How to Improve Home Cooling with Trees

While green homes often sport all manner of technical solutions to keep them optimized and efficient, the landscaping can have a significant effect on the building and its energy use. Site orientation and landscape can also be powerful tools to control the energy needs of a building. While it’s not practical to reorient most homes, in many cases you can still make improvements by planting trees.

Trees offer numerous benefits beyond their contribution to cooling. If the warming weather has you thinking about landscaping, give some consideration to using trees to boost your home’s comfort through the summer. Spring is prime tree planting season, particularly for more northern latitudes, so now is a good time to consider putting in a new tree or two.

Even with an air conditioned house, it makes sense to plant shade trees in order to reduce the solar gain on the house. Windows, in particular, will benefit greatly from being shaded. But keeping the siding material in shade means less thermal gain to the wall, and that also translates into less demand for cooling and lower energy bills. Shading can also mean that natural cooling with passive ventilation instead of mechanical conditioning can be used more often, which also helps lower energy demand.

Screening and shading a building, particularly its windows, can significantly benefit a home. A single large tree can provide as much as a 9% reduction in cooling demand, according to one study.

Individual results will vary with many factors, but generally speaking, the southwest is the most important orientation to provide shade cover for, since it is afternoon peaks that are typically the hottest part of the day.

There are lots of mechanical systems that can be added to a house to keep it comfortable, and we love seeing new and useful technologies for green buildings. But sometimes it is not the technical solution but just the simple measures that make the most sense. And trees offer another benefit. Unlike many other building improvements that slowly degrade over time, the benefit from a tree will increase over time as the tree matures and increases the good that it does for the house that it shades.

In addition to cooling, trees (particularly evergreens) can also serve as windbreaks to shelter homes in the winter time. But, whether for summer shading or to serve as a windbreak, now is a good time to plant that tree.

Credits: Arbor Day Foundation (graphic 1, graphic 2), seier+seier, and Rob Pedley.

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  • Anonymous

    I totally agree with you. I have a lot of trees in my yard and I’m feeling a very big part of the benefits you’ve mentioned.

  • Sgramley2

    While we love the benefits of shade trees, in Southern California and other high wildfire areas the Fire Dept will limit the sizes of trees and require they be placed a distance from the home.

  • Joaparke

    When planting please consider planting The Princeton American Elm (grown in Georgia) and The American Chestnut. A friend who studies Forestry at The University of Kentucky told me about the Chestnut and how they have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the disease that wiped it out. It is a 15 out of 16 (not sure what that means) genetic match to the giant Chestnut we have lost!

    I am a bit familiar with the Princeton American Elm Tree. Dutch Elm Disease wiped out all but a very few of the American Elm who have proven to be resistant! My favorite of which is making a come back is the Princeton American Elm cultivated just North of Atlanta GA. Both of these trees were giants that covered this Nation! I have seen and read about American Elms that could easily reach the 4th floor of most large buildings! An American Elm branch on one of these is as big around as the trunk of any of the biggest trees in our landscapes today! (Excluding the Redwood tree). I can only imagine how much these must have lent to cooling! They were also perfect for a swing; how I remember them best! Please help bring back these giants!

    • Tam

      So Joaparke, How do I get a hold of one of those? I looked in my local nursery and they didn’t have either.

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  • Andrew Bennett Dickson

    Shading is key to keeping your house cool, the sun is merciless in the summer.

    There are quite a few DIY projects you can do in your home to reduce energy usage.  See for several DIY lists.

    One article up now is how to shave up to 50% off your electric bills for $500 by installing radiant foil in the attic, low-e film on the windows and blowing a bit of extra cellulose in the attic. You’ll work up a sweat getting it in, but the payback in comfort and cash is well worth it. 

  • Mgr

    Shade trees are great – BUT, you will end up with heavier moss and debris in the gutters.  just something to be aware of. Roof moss is bad for your roof shingles, so you should treat the moss to make sure the accumulation doesn’t shorten your roof life.

    Action Window and Gutter Cleaning

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