Do you want your home to be safer and more efficient? This is part two of a four-part series from Okanogan County PUD about WISE (water, infrastructure, safety, efficiency) landscaping around your home. In this second part, we will look at landscaping that can help save on energy bills and keep you more comfortable in winter and summer.
Remember the home ignition zone map and wildfire-ready landscaping? Based on the three zones, there are ways to reduce the risk of wildfire destroying your home: Place only non-combustible items in Zone 1, use proper height and spacing in Zones 2 and 3 to keep fire from spreading, and maintenance is critical in all zones. Some think that you can’t be both energy efficient and wildfire ready, but with some creativity, you can have a bit of both.
Protecting your home from the heat takes the pressure off your home cooling system and provides energy efficiency. It’s like climate control inside your home, but it’s your own “micro-climate” outside.
One common practice that we don’t recommend is planting arborvitae or other trees or shrubs against a home to shade it from the sun’s heat. But arborvitae, for example, are referred to as “plant torches” or “gas cans” in the firefighting world, and are a major fire hazard, along with some other evergreen and coniferous plants.
Instead, in Zone 1 use groundcovers, vines, and low-growing herbaceous plants; in Zone 2 plant small to medium-sized broadleaf evergreen and deciduous shrubs and deciduous trees, spacing them apart to prevent fire from spreading.
In Zone 1, instead of clusters of fire-prone plants, provide shade with an herbaceous flowering vine up a fire-resistant composite or metal trellis or arbor. Consider a water feature to keep the air humid. Install fire-resistant window shades or awnings. Plant a vegetable or herb garden close to the home and keep it irrigated with easy access when it’s time to grab ingredients for your next meal.
As for using trees to shade your home, consider moving them out to Zone 3 (more than 30 feet from your home) and using broadleaf evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, that will grow to provide shade for your home and your yard, especially on the east and west sides of the home. Deciduous plants are not only more fire-resistant, but block the hot sun in the summer with their leaves, and let the sun warm the house in the winter when the leaves fall – perfect for energy efficiency! They also provide a windbreak which can help in both summer and winter.
There are plenty of options for your landscaping to stay both fire-ready and energy-efficient. Also consider pairing portions of irrigated lawn with some hardscapes, like a patio with potted plants or dry rock beds. Speaking of irrigation and water features, if you are on a well that uses an electric pump, your water usage also affects your energy bill. We need to also keep water conservation in mind during our landscape planning.
Is there a way to be wildfire-ready, infrastructure aware, energy-efficient and still conserve water? Let’s add the layer of water conservation to part three of our series on WISE landscaping. Check out our videos and more on our YouTube channel or Facebook page.