Made in the Shade: Trees Boost Air Conditioning and Reduce Costs

by on August 31, 2012RealEstate.com Guest Contributor

Did you know trees could have a major impact on your ability to stay cool inside your home?

Shade trees actually affect your home’s air conditioner unit in two ways. Most importantly, trees planted on the south, west and east sides of your home protect your house from the full brunt of the afternoon sun. According to CPS Energy, San Antonio’s utility company and one of the first utilities to offer rebates for shade trees, shade can reduce the air temperature around your home by nearly 10 degrees. So you can imagine the impact as your air conditioner tries to keep things cool inside.

shade trees“When it comes to planting trees, it’s all about the right tree in the right place,” said CPS Energy’s Albert Cantu. “When you have the right tree in the right place, you can save up to 25 percent on your heating and cooling costs.”

As Cantu said, it’s all about location. You never want to plant a large shade tree on the north side of your home, for instance.

“What you’re trying to do is block your house from the peak of the sun, and that’s usually on the south and southeast sides,” Cantu said. “So if you really want to maximize your energy savings and the cooling in your home, then you certainly want to plant a large enough tree to shade the south and southeast sides of your home. It really does make a difference.”

Choosing a Shade Tree

Picking the right type of shade tree is also very important.

“The best kinds of shade trees are semi-evergreens,” said Cantu. “They keep their leaves on all year round. These are trees like live oaks, Arizona cypress, Mexican white oaks and Montezuma cypress. These trees are great for creating canopies.”

Secondly, trees can shade the AC unit itself. Providing some shade for your air conditioner can increase the efficiency of the system.

“When your AC is basting in the sun, all the elements are working against it,” said Champion AC operations manager Charles Fleming. “The system simply works harder when it’s sitting in the sun.”

You just have to make sure any trees around your air conditioner do not restrict the airflow around the unit. A good rule of thumb is to keep at least 2 to 3 feet of clearance from the condensing unit. That gives the unit some space to breathe.

Don’t Block Your Air Conditioner

There is one other important thing to keep in mind when it comes to providing shade around your air conditioner. According to CPS Energy, many homeowners make the common mistake of building sheds or placing awnings over the outside condensing unit. Avoid this at all costs.

“Most condensing units have a vertical discharge that releases 105 to 115 degree air,” said Cantu. “By blocking it, you recirculate this warm air back over the unit. Remember the 96 degree design – you don’t want to go against it if at all possible.”

This shading philosophy doesn’t just apply to central air conditioning units. It’s also a good practice for window units as well.

“If you can put the window unit in an area where you can get shade, by all means, it would be great to do that,” said Cantu. “Pick the window that has the most shade if you can. If it’s exposed to full sun, you have to know it’s going to lose a bit of its efficiency.”

Call Before You Dig

And finally, please remember to always call before you dig to plant a tree. Here in Texas, it is a state law that homeowners call 811 at least 48 hours before digging for a project, no matter how small that project may be. Each state has different rules and regulations about this issue, with some states being stricter than others. By calling 811, your local utilities will come out to your home and mark any underground lines. The purpose behind calling 811 is to avoid any potential injuries, or even possible deaths, by hitting an underground power, phone, cable or water line. You are also responsible for the costs of any repairs or replacements to underground lines if you hit them while digging – so know where those lines are and avoid them.

If you’re looking for a DIY project this summer, consider some shade trees for the yard. Not only will they look nice, they’ll help keep you cool.

Written by Ben Hubbert, Air Conditioning and Heating Expert

Ben Hubbert is the co-owner of Champion AC, an air conditioning and heating company in San Antonio, Texas. He is a former member of Special Operations in the Air Force who is now committed to helping others reduce their demands on the energy grid. Champion AC recently received the San Antonio Business Journal’s Community Education Program Award in 2012.

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