Doing the Window Dance: Long-Term Shade (Part 3)

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This is part three on how to use shades to even out the heating/cooling cycle of your home. Read Part One and Part Two.

You can have the best windows in the world, but full sun in the summer means heat and lots of it. Shade in the winter means cold, cold, and more cold. Trees provide the perfect overcoat for your house. In addition to shade, trees provide a sort of cooling effect from all those leaves respiring. If your neighbors have trees, even better. You can then be in a cooling island as opposed to a heat island of concrete and asphalt.

Evening out the heating and cooling cycle can be a challenge. The solution is to plant deciduous trees. Deciduous trees shed their leaves in the fall and grow new ones in the spring. Trees can take 10 to 15 years to get some size, so get started on this right away.

You may be tempted to use evergreens instead. They have their uses but this isn’t it. Evergreen trees should go on the north side of your property. Because they keep their needles during the winter, they can act as a windbreak from that cold winter air pouring down from Canada.

Find the Hot Spots

The first step is to figure out the orientation of your house in relation to the passage of the sun over a full year. What windows receive full sun and during what times of the year? As the sun moves, some windows that were borderline for light in one season may get much more direct sun, or even less. The only way to know is through observation and record keeping.

In general, the best location for trees is on the east and west sites for morning and afternoon shade; not on the south side of your house. You are following the path of the sun over your house. The buildings or existing trees around the house will also influence your solar gain by reflecting light or blocking shade.

The next step is to consider how dense you want the shade to be. Tree varieties range from light open dappled shade (like honey locusts) to deep dark shade (like beeches). How big should the tree be? How far away from the house? What shape should the tree be: vase-like or a big, wide spread? Many trees at maturity will be well over fifty feet tall although it will take decades to get that way. Go back to the library and read up some more on trees before buying anything.

When you’re ready to buy: do not buy trees from a big box store! You will get a far better selection from a local nursery or a mail-order catalog and most likely, a lot better help in planting and maintaining the trees. Trees are living creatures and some will do better in some locations than others. Low-lying swampy area? Acid soil? Alkaline soil? A good nursery will help you with all those issues.

Beware of Power Lines

All trees grow. Many will, eventually, get enormous. Others will never get more than fifteen feet tall. Know the mature height and canopy spread before you plant the tree under the power line or in the narrow space between buildings. Your local gardening club, ecology group, Arbor Day foundation, or nursery will be able to help. Give the trees enough room to grow for their mature height (power line!), canopy spread, and roots. The roots of a tree will spread a lot and a really big tree needs room for a really big root area so don’t try to fit a tree that wants to top out at 75 feet in a four-foot-by-four-foot planting area. Eventually, you will have a problem. A mixed planting of taller and shorter trees of different species will be healthier than a grouping of one tree species only.

You must also decide the size and age of the trees you will plant. Saplings are young trees, only two or three years old and are very small. They will grow fast, however, and will soon catch up to the much taller and more expensive six- or eight-year-old trees. The older trees have the advantage of size but they don’t transplanting nearly as well, take years to recover, and cost way way more.

There’s also the ease of planting the tree to consider.

There’s also the ease of planting the tree to consider.

There’s also the ease of planting the tree to consider. A sapling or whip can be planted by one person. A 10-foot-tall tree with a root ball the size of a big laundry basket will need several people or even professional help to plant.

Follow the directions on hole digging, planting, mulching, and watering to the letter. Give your trees every chance to live. Lawn mowers and string trimmers are deadly to tree trunks, so keep them away with a large circle of mulch about three inches deep. But don’t build a mulch volcano! Those encourage rot and varmint damage.

When you plant, try to keep your trees at least twenty feet from your house unless they are a) very small at maturity or b) columnar. Plant on the east and the west sides of your house, and then fill in on the south side.

The Rule for Roofs

There is one other thing you can do to improve the window dance and that is your roof. For most of the country, a white roof will reflect the sun’s heat. If your attic is properly insulated, this won’t make a difference in the winter but in the summer! Well! you won’t have as big or hot a mass of air sitting over top of your air conditioner. An attic under a white roof (with a ridge vent) will be 15 to 20 percent cooler than an attic under a black roof. When you reroof your house, get the lightest shingles, take advantage of their reflectivity and save some more cooling dollars.

The window dance substitutes your energy, active and passive, for energy from the power company. It lets you catch free energy from the sun and use it to make your life more comfortable. It is easier to heat your house than it is to cool it (everything in your house generates heat or traps it); doing the dance lets you manage your comfort levels and save money. Recognize your window treatments and trees as insulation. They will save you money when used correctly.

Next Week: Jumping Hedges and Climbing Fences