feet and a width of around 30 feet, this tree provides dense shade for your home. It’s a bold-textured species, with large roundish leaves and big spikes of pink to red flowers. However, in hot climates, the edges of its leaves are apt to turn brown.
It serves as a good hedge, shade, or screen in dry, windy areas. It grows from 30 to 35 feet tall and is hardy to -50 degrees F. You’ll note narrow, silvery leaves and fragrant spring flowers. It also bears small, yellow fruit.
If you watch out for its seed pods and falling leaves, this species is ideal for shade. Its leaves are finely cut and fernlike. In summer, you’ll see pink flowers. The tree grows rapidly to between 40 and 50 feet and is hardy to -10 degrees F.
Thornless honey locust
This is a very adaptable tree that casts wonderful shade. It reaches 40 to 60 feet high and spreads. The leaves turn yellow before falling off in the autumn.
However, some parts of the western and southern United States have pest problems that will prevent it from thriving there. Be sure to check with a local nursery before making a purchase. This one is hardly to -30 degrees F.
Although the ideal shade tree for most homes is between 25 to 50 feet high, if your home is smaller or larger than average, you’ll want to take that into account when making a selection.
You want to be able to partially shade the roof of your home but avoid a species that gets so big that it turns into a liability. Your best bet is usually shade trees with a spreading canopy (the leafy top portion).
You can also lower your electric bill ever more by opening windows in the evening to let in the cooler nighttime air and then closing up the house during the day.