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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Reduce energy bills with plants and trees

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: May 11, 2024, 5:45am

These days, it can be hard to feel like you’re really getting your money’s worth out of anything. But when it comes to reducing utility expenses, personal convenience and potentially improving a home’s value for a usually low upfront investment, there is still great value to be had out there.

Done right, adding native plants and trees to your property can do all of those and create food and habitat resources for pollinators and wildlife in your neighborhood.

Energy-efficient landscaping (sometimes also called enviroscaping) is a widely recognized method to reduce utility expenses with research to back it up from numerous organizations, including the Arbor Day Foundation, Washington State University and the Department of Energy.

Energy.gov writes that a well-planned landscape can reduce an unshaded home’s air conditioning costs by 15-50 percent. The Arbor Day Foundation claims shady trees can reduce summer air conditioning costs by 35 percent. It’s highly unlikely Clark Public Utilities energy customers will see reductions that high.

Nearby Tacoma Power tells customers planting trees to shade their homes can reduce cooling costs by 8 percent up to 18 percent. Clark Public Utilities doesn’t have a measurement for energy conservation potential by planting trees. However, the website www.itreetools.org offers an estimate potential energy savings at your home after planting trees.

Mature deciduous trees produce a lot of shade that can shield homes from the hot summer sun. Plus, they can help prevent air conditioning units from baking under the sun, which can help them run more efficiently. As bonus, these trees will lose their leaves in the fall, right on time for the sun to help heat the home throughout the cool part of the year.

Hedgerows or trees planted on the windy side of the home can act as a windbreak and even add comfort and energy savings, especially during winter.

Prevailing wisdom says lawns need just over an inch of water per week, or a little over a half-gallon of water per square foot to keep a lawn green. With most Clark County residents paying for their water by the gallon, it doesn’t take much grass to make the summer water bill climb. Replacing that lawn, even a little bit of it, can reduce the cost of maintaining a beautiful property by a noticeable amount.

Native deciduous trees and other native plants, or at least those that are adapted to long rainy seasons and monthslong dry parts of the year, won’t need any more water than what nature provides, which will mean less money going out the door and less time spent on landscaping upkeep.

Energy efficient landscaping works best when done with planning and care. It’s important to know your property’s characteristics first, then find the plant varieties to match them. It’s a half-truth that all native plants are drought tolerant. For example, you can’t take plants needing shade or accustomed to wetlands, plunk them down in full sun or high, dry ground and expect them to thrive.

If your goal is to attract wildlife, native plants and flowers will help. For example, growing red-flowering currant and orange honeysuckle helps attract hummingbirds and butterflies. If you’re planting trees, be sure to plant them away from power lines, or select varieties that grow less than 25-feet tall.

Clarkpublicutilities.com/landscaping has lots of useful information about how landscaping can help improve your property.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.