You turn off the lights when you leave a room. You adjust the thermostat carefully or have invested in a smart thermostat that maximizes your efficiency. You unplug unnecessary appliances and turn off TVs. This is all a great start to conserving energy, but there are other ways that don’t require you to walk around your house flipping switches all day.
Strategic landscaping can help conserve energy and water, especially in California's warm climate. Trees alone can save as much as a quarter of the energy you use.
In addition to considering California’s climate, you want to think about the microclimate in your own yard. Consider where the sun hits your yard strongest, how winds come through your property, and the way water moves through your plot of land.
For most homes, the majority of electricity use is due to heating and cooling. Plants, particularly trees, can be a game-changer. If you’re in the north, where it gets windy, create windbreaks with sturdy trees and bushes. This will help keep your property warmer, lowering heating costs.
Install plants at least one foot from your home’s walls. This area, known as dead space, will insulate your home throughout the year.
Use trees to block the sun from windows, walls, and the roof. The shade and the release of water vapor help trees reduce the air temperature by as much as 6-degrees. Deciduous trees block the sun in summer but let it through in winter.
To create a more comfortable outdoor space, plant vines along a trellis to shade and cool patio areas. With an enjoyable outdoor environment, you’ll be less likely to sweat it out in front of a fan all summer.
If you have an air conditioning unit, install bushes or trees to shade it. This alone can reduce operating costs by as much as 10%.
All plants you install should be native species. California fuchsia, common yarrow, and coastal prickly pear have adapted to local conditions and need less maintenance and water, further reducing your home’s energy use.
Conserving water is another important part of energy efficiency. Each time you turn on a faucet or hose, you’re using electric energy. If you’re on a well system, you could be spending $150 a month to power the pump and sprinkler system.
Your landscape design can conserve water and energy. Figure out how much water your grass and plants actually need. Choose grass and plants with strong root systems to hold soil in place and create a more efficient environment.
If your yard needs additional irrigation, provide the water early in the morning. This will prevent evaporation and give the plant extra time to absorb the water.
Xeriscaping is gaining traction as a way of establishing a beautiful yard without excessive water use. Some basic principles include limiting grassy areas, focusing on native plants, and utilizing mulch to help the soil retain moisture.
The same trees that save you cooling costs in the summer will save you heating costs in the winter. Trees, shrubs, and vines serve as windbreaks in cooler weather, protecting your home and yard from chilly temperatures. Going green can actually save you some green by lowering your electric and water bills.
Brandon Michaels is a freelance writer and landscape designer from the mountains of California. In all his work, his goal is to get people off their couches and into nature. He loves all things natural: gardening, hiking, even feeding his local raccoons.