Landscaping to Save Energy and Water

Question: I’m building a new house. How can my residential landscape be designed to minimize home energy consumption and water usage?

You are right to think about energy and water conservation before your home is built! It’s a good way to save money and help protect the environment.

Proper landscaping can have a significant impact on the efficiency of a home. It can save about 30% on the costs for heating and cooling throughout the year. As you would expect, energy consumption can increase dramatically with high A/C usage during the summer season and high heat usage during the winter season.

The deciduous tree is an excellent natural microclimate regulator. You can channel summer breezes and create shade over the house to minimize the use of A/C. Position deciduous trees on the west end of your home to create shade in the summertime. During the winter, their foliage will fall allowing sunlight to warm the house and reduce the need for heating.

When siting your home, avoid the top of a hill where wind speeds are 30% higher or the bottom of a valley where cold air settles during the winter. Another recommendation is to build your home on a south-facing slope and berm the north side with soil. Berming is a landscaping technique where the wall of a house is buried against soil in order to insulate the house.

Other landscaping strategies include the planting of evergreens on the north side of your house. The trees will act as a windbreak throughout the year. Plant them far enough away, so they do not block winter sunlight. In order to reduce the usage of water, incorporate plants in the landscape that can adapt to the available soil moisture or are drought tolerant. An easy way to minimize the need for water and nutrient inputs to your landscape is to use native plants.

In planning the “look” of your landscape, do some general research and have a base map and site inventory made along with a site and user needs analysis. Your research should focus on energy conservation principles, and how to apply them to landscape design. A base map and site inventory of your property will show what’s already present at the property.

The site analysis can tell you, for example, where the wind is coming from, the path of stormwater runoff, location of slopes, streams, microclimates, etc. Lastly, a user needs analysis is necessary to understand your needs for the landscape based on your typical habits and your budget. When needs change, you may want to change the landscape design to match. For example, do you need a child friendly backyard or plantings that are easily maintained? The implementation of your plan could take time. And, remember that your overall landscape design should allow for the reality that new plantings take time to mature; plan to leave them enough space.


“Conserving Energy With Landscaping,” Virginia Cooperative Extension

“Landscape Design for Energy Efficiency,” Clemson University Digital Press, Environmental Studies