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Question: I just bought 5 acres of land with quite a bit of vegetation on the site. How should I landscape for beauty and for energy purposes?
Answer: Attractive landscaping around your home is a cost-effective and eye-pleasing way to cut your energy bills. This is the best long-term investment you can make in lowering cooling and heating bills while bringing other benefits to your home as well.
Good landscaping blocks winter winds and summer sun and cuts down on noise and air pollution. Properly selected plants and shrubs can reduce the need for water, fertilizer and time spent on mowing and gardening.
The U.S Department of Energy has created computer models of landscapes that show average household savings of $100 to $250 in energy costs every year. Here are some details:
You can save enough on a well-designed landscape to pay for your initial investment in less thaneight years.
An 8-foot-tall deciduous tree costs about the same as an awning for one large window. Over time it will save you hundreds of dollars in reduced cooling costs while allowing the winter sun to provide some warmth and light.
Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25 degrees cooler than the air temperature above a nearby driveway or sidewalk.
Studies have found that a good landscape can reduce the summer air-conditioning costs of an unshaded home by up to 50 percent. One study found that people in mobile homes save as much as 75 percent on cooling bills by planting trees and shrubs.
You can get more information on good landscaping from your county extension service or agriculture office.
Here are other sources:
American Association of Nurserymen, 1240 I St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005.
National Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., NebraskaCity, NE 68410.
Question: Do you recommend window film for homes?
Answer: Properly installed window films can do a great job of keeping unwanted heat out of your house. After all, the best energy strategy of all is to stop the heat before it gets inside.
Window coatings, which are plastic sheets treated with dyes or thin layers of metal, can help keep your house cooler while cutting down many of the unwanted effects of direct sunshine, including bothersome glare and faded carpets and furniture.
In warmer climates, you need to look for "sun-control" films that can reflect as much as 80 percent of the sunlight that would otherwise get into your home. The downside of this product is that tinted films cut down on the light getting in as well, so the room will be darker. This can increase your use of electric lighting and may cut down on the "bright" feeling of the room. Consider this trade-off when thinking about having window films applied.
In some climates, a "combination film" may work better. This type of material blocks some of the sun but still lets heat into the room while stopping some of the interior heat from getting out.
In other words, you get the benefits of solar heating during the winter months while enjoying cooling benefits in summer. Choose the type that is best for your particular needs and consider the pros and cons of each.
If you decide to install films or coatings, one suggestion is to avoid putting them on the south-facing window so that you can take advantage of wintertime heat-gain. The warmth from the southern sun feels good in winter, even in the South.
I recommend that you have a professional do the installation. While most treatments can be applied by homeowners, a poorly applied tint will do a poor job as well as look lousy on your windows.
Ken Sheinkopf is director of development for the Florida Solar Energy Center. Write to him at the Florida Solar Energy Center, 1679 Clearlake Road, Cocoa, FL 32922.