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At some point in the future, I plan on owning a home and I would like to use landscaping to improve both the appearance and energy efficiency of the property. I have heard that the right landscaping design can actually pay for itself in energy savings and property values, so I am looking for advice on:

  • the best places to plant those trees for summer shade without blocking precious winter light
  • the best location (distance from house) for a wind break
  • ways to combine the two

The question isn't region-specific, but let's assume the house is in the Rocky Mountain West of the USA.

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This should be split into two parts. The plant selection parts belong on G&L. Places to add trees to shade your home belong here. And the question should also be significantly narrowed down, this is far too broad of a question. –  BMitch Apr 16 '13 at 18:42
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This is really a broad question. I'd try and break it up to individual project sized questions and ask those separately. –  Chris Cudmore Apr 16 '13 at 18:43
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Thanks for the tips. Edited for specificity and removed G&L bits. –  Evan Johnson Apr 16 '13 at 19:13
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2 Answers

To make sure you get light in the winter, you need a deciduous tree (one that loses its leaves in the winter) planted on the southern side of your home (where the sun's rays are the strongest for people in the northern hemisphere). Pay special attention to the size the tree with grow to when mature, both in height and in width of the canopy. I'd recommend playing it well outside of the canopy's reach from your home to protect not only your siding, but also your foundation from roots that will travel often twice the range of the canopy.

Take special care to check for buried utility lines and place your tree away from any of them. You also want to be sure it is not too close to a sewer line, since the roots have a habit of growing into and clogging sewer pipes.

Finally, realize that a tree will add beauty and natural energy efficiency, but it will also add to the maintenance of your home, particularly from leaves clogging the gutters, and falling branches. If your only goal is energy efficiency, you may be better off upgrading to energy efficient windows and sealing any drafts.

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You'll want to plant wind breaks north of your house, since that's where the coldest winds typically come from. You might also extend it in the direction of the prevailing winds if different. Obviously you'll want to use dense, evergreen trees for this. If your wind break height is H, its effect can be discernible up to 10H downwind. Snow drifts will accumulate mainly in the area 0-2H downwind, so I'd try to keep them about 2H away from your house and driveway to maximize the benefit without being buried in snow. (This distance will also reduce issues with clogged gutters and falling branches.)

The Arbor Day Foundation has a nice diagram, and this site also has useful examples and info.

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Both links are very helpful. Thanks! –  Evan Johnson Apr 17 '13 at 15:32
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