Plant Shade Trees (169/365)

The house we live in now was built in 2000 and is sitting in an area that was open, flat farmland before that. The previous homeowners only planted one tree and it’s a slow-growing one. We’ve planted two trees since, but they haven’t grown enough to provide shade.

Our neighbors, however, have a beautiful shade tree behind their home. They planted a fast-growing tree almost the instant they moved in twelve years ago and it’s grown rapidly ever since. Today, it provides amazing shade for a large portion of their yard and, in the last year or two, a portion of our yard as well. During the early morning hours, it’ll provide shade over a portion of our garden, making morning garden work quite pleasant.

For them, it’s even better. For a good portion of the morning, the tree provides shade to the back of their house. It keeps the hot rays of the morning sun from going in their windows, enabling them to throw open those windows for fresh air without worrying about the heat of the sun and keeping them from running their air conditioning until a bit later in the day than they otherwise would.

Even from a neighbor’s perspective, I can see that the shade tree saves them money.

Plant Shade Trees (169/365)

A shade tree is a giant sun blocker. It keeps the heat of the sun’s rays off of your home, keeping the temperature of your home naturally lower than it otherwise would be. The exact effectiveness of a shade tree in shaving money off of your energy bill is difficult to calculate as it depends on a lot of factors, but a properly positioned large shade tree can easily cut $25 off of your annual cooling bill.

Even better, a nice shade tree can increase your property value. A few shade trees in the back can significantly increase the curb appeal of your home when you choose to sell it. A few shade trees can add 10% or more to a home’s resale value.

It is important to note, however, that shade trees are a long term investment. You’re not going to immediately recoup your money on a shade tree. It requires many years to grow into its full size, and it won’t provide many of the financial benefits until it gets there. Planting a shade tree right now will see dividends in twenty years or so.

How can you go about this? The first step would be to contact city hall and see if they have recommendations for trees in your area. Not all trees work well in all areas. It’s best to trust the advice of a local arborist when selecting a tree.

You should also carefully plan where to plant the tree. The best place to plant a tree is on the east or west side of your home, preferably at an angle to maximize shade during the peak summer months. If you live in northern areas, this won’t be to the direct east and west of your home, but at an angle due to the sun.

You’re also going to want to avoid above-ground and below-ground utility lines when planting. Make sure you’ve contacted your state’s department of natural resources before you plant so that you know where the below-ground lines are, and use your own eyes to judge nearby utility lines. The more you can avoid them, the better.

If you’re going to be living in your current home for a long time, consider planting a shade tree or two. It’s something you can do today that will begin to slowly save you money in a few years and eventually increase the return you get on your home.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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3 thoughts on “Plant Shade Trees (169/365)

  1. lurker carl says:

    Most fast growing trees are short lived and easily damaged by wind, heavy snow and ice. Any damage they cause and removal will overshadow your summertime energy savings.

  2. Priswell says:

    “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

    We have 2 70+ year old pine trees that shade our house. It’s a huge help to keep the house cool in summer, but they have also made it impossible to pursue solar energy options.

  3. Jonathan says:

    @Priswell (#2) – Theoretically, if the shade trees were located on the East or West sides of the house as Trent suggested, then south facing solar panels would still be possible, giving you the best of both situations. Of course I doubt you chose the location of the trees, and even if you did, no one was thinking of solar panels 70 years ago.

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