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Sustainable Landscaping

Learn about planting trees and shrubs to reduce energy costs.

You can lower your energy bills by strategically planting trees, shrubs and vines around your home. Landscape improvements require little maintenance and add beauty and value to your home.

In summer, trees shade walls and windows, and channel cool summer breezes toward the house. In winter, they prevent cold drafts from billowing through your home.

Energy-conservation landscaping is probably the most cost-effective, long-term investment available to reduce cooling costs. A well-planned landscaping program can pay for itself in energy savings in 7 to 10 years.

Additional Info & Tips to Reduce Cooling and Heating Costs

Tree Selection Brochures

Energy and Cost Savings

Properly placed shade trees lower temperatures in communities and homes and reduce the need for air conditioning, conserving energy, dollars, and reducing air pollution. Trees shade homes, streets and parking lots, reducing the urban heat island effect. In winter, the correct trees can provide shelter from winds, reducing energy use.

Air and Water Quality

Trees help improve air quality by trapping particulates and absorbing carbon dioxide. Trees play an important role in the environmental cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. Trees store large amounts of carbon in their trunks and leaves, which reduces the environmental effects of burning fossil fuels. Their roots help hold soil in place, reducing erosion and slowing water runoff, contributing greatly to water quality.

Improved Wildlife Habitat

Trees provide nesting places and safe cover for many species of birds and other animals.

Increased Property Values

Trees also enhance property values. Studies have shown that mature trees raise the value of homes by 15 percent or more. They add to the beauty and comfort of a home and can screen an unattractive view or provide privacy. Businesses also benefit from trees planted on boulevards and shopping areas, attracting more customers to their stores.

Healthier Communities

Trees enhance social interaction in communities. They can be a focal point for gatherings and help reduce the isolation of inner city neighborhoods. Tree plantings are effective ways to bring communities together, which helps them organize for other community goals as well. Therefore, trees become catalysts for creating healthier communities.

Know the zone before digging a hole or buying a tree

We respond to many tree-caused power outages because power lines are often located in urban and rural forests. People who work or play in and around trees close to power lines can suffer severe injury or death from electric contact. Keep these factors in mind when choosing the location for a new tree. Refrain from planting trees under power lines.

Transmission Lines

Do not plant trees in the border zone or wire zone of a transmission right of way as they will likely require removal.

Distribution Lines

To help ensure electric service reliability and public safety in your neighborhood, use the tree planting zones in the illustrations below.

No trees should be planted within 10 feet of the service line to your home or business, which is the line between the pole and the house or building. Larger trees must be planted even farther away from the main power lines that run along backyards, alleys or roadways. Generally the taller the tree grows the farther it should be from any power lines.

Underground Lines and Padmount Equipment

If you have underground utility lines, be careful not to plant a tree or shrub in front of any electrical equipment installed at ground level.

When power outages occur, our crews need to locate and access the equipment quickly. If equipment is hidden or the doors are blocked, the length of the outage may be extended and your plantings could be damaged.

We can help you identify the right tree to plant in the right space

When choosing a tree, there are a lot of things to consider including appearance, mature size, health, hardiness and soil conditions. We have lists of trees and shrubs, along with their characteristics, appropriate for where you live. Read the "Right Tree" guide about selecting, planting and caring for trees. It comes in three versions to correspond with the hardiness zones of our service area.

  • Appearance: When choosing a tree, you should consider its appearance and how it fits into your landscape. Trees vary widely in size and shape. Some drop their leaves in the fall and others stay green all year. You may look for lots of blooms, showy fall color or interesting bark.
  • Size: The small sapling at the nursery that may seem to fit well under power lines can grow rapidly – taller than you may anticipate. Our "Right Tree" guide lists only trees that may be planted under or near some distribution power lines. See Tree Planting Zones for details.
  • Health: Another consideration in tree selection is the long-term health of the tree, which can be affected by soils, climate and susceptibility to disease and insect pests.
  • Cold Hardiness Zone: Select trees that are hardy in your area so they will withstand cold winters and summer heat. Trees listed in our "Right Tree" guide are identified by their cold hardiness zone.
  • Soil: Soil conditions can affect the health of your trees. Some trees don't do well in boggy, poorly drained, clay or heavily compacted sites. Others have problems in sandy soils that don't hold moisture. The pH of the soil can affect growth in some trees. Most trees listed in our guide are widely adaptable to a variety of soil types.

Planting trees and shrubs in strategic places can cut air conditioning costs up to 25 percent. To lower summer energy bills, landscaping should make the most of cooling shade and air circulation.

Your first landscaping priority should be shading the west walls and windows with deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees. One tree, shading the walls and roof during the afternoon, can reduce wall and roof temperatures by 20 F to 40 F.

Plant vines and shrubs next to your home to create a blanket of air space that insulates your home in winter and summer. A trellis with climbing vines or a planter box with trailing plants can form screens that block the sun yet allow cooling breezes to flow through.

Pavement reflects or absorbs solar energy and radiates heat to the walls of your home. Plant low shrubs and ground covers around your home to reduce reflection of solar heat from roads, driveways, walks, patios or water.

Plant trees and shrubs to shade your air conditioner unit from the sun and it will run up to 10 percent more efficiently. Be sure branches and leaves don’t restrict airflow.

We recommend that you plant trees and shrubs 15 to 35 feet from utility lines and never directly below overhead utility lines. Keeping utility lines free of tree growth helps to ensure your safety, the reliability of your service and could save you the cost of future tree maintenance.

Summer tree planting around home

Windbreaks, if properly selected and placed, can reduce annual home heating costs by 10 to 20 percent. Evergreens planted to the north and northwest of the home help block winter winds and prevent drafts that can make your home feel cooler than it is.

Plant evergreen shrubs as a buffer around the entry to your home if it faces cold winter winds. Be careful not to plant evergreens close to the south side of your house, or you’ll shade the sun in the winter when you want its heat. If winter winds from the south are a problem in your area, plant evergreens far enough away from your house so they will lift cold winds up and over the house without shading it.

Evergreen trees planted around home

Energy Saving Tip

Heat or cool a smaller area by closing vents in rooms that are not in use. You’ll stay more comfortable when you're managing less air space.  

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Break Ground, Not the Law

Always call 811 before digging in your yard to avoid hitting buried gas or electric lines. Not only is it the safe thing to do, but it's the law.