Tree Shading

January 08, 2010
January/February 2010
A version of this article appears in the January/February 2010 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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The relationship between tree shading and summertime home energy consumption has long been a topic of interest, and has been the subject of many simulations and small-scale studies. A recent study, led by Geoffrey Donovan, United This west-facing window in Berkeley, California, benefits from a shading palm tree.States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, and David Butry, confirmed what previous studies had determined: Trees shading the west and south sides of houses reduce summertime energy consumption considerably. Butry and Donovan’s study is unique in that it uses real electrical billing data on a large scale. While others had monitored one house, or a few houses, Donovan and Butry monitored 460 different houses located in Sacramento, California, making this the largest, most comprehensive study on the relationship between tree shading and home energy consumption to date.

The pair collected data in the summer of 2007. They used aerial photography to collect data on the trees surrounding the 460 houses based on three factors: crown size, distance from the house, and aspect relative to the house. They then collected electrical billing data from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and water use data from the city of Sacramento. They found that trees providing shade on the west and south sides of the houses reduced summertime electricity consumption by 5.2%, and that east-side trees had no effect, since they cast shade on the house during the cool morning, when the A/C is turned off. To the researchers’ surprise, though, north-side trees within 6.1 meters of the house had a converse affect, increasing summertime electricity use by 1.5%. Donovan and Butry hypothesized that trees close to the house may reduce the cooling effect of the wind, slow the release of heat at night, or cause more lighting to be used in the house. 

Gavin Nachbar is a freelance writer. His specialty is covering recent and relevant scientific studies.

For more information:
Donovan, Geoffrey and David T. Butry. “The value of shade: Estimating the effect of urban trees on summertime electricity use.” Energy and Buildings. January, 2009. To read the full study, go to: linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/ S037877880900005X
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