Save money this spring by planting a tree

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A tree planted in the right place can save homeowners a substantial amount of energy and money.

Homes use 22% of the energy consumed in the United States, and about half of that energy goes to heating and cooling, according to a press release from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Homeowners can harness the power of nature with strategically planted trees and reduce energy bills while improving air quality, creating wildlife habitats and absorbing carbon.

“Spring is the perfect time to invest in a tree – as it grows, so will the cost-saving and environmental benefits it provides,” said Michigan DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program coordinator Kevin Sayers. “In addition, their natural beauty increases property values.”

Michigan has nearly 70 native tree species that are effective at reducing the impacts of stormwater damage and erosion. They also require less intensive care than imported trees not adapted to the region.

“To start, choose a healthy tree appropriate for your location and climate,” Kristen Bousquet, Energy Saving Trees program manager said. “Native trees are best for the ecosystem and provide food and shelter for wildlife.”

For $10 the Arbor Day Foundation will let you choose 10 trees that grow well where you live and send them to you to plant in your yard.

Give your air conditioner a break with shade trees

Throw some shade – in a good way – by bringing home a tree. In the Midwest, broadleaf (deciduous) trees provide shade in summer, then drop their leaves in autumn, allowing the sun’s rays to reach through bare branches to warm homes. Plant these trees on the south and west sides of properties to protect roofs, siding and dark-colored driveways from the blistering summer heat.

How much impact can a tree make? The air temperature directly underneath tree branches can be 25 degrees cooler than temperatures recorded above nearby blacktop. This translates to savings of 15 to 50 percent in cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

This is because trees instead of asphalt or shingled surfaces have a high “albedo,” which is a term used by scientists to describe how much light or radiation is reflected from a surface. In other words, trees bounce back the sun’s hot rays while homes and driveways soak them up.

The best shade tree choices are tall species with broad leaves and a high, spreading growth shape. Try planting white oaks, sugar maples, shagbark hickory trees or tulip poplars (tulip tree) for shade.

Bushy conifers (evergreen trees with needles) can be planted to block chilling winter winds that whisk away heat. Their dense needles are perfect for keeping a house warm in winter.

In Michigan, windbreaks should be planted on the north and northwest sides of homes,” said Bousquet. “For maximum protection, conifers should be planted two to five times the maximum height of the tree away from the home.”

Fencing and dense hedges placed closer can also help deflect chilling winds.

Conifer shrubs can be placed next to a home to create a protective, insulating layer of “dead air space” around the building. This is the same way a sleeping bag works to keep a camper warm inside.

However, don’t plant shrubs directly against a building to keep roots away from the foundation and prevent issues associated with moisture and mold.

Dense evergreens like white spruce, white and red cedar or Norway spruce are the best picks for windbreaks.

In addition to helping with the impacts of sun and wind, trees also can help manage rain and stormwater runoff. Their leafy canopies slow the impact of rain and reduce erosion, while their deep roots anchor soil in place and help water absorb into the ground.

Trees also soak up a lot of water. A mature tree can absorb 100 gallons of water per day, or about 36,000 gallons each year.

Planting trees proactively can save a homeowner from the need to later purchase expensive, engineered erosion-control solutions for the landscape.

When planting trees for natural erosion control, don’t plant on or near septic fields. The roots of water-loving trees are extensive and can damage pipes. Moisture-tolerant trees for erosion control include white cedar, river birch, red maple, and swamp white oak.

A well-designed landscape not only adds beauty to your home, it can help cut your water use, improve your home’s comfort and lower your energy bills all year long.

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